(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Actual Progress? THIS CANNOT BE

Sometimes, an author's job is really hard, as in 'work my perky little butt off' hard.

I am here to report that the first round of editing is done for Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon, which I shall forever think of myself as At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon.

It took forever.  It took several times longer than any previous editing job.  It took two months to get the notes, and two weeks to go through them.  It took so long that I am not sure we can make the December 31st release date.  I'm not happy about that, but we play the hand we're dealt.  I certainly worked myself into exhaustion every day these last few weeks.

The first round of edits are also done for the first book, but my publisher and I agree that the second book is by far higher priority.  The updates to Supervillain can wait until Moon is finished.

Going forward, here is what has to happen:

A second round of editing, and possibly a third, must be finished.  While I cannot guarantee how fast my editor moves, the general rule is that these take a day or two total, because they involve editing 1/100th the content of the first round.

Then I make some minor changes to the text, adding in story elements my editor and I agreed on.  Then those have to be edited.  We're talking less than a page of content.

We send those to the proofreader.  In a normal editing run, this would be by far the biggest delay left, and it's the reason I don't think we can make the release date.  The proofreader cleans up misspelled words, out of place commas, incorrect grammar, stuff like that.  I have to go over those edits like I do the main edits, and it encompasses the whole book.  They are much faster than the regular round of edits because this is almost entirely limited, obvious stuff.  An awful lot is just 'accept accept accept' as commas scroll by.  However, there's no predicting how long it will take the proofreader to go through a whole book, especially since my books are never small.

I can't predict anything for sure, because this has taken so much longer than a normal editing job.  The biggest delays in the remaining rounds of edits should be me and my editor finding time to sit down and work.  That's how little actual work is left.

But this time, I don't know.

I haven't gotten to write in two months.  I'm looking forward to this being over.

Damn if you aren't getting a book that's polished until it squeaks.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Unexpectedly Good Story, FNAF2 Edition

This will be my analysis of the story of Five Nights At Freddy's 2.  SPOILER SPOILER SERIOUSLY IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS RUN AWAY NOW.

I admit, I'm fond of finding stories where I wasn't expecting them.  I certainly was not expecting to find a heartbreakingly well told tragedy in the indie horror game Five Nights At Freddy's 2, but since I did, I'd like to talk about it!

The big secret revealed on the last night of the game is that this is a prequel.  FNAF2 happens during the murders of five children that lead up to the much-talked-around 'Bite of '87'.  Given the 1987 date on the check, and the phone comment that a birthday party on day seven will be the last event before the store shuts down, that day is almost certainly the day of the dreaded Bite.  During the week, the phone messages reveal ever more explicit hints that children are disappearing.  FNAF1 told us the bodies were never found.

The strongly hinted extra twist is that Jeremy Fitzgerald, the guard you play, is the murderer.  Towards the end of the week the phone messages say that store employees are under suspicion, and on day five the day guard is fired, possibly arrested - but judging from phone guy's panic on day six's message, another child disappeared.  That, and the fact that Jeremy is there on night six even though he's not supposed to be, are two of the biggest hints that it's Jeremy and not the day guard.

Also, and this is an important consideration in judging any literary mystery, 'you play the murderer' is exactly the kind of twist creator Scott Cawton has shown he likes.


See, that's all fine as far as it goes, but it's a simple story told with vague hints and minimal input.  No, what makes this beautiful from a writing perspective is how the animatronics tie in.

When you die, sometimes you get a mini game.  You can look up Five Nights At Freddy's 2 mini games on YouTube and see tons of videos of them.  They're not really games.  They're as ridiculously simple to play as walking into another room.  What they do is provide the animatronics' viewpoint of the murders.  THAT is super cool and brilliant.

In each game, you play an animatronic character.  The graphics are so crude it's hard to tell who you're playing sometimes.  They do their schtick.  Chica(?) gives cake to yelling children.  Freddy wanders the restaurant.  Marionette gives gifts to children.  Foxy runs out of Pirate's Cove to a crowd of children.

Each game is warped by the murders.  The restaurant Freddy wanders is filled with bloodstains and slumped over bodies.  While Chica serves cake, another child is standing outside crying.  A car pulls up and a purple man gets out.  The child cries more and more, and then turns into a skeleton.  Marionette's first round is 'Give Gifts', and he puts present boxes next to slumped over children.  The second round is 'Give Life', and he puts puppet heads on them.  During Chica's round, an 80s speech synthesizer slowly recites the letters 'S-A-V-E-H-I-M' and in Marionette's, 'H-E-L-P-T-H-E-M.'

The most interesting game to me is Foxy's.  It's the simplest of all.  'Get Ready' is at the top of the screen as he stands between curtains in the first room.  Then 'Go!  Go!  Go!' flashes, and you follow an arrow into the next room.  There are five children standing in it, and when you get close 'Hurray!' flashes and fireworks go off.  You do this twice, identically.  On the third run, the purple man is standing next to the curtains.  When you get out into the other room, it's five skeletons.  There is no Hurray.

In all games, when you get to the dead children, the mini game slows to a crawl and then stops.  When it does, you get the game's 'attacked by this robot' jump scare animation.

The message is simple and evocative.  The robots are simple and stupid, but they love their jobs and they love children.  They witness the murders, and they're tormented by what's happening to the children they love.  The phone messages actually mention that even as the animatronics get erratic and potentially dangerous towards the end of the week, children seem to be perfectly safe.

Now, let's tie that to the actual behavior of the robots in-game.  Here the creator suckers you beautifully.  You're not supposed to know this is a prequel.  The first game primes you to think of the robots as murderous.  But phone guy is surprised as the robots get aggressive towards the end of the week.  His first message throws in some words that FNAF1 has sensitized you too, like 'endoskeleton', but in fact he doesn't say, deny, or even imply the animatronics are dangerous.  They recognize the faces of 'predators' from a database, and the last security guard complained about the robots wandering into his office.  You're primed to think they've tried to kill him.  Judging from phone guy's surprise as the robots get aggressive... they were just annoying!  Can you imagine New Chica standing next to you all night trying to feed you cake because you're the only human in the restaurant?  A fake head to get them to go away starts sounding really attractive.

In-game, that's consistent with their behavior.  Night one is very quiet.  Marionette will come to you if the music box runs down.  New Bonnie and New Chica  wander around, and sometimes get into your office.  If you're wearing the head, they stare really close at you and then wander away.  Marionette is the smartest robot, and can't be fooled by a mask.

Jeremy is the murderer.  The point of the face recognition software as a plot point is that they recognize him from their predator list, and if they get a close look at him during their normal behavior will attack.

On day two, the first child goes missing.  The phone message refers to ugly rumors.

On night two, everything changes.  The bots go berserk.  Night one is only hard because you have only the vaguest idea how to avoid the robots.  On night two, all robots are potentially active, but in particular, Foxy starts up on night two.  Foxy and Marionette are mentioned as being smarter than the other robots, and impossible to fool with a mask.  Foxy's mini game implies Foxy really, really loves children.  It's a very excited game.  And starting on the second night, Foxy is the most constant and aggressive animatronic in the building.  He's easy to get rid of, but he comes back again and again.  He knows.  They all know, but Foxy gets angry first.

As the week goes on, you hear more hints about the murders, and eventually the phone messages start talking about the animatronics becoming dangerous.  Each night, as more children are killed, the robots go more and more ballistic.  Night six is a war, where every animatronic in the building is going all out to kill you.  A game difficulty mechanic becomes part of the plot.  The animatronics are breaking down with desperation to protect the children and to get vengeance on the killer.

On day seven, Foxy snaps.  He breaks his programming and attacks someone in broad daylight.  The famous Bite of '87.  The victim lives, but is effectively dead.  If you play the optional night seven, it's a different security guard.  Jeremy was the murderer.  Foxy took him out.  He and the other robots are now irrevocably insane.  They still love children, but they've learned to hate anyone wearing a security guard uniform at night.  When FNAF1 happens, they're murderous.

Everything ties into this story, and watching the murders through the animatronics' eyes is painful.  The gradually slowing action conveys helplessness and pain.  The simplified presentation, where children turn into a skeletal corpse and the games are tightly restricted, conveys the struggle of robots to deal with events outside their very limited programming.

I was not expecting writing this good in a game as simplistic as Five Nights At Freddy's 2.  I'm impressed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Round One, Complete!

Have a status report!

No sooner did I resume work on A Sidekick's Tale than the editing notes came in.  Not for At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, no.  Editing notes for Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain.

See, the book is so successful, my publisher wants it to friggin' sparkle.  I just finished the first round (after this, it's just those points I wanted feedback from before deciding).  A reader is unlikely to notice any difference.  It's all line edits, and almost all tiny stuff like removing a dialog tag or the word 'again'.  An occasional sentence that was really awkward had to be rephrased from the beginning.  Itty bitty continuity errors like keeping names and pronouns consistent have been fixed.

There will be two significant changes, where by 'significant' I mean 'I'll probably add a couple of paragraphs'.  A lot of people don't get why Penny's mom, an incredibly intelligent woman, doesn't spot Penny.  Some details are provided in book two, but I thought I'd addressed it in book one.  I did, but it looks like two critical passages, especially the one about Claire's shapeshifting powers, need to be overt.  Most people just don't catch them, and those two points are crucial for understanding the issue.

I also want to fix Claire's hair color.  I can't believe I screwed that up.  Ah, well.  We're none of us perfect.

After this book is finished, I suspect we'll leap straight into book two's edits.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cover Art That Wasn't

If there is one universality of being a writer, it's that you get no professional courtesy.  My publisher loves me and treats me far better than anyone has before, but the cover art process has still been schizophrenic at best from my end.

But I'm not here to complain.  I'm here to entertain you with failed cover art ideas.  See, the process starts with me throwing out a bunch of things I think would make a good cover.  Then they grill me for details.  Then they grill me some more.

And in this case, I go to my alpha-reader-slash-whatever-the-female-word-is-for-chump and get her to sketch up my various ideas, because it's very, very hard to describe picture composition in detail.

Then nobody talks to me for two weeks until they show me a finished cover version that has nothing to do with any of these.  This will sound terribly harsh to regular people, but honestly, Curiosity Quills by leaps and bounds treats me better than anyone I've ever written for or tried to write for.  Keep that in mind if you want to be a writer.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

More Photos From My Exciting Adventures!

While I wait for my editing notes, wait SO LONG, I might as well upload some photos I've been taking.  I went to a couple of local events, the Louisville Ghost Walk and the St. James Art Fair.  I will make no attempt to tell you which pictures are from what.  It won't exactly be hard to figure out.

We start with the best photo of them all, my favorite thing from both events, the LOUISVILLE CLOCK.  This photo has been kept at full size so that you do not miss even the tiniest detail of its glorious tastelessness.  Is that a band full of racist tropes from a time before that was considered bad?  Why, yes it is.  Is that a naked woman balanced on waves with perky nipples and her butt facing you?  Why, yes it is.  This historic landmark has been moved three times to various places of downtown.  Can't imagine why.

This is a haunted house in Louisville, but forget the supposed ghosts.  What's important is that it used to be owned by a fantastically wealthy family who operated a medical clinic and bred goats inside the same house.  There are no outbuildings - the goats mostly lived in the sister who raised them's bedroom.

Also note some dashingly dressed folks from the Corn Island Steampunk Society.

This clock is not important in any way.  I liked its little frowny face.

Similarly, I thought this little iron gate that encloses a little room protecting an underground door was super cool.

I have friends who like sheep.  There was an entire booth of sheep paintings.  Out of courtesy, I will mention that the creators were Sheep Incognito, website www.charisma-art.com.
I took two pictures - actually, bunches of photos and chose these two as the best - of this booth.  I did not want anyone to miss the glorious statues.  In case you are struck with a burning, uncontrollable need for monkeys in jester hats, this is SnobHog Studio, www.snobhog.com.

Elves, man.

We had a storm.  That is wind damage which blew over that billboard.  No fooling.  This picture is actually really old, but I wasn't sure I'd shown it off and it is awesome.

Same thing with this one.  The storm that bent a billboard backwards made this old car explode in flames and raining pieces in my neighborhood.  SO AWESOME.

There!  All my words are saved for the editing notes that will hopefully arrive before you all give up on me and go read some other author.  Enjoy the photos instead.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Beta Readers and the Writing Process

As I am that mysterious, mythical, magical beast known as the 'successful published author', I get frequent questions about how I do anything and everything.  While I wait on my publisher to get back to me, I might as well share the process I've been going through this month.

When last we left off, I finished the manuscript on the book I personally call At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, but when I'm sure the marketers will name Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon.  They have a really pretty font picked out, and everything.  I wish I could resent their decision, but I'm sure they're right and it's necessary so people will identify the series.  I just wish it wasn't necessary!

Now, personally, I go through several stages after that.  First, I take a break and try to write something else to get my thoughts out of any rut they may have fallen into.  This time, no dice.  I felt SO much pressure that I still haven't shaken it off.  Professionally, this book is super important!  I started my edits about three days after finishing the manuscript.  In the personal edit process, I make sure continuity is consistent, add foreshadowing to major plot events, and particularly make sure that everyone has an interesting, consistent voice.  Especially the narrator.  This is SUPER important in making a book compelling.  That process was really slow, like 10% of the book a day, so it took well over a week.

On a related note, I must make a confession.  We're re-editing Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain, and that will give me an opportunity to fix a gigantic, glaring, actually important continuity error.  There's no point in hiding it.  I changed my mind about Claire's hair color from golden blonde to platinum blonde (like her mother, see?) in the very first chapter, and forgot I'd done it!  It's subtle in the first book, but it's an active plot point in the second, so I'd gosh darned well better fix it.  Derp derp derp.  Bad author, no cola.

So, personal edits done.  Next, I give the manuscript to beta readers, people I know who aren't as tightly tied to me as the alpha readers.  Their job is pretty simple.  They read the book and tell me how enjoyable it was.  All I'm looking for from them is whether any parts weren't fun, or if I jumped the shark anywhere.

This is harder than you think, because of the major obstacle all writers face in proving themselves - reading requires effort, and lots of it.  Even avid readers cannot be predicted to finish a book in any kind of reasonable time.  Exactly one beta reader finished this weekend.  She reported multiple times when she was unable to tear herself away and had long, unintended reading binges, and that she'd be afraid I would jump a shark and then when it happened, it would go smoothly and perfectly.  Since those are things I'm proud of in my writing, I took that as all the useful feedback I was ever likely to get anyway.

Which means that yesterday I sent the manuscript to my publisher.  Next?  She'll send me editing notes for Book #1.  After those are done, we'll edit Book #2.  My part of book editing is really fast, just a few days.  Hers may take longer.  I only have to respond to her notes.  She has to pore over the book in depth!

Off and on during the whole month the marketing team and I discussed cover art.  I haven't heard anything from them in days, but it's not like they have to decide until the editing is done.  Last thing to happen was me sending in a set of sketches of my various ideas that I got my alpha reader to lay out, since describing the ideas was difficult and imprecise.

What happens from here?  I don't know!  I've had some success getting back into writing A Sidekick's Tale in the last few days, but I'm also still tense as a violin string about getting this book all done.

I'll try to keep you informed.

Also, I'll try to process these photos of Louisville's supremely tacky clock.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Everybody Keeps Asking When

My publisher has not told me when the sequel is coming out!  I'm expecting them to aim for Christmas, but I don't actually know.

The current status is that the first draft of the manuscript is done.  My personal revisions are almost done.  I'll run it past a couple of beta readers to make sure that I don't have any dull parts and it's not wildly inappropriate for kids (Have you read everything else I write?  I have to watch that part carefull.).  Then it goes to my publisher, and we do the official edits.

All of these stages are fast.  Most of them only take a few days.  So for practical purposes, the book is done and it's about how much of a hurry Curiosity Quills is in to release it.

I hope you people like it.  Keeping the same tone between books is not my specialty, but I tried to make it very definitely a Penelope Akk book.