Inspiration: Godzilla

Godzilla, In Perspective

This is a shot from the movie Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. I think this is a stunning scene that contrasts the human scale with the “monster scale” typically embodied in monster flicks. It emphasizes how dangerous the monster is, both from its respective size as well as the fact that nobody is even thinking about making any sort of move against the behemoth. The inclusion of the crew members in the helicopter is vital, because in this scene they serve as a surrogate for the audience.

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Inspiration: Cat People

Cat People Dream Sequence

This is an image of a strangely moving, recurring dream sequence from Cat People, the 1982 romantic horror movie starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. The movie is about shapeshifters, specifically dangerous, black leopards. Irena Gallier is a young woman who keeps having a recurring dream about black leopards, eventually leading her to the discovery that she’s a were-creature, a shapeshifter.

She eventually finds out that shifting in her species is triggered by sex. And that she’ll have to make a decision between the normal human that she’s fallen in love with and another member of her kind.

Note: (2018/03/03) I find it interesting that Marvel’s new hit film, Black Panther, includes a similar dream sequence featuring panthers in a tree. Used for slightly different effect, of course, but nevertheless remarkably close in aspect and impact.

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Novelette Series: Entertaining, Fast and Just Enough Plot

I’ve written about this before, about how I’ve always liked novelettes and, sometimes, their slightly longer cousin, the novella. The annual Hugo Awards for SF classify novelettes as stories between 7501 – 17,500 words (roughly 30 to 70 pages in a mass market paperback). Novellas run from 17,501 to 40,000 words (71 – 160 pages).

A lot of famous stories fall into these ranges. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a novella. So is Jack London’s Call of the Wild (one of my absolute favorite stories). Robert Silverberg is famous for his award-winning novelettes and novellas, such as Enter a Soldier. Later, Enter Another, Hawksbill Station and Sailing to Byzantium.

Even more interesting, some writers wrote frequently at these lengths and produced a body of such works in the form of series. Poul Anderson created his Technic Civilization Saga, now reprinted in seven largish volumes, as a mix of short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels. The Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was likewise a mix of short stories, novelettes and one novella (A Study in Scarlet).

OK, so it’s obvious that I like novelettes and novellas. Thus, it’s probably not surprising that I’m written a bunch of them, and am in the process of writing more. In fact, I’ve started organizing my work into a number of distinct series.

Science Fiction

While the bulk of my work has been in the fantasy field, I’ve still got several SF series in progress.

  • After the Fall: After spreading throughout the entire solar system and achieving a high level of technology, civilization has been demolished in a vicious war between humans, AIs and post-Singularity humans. This is a series of stories about the pockets of humanity surviving in pockets throughout the system, from the burning wastes of Mercury, a war-ravaged but terraformed Mars, the devastated Earth and other places.

          — Hell-Cats of the Burning Sands

  • Belters: In the 24th century, Jonas Kastle is a troubleshooter for the Outer Planets League (OPL) in the run-up to what may become the first interplanetary war.

          — The Deep Dive

  • Monumentalists: In the early 23rd century, Emily Dunkirk works for the Monumentalists, an organization dedicated to finding stolen artwork and returning it to its rightful owners. She specializes in retrieval, usually from people and organizations who don’t want to give up their stolen property.

          — Clash by Night


I have several series that are best classified as fantasy…

  • Forever House: Adventures involving the Forever House, a mystical tavern that appears in different times and places throughout the multiverse.

          — Rocco Fitch, on Fighting Evil
          — Hunting Expedition

  • Roadwerks Limited: Rocco Fitch, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, inadvertently buys a magic road…and gets far more than he bargained for.

          — Road Trip
          — Paying the Toll

The Thousand Kingdoms

The Thousand Kingdoms is a balkanized nation of anarchic kingdoms controlled by the Tars Arcana, a ruling organization of powerful mages. It’s a post-feudal setting where the existence of magic has stunted the development of science. Series existing in this setting include:

  • Big Sky Country: Brant Halvar is a skyracer on the dangerous skyracing circuit. He and his crew overcome adversity as he advances through the ranks in his effort to be accepted into the elite Big Sky League.

          — The Mad Diver of Mistveil

  • Keeper’s Guild: Demetrius is a member of the Keeper’s Guild, an organization in the anarchic city of Mozanya that preserves the integrity of the city’s for-profit legal system by ensuring the safety of plaintiffs and key witnesses.

          — The Most Dangerous Thing

  • Pageeda and Scuffee: Pageeda, a young homeless girl living in the gritty port city of Mozanya, struggles to find out what happened to her older sister. She is befriended by Scuffee, a strangely intelligent, oversized cat who has escaped from the local Arena.

          — Bitter Days
          — The Threefold Revenge

  • The Royal Protectors: Lydio Malik is the Royal Bodyguard for Princess Analisa, the heir to the throne of Salasia. He and a team of others, including the princess’s maid and the Royal Mage, defend her from powerful forces trying to topple the ruling dynasty.

          — The Rooftop Game
          — Last Day on the Job
          — Unleashed

  • The Silent Knight: Ser Kedric Hawkthorn has been betrayed by his own liege lord, the so-called Boy King. Taking refuge in a rebellious province, the disfigured knight finds himself leading troops against his former king…and his mysterious backers.

          — The Silent Knight
          — An Unexpected Journey

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Fantastic Defenders: Tuning a Cover

Cover Comparison: Fantastic Defenders

When we launched “Fantastic Defenders,” the first volume of our new Worlds Enough anthology series, we were never quite as happy with the cover as we’d hoped. The issue wasn’t with the cover art, which we thought was both excellent and well worth the money we’d paid (that’s how you get real cover art by the way…you buy it from somebody good). But the typography…the design…of the cover wasn’t quite as snazzy as we’d hoped. Additionally, the cover was perhaps just a little bit dark. Some of the key details simply didn’t stand out when the cover was shown as a thumbnail.

The thing about indie publishing is, if you’re doing it right, your book is available forever. We always knew we were going to do something down the road to improve the cover. It wasn’t horrible, it just needed some tuning.

Well, that time is now.

Maybe we should have done something sooner. In fact, yes, absolutely, we should have. But with indie publishing, there’s never a shortage of work to be done. There’s always another deadline, more words to write, another convention to prepare for, etc.

When I took on the task of tuning up the cover, I consulting with Don Anderson, a graphic artist. We discussed the flaws of the original cover:

  • Uninspired typography.
  • Unclear delineation of Worlds Enough as the series name, not the volume name.
  • Rough snow on the bottom of the page distracted from the names of the editors.
  • Despite the snow, the cover was just a little too dark.
  • Key details, especially the sword, not visible in thumbnail.
  • Remove the list of writers on the right side of the cover.

Above, you can see the Before and After versions of the cover.

One key addition was little graphic chevrons on either side of the series title. They’re small, but they subtly serve to set “Worlds Enough” off as the series title and, by contrast, emphasize “Fantastic Defenders as the title of the anthology. Although not shown, slightly stubbier chevrons are used as the bullets on the back cover blurb. So the chevrons are functioning as a unifying element of an overall theme.

The overall cover has been lightened, so some of the fine details are more visible. The sword has been lightened even more in order to make that feature more prominent (and visible in a thumbnail).

The snow at the bottom of the page has been lightened and smoothed, and the editorial designation has a drop shadow. Combined, this makes the names of the editors easier to read.

Overall, I feel like the cover has been improved. The changes might not be dramatic, but even a 10% improvement (however you might quantify that) seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

Posted in Management | Tagged , , | Leave a comment Yet Another Disappointing Update

A Typical MeetingI’m a member of a writing group that uses Meetup to promote our group and organize our meetings. I have come to the general conclusion that the folks at Meetup are totally clueless about the business they’re in.

Despite the fact that people are paying to promote and manage their groups on Meetup, the company seems determined to take away existing features and continually devolve the product into something of use only to photo-sharing teenagers (for which there are probably also better sites).

Last year, they took away the Files feature. So, you can run your meetings, but you can’t share things like hand-outs, agendas, course materials, etc. As a writing group, we shared chapters weekly to be critiqued, a capability that they took away. When I complained, their answer was 1) they felt other sites like Google Drive did filesharing better, and 2) most of their customers were using Meetup on their phones. So, you can’t share files, but, hey, you can share photos.

Thanks to this feature removal, our members have to join Meetup. And then they have to join Google. And then we have to do extra work to set up access for new members so we can share files with them. No more one-stop shopping. More headaches, and more work, for the organizers. And each group on Meetup that has this same problem, has to figure out how to solve it themselves.

In their latest update, Meetup is rolling out a new user interface. Well, really, they’ve unified their codebase so the same interface is being used for both their web presence and smartphones. Theoretically, they get a single more maintainable user interface, and paying customers get:

  • An inconsistent interface, with different parts of the site in varying stages of makeover.
  • An airy design that uses screen real estate inefficiently and makes features harder to get to for web users.
  • Out of sync information between screens. For example, while on a Meeting page, if you click “Attend” and then go to the All Meetings page, the attendance numbers will be out of sync. Are you scheduled to attend or not? This is important…our writing group meetings have a cap on attendance.
  • An invalid count of the number of meetings attended (for some users). This has been a reported bug now for a year; still not fixed.

I could go on with my list. As an IT worker (in my day job), I consider it a half-assed, unprofessional update that adds nothing for paying users. It’s a shockingly bad release for a company that has seventy or so people.

All I’ve got to say is…we’re actively looking at alternatives. Facebook might be a viable alternative for us, and they’re free, too.

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Inspiration: Worst Cities in a Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie Apocalypse

If you’ve ever worried about which cities would be the worst to be in when a zombie apocalypse starts, well, here’s an infographic that ranks the worst cities in the United States. Not unexpectedly, New York tops the list (which just happens to be where I’ve set my upcoming zombie story).

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Chessiecon 2017

I went to Chessicon again this year, which is a small, regional convention held in Timonium, MD. As per usual over this holiday weekend, I could only free up my schedule for one day, so I attended on Saturday. I had an excellent day, and here are the sessions and events that I attended:

  • Unintentional Geoengineering: The Current and Future Status of Climate Change — One major consequence of modern industrial society is shifts in the Earth’s climate variability: aka, climate change. Find out about the reasons why (over all) these changes our detrimental to our society; and the prospects of responding to it in the future. [With Tom Holtz]

    An excellent and comprehensive presentation, including slides, on the topic of climate change. With a concentration on the science, Tom Holtz, a professor at the University of Maryland, covered a wealth of topics: primary factors in climate change on long and short timeframes, an overview of how climate change occurs, the reasons why recent climate change is man-made, etc. Very cool stuff, backed up by a killer slide deck.

    One sad note. Like a lot of scientists, Holtz is worried that much of the publicly available climate data will be taken down by the current presidential administration. I confess, I never thought in my lifetime that I’d see a totally anti-science stance by our very own government, so I understand why he’s afraid.

  • Concert: Kiva — Kiva blends strong vocal harmonies with rich and diverse acoustic and electric instrumentation, performing originals, traditionals, and covers. The musicians are inspired by many cultures, spiritual disciplines, and musical styles, including celtic-folk, folk-rock, blues, big band, traditional chants, and jazz. [With Kiva]

    Kiva was a surprise. I’d been heading for another session, but got pulled in by a song as I passed the concert room. I ended up staying for the whole set, and even buying one of the band’s retrospective CDs. A wide variety of music, in different styles, played/sung by people who love what they do.

  • Where Do We Dystopia from Here? — Dystopia as a genre has been reigning in many science fiction circles and shows no signs of losing popularity. What’s powerful and useful about this trend or its manifestations? What’s limiting or frustrating? How do we feel about dystopian fiction when we live in dystopian realities? [With Mary Fan (M), Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Timothy Liebe and Jay Smith]

    A fun talk about dystopias in fiction. Not a lot of true information content, but a fun time was had by all.

  • Suddenly, the Power Went Out… — How is horror affected by modern improvements in technology? Do you have to knock out the Internet and smart phones to have a compelling horror story? Or can modern terminology be used to enhance the experience, rather than an impediment that has to be subverted or mysteriously disabled before things can truly get chilling? [With Elektra Hammond (M), Cristin Kist, Jay Smith, Kelly Szpara and Martin Wilsey]

    The general consensus was A) people, including the panelists, were tired of the same old tropes, and B) new technologies actually provide new opportunities for horror. If you still want to use the old tropes, you can still set your story in the appropriate time period with whatever technological limits that you want. Twilight Zone was also mentioned for the minimalistic and timeless ways in which it did its stories. Also intriguing, because the kernel of a new short story came to me during this talk.

  • How the Twilight Zone Embraced “Less is More” — Sterling’s television anthology The Twilight Zone engrossed audiences with thrilling stories of all sorts. In 2017, many episodes of the five-season series and its various spin-offs are still intense, captivating and even scary, often thanks to the show’s ability to say as much as possible with very few special effects. Our panelists talk about their favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone and how the minimalist style made it more effective and memorable. [With Scott Edelman, Elektra Hammond (M), Steve Kozeniewski, Karen MacLeod and Alanna Morland]

    Panelists described some of their favorite Twilight Zone episodes and how they still held up so well today. Ably helped out by a fan in the audience who knew the name of every single episode. Another fun talk.

  • Author Meet & Greet — This was the first of two author signing slots.

    The authors were excellent, including my friend, Martin Wilsey. The other authors at this session included J. L. Gribble, Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Steven Southard and Michelle D. Sonnier. I even bought books from Southard and Kozeniewski.

    If I were to pick a nit, it’s that I didn’t feel the convention did much to promote the event. Authors ultimately come to conventions to promote themselves, after all.

  • Zuul: Destroyer of Shins! (and Other Recent Prehistoric Discoveries) — Aside from being the coolest dinosaur name ever, what does the recent find of Zuul, and other dinosaurs of 2016/2017 mean? A review of the latest finds, and how they inform the scientific world and the public. [With Tom Holtz]

    Another fun presentation from Professor Tom Holtz, this time on the various dinosaur-related discoveries of the past year. Including one dinosaur that was named after Zuul, the demon from the original Ghostbusters move. It was also interesting because it gave you a view into the back and forth nature of scientific research, as recent discoveries bring into question some aspects of the currently accepted taxonomy of dinosaurs. Very much worth staying late for (the talk ended at 10:15 PM, and then I drove back home).

More than other conventions, Chessiecon has a prominent filking (folk music and mixes of other types of music) track. That’s not really my thing, but I’ll confess that Kiva pulled me in with some excellent music. It was a small convention, with some pretty good content, but not a lot of it.

The event was noticeably smaller than last year, and almost overwhelmingly gray in terms of age. I honestly think they need to try to do more to appeal to other age groups, at least if they want the convention to continue being viable.

I was also surprised that there was no day rate for Saturday—I got charged the full convention rate for just that single day, which is unusual. Even more annoying, though, was that the writing workshops were only available for advanced sign-ups. Since I got charged the full rate, but still couldn’t attend the one writing workshop I was interested in, I can’t help but feel slightly cheated.

Still, despite that one annoyance, overall, I had a good time.

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Justice League: Surprisingly Watchable

Justice LeagueMy brother dragged me to see Justice League, the new DC superhero movie, last Thursday for its early premiere. Technically, it’s the fifth movie in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Of course, Marvel has had 17 successful movies compared to DC’s five movies, which have been critically panned with the sole exception of Wonder Woman.

This review, by Paul Tassi, is about the most accurate I’ve seen. He does an excellent job of summarizing what was good and bad about the film.

My own brief summary:

  • The character interactions mostly feel right, and are primarily what makes the film work as well as it does. The humor is a huge plus for the film.
  • The villain is just a McGuffin for the team to fight. He’s even more one-dimensional than Marvel villains, which is an impressive feat, but not one that you should strive for.
  • The threat used to bring the team together seems a little sketchy. Basically, it’s just a plot device to get the team formed.
  • Aquaman was considerably more intriguing than I expected, despite the abbreviated introduction
  • Flash was hilarious. More, please.
  • The special effects weren’t quite up to the final climactic battle, but DC tried.
  • It’s got some plot holes you could drive a truck through. Try not to think about them too much.

Basically, it’s an enjoyable film. I liked it. I didn’t love it. On IMDB’s 10-star scale, I’d give it about 6 stars (considerably better than the 39% from Rotten Tomatoes).

All of the previous DC movies have been financially successful, despite any beatings they taken from audiences and critics. However, Wonder Woman is the only film that has emerged with acclaim from both fans and critics, as well as being a financial powerhouse. It remains to be seen how Justice League will fare. It debuted lower than expected, 96M in the US rather than 110M+ as was expected, which is the worst of all the DCEU films. And the word is that it’s basically got to cross 600M worldwide to make a profit.

It’s got some serious problems, but it’s the first film other than Wonder Woman where they successfully captured the essence of the DC superheroes.

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Inspiration: Olympus Mons and Arizona

Olympus Mons and Arizona Our inspiration this week is the long-dead volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons. As you can see in the accompanying image, the mountain is literally as big as the entire state of Arizona.

It has a height of 13.6 miles (or 22 kilometers or 72,000 feet, take your pick). In short, it’s two-and-a-half times the height of Mount Everest above sea level. Olympus Mons is the largest known volcano in the solar system. As a shield volcano, built up from successive basaltic flows, it’s much like the Hawaiian volcanoes, but on a much larger scale.

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Profile: Guerra

Guerra is the wildcard in my upcoming novella, “Rise or Die.” He’s a seventeen-year-old warlord in conflict-ravaged Brazil, forged in the crucible of deadly asymmetric warfare since he was four years old. He’s got more bonafide combat hours than most soldiers ever see in a lifetime. Now there’s two separate groups chasing each other through the territory he controls, a band of art thieves and the Brazilian military units chasing them. Aren’t they going to be surprised when they meet Guerra?

By the way, Guerra means “War” in Portuguese.

As an exercise, I often start off by writing a profile for each major character in a story. Here’s the profile for Guerra, a dangerous, homegrown warlord. He’s 17 years old, 5’6″ and 125 pounds.


Profile: GuerraI don’t remember my parents. I was maybe four when a war band killed my village. What I remember most was the heat and the tears and the screams and the smell of cooking meat. They burned everything and then they took me and some of the other children, maybe ten or twelve of us, with them into the jungle. I did what I was told to do, because that was how you survived.

None of the others from my village lived more than a year. They weren’t tough enough. Me, I took my first life before I was five. Turns out, I was good at killing. Really good.

Knives. Guns. It didn’t matter. If I could lift it, I could kill with it.

But it was like I saw things different from everyone else. Enemies don’t just walk in front of your gun, especially if they got guns, too. You got to arrange for them to be where you want them. I was good at that, too. Really good.

I’m not a child no more. I’m too dangerous. I’m a threat to the ones above me. In the jungle, you kill threats. I want to live, but I got to become something else to do it. I got people depending on me now.

I’ll paint the jungle red with blood if I have to.

It’s rise or die.

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