You are viewing dmoonfire

Journals of Fedran covers

Ocean Cuddle
When it comes to book covers, I lean toward typographic and abstract designs. Something that hints at the contents instead of painting an illustration or using a photograph.

This is a contrast to the bulk of the books in my library which are the opposite and why Sand and Blood has the cover that it does. That and I know that my severe style for covers doesn’t appear to be that popular.

For Journals of Fedran, I’m going with a typographic cover based on newspapers. While I wanted to do the entire thing like a newspaper, I don’t think reading a four thousand word story in nine point font in four columns would be that appealing. Not to mention that ebooks can’t be formatted that way, so it would be a moot point. A cover, on the other hand, can give the impression of being a newspaper and still get that “feel” that I’m going for.

The Issue Cover

The first thing I worked on was the issue cover. I used a program called XeLaTeX which is a programming language for typesetting books and documents. It can also do some pretty impressive things when it comes to laying out PDFs in general.

Even though most of the examples of newspapers from the 1800s didn’t have teasers on the front page, I started with lead-ins for the pieces, but that didn’t work. Eventually, I ended up on the first couple of paragraphs of each story. It ends up being an impromptu table of contents.

I’m planning on putting some images on the page, mainly a little advertising, to help with thumbnail recognition, but that’s going to be a later step.

About half way through making the cover, I switched from hand-writing LaTeX to writing a program to pull in the paragraphs and sections. Written in Perl, this scans the source file for the project, pulls out the ones that are significant (based on metadata in the YAML markdown), and then inserts them into place. The advantage of this is that I don’t have to update the cover manually when I edit the pieces. Just type make and the covers will be refreshed.

Overall, I think it looks pretty good for what I’m aiming for.

Individual Stories

One of the things I’m toying with is allowing individual downloads of the stories. If I do that, then I need a distinctive cover for each one without getting an illustrator. Since I have the issue format, I took bits and pieces of that and created something more specific.

With the story, the lead-in worked out pretty well. I seem to have consolidated down to eight lines of text, all proclaiming the contents. Overall, when lined up, I think they look pretty cool.

I did keep the header and footer in there (though the author can change). That way, all of the issue zeros will be tied together.

Like the issue, this is based on a Perl program for generating. That keeps it up to date if I have to make changes in the first X paragraphs at the bottom, but also lets me update them in a single shot. Most of the leading data is just YAML at the beginning.

Journals of Fedran progress

Ocean Cuddle
Editing

I didn’t have much new stuff written, except that my first and second round editing processes usually add words instead of removed them. SMWM says that’s wrong, but I already know that is how I work. Those two rounds are actually rewrite edits; anything I don’t like, I usually rewrite the entire paragraph or section to smooth it out.

For the writing group, I originally edited A Cup of Soup and Raging Alone. However, once I got through Alone, I was 1.5k words over the submission limit. I dropped Soup and added two of the essays instead. That brought me up to exactly the limit.

Table of Contents

I think I have the table of contents and the order of the entire piece finally figured out. It starts with the important thing about the world (what is resonance, units of measurement, pronunciation). There are stories scattered pretty evenly with essays and poems breaking up the longer pieces.

Notes from the Editor: Why I’m doing this and the philosophy behind it

Introduction to Resonance: Essay

Ministry of Standards: Essay on measurements

Farimon’s Gift: Essay

Farimon’s Revelation: Story about desperate invention

Speaking Miwāfu: Lesson on Miwafu names

Raging Alone: Coming of Age story set in the desert

Painful Love: Poem

The Cros Gambit: Story about a violent sports game

Grand Cros Clashball: Essay on aftermath of the Gambit

Bloodball: Essay on the aftermath of the Grand Cros announcement

Steam Engines: Poem

Samus and the Savage Slasher: Over-the-top story of pulp adventure

Alone: Poem

Under the Streets: Forensics mystery story

Growing Up: Poem

A Cup of Soup: Story about a mother who abandoned her magic and her daughter who just got it

Chicken Soup Recipe

I Love Her, I Hate Her: Poem

Second-Hand Dresses: Romance story about an almost-spinster meeting the man who ruined her life

Simple Goren: Fable

Classifieds: Short collection of classifieds

Colophon: Final notes, licenses, etc.

The only two pieces that don’t have at least a first draft are the classifieds and the colophon. Worst-case scenario, I’ll drop the classifieds section.

Lead-ins

Because of the inspiration for this piece, I wasn’t originally planning on having very obvious titles. I relented on that, but they are going to be set in the same font and size as the rest of the world. To emphasize the introduction, however, I was going to have a lead-in.

A BARBARIAN CHILD

ABANDONED IN THE CRUEL DESERT!

WILL HE SURVIVE!?

HOW WILL HE DIE!?

FIND OUT IN

BANTOR NIFSIN’S

TERRIFYING TALE

OF

MAGIC,

DEATH,

AND

CRUELTY!

This is what I was thinking for the lead-in for Raging Alone. Yeah, everything is overly dramatic, but I think I’m okay with that.

Style

There are going to also be a lot of horizontal rules in this. Section breaks in the sample newspapers were basically short lines while the separation between pieces are a single line that goes across the entire column. I’m going to stick with that, even in the ebook, because I think it adds to the ascetic.

I’m also planning on the convention of serif fonts for in-world and sans-serif for out of world pieces (credits, my introduction). I’m not going to say that, but I think it should be obvious.

Of course, if it doesn’t, then I won’t.

Capitals

Capitals are used pretty heavily in this piece, mainly because of the inspirational material. In the text, I’ve marked them as bold but the end result will have them in either small caps or all capitals, I haven’t decided.

Part of this comes from Gail Carriger’s description of a certain vampire (“You can hear the italics.”) but also just to keep building on that overly dramatic emphasis that just seems to show up in newspapers.

There is definitely a “style” to writing this. The different pieces have different authors, and I think I’ve found a somewhat workable way of showing their focuses in the story. For example, in A Cup of Soup, one of the reasons for the piece is to sell products (not unlike soap operas). So, the bold comes in for product names. For Samus, the bold are for the dramatic strikes and well-telegraphed twists.

Lexember

Through this, I’ve been participating in Lexember. Mostly, I’m posting on Twitter #Lexember hashtag.

I’ve also thrown my conlang, Miwāfu, up on GitHub. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons. One, I like showing my work. And two, I’m not going to put most of it in my novels. While it would be awesome to translate hunks of the book, it would be more work to explain what the words mean instead of doing notational translations (put it in italic English).

It is a one word a day thing, so every day I’m creating a word. Most of them have to do with either Sand and Blood, Sand and Ash, or the Journals of Fedran.

Plans for this week

This is a little thing week. I want to get a lot of little things done and at least started in the pipeline:

Create a cover or two to get a feel for them.

Edit at least one more story.

Create at least two of the lead-ins.

Get the build system to generate the entire piece.

Try to get at least a PDF version.

I'm Not Your Target Audience

Ocean Cuddle
Over the last week, I’ve been moving forward with Journals of Fedran despite some setbacks. I still think it will be an interesting idea, but after some conversations, I’m beginning to doubt it.

I’m still going to do it, but that doesn’t mean that Inner Critic isn’t sitting on my shoulder whispering “you’re insane, everyone will hate it.” I hate that aspect of writing, the self-doubt that hang over my head as I write. I just learned how to keep writing even when its whispering at me. It’s the only way I can keep moving forward.

The Writing Group

One of the writers had to pull out at the writing group this week, so I submitted two of my stories in their place. The more people who read it, the better. While writing something, I don’t always see the flaws but having others talk about it usually bring it out in the open.

The two pieces I submitted are:

Farimon’s Revelation: This is a story inspired by a lot of artists that I’ve read about, not to mention counter-cultures, inventors during the early 20th century. It’s a piece about drugs and invention, and how a world-altering discovery sometimes comes from the strangest of places.

The Silk Touch: A high society romance where debutantes are presented, courtship takes years, and everything from the color of the dresses is planned years ahead.

Farimon’s wasn’t very popular. A few of the writers like it except for some specific issues, but most of the table wasn’t fond of it. The biggest complaint is something I can work on, but “the protagonist isn’t very likable” came up a few times. That’s an interesting problem because Farimon is based on two things. In his personal life, he’s an addict who says the right things to people with money and obsesses about solving the world’s problems with no concern for anyone else. After he changed the world, he was thrown up on a pedestal and most of his fans ignored the darker aspects of his life and only talked about the positive.

Silk on the other hand had a straight divide across the table. Those who read romance novels thought it was fantastic and those who didn’t pretty much said “I’m not your target audience.” Those who loved romance tried to encourage me to “not waste” it on the Journals and to create a full-blown novel out of it and submit it under a different byline.

I’m actually considering that, but I really want a romance piece in the Journals. Silk is a sweeping story, so I’m going to pull it out and replace it with Second-Hand Dresses which is set in the same city as Silk but doesn’t quite follow the language of romance novels as closely.

I’m Not Your Target Audience

I think this is actually going to be the hardest part of the story. Looking at the range of genres I’m planning on writing, I think it is a cool idea to show different styles of writing (forensics, romance, pulp adventure) but it also means that if the first story in the collection doesn’t appeal to someone, they may not find the story that might be latter that does.

At the same time, I read almost all genres and I like them. I love the different styles and touches they have, the language and flow that works for one genre but not another.

I may not be great at writing any of them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to write it. I’m having fun doing it, at least the first six stories.

Though, I might consider a byline for the romance ones. So far, that has a potential to stand on its own, but I’m going to clean up the next couple of chapters and send it to the romance lovers and see if they think it has potential. (Same applies to anyone else who is interested in reading an alpha version of a Regency-inspired romance in a steampunk world.)

Status of Journals

So, a week is past and I’ve gotten quite a bit of writing. In addition to the two above, I have:

The Cros Gambit: A violent sports short where someone with electrical powers manages to get a high scoring game at the cost of his life. Basically obsession and sports. (1st Draft)

Raging Alone: Desòchu’s coming of age, a contrast to his his younger brother’s rite in Sand and Blood. (1st Draft)

Simple Goren: A fable about the perils of disobeying parents. (1st Draft)

Under the Streets: A Mudd Fourier, a forensics mage I created quite a few years ago. It’s not a murder mystery, but just a story to get me back into his head. (1st Draft)

A Cup of Soup: A story of a mother and daughter struggling with using magic. (1st Draft)

Second-Hand Dresses: A romance serial of a near spinster meeting up with the man who ruined her life. (1st Draft)

Ramus and the Savage Slasher: A pulp adventure, somewhat formulaic and completely over the top. (1st Draft)

All five essays. I have topics on two on clashball (the sports game), resonance, Farimon’s accomplishments, and one on units of measurement. (1st Draft)

Lessons on Miwāfu and names in the world. (1st Draft)

All five poems are done. One of the poems is interesting since it is a Miwāfu one and I had to come up with a language-centric style. (Done)

An introduction to the Journals, editor notes of sorts.

All of these names are subject to change. Actually, everything might change as I work out the ideas. This also brings me out to twenty-seven thousand words. With the second drafts, the word counts will probably increase and I should be right at thirty thousand, my goal.

I actually only have three things left to do:

Create some advertising for various products in the Journals. These are going to be graphical, probably using images I can, but should give a nice flair.

Come up with the newspaper-style introductions to the pieces. It isn’t going to be a simple title, but as short block of text. Also not sure how I’m going to write these for the formatting system.

Create the cover or covers. At some point, I suspect these will be Creative Commons licensed pieces (but not to start with). If that happens, I’ll break each one into a separate ebook with its own cover.

There are also some secondary pieces:

The calendar for Tarsan. I’ve written the desert one, but I need the non-desert one for the Farimon essay.

Is This the Same World?

This was a question that came up during the writing group. The group has been fantastic reading all three of the Sand series, which has shown them a very specific culture in the world. And only one of my planned pieces actually ties into those novels.

It is the same world and roughly the same time. My reason for that came from probably one of the strangest places: airplanes and travel. When I sit down on a bus, a train, a plane, I have a tendency to find the person who likes to talk. And we talk, about life and anything else that comes up.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the world is a starkly different place, like two completely separate worlds in some cases. I have had a number of Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Indian coworkers. The things they describe in their life is different than growing up in a suburb of Chicago or near the middle of Iowa. Sitting on a plane heading to South Carolina, I saw a different world. Visiting Mississippi, the same thing. Reading biographies of famous people paints another different story, one that doesn’t really mesh with my personal experiences.

One of my goals with Fedran is to create a rich world. And, for me, that means differing stories that tie together as a whole but are not thematically related.

It is also a challenge. I think a lot of writers struggle to create starkly different characters and worlds. I don’t like bigots, which is why I try to write them. I don’t like violence, so I write it.

I’m still having fun

Yeah, I’m still having fun. This is a grand challenge to write. I have some nasty little things to finish up (paying for an editor), but overall, I think I now have a solid idea of how this first Journals is going to work. And I still like it.

Journals of Fedran idea

Ocean Cuddle
As I mentioned in my last post, I had an idea to “write more words.” After the last week of writing (which I can’t thank my wife enough for giving me the time to do so), I think I have enough of a seed that I think it can work.

As is my nature, I like to see what others think even as I’m slowly moving forward with it. So, this is my current side project, the Journals of Fedran.

The original idea

The original idea came from a combination of three things: a poor review of my book, browsing through my old writings, and a random exploration of the Internet that found images of old newspapers.

The newspaper is what combined everything together. Older newspapers had a certain flair to them, dramatic blocks of capitals and italics, breathless excitement for even the most mundane of things, and completely insane advertisement (e.g., snake oil and mechanical trousers). The narrow columns with the vertical lines also appealed to my ascetics.

What I had forgotten is that they also had fiction and poetry. Most of the ones I found also didn’t have short teaser columns leading to other sections, but simple blocks of text that crawled down the page until they were done, and then moved to the next topic.

They were dense blocks of gloriously random information, a touch of the world for those who can’t experience it.

This fits my view of Fedran beautifully. In Flight of the Scions, Kanéko’s only experience with the world are newspapers and journals, including Emerging Wizardry which is the first journal of technology. Since the urbanization of the world hasn’t occurred, most of the population frame their lives around the stories of “other places.” This would have come from told stories from travelers or… journals that are shared among the entire village until they fall apart.

Variety is the spice

I read a lot of different things. I also happen to enjoy writing them. Because of that, there are a lot of stories in my head that don’t quite have the wide-ranging scope of Sand and Blood or Flight of the Scions. In my work-in-progress branches, I found some romances, forensics, and even sports pieces. There are little side stories from the Sand series that I thought could use telling, including Desòchu’s own rite of passage or the reason Meris’ was kicked out of school (from Flight). Or just different cultures.

This has always been a problem, though. Advice I’ve seen repeatedly is “stick with a genre.” I don’t stick like to stick with one genre though, because I like variety. Every style of writing has a different difficulty, but it’s a fun struggle. A Regency-style romance has a different feel, a different set of details, and even a different manner of speaking than say a pulp adventure or a forensics mystery.

This idea is less of sticking with a genre and more of “sticking with a world.” I had intended to write Fedran for a while, to really sink into the world and have fun. There are a lot of stories that I can tell, not all of them are drama or action pieces.

Frameworks are everything

I like to start with frameworks, something to give me constraints but also to help guide me. Sand and Blood was suppose to be a ten thousand word piece of world-building. It’s going to be just shy of two hundred thousand by the time book three is out. Short stories are my weakest form too, but for a newspaper-style piece, short stories are really the only thing that can be put in.

So, I took a few ideas of history but altered them. I’m aiming for three to five thousand word pieces. Most of them are complete stories, a couple of them are serials that will take a few journals to finish. Nothing over five thousand, which is about a half hour of reading for most people.

For an entire length, I was going to start with thirty thousand words. That’s about half the length of Sand and Blood and about right when it is bound into a A5 book. I wanted to make a print version of this, just because I think it would be fun. Not to mention, I like typesetting.

If I stick with about seven fiction pieces, that would give me about 22-25k words. The rest of it was going to be articles on the constructed languages I’ve created, rules of games, or even essays about the fiction pieces. Scholarly bits about the world with similar blind spots and assumptions they had during the Victorian ages.

Together, I think it would create an interesting world piece and also let me have fun with the world.

What I have so far

After the week, I had a lot of words but many of them don’t work out. I also went a little further on the serials, but the tail ends are much rougher than the earlier pieces.

What I have the first drafts are:

A mystery with a forensics mage

A Regency-style romance serial with High Society in Tarsan

A artist/inventor inspired by Andy Warhol and a few other historical artists

Desòchu’s coming of age, probably in two or three parts

I’m planning on finishing up with:

A magical sports piece inspired by Shaolin Soccer

A pulp adventure bit that has some similarities to Doc Savage

A mother/daughter inspirational (this one is going to be hard)

I also want some essays/technical pieces on:

My constructed language, Miwāfu

A description of the sports game rules

An essay on the invention story

An essay on resonance, which is a key factor of my world

What might not work

The only part I’m not entirely sure is the meta-story and formatting. The newspaper style appeals to me, but these days, it isn’t the format most people enjoy reading. Even at three thousand words, that’s a really long bit for reading in four dense columns. Not to mention, impossible with ebooks. I might change it to just be collected articles like a SigGraph collection interspersed with advertisement (if I decide to put those in).

The other bit is meta-story. With the newspaper style, it is easier to create a story by the creators of the journal. That might be a bit harder to do, but I also think it will come out if I do more than a few of them. Not entirely sure.

Purpose

The biggest reason for doing this is to “write more words.” But, since this is going to be a single author collection (to start with, one person has suggested writing a story in my world), it could also be used to drive readers to my mailing list or simply seeing what I write. It also helps establish that I’m going to do a poor job of “sticking with a genre.”

Opinions

So, that’s my idea. I love opinions, criticisms, and anything else.

Messing with Markdown

Ocean Cuddle
I have a lot of projects in my head, which is one reason why I try to avoid starting new things while working on others. It got too easy to start a project and then never finish it when I got bored or just moved on.

At the same time, many of my ideas don’t “stick.” They seem like they will, but then it either doesn’t work out, the ideas don’t really gel, or simply I lose the passion. Some of them, like my old Exalted webcomic, haunt me for years with the nagging voice of “finish me” but I keep not doing it. Others end up being bigger projects, but suffer through constant revisions as I try to figure it out.

I do have some major projects that I haven continued to update and maintain quite a few years after I start them. One of the biggest is MfGames Writing Python which I started in 2010 when my father said I’d love Python. Even though I’ve long-since decided that I don’t like Python, I’ve still been writing updates to the tools in support of my own writing efforts.

Like Glorious Saber, I’ve been thinking about converting my Python writing tools over to C#, but never really got to it. I had a couple stabs at it but nothing really “stuck.”

The Side Project

After ICON, something Jim C. Hines and Scott Lynch said during their “Beyond SF 101” panel was still echoing in my head.

Write more words and don’t be a dick.

Now, Sand and Ash is still stuck in limbo, so I couldn’t really do anything with that. So I had this idea for a writing project that would be complimentary to my Fedran world and let me get different ideas out. It involved smaller pieces, short stories and essays and lessons, so I was trying to figure out how to pull it all together.

For some reason, my Python tools just choked. They are optimized toward writing novels and single-file DocBook 5 files, but not a multitude of smaller DocBook XML files which would these individual pieces.

I started to look into my C# version, which had a different “gather” utility and, once again, realized that I probably wasn’t that far off from getting the C# version working with its flaws and maybe move away from the Python.

One of my major difficulties with Python is that it doesn’t handle UTF-8 characters natively. I seem to have a lot of non-ANSI characters in my desert world (macros are a killer) and it kept choking on them.

MfGames Writing CIL

So I shifted from my side project to MfGames Writing CIL which is the C# version of the Python tools “plus” additional functionality. The biggest is that I wrote the Python around Creole instead of Markdown, which is the markup language I’ve migrated my writing to.

While I was working with writing up a Markup conversion utility for the tools, I came upon CommonMark which is an attempt at a well-documented specification. I figured I could use that to help guide my effort on the conversion utility.

It didn’t take long before I realized that I was duplicating my work with Author Intrusion for handling Markdown. Usually when that happens, I figure I should start up a new project to handle the common logic and write it once.

MfGames Text Markup CIL

And then I moved from MfGames Writing CIL to MfGames Text Markup CIL. This is an attempt to create a single, centralized reader (and eventually writer) of markup languages in general and Markdown in specific.

There were a couple reasons I went this project instead of another library:

Most Markdown libraries only convert to HTML, which meant I was parsing HTML to get into Author Intrusion or DocBook format. I wanted something that had an intermediate output that was ideal for converting to other formats.

Again, most libraries seem to load the entire Markdown file into memory at once (mainly because of the deferred links) and then writing it out. I haven’t tested this completely, but I already know that I have 640k word series that have to be parsed; I do not want to have this loaded into memory. This implies a callback interface (SAX verses DOM).

I decided to write this in a similar style to C#’s XmlReader. Instead of loading everything into memory and then writing out the results, it just translates the Markdown file into element types.

// Loop through the Markdown and process each one.
while (markdown.Read())
{
switch (markdown.ElementType)
{
case MarkupElementType.BeginDocument:
this.WriteBeginDocument(xml);
break;

case MarkupElementType.EndDocument:
xml.WriteEndElement();
xml.WriteEndDocument();
break;

case MarkupElementType.BeginMetadata:
case MarkupElementType.EndMetadata:
case MarkupElementType.BeginContent:
case MarkupElementType.EndContent:
break;

case MarkupElementType.BeginCodeSpan:
this.WriteForeignPhrase(markdown, xml);
break;

The system seemed to work out pretty well for my test cases, but when I started to throw “real” chapters at it, it started to crumble. Not from the foundation, but simply because I didn’t write a good enough Markdown parser to translate them.

CommonMark

And here is where I started down the rabbit hole. The callback system worked great, but I needed to get my parser to be competent enough to handle what I wrote. Once I get that, converting to DocBook is trivial (as the above example probably shows).

A few days ago, I noticed that the CommonMark spec was a Markdown file with some magic for handling the input/output examples. Well, I could write a bunch of unit tests or… I could write a program that converted the 500+ examples into unit tests for me.

Why write things out by hand when I can write a program to do it for me?

Last night, I finished converting most of the unit tests over. Now, I just have to solve 508 unit tests, or at least 300 of them.

Rabbit Holes

I’m pretty sure this is going to be overwhelming but I think it will still further my goal of finishing up my writing tools and get back to my side project. We’ll see how it ends up, but I still have a mountain to climb.

This is also the reason I haven’t really posted for a few weeks to. I was lost in a rabbit hole.

ICON 39 Retrospective

Ocean Cuddle
I consider ICON Iowa to be my “home” convention when it comes to writing, science fiction, and fantasy. It is close to where I live, actually walking distance though I’m always running too late to actually walk it. I’ve been going since I moved to Iowa the first time in 1995, but I did take a few years off while living in Illinois. Ever since I moved back in 2008, I’ve been going steadily and kicking in a bit more than normal (I’ve done the Benefactor registration since I moved back).

This year, it was on October 31 through November 2. Because of my priorities, I couldn’t attend on Friday because I had to go treating with SMWM, EDM, and BAM.

Should have dones

Being that I had a book published this year, I really should have contacted them and jumped in on the Thursday author signing and maybe a reading. For some reason, I didn’t and I felt like it was a lost opportunity.

Scheduling software

This year, ICON went with Sched.org for their schedules. This was the first time I’ve ever used the website and I was pretty impressed. I like having the ability to tick the panels I wanted to attend (I only made about a third as usual) and have it pushed over to Google Calendar for my phone.

It was also a kick to see my name in the panel list.

“Off with Its Head!”

Because of some logistics and communication problems, the first panel I went to was the Off with Its Head!. The panel’s focus was killing off characters in novels. This is relevant because Sand and Bone has some deaths in it and I was curious of other thoughts on the topic.

This was a fun panel, mainly because the panelists talked well with each other but also because they had a wide range of experiences and genres. One of the biggest things I came out was a reinforcement that it isn’t okay to kill a dog. I’ve seen that in a number of books and heard authors talking about their dislike of it.

The other is killing off characters someone loves. An author doesn’t always know who resonates with the reader. And, as one of the panelists mention, killing off that character can actually turn off a reader from the series or even an author. Doubly so for young readers who haven’t been jaded by literary death as the older ones.

“Writing Combat”

I stuck in the room for the second panel, Writing Combat. I went with this panel because I have a very detailed style when it comes to writing and I haven’t quite learned the art of abstracting some of it. Most of my fights are short, which is a point that came up a few times, and usually violent. It did point out that my main character, Rutejìmo, is a bit hardier than normal but that is plot relevant, so I don’t feel too bad him not showing the effects as much. I was reminded of something I missed in Bone though.

Overall, it was a fun panel. Melissa Ann Conroy talked about fighting in corsets which gave me an idea for one of the fight scenes in a later book. Not to mention, I actually knew most of what she was talking about Japanese sword fighting though I only did it for about half a year.

“Adam Witlatch Reading”

I like to support other readers. I also had to miss Adam’s reading last year because EDM decided to throw a fit. This time, I got to hear the prologue for two of his books, which was cool. And I like his book cards.

He’s fun to talk to and listen, a good reading voice with a fun Russian accent for one of his characters. If I ever do a reading, I need to practice “voices” (and not just because the lady who does the Stephanie Plum novels is awesome at it).

“Running and Creating RPG Games”

And then we got to the scary one. This was my first of two panels and the only one that I was the only one on. No other panelists to riff on or talk to, just me and what ended up being about two dozen people.

It wasn’t done in the normal panel format either. Instead of a table in the middle, it was me at one of three circular tables just… chatting. I talked about the types of games and types of players. I got questions about how to handle long-running RPG games, modifying rules, and rules lawyers. Overall, I thought I did a pretty good job of answering the questions and no one stormed out on me (always a fear).

After the panel, four people thanked me for some of the things I said or ideas I gave them. Which just felt awesome. After the diasterous WisCon panel, it was nice to talk about something I knew a lot about but was also very friendly (that was only one of my WisCon panels, the others were a lot smoother).

“Aaron Bunce Reading”

I met Aaron only a few months ago and read his book. Even said, I wanted to hear him to read it. It was a much different experience from Adam’s, but I thought there was very enjoyable. He also read one of my favorite parts of the book, which didn’t hurt.

I also liked listening to his process and inspirations for his books, something I had only gotten a bit about when talking to him earlier. Lots of fun.

The inbetweens

Between a lot of these panels, I wandered around. I talked a fair amount with Shannon Ryan and his wife, Stephanie. Love doing that, we seem to share similar interests. I also met up with some folks that I’ve met over the years and just chatted. It was fun.

I did manage to sell two copies of my book in the ConSuite, though I wasn’t planning on it. Mainly I was just showing off my pretty cover.

Shannon did invite me to chat with the Paradise ICON folks, but I couldn’t get SMWM on the phone to ask her. So, I had to turn down what would have been a fantastic evening of chatting. I have yet to meet someone from the Paradise ICON group that wasn’t nice; they are just fun and high enough at writing to have really interesting conversations.

Dinner and games

SMWM came in somewhat late, after registration. With her, we ended up having dinner with two ladies (who I should know their names, but I fail). It was a fantastic dinner talking about everything from paganism, survivalists, diabetes, fantasy, and fandom. The service was incredibly slow but we had a lot of fun. I love talking to people from different backgrounds.

After dinner, SMWM and I got pulled into a Starcraft board game. It took about three or four hours before we finished round two. The game would be a lot faster if we knew the rules, but it was one experienced player teaching five players how to play.

That game has some evil ideas from Robo Rally (you have to plan your moves four in advance and in reverse order). It was also slightly above my comprehension level for three in the morning.

“Benefactors Breakfast”

I’m a benefactor for ICON because it is my home convention. It also gives me a chance to chat with people I don’t know in a place that I don’t feel like I’m being too much of fanboi.

This year, they sat me down with Jim C. Hines and Scott Lynch. I had never heard of Scott, but he is a very energetic, snarky person who I was glad I had a chance to meet. He also spoke relatively plainly and didn’t gloss over things, which was nice.

I didn’t have much to say at the table, which is fine. I spent half of it thinking to myself “don’t mention my book, don’t mention my book” because neither probably cared about it.

I couldn’t stay long because the point I was dreading had come up.

“Series Verses a World”

After the diasterous WisCon panel (yeah, it haunts me), I was worried about this one. I reviewed about three dozen series and a couple dozen worlds as research in hopes that I could speak intelligently about it. One of the panelists didn’t show up, so it was just Glen Cook and me chatting on a dance floor with others.

There were a couple points I was stupid, but overall, I thought it was a pretty solid panel. We talked about shared worlds (Shannon had an idea for a story in my Fedran world from this) and long-running series. Game of Thrones only got a brief discussion, but we did cover Power Rangers, Pokemon, Glen’s series, my plans for mine, Forgotten Realms, and a bunch of others. Besides Glen’s two series, which I have shamefully not read but I do own, I actually knew everything they mentioned.

I didn’t come out of it feeling stupid, which is good. The audience was pretty well engaged and I could address almost every question given to us.

“Beyond SF 101”

The last panel I went to was with Jim C. Hines and Scott Lynch. Shannon sat with me and it was about mid-level writers. A lot of the questions were right at the point I am with writing, so it was great to hear some of the things to expect in the next few years.

One of the biggest things that I came out is to expect about five to ten years of working at it before things start to build up steam. And that gives me an expectation of time lines, even if they are longer. My current plan of ten years to see if this works seems right on target.

Also, a paraphrased line “write more words and don’t be a dick” (Scott) followed my current plans. Well, I try not to be an ass in general, but steadily pumping out the best words I can sounds like the right way to go toward “success.”

And the end

After that, I chatted with Shannon for a while, met up with Lettie Prell who was a lot of fun to talk to, chatted with Kate Perkin about the problems of being nearly blind, and briefly chatted with random other people from Paradise ICON; they are so friendly, it makes me want to attend even though I can never find the time. After that, I just wandered off with new ideas and plans for next year.

Why I chose the desert

Ocean Cuddle
I’m in an interesting place when it comes to writing. Sand and Blood is out the door, Ash is going through beta readers, and Bone is winding its way through the writing group. There is a lot of waiting at this point, which means I start having conversations in my head as I mull over questions various friends have asked me.

Let’s start with the biggest one. Why did I set Blood in the desert?

Ged

Three years ago, I had read an interesting article in Slate by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of my literary crushes. One of the biggest points is that Ged is not white but she didn’t make a big deal about it when she wrote it.

Of course, when they made a movie out of it (two actually), they made Ged white and then she had to say something.

It was something I never thought about. I never assigned a race to Ged, he was just a character to me. But, maybe I was assuming he was white because I’m white? I can’t really tell anymore, but I almost wished someone asked me before I read that article.

WisCon

A few months later, I went to my first WisCon. It was an interesting experience, to say the least, but that Slate article came back when I saw all the panels of race and writing. So, as one who enjoys learning new things, I decided to attend a few of them and see if there was something more.

Things changed on the second day as I was sitting in the front row. The panel was about integrating racial characters in stories. One of the earlier topics pointed out that most authors don’t strongly identify the race of their characters. They make an assumption that the characters have the same race as themselves.

Well, that was the point that I realized I had done the same thing. In most of my fantasy novels, I never thought about the races of the characters involved. When I did, I made the assumption they were white because I have twenty meters of books with white people on the covers. My mother’s library has three times that, all with white characters.

The rest of the topics continued without me, but I found an aspect of myself that I didn’t like. I like to think that I create a wide range of characters, from different personalities and ways of speaking. I love the contrast of violence and pacifism, the spectrum of genders, and even power plays. But, in all my writing, I had never considered that race was a spectrum of colors I could use to pain characters.

That convention also pointed out that I don’t have religion in my books either, for much of the same reasons.

Wind, Bear, and Moon

The precursor to Flight of the Scions was a novel called Wind, Bear, and Moon. I had been working on the novel for years but I always felt it was missing a spark, something that would draw readers to the story but also keep my passionate about it.

Some of it came from off-handed comments from beta readers about how the main character was bland and uninteresting (at least it wasn’t Gary Stu). The biggest conflict wasn’t one, it was just a “eh” and moving on.

I was already in the process of changing the story. The biggest change was the setting. I went from a pure fantasy world into Fedran, my steampunk-inspired fantasy world. The contrast of the early Industrial Age and the old magic was a fun one (and I thank Simon R. Green for that idea).

I had also changed the main character’s gender and purpose. A healer named Welf became a girl without magic (who would eventually be known as Kanéko). It was closer, but I still missed the spark.

The panel gave me an idea of how to find it.

Not-White

While WisCon gave me the idea for making Kanéko not-white, it also pointed out that I was probably going to do it wrong. It was a common thread in more than a few conversations I heard. I was male, so I shouldn’t write females. I’m white, so I can’t write blacks. Not everyone agreed but it came up enough that I couldn’t forget it.

That instilled a fear that I was going to be creating a girl in blackface. She would be nothing more than a character with a big sign that say “I’m black!” (This is kind of like saying “I have black friends!”)

I thought about it a lot before I went forward with Kanéko. The biggest drive is that the ideas I got in the panel felt right the more I worked it out in my head. Making her half-desert set up the conflict and tension that I think I needed.

It also meant I was going to do it wrong unless I built the world properly to support it.

I started with the obvious differences, those are the basic things that most people will hang on (easier to be a bigot when your focus is something obvious). I couldn’t get much paler which meant I needed darker skin. And since there isn’t mass transit in the story, darker skin meant more sun because it is a evolutionary defense trait (I still require science in my world-building). Since I already had the world planned as a Pangaea-like super-continent and the center was pretty much all desert, it didn’t take long before I turned the inhospitable desert into a thriving one.

The other reason I picked the desert instead of the already established jungles or tundras because I have almost no fantasy novels set in the desert. I had plenty of the others, but the realization that I had picked characters based on my shelves pushed me away from using other common aspects of fantasy from that same library.

Culture

Knowing that I wanted her as a half-desert girl, I needed something more than a color to build her character. I needed history and culture behind her, otherwise she becomes just a shell, a token character.

It is easy to create a culture that is backwards from society. Unfortunately, I despise those type of stories. Most of the time when television shows images of China, India, or Africa, they pick images of poverty and crowds. On bad days, it’s drought and starving folks. I know there is a lot more than that. Much like people thinking Iowa is backwards, the perception of other countries is usually less than honest.

Fantasy cultures are like that also. The barbarians are always brutal people who live in tents and beat each other with heavy sticks. Extra points for wearing leather and having lots of chest hair.

I didn’t want that. I wanted to establish a culture that was just as civilized as the “other” side. The hard part is that I didn’t have time to create thousands of pages of two cultures to write a novel. So, I sketched up a couple things for the desert in the process of Flight. It was enough to get through that novel and to submit it for publication.

The Wait

While I was waiting for Flight to eventually be rejected, I decided to do some world-building. Just a short, twenty-thousand word novella about the desert. I wanted it be brutal but still civilized, to explore why Kanéko’s father would call them barbarians but then to prove him wrong.

I started with the ideas from Flight (mostly deleted scenes) and expanded on them. The first was the rite of passage since she was going through a similar thing herself. I also added in some obscure articles I remembered from the Boy Scout Manual from thirty years before. A plot built up in my head, blossoming from the twenty thousand words to seventy thousand.

And then I had Sand and Blood.

Finding Depth

Because I focused purely on the Kyōti culture, a lot came out of Blood that will help my other novels:

A conlang named Miwāfu that started as a naming language but actually is almost usable as a language on its own.

A culture that had it’s own way of speaking and behavior. Some of it is based on Japanese but others are just a hodgepodge of ideas I built up over the years.

A political system that meshed against the coastal areas but marched to a different drummer.

An entirely different social structure based on specialized clans working with each other and with other clans instead of the “I can do everything” aspects of the more typical fantasy. This was actual built up on ideas from today’s society; the clans were effectively companies that did one thing well.

A different way of viewing magic that didn’t share the same historical roots as Flight’s. The desert gained their power filtered through spirits instead of each individual coming up with their own connection.

All that because I was terrified of being accused of creating a flat, token character just to throw race into a book. I wanted race because it interested me and it created a spark I wanted to follow. But, it had to be realistic for me which meant I had to create the world to explain it.

More importantly, I do something very similar to every character I’ve created. I love world-building. I love making interesting characters who have conflicts in their lives just as much as I love watching them crawl out of the dark holes that I shove them into.

When I first created Welf, I worked out the politics and history of the coastal area. I worked out the history of magical theory through four iterations to come up with the Crystal Spheres Method which is used by Ronamar and Meris. Somewhere, I have a rough map of the political alliances of his father, how his mother died (she was brought back to life for Kanéko), and even how people go to church (that was a recent addition). I know the toys that Welf played with and created at least two card games (Sand and Ash adds my third game).

Assumptions and Failure

I’m going to assume that I did this wrong, that I may have offended someone by even trying. But, even four novels written since that day at WisCon, it still feels right to me.

Hopefully that explains why I set Sand and Blood in a desert.

Scheduling Delays

Ocean Cuddle
These last few months have been rather stressful, but not things I normally talk about while they are happening. Because of them, however, I have to push the publication of Sand and Ash back a few months since being a “responsible” adult is apparently important at this point in my life.

The Priorities

I have a priority system that I’ve written about since before EDM was born. I left only three things on it: family, work, and writing. The three things comes from a Readers Digest I read sitting in a doctor’s waiting office, but generally it keeps me relatively focused.

The First Child

The longest running problem is that neither me nor SMWM had a will or trust fund. This is one of those things that was on the “we should really do this” list but it kept getting pushed back. Even when EDM (the oldest) was born, it was on the list. And now that BAM (the youngest) is here, it still wasn’t done.

A few months ago, I decided that it was something we couldn’t afford to let go, so I found a lawyer through a friend and went through the process of getting something drawn up.

It was also my first shell-shock when I found that I was billed in six-minute increments. But, now we have a signed will, a strange clause that I’ll write about some day, and everything is squared away. Except for paying the bill.

The Second Child

There is something about us and names. When EDM was born, all but one of the forms had his middle name correct. Social Security, on the other hand, used my first name for his middle name (in all honesty, there is only one letter difference between the two). However, it required us to go back and forth a few times to get it straightened out.

So, when BAM’s birth certificate came in, I saw a typo. Two, actually. They had my middle name wrong and my birth date. Now, these are things that I see no future need for BAM, but I have enough genealogist in my family to know that a few generations later, it would make things difficult to track us down. Also, there is a small chance that I will need it right for BAM. And it is something you can’t do in the middle of a crisis.

It started with just a notary and a lot of photograph but quick escalated into threats from lawyers (at six minute billing intervals) and four rounds with the Iowa Department of Public Health. There was also some talking about needing to get a court order and public filings, but thankfully our lawyers managed to get around that. But even that came back with a typo that I had to call to get fixed.

Last week, we got it all squared away and his certificate is correct.

Except for the lawyers, but once we get over this, we won’t need them for a while.

The Other Business

I won’t go into details, but we also got hit by a large expense over on SMWM’s side of things.

The Accident

Right on the tail end of that, we had a small accident with the car. And, like all car accidents, it pretty much nailed any chance of me using the money to get my book out. Hopefully that will be dealt with in the next week or so. It is a “preferred vendor” which means they are pushing to get it fixed now and we never see the insurance money since it will go directly to them; which is probably a good thing.

The Holidays

Looking at my income forecast, things will ease up right in time for the holidays. Which means I can’t afford to get editing done on a book, nor are the people helping me available during those last sixty days of the year.

The Last Book

Sand and Blood is going slow. I keep seeing people talking about “only” having fifty reviews I’m pretty happy at five but that doesn’t mean I can’t hope for more. I know the reason I don’t have many sales, but they are slowly increasing.

Getting the next book would help the first one, but… I can’t see how that is going to happen.

The Next Book

We have a small budget for business. SMWM has her photography business and I have my writing. The cost for editing and covers comes out of that budget, but priorities says it needs to go for the lawyers and insurance.

Priorities always win.

Because of that, I started getting beta readers to start reading the book and see if I can garner up some of the bigger details like sweeping plots. The feedback is positive, everyone has said that Ash is a far better story than Blood.

Most of the time, I’m very patient. In this case, I can feel myself chomping at the bit because I want it out. It is a fun story, I love reading it, and I can’t wait to see it in my hand. But, I have to wait. It’s the only thing I can do.

The Third Book

Sand and Bone is about half done with the third draft. I’m submitting it to writing group over the next few months. I should have it done by the end of the year which means it will be ready for beta reading in January. If things ease up, I should have it for WisCon. We’ll see.

Regardless, I’m going to push for getting Ash done and printed by WisCon. It is a good deadline, though I probably wouldn’t actually sell any copies there.

The Conclusion

Any two of those things I could have handled with our pad. But four? No, not going to happen.

Overall, I’m glad we did what we did. The legal things needed to be done just as getting the car repaired. It is disappointing, but I’d rather not break the bank in hopes of making it big.

Just keep swimming. — Dori, Finding Nemo

Reorganizing my Git writing repository

Ocean Cuddle
As some of you may know, I use Git to organize my writing. After years of accidentally overwriting a good chapter with an old one or trying to coordinate changes from two separate machines, I got into source control for writing; it worked for programming, why not my novels?

The submodule approach

Well, I’ve had a couple iterations of trying to get the “perfect” Git setup for my writing. Earlier this year, I broke apart the novels into submodules but left the bulk of my writing in the main repository (called stories). This meant I had a sand-and-blood, sand-and-ash, and sand-and-bone repository as submodules in the appropriate location of the stories repo (dmoonfire/fedran, if you are curious).

My reasons came while I was working on Sand and Blood covers. Since I checked in as I went, the size of the repository quickly became too large for my website to handle. I could download up to 50 MiB repo without too much trouble, but when it got into the 900 MiB range, I couldn’t clone the repository anymore.

I had already worked with submodules before, so I thought they would be a perfect thing for the novels. I spent a pair of nights pulling out the five current WIP novels into a submodule, mainly by cloning the repo and using various commands to carve them out. It also took a while because I have a lot of project branches (41 beyond master) which represent every work-in-progress or semi-completed work I’ve done. Pulling out binaries from every branch was a painful process to say the least.

The submodule approach worked out fairly well, but I quickly found out some of its limitations. Because of how Git implements submodules, its inevitably shows up in other branches. It also has additional work.

To give an example. Assume I’m on my sand-and-ash branch and I’m happily working in the dmoonfire/fedran/sand-and-ash directory making changes. When I’m done, I’ve committed them and pushed up.

When I got up a level, to dmoonfire/fedran, I have to do a second commit to commit the submodule’s position in the stories repository. It was a little extra work, but it kept the two isolated.

The real problem came when I switched to the sand-and-blood branch. The directory dmoonfire/fedran/sand-and-ash is still there and pointing to a repoistory (the sand-and-ash one), but I have to tell the sand-and-blood branch about it, otherwise it will show as an untracked file.

My two choices were to either add the dmoonfire/fedran/sand-and-ash directory to the .gitignore file of the sand-and-blood branch. (Okay, there are a lot of filenames in this post, sorry about that.)

The other approach is to add the submodule to the other branches so they didn’t show as changes. Which worked until I made another change to the submodule and then I had to update it on every other branch to reflect the changes.

Isolating covers instead

Last night, I got tired of jumping through the hoops of submodules. I realized the entire reason I wanted to isolate the novels was to handle the covers. So, I decided to make a covers repository instead, put it into the root of the stories working directory and then add it to the .gitignore. This means that the stories repository doesn’t officially know about the covers repository, but I can still reference it via soft links into covers.

The advantage of this approach is all the writing (actual words) are still managed in the same repository. This means when I switch branches, the stuff in sand-and-ash branch (not repo now) goes away until I go back. There isn’t any cruft that drags on between the individual branches that has nothing to do with the current branch.

It isn’t very elegant to have covers separated, but I only need covers when I’m formatting ebooks.

Losing history

One of the side effects of breaking apart the repository and pulling them back together is that I’m losing history data. I kept most of the commit histories intact, but now I can’t really do a graph of total words written over a month or time. Since I can’t tell if anyone actual read my posts when I documented them, I decided to accept that lose.

BFG

I mentioned that splitting apart the repositories was a lot of work. When I combined them back together, I was preparing myself for a lot of work. Then, I found BFG Repo Cleaner. This is a Scala (a language I don’t know) tool that works better than git filter-branch in a lot of ways.

I ended up using BFG to remove most of the cover images from the repository along with the large files. This let me trim the final stories repository from 1.9 GiB to 20 MiB. The covers repository is at a nice 419 MiB, but that is also acceptable since I use it so infrequently.

If you have to remove files, directories, or large objects from your repository, it looks like BFG is something to seriously consider.

Sand and Blood is mostly updated

Ocean Cuddle
In a recent post, I talked about a review I got from Jefferson Smith that pointed out some flaws in Sand and Blood. I’m still a bit humiliated about it, but I’ve just finished what I felt was the only action.

I had it copy edited.

Versioning

I’m really big into semantic versioning. If I was only fixing commas and missing words, the version would have been 1.0.4. However, I made two slight clarifications so the book ended up being version 1.1.0.

The biggest is making it a bit more obvious that Miwāfu names are only accented on the ultimate name. So, the clan is “Shimusògo” but it is “Shimusogo Rutejìmo.” A lot of readers thought I made a mistake by missing the accents, but it’s intentional.

There are some cases where two names are accented in the quotes of this book. If you look at who made the quote, you might notice that the person speaking is not from the desert (judging for the names).

Ebooks

I uploaded the various sites on the 19th of this month. I also found out some interesting things about changes to ebooks. It is really easy to upload changes, but Amazon and Smashwords actually deal with it differently.

After you upload to Amazon, anyone who buys a new book from that point will et the newest version. For those who already bought a copy, there is no automatic notification of the new version nor is there an ability to download the newer version. There are only two things you can do. One, individual purchasers can send an email from Amazon asking for it. Two, you can contact Amazon and tell them there is a change along with some proof. They will decide how significant the changes are and do one of the three things: nothing, silently allow updated, or inform everyone about the change.

Smashwords, on the other hand, just lists every version of the file since the point your reader bought a copy. So, for Smashwords, all you have to do is tell your readers to grab a newer version.

I’m not entirely sure about the other vendors, but those are the two bigger ebook publishers that I use.

Print

Print is harder in a lot of ways. Once I updated the PDF version, I had to order a new copy of the book. Since I once had a completely borked version because of a bad font, I actually order it and wait for it to show up instead instead of just ordering it and immediately approving the proof.

Today, I got the proof in the mail. It looked pretty good so I approved it.

However, there is no easy way to update print copies. That was actually the crux of my problem with these corrections, but I decided I’d replace any old version from someone who asked. Just send me an email at contact@moonfire.us and I can arrange for something.

Letting go

The hardest part about projects is letting go. Obviously, I didn’t do with this one, but I honestly felt that there was enough things wrong to justify fixing it.

Unless there is something critically wrong, I’m not planning on updating this again. I have too much to focus on Sand and Ash and Sand and Bone. I still want to have the entire trilogy done by WisCon.