The Muddling Middle

Yesterday, I passed the 25K mark on SoulQuest, so I’ve hit the middle of my 50K goal. Crossing the 50% mark on a project is both exciting and scary and it’s when I enter what I like to call the Muddling Middle.

On every project, when I hit the 50% mark, there are two thoughts that occur to me. The first is, “wow, I’ve made it to the halfway point! This is great, I’m going to finish this thing!” And then the second thought is one of panic: “Wait…I’m only halfway through? All the work I’ve done so far and I basically have to do it all again?”

It’s more of a state of mind than anything else. The majority of my books are novellas of only around 30K, so I’d be close to the end if I were writing those. I entered the Muddling Middle on every one of those books when I reached 15K. When that didn’t happen with SoulQuest, I thought I was in the clear and on a great track…until I hit the Muddling Middle at 25K.

So like I said, it’s a state of mind. It’s even happened on short stories of only a few thousand words. It’s this whole idea of being so close to the finish, yet so far at the same time and also a sense of, “you’ve invested this much into it now, so there’s no turning back.”

And the Muddling Middle can really be the point where a project will either see fruition…or stop dead in its tracks. There have been a number of projects of mine that just stopped dead at the Muddling Middle because I didn’t know where to go. A big part of this had to do with the fact that in the past, I didn’t plan out as much. These days, I do much more planning and I’ve got everything mapped out with SoulQuest—I know where I want to go and what I want to do. I know one theory could be, “well obviously, it’s time to change the plan if you don’t like it,” except I do like the plan and I think it makes for a great story the way everything is connecting together.

So it’s more of a state of mind than anything else. Given how long I’ve lived with SoulQuest and how much effort I’ve put into it this far, I don’t think the Muddling Middle will be strong enough to cause me to drop it. Nonetheless, it’s a difficult stage to hit, and something I’m sure many writers struggle with.

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Back to the well

The life cycles of my projects can be really funny sometimes, and also a bit bizarre. For example, the project that would eventually become Love & Bullets, my third novel, was actually begun before I even sat down to write my first novel, Fallen. And The Myth Hunter may actually predate both of them, it’s all kind of fuzzy. But one project, SoulQuest, might predate all those books. This project originally came about when I was soliciting artists for a comic book project. I had it narrowed down to two artists, and both of them produced awesome samples of the title character. I had to choose one over the other (who unfortunately had to quit due to a higher-profile gig), but I liked the second artist’s style a lot and wanted to do a project tailored specifically to his strengths. So I came up with SoulQuest, a concept inspired heavily by some of the RPGs I’d played when I was younger (particularly Final Fantasy VII).

The artist liked the initial script and the character concepts I came up with. He drew two initial sketches and then just disappeared. Never heard from him again, never got any e-mail responses from him, nothing. Time went on and I stumbled on the project notes about a year or two later and started soliciting for an artist again. I had a really talented guy approach me about it, but his style wasn’t really what I was looking for. As this was inspired by Final Fantasy VII, I wanted more of a manga-esque style and he definitely wasn’t that. But he asked for a shot so I said sure, sent him the notes and he came up with some absolutely amazing concept art and character designs. They were spot-on perfect. I thought I’d had finally found my guy, as he seemed just as psyched about the project as me. He came up with designs for pretty much every significant character in the series, produced about three pages for what would have been the first issue…and then vanished. I tried e-mailing him numerous times over the past five years, each time getting no response. Even when I’d decide to transform this into a novel, I asked if he’d be interested in doing the cover art on commission, but still no response.

Brief note to any artists out there: If you aren’t able to complete a project, at the very least please have the courtesy to let your partner know. Yes, sometimes things happen and you can’t respond right away. And yes, sometimes you’ll get a gig that comes along that offers higher pay or more exposure and that’s fine. But at the very least, you should let them know what’s happened and why you can’t complete the project. It’s just common courtesy, don’t leave them waiting. I’ve more or less given up on trying to put together a comic, because this has happened to me on more than a few occasions.

Anyway, back on track. A few years ago, a friend began a website for original fiction, presented in a serialized format. This caught my interest and I wanted to get a chance to put SoulQuest out there. But the site fell through as the creator became too busy to maintain it, so he told us that he’d have to bring it to an end. The image you see at the top of this page was something he threw together as a promotional image for the series, combining a bunch of images he found online that were appropriate for the series.

Once the site fell through, I put the project on the back-burner, revisiting it occasionally. Now, I’ve gone back to it once more. I looked at what I’d written before and stripped out a bunch of sections that just didn’t work, the result was that the 10,000 words I had written were reduced to about 7,000. I also broke down the story, figured out the basic outline for it and went from there. As you can see in the sidebar on my main page, I’ve managed to make up a bit of the deficit I got from that big edit and have now broken 11,000 words.

Hopefully it continues.

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

If you’ve been keeping up with my Twitter updates, or if you just look at the sidebar with the NaNoWriMo calendar (if you can’t see said calendar, click on the banner at the top of this page and it’ll take you back to the main page), you already know that my progress this year on the annual National Novel Writing Month has fallen well short of my expectations. This has happened with numerous other NaNoWriMo attempts in the past. On most occasions, it’s been a case of the story simply running out of steam or the idea lacking the kind of strong foundation needed to build a story on. But this was just a matter of bad timing.

Right before the onset of November, I was asked to edit a novel. I don’t believe I’m at liberty to say much more than that at this point. But the who and why isn’t important, just that I had a task I agreed to. I actually have until January to complete the editing job, but because it was there and needed to get done, whenever I found myself struggling with my own writing, I would just turn to the editing project. This was partly procrastination, but also a helpful tool. If you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy over your own writing, I’d suggest editing or proofreading someone else’s work. You may find yourself thinking as you go, “hey, wait a minute…I can do this stuff, too!” I found that happen to me as I was editing Pro Se’s Monster Aces anthology. And it did help recently, because as I was editing this current project, gears started turning in my head in regards to my own writing.

Another thing that came up was a potential regular writing assignment for a bit more wider exposure than I’m typically used to. Again, it’s too early to say anything about it now, but I also started work on writing some stuff for that. I also had some non-writing professional obligations, with a two-day teaching conference that involved being away from my computer and even notebook for pretty much the entirety of those two days.

But the important thing about NaNoWriMo isn’t necessarily finishing on time. The important thing is to get writing again. It’s been close to a year since I completed a writing assignment (that would be my Ian Morris story for this past summer’s Tales of the Rook anthology). So getting sixteen thousand words finished in what, according to the calendar, has only been about a week of actual writing is not too bad in itself. I had started off strong, meeting my daily goal of two thousand words, but as the month and story went on, other things started popping up and I hit roadblocks.

I don’t think I’m going to call it quits on this story just yet. It has some real promise and some things that need to be worked around, but I believe I can finish it. I may need to switch gears and look back at another project that’s been stalled for a while. This novel I’ve been editing has elements of fantasy to it, as does another project of mine that’s been sidelined for a long time, and that gave me some ideas.

We’ll see how it all progresses. As we say in Japan, ganbare!

NaNoWriMo

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d been thinking lately about one of my favorite books, Frankenstein, and how that got me thinking about the monster. He’s always been one of my favorite characters in literature, and although I’ve enjoyed Karloff’s interpretation as slow and monosyllabic at best, I prefer the version Mary Shelley conceived, who was intelligent and well-spoken.

This, combined with the onset of National Novel Writing Month coalesced into a perfect storm, and so I’ve decided to participate once more. So this month, I will be working on…

Although this is a Frankenstein story, it’s not a horror book, not even really a sci-fi book. All I will really say about it is that it will be a pulp book. Should the book be completed, it will likely be published via PulpWork Press.

You can keep up with my progress on Twitter and Facebook, or on the sidebar of this site, with a word count widget checking my daily progress throughout the month. To meet the deadline, I need to write around 1667 words per day. My daily goal is 2000 to give myself a bit of a buffer. Today, the first day, I managed 2447 words. So already off to a good start.

Let’s hope it manages to stick.

 

Monsters everywhere!

I’ve got two pieces of news for you today. The first is that Pro Se Productions has just released a new book in time for Halloween, called Monster Aces! Here is the description from Pro Se:

Having selflessly abandoned their identities, their pasts and their futures, the Monster Aces are all that stand between humanity and the fell creatures that lurk in the shadows. Four men and one woman use their amazing abilities as a team to scour the globe for monsters and bring an end to their unholy existence – whatever the danger, whatever the cost.

The book includes two stories by Jim Beard, creator of the Monster Aces. Also included are stories by Barry Reese, Van Allen Plexico, and Ron Fortier! So altogether, you’ve got some great stories by some of the best New Pulp has to offer!

And this collection was edited by yours truly, so check it out! Well worth the price of admission!

The other piece of news I have is Mark Bousquet, writer of Gunfighter Gothic and Dreamer’s Syndrome, recently reviewed Dragon Kings of the Orient! Here’s a bit of what he had to say about it:

Percival Constantine sets his own course in DRAGON KINGS and Elisa is her own woman. Where this novel shines are the moments when Elisa finds herself, in the same instance, fighting both moral and physical quandaries. Her willingness to work with previous combatants when the situation calls for it, even if she doesn’t want to do it, makes her seem like a very real, very practical character. Which is important when you’ve got fox spirits and Dragon Kings running around with magical swords.

Head on over to Atomic Anxiety to check out the rest of Mark’s review! While you’re there, check out some of his work. And if you haven’t read Dragon Kings of the Orient yet, what are you waiting for? Jump over to the Novels section to see how to get yourself a copy!

National Novel Writing Month

It’s the end of October and that means we’re on the verge of yet another National Novel Writing Month.

What’s that, you say? What the hell is this all about?

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) occurs every year in November. The idea is to produce a novel of 50,000 words between the dates of November 1st and November 30th. The rules are that all the actual writing occurs just during those thirty days. You can plot, outline, etc. in advance, but you have to wait until midnight on November 1st before you enter one word into your manuscript. Of course, there’s no enforcement of this, it’s all on the honor system. And there’s no prize, except for the satisfaction of having finished a novel.

So why do it?

If you’re an aspiring writer (or a writer in a dry spell) struggling to get something on the page, an event like this can give you that kick in the pants you need. I’ve participated in it a number of times, but only actually finished once. That was my first novel, Fallen. I’ve attempted other novels since during NaNoWriMo, but they fizzled out. The other books I’ve written were not written as part of NaNoWriMo (I actually finished The Myth Hunter on the eve of NaNoWriMo 2009).

The website has forums to get encouragement from other participants and advice on all manner of things related to writing. There’s also fun things like word counters to chart your progress. You may have seen your writer friends posting progress updates on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs. I’m toying with the idea of jumping into it again, the question is which of the ideas I’ve got notes on will I focus on.

One of my favorite things about the forums are the write-in events. There are regions all over the world for NaNoWriMo and many of these regions will schedule write-ins where people meet up somewhere with their laptops, tablets, notebooks, whatever to just write. It can be a fun way to do some work, participating in an environment like that and feeding off each other’s energy.

I say it’s worth the effort if you want to write a book or even a book of short stories for that matter. If you don’t complete it, there’s no punishment and you can always continue working on the book past November. And if you complete it, you get to pat yourself on the back for a job well done and breathe a sigh of relief.

…until the editing begins, of course.

Sentinels: A Distant Star

I absolutely loved Van Allen Plexico’s first Sentinels book, When Strikes The Warlord. So much, in fact, that once I finished, I immediately bought the second book, A Distant Star. These two books, along with Apocalypse Rising, form the first Sentinels trilogy, “The Grand Design.”

In this volume, we see the return of the Sentinels — Lyn Li/Pulsar, Ultraa, Esro Brachis and Vanadium. We also see the return of the enemy from the first book, the Warlord, albeit in a different form. There are a succession of Warlords, and every time one dies another takes his place, and it’s all part of something known as the Grand Design. Where this leads to is still something of a mystery that I assume will be the focus of the third book.

The Sentinels’ universe also expands with this book, with the introduction of the Kur-Bai, an alien race coming to Earth in order to eliminate the Xorex, a planet-destroying entity that served as the master of Kabaraak from the previous volume. Upon landing on Earth, one of the Kur-Bai, a warrior named Mondrian, and Esro get swept off on an adventure of their own in space, going up against Mondrian’s former shipmate in a Barsoomian setting.

There’s a lot of jumping around in this book as the Sentinels are seemingly pulled apart in all directions. Ultraa is injured, Pulsar has family issues, Vanadium appears to be corrupted, and the government is prepared to cut their support for the Sentinels, especially with Esro missing. All the while, the Warlord is scheming, but it’s really Esro and Mondrian’s story that serve as the most interesting set-pieces here.

Where Plexico succeeds is in his characters, once more. Mondrian is every bit as intriguing and fascinating as the characters introduced in the previous volume. Her interaction with Esro is a joy to read and Esro himself steps up to the plate, becoming a much more central character than he was in the previous book. It could be said that When Strikes The Warlord was more Pulsar’s story and in that case, A Distant Star is definitely Esro’s. There’s a grandness to this book, a sense of a larger universe outside of Earth. I know that there were aliens in the first, but this one feels more like a space opera.

That being said, one of the strengths of A Distant Star, of it feeling like a part of something greater, can also be considered a shortcoming, depending on your point of view. When Strikes The Warlord can easily be viewed as a stand-alone tale, but with A Distant Star, there’s a lot of set-up for Apocalypse Rising and you know there’s something else coming.

Apocalypse Rising is a book I will be reading in the very near future. So far, Plexico has not disappointed with his superhero epic, and I’m looking forward to an epic conclusion of this trilogy!

What’s in a name? Musings on Frankenstein’s Monster

Halloween is coming around, and as is usually the case, that means I’m watching far more horror movies than I would under normal circumstances. Among those I’ve watched lately are two recent adaptations of one of my favorite books, Frankenstein. Both shared the same title as the novel and both were made-for-TV productions, and both came out in 2004. One was a USA adaptation based on a concept from Dean Koontz (that he developed into a series of novels), which featured both the doctor and his creation alive in modern-day New Orleans. The doctor is up to his old tricks again, except this time he’s killing people and harvesting their organs. And the monster, taking on the name Deucalion (the son of Prometheus in Greek mythology, and Shelley’s novel originally carried the subtitle of The Modern Prometheus), teams up with a police detective to stop his creator. It was intended to be the pilot for a new TV series with Vincent Perez (The Crow: City of Angels) as Deucalion, but that fell through. I’ve never read the books, but it was an interesting take on the mythos.

The other was also in 2004, a mini-series that was an adaptation of the novel for the Hallmark Channel. It was a pretty faithful adaptation, albeit a bit slow in parts (the total runtime was around three hours). Luke Goss (Blade II) played the monster and William Hurt and Donald Sutherland also had supporting roles.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the creature’s name. Of course, anyone who has read the book and most adaptations of the novel know that Frankenstein was the doctor’s name and the monster had no name. I’ve heard that Shelley referred to the creature as Adam in some readings of the book and the creature refers to himself as the Adam of Frankenstein’s labors. But for the most part, as far as the text is concerned, the creature is nameless. Over time, the monster has come to be known as Frankenstein in the public consciousness, which has become a sticking point for some who feel the need to issue a correction.

This got me thinking…who’s to say the creature isn’t Frankenstein?

I think of this for two reasons. For one, the creature refers to Frankenstein as his father, so in that instance, Frankenstein could be considered the creature’s surname as well as Victor’s. In that case, it’s only a first name that the creature lacks (although you could make an argument for Adam to be his first name, and there have been works that use the creature and refer to him as Adam).

If you don’t want to think of the creature as Victor’s son, you could also make an alternate argument. A painting is sometimes referred to by using the creator’s name as shorthand, like a Rembrandt or a Monet. In this convention, Frankenstein’s Monster could be referred to as a Frankenstein.

I think the best argument is really that the creature is Victor’s son. He’s a very human character in the book, not at all a lumbering, monosyllabic buffoon like he’s sometimes portrayed. No, the creature is actually very intelligent and well-spoken. So personally, I don’t see anything wrong with humanizing him a bit further and referring to him as Frankenstein, since he is Frankenstein’s son.

Now if you were to refer to the monster as Victor Frankenstein, we’d have to have a talk…

The Myth Hunter Saga

Lost continents, ancient artifacts, strange creatures…for all these myths and legends, and more, there is an element of truth in them. Throughout the centuries, there have been myth hunters, people who seek out these legends. And they still exist to this day.

There are some, like Elisa Hill, who seek them out for knowledge and a better understanding of the world, as well as standing as a safeguard against those forces which would threaten humanity. But then there are mercenary myth hunters, out only for personal profit. And then there are those like the Order, which have a hidden agenda that bodes ill for all mankind.

Raised by myth hunters herself, Elisa grew up being prepared for this life, but in her early adulthood, she became a mercenary for hire. Eventually seeing the error of her ways, Elisa now works with her former mentor and family friend as well as other associates, including a Japanese changeling and a representative of a secret society.

The first book in the series, The Myth Hunter, focuses on Elisa as she takes on a legend that plagued her parents for most of their careers—the lost continent of Lemuria. When new evidence hints to its location, Elisa and her allies travel from the waters of the Caribbean to the temples of India and the Ryukyu Islands of Japan in search of the lost continent. All the while, they’re in a race against time against the mysterious organization called the Order, who have hired Elisa’s former partner, mercenary Lucas Davalos. And also in the wind is another myth hunter, a vicious and cold-blooded assassin known only as Seth.

Buy in print from CreateSpace or buy a digital copy from Smashwords!

The second book, Dragon Kings of the Orient, sees Elisa accepting a job from Asami, the Japanese changeling she met in The Myth Hunter. This time around, Elisa travels to China, where Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, has been released from centuries of imprisonment, and he desires deadly retribution against the beings who trapped him—the four mythical Dragon Kings. But if the Dragon Kings die, all of Asia could be plunged into the oceans. Elisa and her allies have to face up against gods and demons in order to save the lives of billions!

Buy in print from CreateSpace or buy a digital copy from Smashwords!

Both books are also available from other online retailers, in both print and digital, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.

Sentinels: When Strikes the Warlord

Have you ever had a book you weren’t sure you would like, but then once you started reading it, you couldn’t put it down?

That’s what happened with the first volume of Van Allen Plexico’s Sentinels series. I’ve known this author’s name for a very long time, had it come up many times in the writing circles I run in. But until now, I’d never read anything of his. And despite all the positive reviews about the Sentinels series, I was a bit gunshy.

You see, when it comes to original superheroes, it really is hit or miss with me. When superheroes first appeared. there was some hook to them. Superman was…well, Superman. He was the first, the big one. Batman was an evolution of characters like the Shadow, mixed with the burgeoning superheroes. When we came up to the Marvel heroes of the early 60s like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc., they all had these great hooks to set them apart.

But now, it’s 2012. If you’re a fan of superheroes, you’ve got over seventy years of stories to choose from and chances are you’ve read more than a few. So if you’re trying to get people with a new hook, you’ve got a pretty tall order. Most of the times, people think they’ve got a good hook, but it’s really not and the characters aren’t well developed.

Plexico, however, takes a different route. He knows that you know all these stories. He knows that there’s no hook you haven’t heard. And instead of trying to find the next hook, he does what writers of all other mediums do — he makes you care about the characters instead.

And really, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? How many times have you seen the basic hero legend retold over and over? How many times have you see the lone warrior story? If you show someone Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, Brick, and then ask them to read Red Harvest, chances are they will get a very different experience each time, despite the fact that it’s basically the same story. And when it comes to superheroes, I doubt you could come up with a super power that hasn’t already been thought up. But does that matter? Are there many differences between the abilities of James Bond and Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne? Not really, it’s the characters that make them different.

And it’s the same with superheroes. The Sentinels does not have a unique hook. There aren’t any reality TV shows or hidden conspiracies or trying to overthrow the existing order or anything like that.The Sentinels are superheroes who fight supervillains, pure and simple. But if you’re expecting a cheap, Avengers/Justice League knock-off. you will be pleasantly surprised. Because despite the superficial similarities with popular comic book heroes (and while they’re there, they are very much in passing — I doubt you’ll confuse Ultraa with Superman or Esra with Iron Man), what sets Plexico’s Sentinels apart from the numerous other books is that he focuses on his characters as characters, not as powersets. Even the Cavalier, who is set up from his first appearance as unlikeable, becomes someone you can relate to. And that’s a real testament to Plexico’s characterization skill. Even when Plexico hits the familiar story beats (and I won’t detail what they are because I don’t want to spoil them), there’s a sense of originality because of the great development he’s invested in these characters.

And because of these characters, I could not put this book down. When it comes to books, some take me longer to finish than others. On average, I take about a month or so to finish a book. I finished all 236 pages of this book in a week. Whenever I had some downtime, my first inclination was to read more of Sentinels, and I found myself thinking about it even when I didn’t have the time. It’s rare for a writer to inspire that kind of dedication in a first-time reader.

Needless to say, immediately after I finished this book, I bought the next in the series. And that’s a rare thing for me. Not long before this, I finished The Gunslinger, the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. But I have not yet bought the second book. Yet I already bought the next Sentinels book.

Van’s got me hooked. Fortunately, I’ve got quite a bit of material to catch up on.