Dog Days of Summer

This was a busy week. My writer’s existence was quite at odds with my day job existence. For one of my jobs, we had a major update that was going to go through on our system At noon today. So I had to get about six days worth of work done in about four and a half days. I managed to finish up with about an hour to spare, so I had a free afternoon. I thought I might find a nice shady spot and spend some time writing on my laptop. I went outside, and immediately said to myself, “No, not happening.” We were well into 90+ degree weather today, and my muse was apparently burned to a crisp on the pavement.

Instead, I opted to find a quiet, air-conditioned environment to spend some quality writing time. Writing time, quality or not, has lately been scarce in my life. Summer always seems to throw a bunch at me at once. But I won’t complain. I know that I am lucky to have steady work. It’s work that I enjoy, to boot. And if there are a couple of weeks here and there where writing time is scarce, then I will make do with what time I do have. and today I was able to get in about an hour and a half before I had to punch in for job number two.

Although I haven’t had much time to write, I am still trying to maintain some level of creativity and entertainment in my life. I spent the majority of the last rainy weekend reading, writing, and binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I think I may have a new favorite show. I may even do a review in a couple of weeks. I definitely need to sit down and watch it again before I attempt that, though.

My reading list has been woefully neglected since my vacation. I finished reading A Game of Thrones, which I enjoyed quite a bit.I then learned, while looking at my recommendations, that Cherie Priest’s Chapelwood the sequel to Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches  has come out. I loved that story, so I will be purchasing and reading the new book as soon as I can. But I think I may need to reread the first book, just so that I can be fully prepared.

And, of course, I’m back into my writing. After hitting a few walls, realizing that a few of my plotlines just do not work, I am finally in a place where things are back on track. Dette and the crew of the Morning Star are back on their adventurous, peril-filled track, A long-dead Sci-Fi story is back, reshaped, and less exposition-angsty, and I’m working on an outline for another story. I must be inspired, because I abhor outlines. I generally find it too difficult to stick to the outline once I begin writing. My characters do not like to listen once I’ve begun the writing process. It is a battle to not let them completely take over the story.  Of course, there is always the chance that the exact same thing will happen with this story. I am the worst at reining my characters in. But that is ok. they usually do a better job at advancing the plot than I do, anyway.

 

 

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So Many Books, So Little Time

I just returned from a week-long trip to Maine on Sunday. After weeks of 80+ degrees, it was nice to pass the time in the woods by a lake where, at best, the temperature barely broke 65 degrees. It was heaven!  I was even able to get a little writing done. I would have gotten more done, but I made the massive mistake of bringing my Kindle.

I feel bad for her. I’ve downloaded who knows how many hundreds of books and short stories, yet I rarely have time to sit down and do any significant amount of reading. But I decided I would make my way through my “novels I’ve been dying to read, but due to my short attention span, will probably never get to” list.

The first order of business was finishing The Scarlet Letter. It was a bet I made with myself over a year ago. The book, to me at least, is tedious. But I finally made it through. After that, I decided to treat myself with something I’ve wanted to read. After years of waiting, and watching some of the T.V. series, I cracked open (figuratively) the Song of Ice and Fire series. As of This afternoon during my lunch break I am a two-thirds of the way through A Game of Thrones. I was worried, because my last attempt to read epic fantasy was The Wheel of Time novels. That did not go so well. I am pleased to report that I am eagerly anticipating finishing the first book by next week, and shortly thereafter beginning book 2. Alright, GRRM, bring it on, I can take it.  By the way, for the fantasy fans, have you read these books? If so, what are your thoughts?

On the writing front, both of my major projects are humming along…slowly (I know, huge shock, right?). I’ve also been working on couple of short story ideas when I am having trouble, creatively. They are two Sci-Fi shorts, and are wonderful for getting the creative juices flowing. Whether they will ever see the light of day, or be expanded upon, I cannot say, but they let me put some of my crazier ideas down, get them out of my system, so my projects don’t get too silly.

I’ve been playing around a bit with some of the settings in Scrivener, which is my writing platform of choice, and I think I may have it customized nearly to where I like it. While I love a lot of its features, I miss some of the other features I had with my previous writing software, WriteitNow. I have the newest version of WriteitNow (WriteitNow5) in the shopping cart, and have been contemplating making the purchase, just to see what the new version offers, and if it is worth the switch back. I may do a compare/contrast post in the future, should I decide to make the purchase. For those of you that use either/both pieces of software, what are your thoughts?

It has been a long first day back to work, but I figured that while I still had a little energy, I’d put a post up. It has been a little while, and I miss updating the blog. I have another update planned in the next couple of days, so check back soon.

Click Bait is Evil: or, How to Make Me Unfriend, Unlike, and Unfollow You

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I'm a dog person, but even I would heed this warning.

I apologize in advance,  but this post,  which has come after a lengthy absence,  is a bit if a rant. I have noticed a disturbing trend that is occurring on many of the Facebook pages love. It is invasive,  insidious, and frequently leaves me feeling violated and betrayed.  I am,  of course,  referring to click bait.

At first I shrugged it off.  Promises that #5 would amaze me,  or that I would be shocked to my core at 2:58 proved to be completely false,  time and again.  At first the “articles” were at least tangentially related to the topics normally of interest to those pages and their followers.  They were annoying, but infrequent.

Slowly,  the landscape has been changing.  More often I see posts that fall into a few categories: X used to look like this,  now that Y has come in and made these changes,  you’ll be amazed with the results! ; You might think  you know all about this movie, but a fan has come up with a theory that completely changes how you’ll view the movie forever! ;and Random facts about something you do every day that show you’ve been doing it wrong for years. 

I am ashamed to admit that I fell for these a couple of times.  But after reading a convoluted fan theory about how the Harry Potter series was really about a boy who was in an institution because of his delusions of being a wizard,  I learned my lesson.  It’s great that people have theories about their favorite forms of entertainment, but not every theory is good or interesting. Some of them even turn out to be a waste of time.

One of the pages that at one time I loved,  mainly because it was steampunk related and had some really cool posts related to the Victorian Era and steampunk,  suddenly began sharing click bait articles.  There were only a few in the beginning.  But now,  it is multiple times every day. I may one day soon make the decision to remove the page from my likes. And that pains me.

When I like any page,  it means you are saying something that interest me.  But when it begins to become more about mining for likes,  the quality of posts declines,  and rapidly.

On  a lighter note, I feel heartened to know that others are feeling the same way.  I know these will never go away,  but if I can see fewer on my feed everyday without having to unlike and Unfriend people,  I would be a happy camper.

Again,  I apologize for the rant,  but now that I’ve gotten it out,  I feel better,  and am ready to get back into posting more frequently.

And to add a little more steampunk to your day, a catamaton!

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Steampunk and Monsters Part 5: Ghosts

The scene has played out in many Victorian settings. A cast of characters gathers around the table, their hostess instructing them to join hands. The lights dim, everyone closes their eyes. The hostess begins by asking everyone to focus. She begins by asking the spirits for permission to communicate. At first, there is no response; the skeptics in the group chuckle. Clearly, this is all a ruse.

Then, a knocking. The location is unclear, but a loud knocking sound echoes through the entire house. Everyone, including the skeptics, are quiet. Suddenly, the hostess enters a trance. She moans, rocks back and forth. She chants. A voice emanates from her – but it is different. The voice is too deep, it has a different rhythm. She claims to be the Gatekeeper; this spirit allows the dead to interact with the hostess. With its permission, The hostess can communicate with the dead. She opens her eyes, and she points and says, “I have a message for you. It is your husband.”

In the real world, seances are the stuff of badly produced horror movies and a Saturday night out with your friend, the believer. But in the 19th century, the belief, or more likely, the desire to speak with departed loved ones was strong enough that mediums could make a living of the suffering of others. A few well placed props, and even more well-placed employees, could help to make a small-time medium appear legitimate.

Perhaps calling them wasn't such a good idea...

Perhaps calling them wasn’t such a good idea…

As long as humans have understood what death is, we have wondered what happens after we die. Whether it is wondering where the soul goes when we breathe our last, or wondering if reincarnation works, we wonder. From the first loved one that passes on, we wonder what will happen when we, too, pass away.

The idea that the spirit can remain on earth and interact with the living has existed since ancient times.  Hamlet’s father appeared to him as a  ghost, to warn him of his Uncle’s treachery; Stories of haunted houses prisons, and hospitals have been told to scare the younger generations into behaving themselves. Whether a ghost is able to interact with the world, or whether they are just an echo of the past, repeating to the end of time is unclear; but to a true believer, a spirit can haunt a location for centuries.

One of the most common notions about ghosts is that they have died tragically, violently, or before their time. For this reason, their spirits roam the earth, until such time as their demise has been resolved. Perhaps their murderer is still running free, and they wish that person brought to justice; maybe they were to be married, but passed away before their wedding, and want to say goodbye to their one true love; perhaps they were unable to achieve a lifelong dream, and fulfilling that dream will put them to rest.

In a steampunk setting, I could see a story about people using steampunk technologies to track ghosts. Do they hunt them and dispose of them, a la Ghost Busters? Or perhaps their goal is to use the technology they have developed to communicate with the dead. Maybe they can help the dead pass on to whatever awaits them on the other side.

Maybe an ill-intentioned scientist has found a way to harness the spirits of the dead, and can torment the living by setting the ghosts to instill fear into the hearts of the masses. It is up to a band of unprepared individuals to learn how to track and stop the ghosts, before they can do permanent harm to society at large.

I have yet to create any ghosts in any of my stories. While I find the idea interesting, I am not sure I could do them justice. Like Zombies, there have been a number of twists to ghosts, making some of them more frightening than I could ever write them. But, even I can admit that there is nothing quite like a good ghost story. The idea of a being that can enter your home, interact with you or your loved ones without your permission is a scary notion. That is one of the reasons that shows like American Horror Story and films like Crimson Peak have become so popular, or at least discussed.

She is watching you - and there is nothing you can do about it.

She is watching you – and there is nothing you can do about it.

Has anyone read any good ghost stories? Or written any? One of my favorites has always been The Haunting of Hill House for a slightly more modern take, Drawing Blood, by Poppy Z. Brite is an excellent choice (But, fair warning, that is a dark story with some rather graphic violence). I do love a good ghost story, so please, share any novels on your must-read list.

Steampunk and Monsters Part 4: Mummies

   Because it is the Halloween  season,  I am only too happy to continue with my posts about monsters and how they could be used In a steampunk setting.

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Philip and Doris padded down the long corridor toward the King’s chamber.  Philip held the torch, pointing it at the door.  It had been over an hour since they had heard from Eduardo and Gerald. Doris slipped her arms around Philip’s bicep. “Do you think they are inside?
     Philip’s face darkened. “Professor James told them to stay away until we were certain it was safe.” He moved faster,  every footstep taking him closer to the darkened King’s chamber.
     Except,  it wasn’t dark anymore.  There was a flickering light in the chamber,  a flame casting an orange glow. Doris took a sharp breath.  “They went in!”
     Philip groaned.  “Idiots!”  he turned,  gripping Doris’ shoulders. “Listen, Dee, I want you to go back up to camp. Find Professor James and tell him he might have been right after all.
     Doris wiggled free of her brawny protector and slapped him. ” Listen to me,  buster. There is no way I’m gonna wander of by myself and disappear like Rosie and Zeb.  Now Eddie and Garry are missing – have you flipped your lid?  I’m sticking with you.” Reluctantly, Philip nodded and offered her his arm.  She grasped it and moved closer.  As they approached the door,  he looked at his pretty companion.  Her expression was determined, shoulders squared; but he noticed Doris had a tighter grip on his bicep than before.
     Inside the King’s Chamber,  a torch illuminated the room. The two looked about for any sign of the four missing archaeologists,  but saw no one.  Philip felt Doris loosen her grip on his arm,  and step forward. Phil sighed.  Maybe the Professor was wrong.
     “Uhm, Philip?” Doris said,  pulling Philip away from his thoughts.
     “What’s wrong,  Dee?” He asked. Looking up,  he noticed that the young blonde was peering into the King’s sarcophagus.  She looked at him.  Her blue eyes were wide,  lips trembling. 
     “It’s not here,  Phil. The mummy is missing.”
     Philip ran to her side and peered inside the stone sarcophagus.  It was empty,  save for a small pile of linen wrappings.  He stumbled backward,  falling to the floor. 
     “Where did it go,  Dee?”  he whispered. “A mummy can’t just disappear.”  Doris’ answer was a scream.  She wasn’t looking at him.  She wasn’t paying him any attention.  Her gaze was focused behind him.  He turned his head.
     Standing in the doorway they had just entered was a figure.  It’s face was a picture of grotesque features. Partially wrapped in decaying ribbons, the face was desiccated, sunken in upon itself.  The eyes were closed, sewn in place.  The body was gaunt,  skin an unhealthy gray.  It opened its mouth,  but no words issued forth; all that came out was a dry exhalation, the ghost of a moan.  It shuffled forward,  it’s limbs stiff,  unyielding.  It was the mummy, and he looked angry.

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     It seems that mummies have been underutilized in the steampunk genre. Though I’ve only been reading steampunk books for three or so years,  I can only think of a couple of uses of mummies,  and the mummies had not been reanimated. Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series uses mummies in an inventive way,  but again,  they are still just dead bodies.
     I think part of the reason is that in appearance they are rather close to zombies. Older,  admittedly less gooey zombies. Of course,  in most ‘mummy’s curse’ stories,  the mummy’s are out to exact vengeance, not eat their victims. But mummies make an intriguing villain.  Their goal is single minded.  And sometimes,  as in the 1932 version of The Mummy, Boris Karloff’s Imhotep not only rises from the sarcophagus to exact revenge,  he infiltrates his victims’ group to do so.

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Freshly Risen

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Only slightly less terrifying.

    
     In a steampunk setting,  I could see this type of monster used in a few different ways. The Victorian Era saw a renewed interest in Egypt.  Victorian took the opportunity to exploit and destroy ancient artifacts.  Mummies were often found and used for such things as pigments for paint,  as well as unwrapping parties,  where the wealthy and trendiest would witness the unwrapping and examination of the mummy in question. 
     Considering the destruction and lack of respect for the deceased,  a story of revenge could easily be written as a mummy hunts down those that disturbed his tomb.
     Perhaps a well meaning scientists studying the embalming techniques of the ancient Egyptians,  or learning how the mummified body was wrapped and laid to rest.  Inadvertently,  the scientist raises the creature,  who then goes on a rampage, bringing all this that wronged him to justice. In order to sustain his own life,  the mummy could make use of steampunk technology.
    Perhaps,  a contraption strapped about the body,  hydrating it’s body.  Or a machine that helps rejuvenate the body,  giving the mummy a more human appearance.  The drawback is that the machine only restores a lifelike look for short periods of time,  forcing the mummy to return and use the machine again. All of the work making it difficult for the mummy to do much more than murder.  No matter how hard he tries,  the mummy will never be anything more than a vengeful monster.
     Had anyone read any good steampunk novel’s featuring Mummies? If so,  I’d love some suggestions.  And for the writers,  have you utilized this monster in your a story?

Steampunk and Monsters Part 2: Vampires

     So, I have made some good progress on my “short” story. As of yesterday, I have surpassed the 15,000 word marker. I suppose at this point, it is no longer a short story, but I still view my baby as a little page turner. Seriously though, for something that started as an image in my head that I wanted to get down on paper (Or on my computer’s hard drive), it has turned out to be a much bigger story than I originally thought possible. That said, Iam still having a blast telling the story, and seeing what my characters are getting up to.
     I am attempting to add a little bit of the supernatural into this story. Within the context of this story, it seemed to make sense. It was actually the reason that I wrote about zombies in my last post (No, there are no zombies in this story. I feel others have written about that particular brand of supernatural baddie much more effectively than I could ever hope to in my stories). I like the freedom in this setting to  experiment a bit, and try something a little different. 
     I am still deciding on the ‘rules’ of the supernatural in the little world I have created. Just like researching the historical aspects of my alternate reality Victorian Era England. I had some obstacles to overcome to make my world ‘work’. For example, I had to do a little research to learn more about radio communication, seeing as radio communication had not yet been invented in the real world 1860s.  I’ve been doing some research to learn some more about the supernatural beliefs that existed during this same time period. Then, I can exploit them and create some fun supernatural horrors to terrorize my unsuspecting victims – I mean characters.

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     Another one of the supernatural creatures I have been researching are vampires. Probably just barely edging out zombies in the history of representation in pop culture, vampires are quite possibly my favorite supernatural creatures. I’m not talking about the vampires as romantic heroes or objects of lust (but I have no problem if that is the type of vampire anyone else enjoys), I am talking about the vampires as horrifying monsters. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was my introduction to this type of monster, and from the admittedly too young age of 8, I was hooked.
     Although I have not yet included vampires in my stories, in a steampunk novel, they are an ideal monster. They reflect many of the base instincts and desires that humans have. They are, ironically, an excellent way to hold a mirror up to human society and show us the worst in ourselves.  They have been extensively used in horror, comedy, and romance, that they might be more cliched in the hands of inexperienced authors. In the hands of an expert, however, a new life has been breathed into them.

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    In Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series, for example, vampires have taken over society. While they haven’t destroyed the human race, they are definitely in control of the destinies of the masses. humans become vampire groupies, essentially, offering their bodies and their lifeblood to the undead that have suddenly become popular. Newman’s vampires are mostly creatures that fulfill their every selfish desire. There is an air of gluttony about their feeding, their dealings amongst their own kind is often murderous. The few ‘good’ vampires spend most of their time attempting to  distance themselves from their desires. Their need for blood often treated like an addiction. Newman made vampires scary again in his books, allowing them to commit some truly heinous acts both against humankind, and against each other.
     On the other hand, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series also shows vampires as the monsters they should be. She writes them as beautiful, but their hunger reveals their true, dark nature. Their dark, voracious appetites put those humans that serve under them in constant danger. Carriger’s smart and snarky heroine, Alexia Tarabotti matches wits with the vampire queen in her city, and is good friends with another, despite his monstrous nature, he exists as an outsider within his own kind, much like Alexia.
     Vampires, like zombies, tap into our fear of death. To be sentient and aware of being buried. To be a human attacked and fed upon by a creature that looks like us, talks like us. As humans killed their way to the top of the food chain, they soon found that there were no more monsters out there to kill them. what could be more frightening to a primitive culture than a creature that looked just like your loved ones, but needed to kill humans to slake their thirst for blood.
     While a steampunk vampire wouldn’t look too different from a vampire in any other genre, I could see a whole line of vampire hunting tools that could be inspired by the genre. a quick internet search showed some promising items:

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The child within me is begging for this for Christmas. The adult me is wondering my parents didn't have a tighter rein on me...

    I can picture a seriees of stories about a group of monster hunters using steampunk-inspired weapons and gear to hunt and kill the bloodthirsty monsters attacking their community.  I’m sure this has been done, probably frequently. But I know that Iwould love to write a story like this at some point in the future.  Perhaps Mademoiselle Durand and her crew run afoul of a group of vampires, Or vampire pirates. Or, more likely, a new set of characters could discover an ancient coven of vampires have recently moved into their quiet little village. It will be up to the local blacksmith, the clockmaker, and a handful of locals to defend the village from the oncoming bloodbath. 
    For the writers out there: If your genre of choice is steampunk, do you include supernatural elements? Do vampires, zombies, or witches play a role in any of your stories? Or do you keep your stories strictly about the alternate history and the fantastic steampunk devices that are a staple of the genre? I would love to hear your thoughts.

A Retreat and a Regrouping

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Sitting in a cabin in the middle of the woods, writing my heart out. I'm loving every minute of it!

We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.

                         – Henry David Thoreau
                            Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

I am on a mini escape from the struggles of my daily existence. Running from one job to the other, attempting to find time to sit down and breathe, much less get any writing done is a difficult reality for me lately.  Things seem to be simultaneously looking up and depressing. The bad: my car was totaled in an accident two weeks ago. I’m fine and the car wasn’t in too bad shape, but the cost versus value if the car made it clear to the insurance adjuster that it wasn’t worth trying to fix. So now I am on the hunt for anothwritten

The good: I am taking a few days to regroup and think about some of the changes in my life. I have two challenging jobs. One I love, the other is not too bad. There is the possibility of upward movement in the job I love. That could mean fewer hours for the other job. That would lead to more free time for writing, the job for which I have passion.

A lot of things happening now, some of which have been a cause for anxiety. But overall, I’m feeling a little better. I’m spending the weekend in New Hampshire in a quiet little cabin. I have some wonderful ideas (I think) for both works in progress, as well as some new project ideas. With a little refinement, I think I might have a couple of enjoyable stories on my hands.

My novella, Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map isn’t as close to being finished as I had thought. My characters keep surprising me. I am trying not to do too much revising as I write, but I am guilty of doing a little bit. But I am trying not to do too much. I wanted to create a little more of an adversarial feeling between Dette and her new foe, Captain Vernon. I want for it to make sense for her to decide to do something potentially illegal to help her crew.

I’ve already written 1000 words today, and am looking forward to at least another thousand or more words before we head back home. Back to reality. Yuck.  Until then, I fully intend to enjoy myself. And write.

World Building: A Steampunk Experience

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The best world building happens so far in the background, you don't even realize it.

The town was not a town, so much as a waypoint. People travelled through Upper Toppingsley to go somewhere more interesting.

I passed through the main thoroughfare – little more than a dirt path that ran between two neat rows of buildings. On one side a series of shops stood in a row. The local boutique with its wide windows displayed the fashions  that appealed to the ladies of the village. Large bustles were au courant, tightly laced corsets the ideal.

Between the boutique and the small bookseller next door I heard a steady hum. Tucked neatly in the narrow alley between was a small steam engine. The steady thrumming sound emanating from the device reminded me of the vibrations at the airfield. Despite my best efforts to put the thought of Constable Higglesby and the severed head from my mind, I wondered if there wasn’t some bit of information I had missed in the examination. Perhaps the second  murder could have been avoided if I had found some evidence on the head.

     This was an early victim of the slash and burn job I performed on my work in progress. Due to several changes I made to characters, as well as simply not being pleased with the passage, it was excised. The reason was simple. I attempted some world building while simultaneously trying to Advance a plot.
     I am not good at world building. There, I said it. It isn’t difficult, but I find it is often awkward to cram world building elements into a story. Besides just the physical world, I feel awkward when putting historical elements (real or fictional) into my projects. I find I am too often including too much information, bogging the story down.
     One of the central elements of my project is the development and use of the difference engine. Businesses within my story have begun to use these devices to run day to day operations, much like computers in the real world.
     With all of the world building details I am using, it often feels like I’m doing more telling than showing. Since I am only on the first draft, I won’t dwell too much, but it makes the editing process take much longer if I turn a blind eye to all of the rules I break while writing.
     I have been trying to learn from the authors I read. How do they create their worlds? How much information is shared with the reader? Are they using info dumps to share their world? Or do they spread the information throughout the story?
     As a reader, I don’t like info dumps. I forget information as soon as it is shared. I prefer to learn about the author’s world as I read. It helps the information to stick. If there is too much detail, I lose track. Sadly, it turns out I am a writer who info dumps.
     The solution: I act like the history is common knowledge. Anything too obscure gets an explanation; everything else is only explained when necessary.
     I do enjoy creating a history and civilization. When I work on a Science Fiction story, especially one that involves other planets and alien beings, I spend days creating their society. History, heroes and villains, and customs all help me to make a character feel more real. I know, realistically, that very little of that information will ever see the light of day, but it aids me in the writing process.
     My other area for improvement is consistency and accuracy. While my story is set in a Steampunk themed alternate history, certain elements must remain historically accurate. For example, a character in the story uses a form of wireless communication between his difference engine and his automatons.  Using radio waves to do this helps his automatons perform more actions without requiring larger processing capacity within each unit. The downside is that Guglielmo Marconi had not yet invented the radio, and radio waves were still considered theoretical at that point in history. What resulted was a long research session, extrapolations of possible what if scenarios to devise a possible alternate father of the radio.

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Why couldn't you have invented the radio 30 years earlier?

     Ultimately I decided a solution that works within the reality of the story. However, in doing so, I had to use an alternate naming scheme for radio waves. The result is the same, even if the characters’ understanding of the technology is incomplete. I just have to remember that I cannot use the word radio.  That is a difficult task.  So, my suggestion to other ambitious writers is, if at any point you are considering renaming technology or natural phenomena, consider the fact you may need to use that term frequently. Will you be able to remember to use it?
     For writers and readers, what are some world building elements that are difficult for you, whether you are writing or reading?
   

Why Are You Making Me Think?

     Normally, my posts tend to be focus on an aspect of what I’m writing about. Whether it is technology that my characters use, how I organize my work, or even just asking people their opinions on these topics. However, for this post I thought I would try something a little different. I have been thinking about a topic that has been discussed on many social media sites. I have avoided giving my opinion for a few reasons that really are not that important. But after a conversation with someone I know I started thinking.
     Earlier this week I was speaking to someone who I know casually; one of those friends of friends situations. I know her a little, but not really to the point where we spend much time talking one on one. She had heard that I had published a book, and started asking me questions.
     Her questions were neither rude nor prying, but some of her questions did make me think. One of the questions that she asked was about why I did not tell more people I write. I am an introvert by nature. One of the things that I more than just about anything is having to talk about myself. So, often I can meet and get to know someone over several months, and I won’t bring that topic up. As you can imagine that makes me particularly bad at marketing myself.
     She told me she checked out my page on Amazon out of curiosity. The other question that she asked that really made me think was about customer reviews. She asked me if it bothered me that I did not have many reviews, and then how I felt about bad reviews.
     Reviews in the indie writing scene is a touchy subject. Between is a touchy subject. Between Amazon removing reviews if it appears you might possibly know the author and a few cases I’ve seen online where authors get confrontational with those who have left 1 star reviews, I have been a bit leery of sharing my opinion.
     First, I’ll just get this out of the way: I am horrible at remembering to leave reviews. I am making an effort to go back and leave reviews I have read in the past. I always mean well – I always intend to leave a review once I have finished reading a book. But something happens and I usually forget. I do feel that reviews are important, but not necessarily in the way that most people might assume.
     As a reader, 3 views mean very little. Too often I have read 1 & 2 star reviews panning a book I am thinking about reading. Once I get the book home and read it, I end up loving it; on the other side, I have purchased books with 5 star reviews and have not enjoyed a single page. Only rarely do I trust the reviews of another, and those reviews are usually done by people with whom I have a similar taste in genres.
     Reviews are best when used as a tool for writers to hone their craft. A writer can learn more from a bad review than they can from a review that showers them with praise. When a review tells you that’s your three page description of your main character’s dress is excessive, or that your writing style appears to be flip to random pages in your thesaurus and choose whatever words you land on, it might be beneficial to pay attention.
     My reviewing style, when I can remember to leave a review, it’s actually quite simple. My explanation is based on Amazon’s 5 star rating system:

 

*****   A 5-star rating is pretty simple. I enjoyed the book immensely, I was able to lose myself in the story, and I found no noticeable plot holes or grammatical errors.

****  A 4-star rating means that I enjoyed the story. There may have been one or two places where the plot did not grip me, but it did not hamper my enjoyment of the story. Again, with few or no plot holes or grammatical errors.

***   A 3-star rating means that I did enjoy the story; however, there may have been a few places where the story lost me. This would either be due to plot holes, magical rescues where there should not be one, or characters acting out of character. To earn a 3-star review there should still be few grammatical errors.

**    A 2-star rating means that for several reasons my enjoyment of the story was hampered. I would have been taken out of the story by poorly written characters, a plot that is poorly written, and excessive plot holes and grammatical errors.

*     I am Not sure if I would ever actually leave a 1-star review in today’s rather volatile marketplace. After having seen a couple of writers confront those that have left bad reviews, I just don’t feel comfortable anymore. But in theory, to receive a one star review, it would have to be a first draft that had been published. No editing, no proofreading. It would have to appear that the author had simply hit publish as soon as they finished writing the last word.
     I do feel that how I rate the books that I read is fair. As a writer I want to encourage others to continue to follow their passion. You don’t have to be the next Hemingway or Shakespeare to impress me. It does not even have to be a genre that I normally enjoy. If it is a romance novel that is well written and can catch my attention and keep it throughout – then you will get a 4 or 5-star review.
    For all readers:  When you leave a review, do you have a system for how you rate it?
 

 

A Review and Some Purchases

     I am a reader.  I have been ever since I read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester.  It was the first time I found myself transported into the story being told. Because of Milo and his adventures, I became someone who tears through books. Even now that I am working full-time and trying to fit in writing time each day,  I always have My kindle, at the very least,  within reach. Unfortunately,  I am very lax in a key area: I am horrible at remembering to leave a review.  So,  I am  going to try and right that wrong. 

     This post has a dual purpose: to ensure that my book reviews are preserved,  and also to talk about reading a little. With all of the brouhaha  concerning  Amazon’s bizarre policing who we may or may not know,  and whether we are allowed to put a review up on a book we purchased and read,  I have decided that going forward,  I will post any reviews that fall under the sci-fi, fantasy, or steampunk heading on here,  and all book reviews on Goodreads. I want to let authors know what I thought of their work,  and would hope they would do the same for me. Shortly before this all hit the news I did place a review on Amazon for a book I purchased for the Kindle –  The Dockland Kingslayer,  by VC Remus

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I purchased this book not knowing what to expect. I found to my great surprise and pleasure, that this novel is quite the page turner. V.C. Remus has created a world that feels alive. The conflicts between the lower class “Docklanders” and the ruling class plays a vital role throughout the story of Alistair. It is through him that we are introduced to a world of injustice. Heretics and sinners executed in public, the poverty stricken forced into servitude in the King’s army. Remus introduces a lot of ideas and history as the story progresses, and if you don’t pay attention you could very well miss some important pieces of information.

While I read this book almost compulsively, and managed to finish it within a couple of days’ time, this is by no means a book to breeze through. In order to truly appreciate the tale being woven, you must pay attention, in order to grasp the entire story. Ultimately, this is a hero’s journey, and though meets others along the way, there is always a sense of loneliness, isolation in Alistair. The author has a unique voice, combining steampunk elements of the Victorian age with touches of medieval Europe throughout, creating something that is both bleak and and beautiful. I look forward to reading more from V.C. Remus in the future.

     Overall,  it is a solid story, not overly long. Set up as the start of a series. I didn’t see any real negatives.  The only thing I did notice was there were a few times where a rather elaborate word was used,  where a more common one would suffice.  But it was not so noticeable as to be jarring or to detract from the enjoyment of the story.

     Finally,  I made a couple of purchases this weekend that I am excited to start reading (once I can get through some of my already massive reading list).  The first purchase was a copy of K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices. I had borrowed it ages ago,  but didn’t get to read it before I had to return it.  So I am looking forward to reading that.   The other purchase was the first five books in the Song of Ice and Fire series.  I am ashamed to admit it,  but as much as I love Game of Thrones,  I’d never read any of the books.  I intend to rectify that now that I own them.  But of course,  they will have to wait for a bit,  as I already have two lined up to be read once I finished my in process reading.

     With all of the reading and writing I will be doing in the future,  I have a feeling that I will be a busy man. And I can honestly say that I am looking forward to it.