(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oh Yeah, The Cover

You people like cover art, right?  Everyone likes cover art.  Here's the cover for volume two of the Inscrutable Machine.

This may be the most pure and perfect example of cover art ever revealed, because everything on the cover is in the book, and everything is drawn completely wrong.  The gate is wrong, that's the wrong moon, those are the wrong kind of tentacles, Conqueror Orbs don't look like that, and the cat... actually, the cat isn't HORRIBLY wrong.  And none of the spaceship interiors look like that.

And he didn't include Remmy, and you don't have a book without Remmy.

Small note on the edits: We removed most of a page from the first book in the magic shop where the kids recap to Lucyfar.  I agreed to cut it precisely because you are losing zippola, so it shouldn't have been in there in the first place.  I know you folks like to know what changes.

Right now and through Christmas there's a 99 cent sale on the first book, in case any of you don't have it yet!

Friday, December 19, 2014

As Promised, The Additions

Book two's editing is finished.  It's releasing on January 25th, and is available for pre-ordering already!  The link is, uh... okay, here.

But you're not here for advertizing, because let's face it, if you're reading this you've already read my books.

Book one's editing is so close to finished that I can finally share with you the two significant additions.  I put two points in the first book about why Penny and her friends weren't caught that were too subtle, and not many people picked up on.  Given their crucial importance, I thought I'd better go back and make them a little more eye-catching!  Here they are:


I stared. I was being treated to what should have been a close-up of Claire as she and Gabriel chatted, but it wasn’t. Who was this girl? Claire didn’t have a dimple. I’d been seeing Claire’s smile most of our lives, and she didn’t.
Or did she, with her power turned up high? What exactly did she look like then? All I could remember were eyes and a mouth, those oh-so-serious expressions she was giving Gabriel.
My stupid mouth acted on automatic. “She almost looks like Claire.”
Dad just chuckled. “She does, doesn't she? I think it was a half-hearted attempt to frame Claire. The name is deliberate, and the costume is a reference to her power. I say 'half-hearted', because if E-Claire were really trying she would hide her face. The first words out of your mother's mouth were 'Her cheekbones are wrong', and her body language was wrong in the first video. She can't even claim to be Claire in makeup.”
Claire Lutra, you little vixen. You knew all along your secret identity was completely safe. Your Mom must have known as well. And if E-Claire couldn't possibly be Claire, then her teammates couldn't be me and Ray. You devious shape-changing vixen, Claire. You'd covered us all.


“The Brain Auk does sound like a mixup waiting to happen,” I conceded, letting my grin at least peek out.
Dad's mouth twisted in momentary disgust. “So did the Dark Brain, Bad Brian, Sir Brian the Brave, and that guy with the mind control powers who just called himself 'Brian'. He was never caught. By the time we figured out what he was doing, he'd disappeared.” Woo, so much weight on those words. Dad really hadn't liked that guy. No wonder I'd never heard about him.
Dad was so eager to move on, he kept talking. “E-Claire is just the beginning of Claire's problems. When she gets older she'll have to deal with Clairevoyant, Clairion, and half a dozen others. Get used to people suspecting you're Penny Pincher, Penelope Peril, Penny For Your Thoughts, and probably Paranoiakk. I've always suspected we're related, and she's young and female.”
I giggled. It wasn't just funny. Safety from discovery felt pretty good. “Does this happen a lot?”
“Constantly. If you have a common name, there are hundreds of heroes and villains who share it. And they all love puns.”
Giving him my biggest, most impudent grin, I asked, “And the Brain Auk?”
My stratagem worked. He changed the subject.

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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dumbledore and Princess Celestia, Mysterious Mentors

Mysterious Mentors are a bit of a trope, because it's so much easier to write a tense and complex story if the heroine doesn't know what the frufru she's doing.  I've been thinking about two of them, who seem the most pointlessly difficult.  Dumbledore (from Harry Potter) and Princess Celestia (from My Little Pony) are perfect examples of the trope, keeping their apprentices in the dark about everything except the most specific information needed to save the world - and sometimes not telling them that!

What interests me about these two is that they don't have to be so secretive, and yet this isn't just an author forcing convenient ignorance.  Dumbledore's explanations for why he doesn't tell Harry the truth are pathetic, and don't at all cover the complete blanket of silence he keeps, even if he can excuse certain specific secrets.  Celestia is worse than Dumbledore, having a clear and obvious understanding that she has a new princess (and if you don't follow MLP, princess=goddess) on her hooves and rarely even telling Twilight about a challenge Twilight will face.

They're far more secretive than they need to be, and why?  Because they're flawed people, and I love that.  It fits completely into their personality.  Dumbledore's childhood was spent hiding his family's secrets.  As a young man he hid that he was scheming with Grindelwald, and when he realized how shameful that was he hid that he'd been involved.  All of this secrecy was reinforced further in the years before Harry's birth, because secrecy was a crucial skill in fighting Voldemort.

Dumbledore tells Harry nothing because Dumbledore never tells anyone anything.  Aberforth accuses his brother of secrecy as part of his nature, and it's absolutely true.  By the time that the Harry Potter books take place, Dumbledore is so used to secrets that he doesn't know how to tell Harry the truth.  It is a personal flaw, a deep personal flaw, and yet a totally believable flaw even in someone who is generally wise and brilliant.  Telling Harry the bare minimum is the only way Dumbledore knows how to behave.  As he says himself, being rather cleverer than most men, his mistakes are of greater magnitude.  We, the readers, are foolish enough to gloss over that.  He means it.

It's hard for readers to understand that intelligent, good-hearted characters can lie and make idiot mistakes.  As authors, we write our characters having flaws, but it's hard to keep that in mind when reading.

Celestia is secretive for a different reason, and like it took the whole series to learn enough about Dumbledore to understand his flaws, it has taken a long time to put together enough about Celestia to understand hers.  What the latest season has shown us is that Celestia is alone.  Surrounded by a crowd, she is utterly alone.  Immortal, she's surrounded by ponies who think of her (fairly accurately) as a goddess and whose lives come and go like the flashes of fireflies.

Until season four, that interpretation was likely but just an interpretation.  The flashbacks and journal entries revealed that Celestia and Luna were close, so close that they operated almost as one person.  Talking to Twilight about her accomplishments, Celestia stresses that what defeating Nightmare Moon really meant was giving Celestia back her beloved sister.

Outside of Luna and Twilight, Celestia is detached, regal, kindly but in a distant and divine way.  Her subjects revere her and treat her as a living goddess, which she essentially is.  For a thousand years, whole lifetimes over and over, that is the only relationship she's been able to have with anyone, because she drove away the partner that she'd shared immortality with until Nightmare Night.

It would be weirder if Celestia were completely open with Twilight and told her everything than if Celestia kept secrets.  Being a distant, omniscient-seeming divine ruler is the only way she knows how to act.

Like I said, this stuff fascinates me.  These very good and intelligent characters are not just flawed, their flaws are subtle, realistic, and not obvious sins like jealousy or anger.  They're flaws that peculiarly fit their personalities.  And they turn things on their heads for the audience, because we expect someone that good to be perfect.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

That Sequel You Wanted

The draft of At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, sequel to Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain and the second book of the planned five part Inscrutable Machine series, is written.  I finished writing the last chapter last night, although when I say 'finished' I mean I spent all of yesterday from getting up to going to bed writing, producing a whopping 13000 words.

The book is done.  I am still reeling.

If you wanted to know, the last chapter involves angry men with spears, an eleven year old in homemade power armor, telepathic jellyfish, grappling hooks, and two of the ugliest, sweetest star-crossed lovers you ever did meet.

Oh, and blowing up a moon.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Random Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Three quarters of my brain is on finishing up At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon (my publisher wants a different title, alas), but here's an excuse to post something.

Although what should I say about Guardians of the Galaxy?  It was enough fun that I didn't analyze the writing while watching, which is rare.  So that's a strong recommendation, I guess.

There is something I can talk about.  I didn't think about this until after the fact, but I'm impressed by the characterization of the heroes.  They followed the writer's trick of giving someone a strong trait, and then fleshing them out underneath to try to create someone who is really like that.  It worked.


The hero, Star Lord, was one of the weaker examples, and they still did pretty well.  His overt trait was trying too hard to be cool, which made him a bit of a stereotypical schlub.  They fleshed him out by not taking that too hard.  Oh, they gave him interesting background story, but those are facts.  What counts is the display of character.  He might stumble a lot because he pretends to be even greater than he is, but he was a good fighter, brave, good with tricks and traps and treasure hunting, and when he wanted to he could charm the pants off someone - which made it believable that he mostly used that skill to charm the pants off someone.  The best thing for him was that he learned.  When he failed to seduce Gamora, he dropped it.  His interest remained, but he'd figured out not to push.  When Rocket proved his competence, Star Lord trusted that from then on.  In general, he was not an idiot - you could just easily mistake him for one because he tried too hard.

Rocket Raccoon was my favorite example.  He's supposed to be a gun crazed criminal, and he is, so they made him one.  He is competent.  Relentlessly competent.  Not superhumanly competent, but very good at what he does.  When they get sent to prison, he blows it off saying he's escaped from 22.  It quickly becomes clear that he probably has escaped from 22.  He knows how to fit in, what the weaknesses of the system are, and he plans, deals with obstacles, and takes advantage of opportunities.  He makes guns as a hobby, and they are downright scary.  He hides his pain completely.  It comes out when he's drunk once, and before and after he blows it off with vague mentions, like stoic people tend to.

You can't talk about Rocket without talking about Groot.  It's easy to focus on the 'I am Groot' joke, but the movie goes much lighter on it than I expected.  They focus more on Rocket and Groot being joined at the hip, or at least at Rocket's hip and Groot's ankle.  They are partners, and you can see why.  There is infinite, automatic respect between the two.  Rocket pretends Groot is his conscience, and Rocket is good at dealing with a universe of animals that Groot clearly finds confusing.  I was not expecting the portrayal of Groot as childlike, and it was a great touch.  He's not stupid, and he's not pure - he clearly enjoys violence - but he's simple and looks for opportunities to be kind in simple ways.  By the end of the movie, you have no doubt that Groot would die for Rocket and Rocket would die for Groot.

Drax the Destroyer started out two dimensional, and they made him three dimensional by portraying someone who had made himself two dimensional with his desire for revenge, then ran face first into a universe where that doesn't work.  He was constantly caught up short in situations not covered by 'kill my enemy', and having to learn from them without losing his central purpose.  His confusion when finding out he could not hope to defeat Ronin in hand to hand combat was particularly poignant.

Gamora I admit they dropped the ball on.  Not that she didn't have a personality, but they presented a bunch of facets of her person that they didn't explore at all.  The whole 'Daughter of Thanos' thing was mentioned repeatedly, even a plot point, but they only dealt with the rivalry aspect of her relationship with her sister, and she didn't seem as tough as she should be.  Similarly, they mentioned but didn't much explore her hate for Thanos and Ronin and desire to betray them.  On the other hand, she was not a shoehorned love interest.  If anything they subvert that.  Star Lord hits on her, she rejects him harshly, and topic over time to move on to her relationship with her sister.

Okay, writing nerd time over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More Behind Than I Thought

I never even posted two of the other pictures Nikki drew.  She REEEEEEally likes Remmy.

Bonus content: Some fan art sketches of Ampexia, who should be showing up in the third book.  Note to my fellow authors: Get an alpha reader and fangirl who can draw.  It makes life pretty awesome.

And the censored version of one more because 'suitable for children' is not something Nikki understands:

Those are just loose idea sketches, of course, but I owe you people a lot 'cause I haven't updated this thing in a dog's age.

Yay, It's Fixed!

My computer exploded!  Thank you for your patience.  As a reward, here is some fan art.  This is my alpha reader's interpretation of Juliet from the second Inscrutable Machine book, or as Nikki put it 'The sweetest little abomination you'll ever meet in interplanetary space.'

I was also interrupted by a sudden editing job for Quite Contrary, which needed it but very much disrupted my writing.  And then another for the short story that will be in Curiosity Quills' anthology.

Despite these interruptions the sequel is plugging away and I might even be three fourths done.  I'm just not allowed to share it with you! 

You should all thank Nikki for the art, since I'M not allowed to give you anything creative!  Damn you, being a professional!

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Brief Trip To The Art Fair

I was asked to help a relative disassemble their display at the Arts On The Green art fair in LeGrange, KY this weekend.  It's not a big fair and I'm a hard sell on crafts, but I used my free time to look around for anything interesting to bring back to my fans.

It's weird to think I actually have fans now.

Man, is it weird to think that.  I'm not sure I can grasp it.

Anyway, I only found three exhibits I really thought were worth photographing.  I made sure to get a card from each exhibit, because as a crafts fair, these people are there to sell and it wouldn't be fair to flaunt their hard work without at least providing their contact information.

First up, these neat lawn ornaments made out of junk and bits of metal.  I'm keeping my photos near full size so that you can see the detail, and this guy tightly packs his creations.  You need the extra size to tell them apart.  I admit it, I liked the bugs.

Next, I loved these little necklaces and keys with gears embedded in them.  If I didn't have a fondness for steampunk, I wouldn't be here.

Finally, this guy makes fabric.  Now, I know not a thing about whether he makes good fabric or not, but seeing a guy operate a loom in public was well worth a photo.  He was cool just to watch.

I told you it was a very brief trip!  Enjoy the photos.  I'mma get back to writing the second Inscrutable Machine book.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fan Art And A Hint Of The Sequel

Got a treat for you!

I have been hard at work on Book #2 in the Inscrutable Machine series.  My publisher, naturally enough, feels that I can't post chapters in a serial format as I write it.  Very reasonable, but it takes away what I mostly did with this blog!  Still, the good news is I'm nearly (I think) halfway done with the manuscript.  I jumped the gun starting it, but after taking a couple of weeks off to redo the plot with lots of new ideas, I now am enthused and inspired.

Along the way, I picked up a new alpha reader.  My friend Nikki is a frothing fangirl for the first book, and now the second.  She has provided me with fan art, so I'm sharing it with you.

Meet Remington 'Remmy' 'The Kludge' Fawkes, a native of the secret Jovian lunar colonies and a major, major character in the sequel.  She's probably the most important character after Penny!

By the way, Nikki gets the same deal Lucy did.  In exchange for the reading that keeps me motivated to write, I will make her immortal in print.  I have so many plans for Ampexia...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Random Movie Review - Maleficent

I saw Maleficent last night.  I have really been looking forward to it, and made a point of seeing it as soon as possible.  That should surprise no one.  I love stories about villains, and I love cartoons.  Maleficent is live action, but inspired by a cartoon.  Plus, the story I guessed from the trailers sounded clever.  I was intrigued.

I liked the movie and would recommend it.


Because, see, the movie is interesting to me as a writer, and I'd like to discuss that.

First, the fairies.  Disney has traditionally represented fairies in Tinkerbell fashion, as sweet and friendly little bug-winged girls, or beautiful elfin women.  That has always bugged me.  They successfully hid from large portions of our population what actual folk tale fairies are like.

This movie was way closer.  Sometimes hideous, sometimes beautiful, sometimes mischievous, sometimes generous, sometimes paranoid and hostile, almost none of the fairies in Maleficent look very human.  Strong animal and plant themes match Victorian art.  The fairy designs were gorgeous and weird, and I kept looking for the 'stolen shamelessly from Patrick Woodroffe' credit after the movie.  In all seriousness, I'd give it 50/50 he was an inspiration for the artists.  The dragons and the water spirits in particular had that look.  Fairy behavior was still pretty bawdlerized, but at least they hinted at the chaotic fae nature.

Now to the story.

What really interested me professionally was how the writers kept the forms of a fairy tale, but did not let those drag them down.  Fairy tales are simple stories with dramatic plot elements, symbolism, and rely on an omniscient narrator to label characters as archtypes instead of developing them as people.  Needless to say, all of that is a problem with modern storytelling standards.  Disney's Sleeping Beauty, which inspires this movie, stuck to those standards closely.  The characters were two dimensionally shallow.  You were told what the characters were like, and then they performed plot points with no reference to if that suited their character.  I will avoid the complete rant, but Disney Princess movies have had a big problem with following that pattern without keeping the simple, powerful symbolism of fairy tales.

Maleficent completely reverses this trend, beautifully synthesizing modern storytelling needs and the fairy tale structure.  It does so by using tiny amounts of establishment to create a feel of character development instead of dwelling on that development.  The crow only has to bring baby Aurora a flower to nurse from and be petted once, and you understand that he loves the child and are prepared for everything he does later.  The narrator tells you the king goes mad, then gives you one brief scene where the king is so obsessed with talking to the voices of his own guilt.  Boom, he's not just some guy who goes crazy - you understand why, and the nature of his madness.  You don't see it build, but you feel like you did.  Miraculously, this technique makes Aurora interesting.  She's blessed with beauty, happiness, grace, and being loved.  They show her smiling and laughing happily at even things she should be afraid of as a small child, and when she grows older she doesn't feel like a cardboard cutout with 'GOOD' stamped on it.

Consistency is a big part of this.  When you're told what someone's like, they act like that instead of making a vague show of it and then performing plot points.

This technique allows the movie to cover up the truly tiny amounts of character development and exploration it contains.  It proves to you that these characters are who they're supposed to be, and gets back to the grand battles of good vs. evil, acts of magic, prophecies, and dramatic, even exaggerated plot points.  Only Maleficent gets serious character development time.

...and that works.  That's why I'm fascinated.  They trick the viewer into feeling like the characters are deep and explored.  They pull off a modern story and a fairy tale both.  It's excellent writing.

As an author myself, I had to talk about that.

Also, good movie.  Go see it.

PS - And I would be remiss not to mention that this movie kicks the Disney 'True Love' stereotype in the teeth.  Again.  Two in a row, with Frozen.  As far as I'm concerned, they can keep doing that.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Author At BABScon, A Pictorial

BABScon is a MLP convention.  Now, I love cartoons, and I love the current MLP cartoon, but I really went there to spend time with Dana, a friend who lives waaaaay across the country and I don't get to see much.  We spent most of the time sitting at a dealer's table.  Still, I took home photos of whatever I found neat!

We begin at the airport as I was leaving town!  Not a place I normally expect to photograph things, but then I saw these peculiar signs.  Was there a dress code someone forgot to tell me about?

You see all kinds of neat things on the plane.  I hardly ever see actual classic factory type buildings from the ground, with smokestacks and everything.

And then this place.  I photographed it because it looks freakishly exactly like a Sim City block.

My attempts to capture how cool cities look from the air completely failed.  This is as close as I got

Chicago, on the other hand, turned out pretty great.  The clustered together skyscrapers are really dramatic next to the lake.

I don't know what I was trying to photograph here, but the blue sky and the sea of clouds justify themselves.

These mountains were hardcore.

I don't think of mountains as happening in layers, which proves that it's a good thing I'm getting to see what they're really like from the air.

I still don't know what these are.  Salt pits?  Deserts?  Quarries?

And finally, the convention!  I wish I could convey in pictures how badly designed the hotel was for human habitation.  All pretense of navigability was given up to allow for this huge, beautiful atrium.  BUT, the atrium is not the point of this photo!  Witness instead how we were greeted by random people we don't know!  Folks arriving on the first day of any convention tend to be friendly, and they waved to us up on the balcony.

Here is Dana waving back.  She will probably kill me when she sees how unflattering this photo is.  I'm posting it anyway!  You can't see me wave back because, obviously, I had to take the photos.

An old man wearing a Pinkie Pie shirt directs traffic.  I knew we had arrived at a My Little Pony convention.  The attendees covered absolutely every age, gender, ethnicity, and social group.

A slightly more flattering photo of Dana, taken because I thought the froth of her strawberry milkshake looked cool.

The view outside my hotel room window.  I can only conclude that there's a villain's underground bunker beneath the hotel.

Setting up the vendor table was tiring, and I headed out to enjoy the California sunshine - something I have dearly missed.  Poolside, I met this fine fellow, and followed him through his many attempts to escape the paparazzi.

Alas, eventually he succeeded.

COSTUME TIME.  Little Girl Pinkie Pie, go!

The griffon chef from the train episode!  Bonus coolness:  This guy sold eclairs, and in many cases gave them away for free.

Not sure who she is cosplaying specifically.  Didn't really care.  Neat Wonderbolts costume.

Little girls, grown men, old men, young women, mothers, we had 'em all, in every level of costumery!  Note the hooves.  Much easier than three fingered toon glove costumes.

Not a costume.  I just really liked this lady's dress.  At the edge of the shot, notice the Artist Cage that Dana carefully built around herself.

The other side of the Artist Cage, and a guy with a horse on his shoulder buying art from Dana.  Dana obviously cannot be seen in these pictures, because Artist Cage.

I didn't photograph many of the dealer displays, but these plush toys were incredible - and cost $400 minimum.

Princess Luna fondles her horn.  I never claimed to be tasteful.

Just some really freaking dapper people.

One of Dana's customers.  When I saw the braces, I had to get a photo.  It turns out little girls like unicorns.  Who knew?  Oh, and check out the necklace!

All I had to do was yell 'Hey, Applejack!' and she turned around.  True story.

So... many... little girls... in costume!  CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

And finally, MY people arrive.  I love cute and dark, and this Pinkamina/Cupcakes costume had me squeeing.  This photo is presented in its original size, because there's so much detail in the dress.

Pinkamina poses, just for me!

Our next-table-neighbor was Ratgirl Productions.  She didn't show up on Friday, but when she arrived on Saturday, she was SO friendly, and the costume head was cute beyond belief!

On the edge of this photo, note Dana's giant Heavenly Nostrils banner, which kept us cramped up against our table.

Dana, being Horse Famous, gets invited to all kinds of stuff.  Just about everybody in this photo is a voice actor for MLP.

Babs Seed's voice actress is quiet, but friendly.  The other CMC actresses gave her that hoodie.  Yes, that is a copy of Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain that I shamelessly gave to her as a gift.  Schmoozing!  (Okay, I confess, I really liked her.)

Dana and Princess Celestia's voice actress talk about stuff.

Dana and Princess Celestia's voice actress, both drunk off their gourds and babbling about making a Heavenly Nostrils cartoon, pose for a picture.

The plushie folks switched up their lineup with this amazing Trixie on a rotating stand.

Flim and Flam costumes:  Simple and classy.

They said they'd drop by our table.  Brian and Brynna Drummond, posing with Dana, who gets to do all the posing.  Also she's more huggable than I am.  BAH.

The sourfaced Angel totally made this costume.

I thought Future Twilight was a pretty clever costume idea.  This is Sunday, and as you can see everyone's packing up.

Monday!  We tried to tool around San Francisco.  Didn't really work.  We couldn't get to the beach, but I love the ocean, love it dearly and fiercely, and we at least got to stop at some overlooks.

Here I photographed things on a cliff we never identified.

 The sea, photographed as best I could over a fence.  Still beautiful.

City lights at night, on the plane ride home.

Weary of mind and body and especially feet, in the Chicago airport I ran into someone even more worn out than me.

I had a wonderful trip.  My deepest regret is that I never thought to photograph any of my customers, especially the ten year old girl who came back twice because she loved all my books and couldn't decide which to spend her precious $12 on.