Auditory Update

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen that Gabrielle de Cuir finished up the review recording for Steel Beneath the Skin a couple of days ago. I’ve spent the last couple of evenings going through it. As it stands there’s 11 hours 32 minutes of audio here and I’m still working through it. I got to the end of part 3 last night and I thought “should update the troops.”

So… I’m kind of jazzed. (Just to be clear, I don’t think I ever use that phrase in real life, but it somehow seems right. I may be buzzed instead). There are a couple of things that I think need fixing, but it’s technical stuff. So far I have not come across a single sentence where I’m thinking “Oh I really don’t see that as how it should sound.” Gabrielle has captured the story and the world as well as I could have hoped for. I am enjoying listening to something that I know backwards. I mean, I’ve read Steel a lot of times. Some of you have possibly read it more often, but I’ve read it a lot and I’m not a big one for re-reading books. It takes a lot to spark that interest again. Monday night I came home feeling fairly bad and watched a movie to try to get myself in a fit state to listen. And then I sat down to part one, and when it finished it was about forty minutes into Tuesday and I had work in the morning, and I still had to force myself not to start part two.

Part four tonight. Can’t wait.

Indecision Redux

Right, it’s official: I cannot keep a project in my head for longer than a few days at a time without something else popping up and interrupting. It’s the opposite of writers block, but it’s as annoyingly disabling. I need a break.

Thankfully, I plan to get The Lowest Depths of Shame out at the beginning of October and then I have the reissue project going which is going to tie up some bandwidth until the new year. I don’t plan on putting anything new out after Shame until the start of February. That gives me a couple of months to play computer games, fiddle about with things which might end up as books and might fail, pick something to have ready for February, and get it all wrapped and ready.

Well, last time I ended up in this mood, the end result was Steel Beneath the Skin, so you never know, my frustration may be a good thing.

Here We Are in Indecision Land

So the next Ultrahumans book, Shadows, is looking like it’s taking over as the candidate for release after The Lowest Depths of Shame. I’m writing something else, a sci-fi/urban fantasy/horror novel called Reality Hack, and I’m going to get it done and released because it’s cool, but I got stuck and Shadows is begging to be finished and released.

hate having too many ideas. Better than having too few, I guess, but I end up having trouble finishing anything. The rumblings of future plot keep percolating up through my coffee-fuelled brain, somewhat akin to methane bubbling up through tar. They hit the surface and burst, spewing black, sticky goo over everything nearby and making it hard to think because of the sulphurous scent. (I did say I’d been doing horror recently, right?)

I really need to be able to write three things at once. I mean, seriously. Then I could do a fantasy, a sci-fi, and another random one, and my inspiration monster would be happy. Maybe. And I’d know what my release schedule actually looked like. Maybe.

There’s This Thing I Want to Write…

As I posted over on the Thaumatology blog, I think the next book out after The Lowest Depths of Shame is going to be Reality Hack, primarily because I think it’s the most developed of the irons I have in the fire, but I wanted to share this idea with you because… well it’d be cool if I could get it to work.

I’ve got this vision of a girl alone on a spaceship. We’re talking relatively low-end technology here, not that far into the future. Ion drives, no artificial gravity, long transfer orbits. And we open up seeing our girl strapped into an acceleration couch as her ship cruises through space from one world to the next. She’s busy whiling away the hours doing what she really, really loves doing…

…watching old episodes of Firefly. She thinks Nathan Fillion is so hot. She can repeat every line of every episode, and the movie, with near perfect immitations of the actors, in time with the playback, but sometimes she likes to just watch. And while she can sing along to the theme tune perfectly, she never does, because that theme tune is the reason she’s out there, flying along between the planets.

“You can’t take the sky from me.”

And the problem I have is that while I have a pretty good idea of who this girl is and what she’s like… I have absolutely no plot. I’m considering building her world and doing some shorts because she’s great! We’ll see.

And Keep on Flying.

This Stuff’s Hard!

Generally (and I’m happy to admit this) I write fairly fluffy books. The good guys win and the bad guys lose, but more than that, I am not fond of throwing pointless problems at my protagonists. (I am not sure why some authors feel they need to complicate every tiny thing their characters do, but it seems to me that it’s either word count or a desire to punish.) If my heroes need to get to the bad guy to save the world it may take them time to find him and work out how to nail him, but they will not get fourteen punctured tires on the way to the big battle, because that’s just pointless irritation.

So the battle scenes in the last Aneka book (we’re going to call that one Honour going forward) were a real pain to write. I mean, I took ages trying to get them right. And here I am giving myself worse problems in the next one (Shame, for reference). I’ve had to break out and do something random for a few days barely into part two, and the later bits are going to be really difficult to write.

Seriously, when I wrap this one up in pink ribbon I am going to be so happy.

A Little Bit of History

Okay, so I have a touch of writer’s block. I think it’s Christmas or something. Whatever, it’ll pass and I’ll get the scene done. It’s big and complex, and it’s all mapped out, but exactly how to write it is eluding me just now. Being blocked on that (and annoyed about it) has been stopping writing anything else to keep in practice, so I started reading some old stuff I wrote a few years ago. It’s been interesting, and I want to share some of the thoughts on it because they very much relate to Aneka and her story.

So, once upon a time there was an online game called City of Heroes. Some of you may have heard of it, I know at least one person reading this played it. I can’t say I was there at the beginning, because it spent a year only available in the US, but I got onto the EU beta and was there when it started over here, and I was in there when it closed down. It was my first ever MMO, and the only one I’ve ever gone back to, several times. However, it wasn’t the game play which kept me coming back, it was the people.

Soon after the servers opened someone decided to set up a role-playing event. A spot at the foot of the (very huge) statue of Galaxy Girl was picked, announcements were made on the forums, and people gathered there to pretend to be superheros. It was a success, and the following night people went there again even though it was meant to be a one-off event. And it carried on going. There was a ‘Galaxy Girl Meet’ on the night the servers closed, even though the actual statue had been destroyed by then. Through the years, all sorts of drama unfolded around the characters who turned up to sit around the statue and chat. Friendships were made, both in game and out of it. It was a very long running, very successful, open world role-play environment, and I miss it.

So, what’s this got to do with Aneka? Well, the forums for the game were run by some utterly brilliant people who allowed us to bend the rules a little if it seemed good for the community. A thread I started detailing the events (in character) of the first night was added to by more and more people as the nights went on. There was really supposed to be a limit to thread length, but they made an exception and just let us run with it. It was supplemented by other threads with stories people had written. They were character pieces, designed to put more life into the characters. What did they do when they weren’t dressed in tights? What was their home life like? Who was the man behind the mask? The game had no (official) secret identity mechanism, so we made it up. I won’t say this was the first ‘published’ writing I did, because I’d posted stories before, but this was more regular and it started to set my ‘voice.’ I focused as much on character development, as did many of these stories, as action. I tended toward a light style, storytelling rather than technical brilliance.

Whenever I’d go back to the game, I’d look around at whatever new powers were available and start a character with something I’d never tried before. In 2009, Annette Barrington turned up at the statue. She was a shy late teenager, a big hero fan who was there looking for autographs. Her brother had been crippled in a war against aliens and she wanted payback, so she had created a persona for herself which had the confidence to fight bad guys. Annette’s story was all about humanity and identity. She worried that she was losing the former as her power grew, and the struggle between her two (later three) personas was played out over three years as she went from shy teenager to confident, near god-like, young woman.

In 2011, a new update was issued giving us access to a new would, Pretoria. Pretoria was a dark mirror world where the big heroes were villains and vice versa. Or that was the basic idea. In reality things were a lot more grey (which was good, because that would have sucked). It gave us the ability to have our characters turn up with new colours as their ‘dimensional twins’ could cross over. It also gave us the ability to switch sides; heroes could go vigilante and then villain, and back again. Annette went bad as a new, sadistic, persona developed. The original plan was to have her stay villain for a while her twin got to run around in the sun, but my (and her) friends wouldn’t have it. Worlds were moved to get her back. It came as something of a surprise, but that’s by-the-way. The story of her fall into evil, the New Divide trilogy and its prequels, is where you can really start seeing my writing starting to come together.

Meanwhile, Annette Louise Barrington, who ended up calling herself by her middle name, was escaping Pretoria and coming to Paragon City. Louise had cybernetic eyes and a pair of custom-designed pistols. The new power set, Dual Pistols, was heavy on the Gun Fu style and it seemed appropriate that if Annette’s alter ego, Nitoichi, used twin katana, Louise should also wield two weapons. Louise’s story was about humanity, again, as her cybenetics and the nano-bots in her body slowly made her more and more cybernetic. There was also a strong thread of ‘doing what needed to be done, because you were the one who could do it’ about Louise’s story. She was a political refugee of sorts, wanted for murder, and she was granted asylum so long as she would do a few jobs for the government. Not always nice jobs. (It was, however, awesome writing them because the genre allows you to go more or less anywhere. Louise did a murder mystery in 1927, two sealed environment thrillers on a submarine and a space station… Basically you could do any kind of story you wanted and the genre could cope; gotta love the super hero world for that.)

And so we end up back with Aneka. Aneka was another attempt to get some of these characters out of CoH so I could write more about them. Of course, Aneka and Louise are different people, but you can see the similarities. It’s even more obvious when I go look at the old stories. I’d sort of forgotten about Alison, Louise’s enigmatic handler (her role was actually based, loosely, on CURE from the Destroyer books), but I figure you can see the analogue in Aneka’s life. Aneka obviously has to deal with her own humanity pretty much immediately rather than the creeping increase in inorganic components Louise had to handle. Aneka has Al; Louise had the rather more insidious issue of her vast complex of nanites becoming self-aware. (Annette had an inner voice too as her personalities would talk to each other.) There is the obvious continuing theme of doing ‘what has to be done,’ and whether it does or not.

So, yes, Aneka owes a great deal to Louise (and Annette to a lesser extent), and reading those old stories has reminded me of her roots in the best MMO I’ve ever been involved with. (I think I’ve finally got a handle on a new Annette, though she’s now two different people, body and mind split across two different women which seems rather appropriate for her. More on that some other time.) I miss CoH. City of Titans is in the works and I hope some of the magic will come back when that’s available, but somehow I doubt it will ever be quite the same.

We live in hope. And meanwhile, we write and remember.

NaNoWriMo How I Hate Thee

So, it’s coming up on November, and that means National Novel Writing Month, and NaNoWriMo means angst.

Last year I was wrapping up The Other Side of Hell in October and I knew what I needed out of For Whom the Wedding Bells Toll so I decided I’d write Bells as a NaNoWriMo project. For those who aren’t aware, NaNoWriMo is designed to get you to write a novel, just write it, no procrastination. 50,000 words in 30 days; 1,666 words per day. The idea is that people who can’t seem to get that book out have help and support to do so. My problem is that I don’t have that problem. I’d done over 70,000 words by the end of the month. I’d beaten the 50,000 in two weeks. However, the end result was a mess. I spent ages trying to get it into a fit state for publishing. I vowed I’d never do NaNoWriMo again.

And then I come to the end of October and find myself putting the final touches to the first draft of another book, Book 4 of the Aneka Jansen series. I’ve also been finding myself dragging; I need a break from Aneka. I think. So I had this idea, and I started sculpting characters and jotting down background concepts. And my problems with NaNoWriMo start coming back…

I can’t start until November 1st. I’m sure some people use this time to carefully plot their books, but I don’t work that way. I have plotted out a bloody trilogy! I don’t need more time to plot and plan, I need to write! I need to be putting words down on a page (or a screen anyway), but instead I have to wait. What is that doing? It’s giving me time to start second-guessing myself, that’s what it’s doing. It is doing exactly what NaNo is set up to avoid; it’s forcing procrastination. If I were not seeing this as a NaNo project, I’d have started writing last week and I’d probably be ten or twenty thousand words in. I might be thinking, ‘This sucks, drop the damn thing and go write about Aneka,’ but I’d know whether what I was doing was worth it. Instead I’m starting to think, ‘Not sure about this. Books 2 and 3 look weak. They’ll need re-plotting and you know you hate changing things afterwards. Bad idea, man. Don’t do it. Idea wasn’t that great anyway…’

Probably it’s just that I’m not the kind of person NaNo is aimed at. I know I can write a book. I know how should go about doing it. NaNo is for people who plan, and plan, and plan, and plan… but never actually finish anything, and that’s not me.

So, NaNo starts on Friday. I have the day off and I’m going to start something. Whether I’ve talked myself out of the new project and start the next Aneka or I bang on and see what these new characters are like is currently an open question. (And Aneka’s 5th book will be kicking off in December whatever happens; don’t worry.) If you’re doing NaNo, good luck and if you need advice or encouragement, I’ll be there for you.

But I swear I’m not doing NaNo next year!