Settling into the reins

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Happy 2019.  Hope you’re recovered from the holidays and settled into the reins of a new year.

On the fiction front, Beneath the Broken Moon is currently under the editor’s knife at Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid. My previous experience with an Editorial Service was, to put it politely, disappointing. (I don’t appreciate being viewed as an ATM, strung along with vague promises of actual helpful suggestions for my MS if only I purchased the next tier of services… )

Now I don’t know a thing about Rachelle Stewart Ramirez , but Shawn Coyne’s, Story Grid is on my very shortlist of genuinely helpful books about writing, so he’s got street cred with me. That, and the fact he’s Steven Pressfield’s editor and business partner. If you’ve never read The War of Art or Gates of Fire, you need to remedy that. Right now.

According to the website, the manuscript evaluation includes:

  1. The 6 Core Question Analysis. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will read your manuscript and apply the Story Grid 6 Core Question Analysis to your work. This is a deep dive into your manuscript, analyzing what works and what doesn’t work.
  2. A One-Hour Phone Consultation. You will talk one-on-one with your editor, discussing your own questions and the editor’s analysis of your story. You’ll leave the call with a clearer global, big-picture view of your manuscript and its genre.
  3. A Story Grid Spreadsheet of Your First Five Scenes. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will provide a full Story Grid work-up of the first five scenes of your manuscript. This will give you a black-and-white, close-up view of which scenes are working and which aren’t—and why.
  4. Next Steps Recommendation Letter. Every writer is at a different place in his or her journey. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will provide suggested next steps you can take to level-up as a writer. This will include specific Story Grid homework to help improve your skills and your manuscript.
  5. Masterworks of the Genre Recommendations and Additional Resources. Throughout the Story Grid Diagnostic process, your editor will help you identify and refine your genre choice. Once that’s done, your editor will provide a list of Masterworks to study along with the Story Grid Genre Cheat Sheet for your genre.

All delivered within 30 days.

Nothing so far. Then again, it’s only been two weeks and I remain cautiously optimistic. After all, I need a good editor. I want a good editor. Learning what works and what doesn’t is critical to learning how to write better. More on that as the story develops.

In other writing news, ZONA ALFA is complete. For those who aren’t familiar, I’m a long-time table top war gamer and ZA is a set of rules for miniature wargaming in a Russian-flavored post apocalyptic setting. (Think STALKER and METRO 2033)

Turns out the fine folks at Osprey Publishing in the UK had seen my painted toy soldiers and battle reports at my S7 blog, and were crazy enough to ask me to develop the rules for them. There’s still a lot of Polish and Tweak to do, but this has been a wargaming nerd’s dream come true. My heartfelt thanks to them for the opportunity.

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ZA interior art and possible cover. Cool, eh?

In line with that, I’m currently hammering out another short Tale from the Exclusion Zone featuring veteran Zone Guide, Yuri Bonyev. (Vodka, AK74s and mutants… what can go wrong?)

And when that’s done, I’ll start in on the next installment of The Clar1ty Wars.  Been a long time coming but I assure you the shadow war between the Orbital Corporations and the Planetary Government is about to spill into the streets. The current working title for book 3 is Gun Monkey Rumble. Autonomous drones, genetically engineered agents, cyber-enhanced soldiers, criminal gangs, religious terrorists…  Our hero, black market pharma fence, Seeb Gilani, is going to have her hands full of flaming vials of nitro glycerin.

That’s all for now. My other job (stained glass work) calls. Have an excellent day. Live well. Art hard.

– patrick t.

 

 

My lodestars for drafting

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Second editing pass though my next novel, I’ve got a new Post-It on the bottom of my monitor: three  points to steer by as I hack, slash, and burn my way through the undergrowth.

1. Err on the side of the reader’s intelligence.

Aside from the fact my latest isn’t a YA novel, I’m writing to a capable, nuanced audience who, while new to my particular story, is familiar with the genre as well as Life’s genuine struggles and victories. I will not talk to them like they’re pets or three-year olds.

2. Don’t BS the reader.

See above. The reader has been gracious and given me of their time and money. I don’t want either to be a waste. Of course the story has themes and the author has opinions and values, but the reader can smell an agenda a mile off. There may be types or tropes that function as fiction shorthand, but they cannot devolve into cliches that cheapen or interrupt the story.

3. Less is more.

There’s a fine line (and a yawing chasm) between poetic and verbose. This is the ‘right word versus almost the right word’ dilemma. I will not fall in love with my prose and will cut what doesn’t best serve the scene, regardless of how clever the turn of phrase. I’m not padding my word count. Make it lean and precise, not bloated or boggy.  Remember the Failure Mode of ‘Clever’ is ‘Asshole’.

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Time to hone the machete, top off the flamethrower, and get back to work.

Have an excellent day.

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Zombie Six Release and Notes

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In the 22nd century, the ethnic Uyghur in Western China still dream of independence. Decades of discrimination, surveillance, and repressive policies by the Chinese government have only strengthened their resolve. Frustrated with the separatists , the Beijing enacts a final solution: the forcible deportation of all dissidents to Mèng Tiān, a desolate mining colony in the Kepler system, five hundred light years from Earth.

When the relocation program backfires and a full-scale insurgency erupts, the elite operators of Zombie Six arrive as part of the U.N.E. Peacekeeper force. Ordered to kill or capture the Uyghur leadership, the team finds itself in a deadly crossfire of corruption, deceit, and drone-borne IEDs. To survive, Zombie Six must first remember Truth is still the first casualty of war.

“Enemy of my Enemy” is a stand-alone novella from the author of the Eshu International novels, the ongoing Clar1ty Wars cyberpunk series, and other spec-fiction works.

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Enemy of my Enemy –  A Zombie Six Mission is now available at Amazon, both in print and for Kindle.  I wanted to take a moment to let folks know and thank everyone for their support, both online and in the real world. That anyone takes the time to read my stuff still amazes me. So… a few words about how ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ came about:

There’s always that initial something that pushes a story into motion. A spark that gets the creative gears turning or a seed that takes root and grows. Enemy of my Enemy was born out of a hard kernel of news concerning the Chinese Government’s treatment of the ethnic Uyghur in their western provinces. It didn’t show up on my radar all at once, mind you. It was more jigsaw puzzle pieces, assembling over  a year or so to form a genuinely disturbing image of relentless, hi-tech coercion, forcible assimilation, and repressive policies.

My eldest son was the first to bring the situation to my attention, and to be honest, I filed it under a Communist administration’s usual rigid treatment of dissidents.  Remember, these are the same folks who brought us the crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests back in 1989.

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It wasn’t until I read This article. This one. And this one. that I began to grasp just how pervasive, insidious, and invasive the PRC efforts were.  The more I thought about it, the less I was able to sleep.

Yes, I added elite spec-ops, gun drones, firefights, and a high body count on top of it all to make a typical Mil SF action story, but the foundation is a picture of real-world authoritarianism made frighteningly more wicked and effective by advanced technology. This part, tragically, is not made up.

‘Enemy of my Enemy’ is a spec-fiction action piece set in the next century, but perhaps, in some small way, the mention of this real life, present situation can do a little to raise awareness – not only of the Uyghur’s treatment, but of the rise of ubiquitous, invasive monitoring and surveillance, and the corresponding erosion of human rights and dignity.

Because if history is anything to go by, this trend and this technology will only grow and spread. We need to be vigilant and proactive against it in every form.

If you want to do more, take a look at Human Rights Watch. They deal with these kinds of issues and have an excellent rating at Charity Navigator. In fact, I plan on donating a portion of the first 6 months of ‘EomE’ sales to them.

So buy the book. Tell a friend. Or donate direct.

Art hard and have a great day.

Making it easy on Beta Readers

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I’ve always understood ‘Beta Readers’ to be those long suffering friends and family of writers who are willing – after putting up with the author while they were writing the novel – to then read it, in its entirety, for internal consistency.  They’re not copy editors or grammar nazis scrutinizing for typos and errant semicolons. No, they’re weighing the substance of the story. Plot flow, character motivations and story logic. They might trip over the occasional repeated phrase, but did it work? Allowing for conventions of genre and personal taste, is this a story worth reading?

To that end, I was trying to come up with a one-page hand out to Betas. I want an easy code for them to mark if/when/why the spell was broken. Jot a number or letter in the margin near the offending passages and move on. Here’s where I’m at so far:

  1. So what? (or Do you care?) Are the characters engaging? Is the drama worthy of conflict? Did you stop caring?
  2. Oh Yeah? (or Is this credible?) Is the tech/magic/psi power ‘logical’ in the story world? Are the characters actions and words believable?
  3. Hunh? (or What the hell just happened?) I’m confused.. ‘Two pages ago we were traveling east and now the Sun is setting right in front of them.’ or ‘I thought she had a gun. Why isn’t she shooting at them?’ stuff like that.
  4. Can we go now? (or I just read a bunch of words and nothing happened) Sure there’s ambiance and milieu, but I define ‘fiction traction’ as ‘plot over word count’. No Value Change, no forward motion, and the prose gets boggy.

Add in a big red “R” for REDUNDANCY – ( “*Sheesh* You said his name 37 times in two pages.”) and a big red “C” for CLICHE – (‘She was as dead as a door nail’ Really?)

One of Neil Gaiman’s Rules for Writing is that when a reader says something doesn’t work, they’re almost always right but when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.  I think those 6 notations will let a writer – me, in this case – know where the story falters without putting too much of a burden on already gracious and patient people.

Any thoughts on this? Weigh in.

Have a good day.

 

 

Altered Carbon, Common Humanity

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Binged ‘Altered Carbon’ this weekend, Netflix’ latest and reportedly most expensive series to date. ($6-7 million per episode? whoa) A 10-part cyberpunk/noir piece based on Richard K. Morgan’s book of the same name, it’s a bloody, sensual, cynical look at the future. Designer clone bodies, digitized consciousness, virtual imprisonment and torture, galaxy-spanning Spec Ops/Secret Police, obscene wealth disparity, functional immortality… the future’s so dark, you gotta wear NODs.

A solid Sci Fi show with a gritty story and great effects, but if ‘Altered Carbon’ says anything about the future, it’s that science is really secondary; humanity’s progress is not and never will be linked to technology. The bottom line is we never advance beyond our morality. Period.

In fact push it as far as you want, technology remains just another function of old-fashioned human cruelty, conceit, greed, lust, and rage. Dub, sample, and remix – it’s still the same old song all over again. Hide behind chrome and smart glass and mirror-shades, dress it up in gene-spliced, supermodel customized sexiness with neurachem lethality, package it in alien alloys and complex algorithms, our depravity still shows.

When the end credits rolled on episode 10, I was brought full circle back to 2009 and the fundamental conviction I had when I decided to try and write a SF novel as a Christian: only a spiritual ethic that upholds life as sacred can restrain humanity from becoming inhumane. Lose the preciousness of life and you open the door to contempt and cruelty; commodify people and you end up committing atrocities.

That’s not to say I want my fiction to be sermonizing. No, I aim for entertainment, escapism, and action. Most of my stories have loads of firepower and a high body count. But I want to build the work on a solid foundation. I want substance, themes, meaning in there as well.

Despite the cool visuals, wicked action scenes, and great acting, I was disappointed when Altered Carbon was over. Not that it had ended but at the sordid sameness of it all. It was almost a relief. What was meant to be action-packed cyberpunk coolness and world-weary wisdom was just so uninspired, so sad.

There was a smack upside the head afterwards too: a call to confront the question of faith in spec-fiction once again. To respect the conventions of genre, the demands of the medium, and the expectations of the audience  and aim for quality, and yet somehow portray spiritual realities organically in the plot, characters and fictional world.

Guess I’d better start praying about that again, eh?

Thanks and have a great day.

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BTW, that first novel, RUNNING BLACK, and the sequel SHIFT TENSE are available at Amazon. HERE and HERE

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Latest Zombie Six

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The next chapter in the Zombie 6 novella ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ is now available. Click on the title link above or use the pull down menu in the header. Treachery, reversals, foes all around, the team races to confront the real enemy.

Thanks and enjoy.

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* cover art by J. Penswick Designs. Nice one, eh?