Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Her en Vandringsmann Går (Here a Wanderer Goes)

He walks the ice of the North, beset by cold and primal hunger. There are few brave enough to venture there, and fewer that return. Though many go there to die, he will not. No, death will not take him.

Not yet.

A gust of wind throws him from his feet, spiraling down into a ditch. A warm ache burns his side. His hand draws blood and he fears the worst. Looking down at the wound, it is small. He will live to fight another day. Looking up into the blinding light of the sun, he calls out to his reindeer, cupping his hands to his mouth. A smile forms on his face, watching the rope trail down into the cavern.

Three days later he arrives at a frontier town, Trømda.

Using their language he prays for success. It has been at least a year since he has had to use their tongue.

“Hvor kan jeg få medisin? Besvare til meg!”

He hopes to haggle boldly. If he does, then he will be rewarded with an honest price.

“Jeg kan fortelle du, for den riktig kost. En dristig mann som deg selv må ha bestemt behovene.”

He produces the money, takes the herb, and is on his way.

“Sometimes I wonder how long it will be until they see me as a friend... What do you think Tjörvi?” A cognizant nod and blank eyes met his, obsidian orbs like the rocks that fell from the burning mountains. Though his friend could not speak, he strangely appreciated his silence. It was a balm in the cold winds that scorched his face. With his legs he gently reminds Tjörvi that their mission has not yet completed. In moments they flee into the forest, the wind at their backs.

. . .

Where is he?” Her voice, cracked and parched, begged for water. Quickly Jarpr sought out the ice, throwing another piece into the kettle.

He will be here soon. Now rest your eyes. Father is coming.” Turning to the window of the cabin, Jarpr breathed onto the glass, watching his breath fog. In moments the condensation froze, forming wisps of shaved ice, that flaked away by the draft that seeped through the wall.

You speak with such confidence, just like him. You are truly your father's heir.”

Jarpr smirked. He was proud of his father, for he was a good man.

When you met father,” Jarpr began, string the ice in the pot, “how did you know?”

I just knew.” She smiled in her pain. “There was something about him that impressed me.”

Was he brave?”

Oh no,” she corrected, “not in the slightest. He was a coward. The other women never wanted him. Then again, I am smarter than most women.”

Was he kind and gentle?”

She shook her head.

Yes... He was kind, but that wasn't why I chose him over the others.”

Then why?”

Your father, was and always will be shrewd. And shrewdness is uncommon in a man.”

. . .

We should pounce on him already! I'm achin' like a spent whore.”

Yeah, me insides are ready to burst.”

Heikki held up his hand to calm them. His partners were right. They needed food and were desperately cold. The windswept man they had tracked for almost a week. He will kill the man, but the venison he will salvage with fierce resolve.

We shall attack, soon. Or maybe not at all. I don't want to incur greater harm to myself than what I have already suffered thus far.”

Ahti approached confidently, placing his hand across his chest in reverence for his superior.

That will be no problem. I have already checked him. He is naked.”

And so he appears to be,” Heikki sighed. “I am more concerned with what he will do when we come down upon him.”

“Think him an evil spirit, do ye?” Aku grunted, padding his stomach. “Nothing a knife to the back won't solve.”

Standing above them, Heikki glanced deep into the middle distance, watching the figure disappear into the snow. From the two he turned away walking into the forest, dispassionately. He knew well the secret the man hid, and he did not wish to die.

Weak!” Ahti cursed. “He was weak! Why do you let him get away?”

Heikki turned, facing the two, his eyes hardened.

Black men in the night... the tarred backs of wild men glinting in the firelight... You wouldn't understand. I am not prepared to die tonight.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Character Portraits

When I was still in the beta stages of Spirit of Orn, I had not yet developed a concrete method of building characters yet. It helps to have one, or at least guidelines.

The details that go into a character are important, such as what their profession is, or their particular mannerisms  I've written about this before. When I was at the auto mechanic shop though a few weeks ago something dawned on me that has really changed the way I write characters.

Both this guy, and someone else that I used to work with (both mechanics) has this way about them. It's that look or attitude that conveys their confidence but it's overshadowed by inadequacy. It's in the way they talk. "I'm going to tell you something that you need, but my voice has a slight panic in it. Did I really make the right decisions? I'm a fucking mechanic! People I worked with in High School are making big money now because of their ambition and decision making. What am I doing working on Honda Civics in a crappy part of town?"

And this can work for anyone.

You need to ask, very critically, "Why do you do the work you do?"

What makes a lawyer a lawyer? Imagine someone who  in school who strove to achieve his goals. Were his parents distant? Did he do it to get recognition or fame? Did he ask questions like, "How hard do I need to work until you acknowledge me? Look at all that I've done! Are you proud of me yet? Do you love me?"

These are core needs and desires every character possesses.

In Spirit of Orn, as I work on my third draft I'm trying to do this. For instance one of my characters was a wild child, abandoned at a young age by his parents, to be found by one of the supporting characters in the novel and raised by that person. A good friend of mine has adopted a child similar to this, and so when I went back to write this character I asked my friend more about his son and what his son acts like. I found out that wild children are very good at telling you what you want to hear, or are very good at smiling when they don't want to. It's all an act rooted in their need to survive. Back in his country of origin, this child would need to lie to get food, or even steal it, and even though my friend has done nothing but raise him in a supportive loving environment, it will take a lifetime to reprogram this child. The wall of distance and safety that is constantly raised will never be lowered, and nothing but good parenting and structure will defeat it.

So those are all good details, but how do you apply it to your book's characters?

Essentially this particular character I had in mind I needed to make emotionally distant. He could be charitable and helpful to the main character, but the wall needs to be there, and only after a traumatic moment does it truly go down, and you see how barren this person is underneath.

Ask these questions. Apply your answers. Do it creatively, and it will take you to good places!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Polarizing Views

This week I struggled to decide what I would write about.

It's not that I found it difficult to write about something in particular; there were plenty of things that came up. Chris Dorner's wacky, Hollywood escapades occupied most of my previous weekend. The whole ordeal was like watching Mark Wahlberg in black face going up against a malevolent institution riddled with corruption. (That was in the movie playing my head.)

But at work I had the opportunity to hear all about it, which was amusing and educational simultaneously. When people get into a room, they are bound to disagree. I think cults are the only places where people agree with one another. Even then, I would wager that everyone thinks that they all are contemplating the same thing at any given time.

Generally I find in these conversations certain trends:

Wealth determines the position: I find a lot that the Rich are liberal, and, strangely enough, the poor are conservative. I don't know exactly why this is. I care little for my country beyond it's ability to provide a general atmosphere where I don't feel like I'm going to die whenever I go to work.  Nevertheless, I supposed my affections could be described as cynically guarded. The rich often sit at a place of convenience or luxury, which is why they have the time to think about all he things that they think are wrong with the world. The poor, those that I have known are simple urchins that mostly believe in simpler things, namely an honest government. It's probably why so much of the deep south rallies for it's conservative politicians. I'm not one to deny that the government is corrupt, but I won't say it's overtly evil either. I say this because this country, birthed on the cusp of modernity, has the advantage of being not as bad as all the others that existed before it. Rome was pretty kickass. That was what the medieval people said to themselves when they walked to their hovels after grueling 14 hour workdays, knee deep in horse shit. That's saying a lot considering Rome was pretty awful once the window dressing was rubbed away.

Positivism vs Skepticism: Also when people argue, they generally tend to be either overly blinded by their position's credibility or are mired in constant disapproval. Take religion for example. I know people who will undress it and rape it into oblivion, motivated by some nursed anger from childhood. It's like Bill Maher puts out a movie and people eat that shit up like it's angry atheist catnip and go out to all their friends to evangelize.

I'll let you sit in the irony of that for a bit...

Anyways, it only gets better when he comes up to me and says something like, "Hey did you know Jesus is based off a cult of Mithras?" and I say, "Oh? You mean the cult that was founded a hundred years after the Apostle Paul wrote 1st Corinthians 15?" (It contains an proto-gospel announcement, considered to be the first creed. And the creed, has been dated by scholars to only have been written ten years after the death of Christ, and the letter written in the early to mid 50's.) I never knew that stand-up comedians were known experts in ancient archaeology and capable of parsing Koine Greek! When you talk to someone so skeptical that they probably don't even believe that it's air that they are breathing, it only gets worse when you talk to someone who doesn't even question what they believe.

I see this all the time in my liberal friends who have all these pie eyed understandings that people are civil and kind. While I won't deny that people can be, at times, good. I am somewhat reticent to say that they are, deep down, really awesome. In fact I would go as far to say that this is a very Western, American, idea that people conceive of when the worst thing they've ever had to face in life was the imaginary death of an imaginary character on their favorite sitcom.

In other news, a friend of mine Phil Kiner and I are planing on writing and publishing a web comic in the coming months. He's a fantastic artist currently going to school at the Arts Center in Pasadena. It's where famous people go to learn how to be more famous.

I hope my rant didn't scare you. I have issues... like most writers. Next week I have some good things for you though so stick around. It's gonna be pretty fun!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013


“Too many bones, no... far too many for a grave.”

Reynard sifted the fine sand through a second screen. It was so thin, almost powdered. Wens had already done the first layer. For a barbarian he did wonderful work.

“I think we've found a battleground. Recent, maybe five hundred years. No weapons... dammit.” Wens looked up from his hovel, throwing the spade behind him defiantly.

“Three months we've been at this Reynard. Can we finally put this behind us? It was only a joke!”

“No.” Reynard's eyes narrowed, opening a hatch in the rover to grab a Phillips screwdriver. Lightly, he etched a faint indentation in the earth and, taking a pair of tweezers, lifted up a corroded piece of metal. “No, not until we find it.”

Reynard Olfsson's journey to the winter North was unexpected. Always he carefully weighed his options. Entropy was high in the heat of the summer. The people would emerge again, to forage and skirmish for petty things. Winter was nice though. Nothing much happens in the winter time. He prided himself as man's last archaeologist. At least, he liked to think of himself as the last.

Reynard had seen it all, though he never spoke of it. The harrowing cries for justice were simply too much for him to stand. Every night he would wake up next to Wens, covered head to toe in a cold sweat. Worse he would have to hear about it in the morning, from Wens. Having a man in his life was novel, figuring he'd try it out. When you've been alive for almost 600 years, you gain particular, spastic appetites and curiosities. Why the hell not? We are only so young once, and then never die.

His search for an oscillating power cell was key to his latest project. It was the crown of the age of man. He had been there, floating in a vat of embryonic fluid watching them celebrate for the momentous occasion. When the end dawned, he was released, prematurely. He almost died even. Born into the world without caregivers, he felt isolated and alone. He had the nanomachines, but they didn't have much to say. It was all one's and zeros, pounding against the walls of his major arteries and capillaries that never aged or clotted. His memory was blank, without language or motor skills. All he could remember was the cell, how it glowed so brightly, so beautifully.

The prospects of pure unadulterated technology, harvesting the power of the sun, with a snap of your fingers,was marvelous. So much so that he searched 50 years for it, only to find that the EMP had fried the memory foams responsible for energy absorption. If he found something salvageable, the best he could get was 13 seconds of operation, no more, no less.

One day Wens, told Reynard about the weapons though. He had never thought about them. The autocannons were shielded with lead, at least the ones still operational. Just one in a lucky few could save him years of research. The gun was his key.

“You told me that there was a riot here,” Reynard turned, scowling at Wens. “What in god's name is a bunch of bludgeoning weapons doing here?” Wens looked insulted. Firmly planting himself in the ground he pointed at a data read out, fluctuating with sounds and colors.

“That's what I'm trying to tell you! Sensors indicate anomalous signs of erosion, dating towards the early millennium, but there is no trace of caustic residue on any of the key structures. Most of it was scuffling, and some swordplay.”

“Gah! Son of a bitch!” Reynard spat, throwing his tools to the ground.

“So we go now? It's getting cold...”

Reynard Olfsson stood silently, powerless in the frigid twilight air. Another wasted day. And again, he was alone.

So alone. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jeg Drømt av Norge (I Dreamed of Norway)

When I first set out to write Spirit of Orn, I did it out of spite.

It's true.

I took a science fiction in literature class at UCSB. That's where it all started. The class was great, in it's own right, a Valhalla of the English department where jaded trekkies could congeal into one gelatinous mass of nerdom. It was also a shooting gallery for many of the standard tropes of other literature departments like religion, psychology, and most of the Romanticism department. There was a subtle, begrudging esteem for the Early Modern Lit department, but that was pushing it.

When I took the class though, being Christian, I was pissed off by the continual critique of religious expression, which always seemed geared towards Western religions, especially mainstream Christianity. (You never read books written by well read Atheists with garages filled with axes to grind, that focus on the wholesale moralistic enslavement and perpetuation of poverty in the East through Hinduism or Buddhism.) Anyways, I set out then for the final project to write a short story about Atheism, and ridicule strong rationalism as a farce.

It was shit.

I wasn't proud of what I wrote, but what I didn't realize was that I started what would become Spirit of Orn. What was meant to be a critique was soon conceived as meta-reflection of finding identity in the American Christian subculture. After it became that, the rest followed quite fluidly.

Building the setting of Spirit of Orn was challenging. I had to find a way to make it American Christianity in the expression of subcultures, but Norwegian in the historical culture. In order to build this story I had to read Norwegian history and discover the subtle nuances that made Norwegians think the way they did. I read about the history of the Christian church in Norway, as well. Did you know that Scandinavia most readily accepted Christianity because the pagan cultures already there were on the precipice of developing more mature expressions of spirituality that the older shamanistic traditions could no longer satisfy? I also discovered that the transition between Medieval Catholicism to Protestantism was nearly seamless. For hundreds of years the people of the North were already expressing themselves in ways that did not reflect Catholic expressions of faith. Strategically worthless (at the time), there was no need for the papacy  to micromanage the Kingdoms occupying Scandinavia. I found it fascinating  so much so that I read the old histories and legends like Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda.

 Jeg selv lært hvor til å snakke norsk!

All these things considered, learning the cultural history of the region was imperative to building my universe. Maybe that can be today's first lesson. In order to write about a foreign, distant place, you have to go there. I didn't have a couple thousand dollars, so naturally I used Google maps and tons of books to help paint me a picture. It was tedious and difficult, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. That's the joy of writing books. You just have to go and see.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Graduation and New Layouts

Well, It's been a great week thus far. I've been tidying up a lot of things in Spirit of Orn and my Sandman series debuts next week on Sequart, so I feel like it's time for a face lift for the blog.

I have something for you first.

This is a screen shot for the original layout of the curriculum that I have been slaving away at for the last few weeks. If you are ever curious as to the methods behind my madness, look no further. If you ever want to tackle large projects, outline, outline, outline! Makes a whole world of difference believe me.

On the second order of business I am undertaking a new blogging regimen that will be a little more intensive, but the content that I shall reward you will will be frothy. I say frothy because the upcoming material will be wild and unsettled, but still carrying substance. I didn't want to say creamy, because that's gross.

Anyways, each week from now on I plan on to post in three categories. 

Monday - I still want to do literary theory posts, so here I'm going to select parts of my upcoming book, and explain to you the underlying reasons why I did what I did in the story. My hope is that not only will you be able to get exposure to more of my material, but that I can continue educating you with material that directly relates to the world I have been building for like, 4 years (Jesus...). 

Wednesday - Flash fiction! [Now without gratuitous nudity] I've been longing to do this for a while, but I plan on writing a flash fiction that occurs within my universe every Wednesday from now on. The goal is to make my stories 500 words or less. Hopefully that is not too difficult.

Friday - I once wrote on here that I never wanted to appear as pretentious or self absorbed, and a lot of that sentiment has begrudgingly taken hold in me. In the interest of being more open, I've decided to keep a journal open here on various topics (current events, religion, writing, collaborations, etc.). It's a pretty standard edition, but I figured it would be therapeutic (mostly). 

It's been great so far doing this. Sequart has been huge for me, and I also plan on writing a webcomic fairly soon with a friend that attends the Art Center in Pasadena. He's a brilliant illustrator, and I hope to soon show you what I've got planned. Until then, I hope you all have enjoyed this. I enjoy it. Don't be afraid to ask questions! See you, Monday.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Self Publishing Part 3: E-Book Special Features

This will be the final post of the "How to Write/Publish a Book" series. Expect next week the new blogging format for the site. Thursday I plan to show you the PDF that helped me get all of this stuff together. Maybe it'll help you guys grasp the larger context of the entire endeavor.

So the last and final piece of self publishing is something new, and, personally, very exciting to talk about. Kindles and tablets are very much Black Swan technology, by which I mean that they are pieces of technology that are being constantly leveraged in new ways that were never thought possible. Therefore, this allows you tons of possibilities in the E-Book publishing market. One of the easiest ways to help your book be successful is the addition of interactive elements in your book, particularly adding special features.

I think this is a great thing for books. Already, in the comic book world we see variants of this, such as the addition of concept art and first draft story boards at the end of collected volumes. Also the amount of added commentary is great as well, but even so, the addition of this content, while relevant, is somewhat redundant. What essentially has happened is that the publishers of DC and Marvel hook their readers with appended material of the same sort as the content already presented.

So then what does a book have to offer? With books, the addition of concept art and material that is interactive is a marvelous way of expanding the depth and realism of the universe that is presented in the text. Rather than trying to search youtube for author interviews and discussions of the book's topics, it's all there for you in your Kindle e-book. Here is an exampled of what you could add in the end of your book that would be exclusive to print editions.

  • Author interviews and discussions 
  • Character concept art and setting illustrations
  • Maps 
  • "Bonus" material unrelated to the book: beginnings of sequels or a comic book of a character outside of the realm of the story. 
Those are just examples I've fired out, and I'm sure there's much more that I haven't thought of. The big idea here is, be creative! What would you want to put at the end of a book to make it better?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Self Publishing Part 2: Designing Your Book

Today's post serves as a cautionary tale, in which I profess to know something that I don't actually know anything about. Suffice to say, it will be short, but I shall endeavor to illuminate my folk wisdom succinctly and with power.

If you have ever seen the HBO produced Spawn animated series you'll know that Todd Mcfarlane produced it, and probably had his hand in much of the voice casting and direction. I say this because it's awful, and after listening to almost two hours of voice actors whispering through what sounded like empty garbage cans lined with aluminum I had to turn it off. Now don't get me wrong, Mcfarlane is a genius, when it comes to comics. But it becomes problematic when the transference of mediums, from static images to animated motions with sound, are introduced. Someone has no business getting his/her hands into something they have no experience in, and this is where we segue into designing a book.

Writers are solely responsible for the manuscripts they produce in the publishing game, which are why cover jackets are so dissimilar to the content of the story. However, because we are talking about self publishing now, I want to warn you all that designing your own cover should be left to the work of your designer, otherwise you'll end up with a clunky mess.

Generally design work on a book involves two primary things: cover jacket and typesetting. Believe it or not, there is a precise method to typesetting a book, ensuring that the page breaks are always even, or that there is ample spacing between varying sections of the book. This is all about pleasing the eyes, and generally what looks good for you doesn't look good to the audience that will be reading your book. This is the same for the cover jacket. Concerning the primary thing that is meant for the prospective reader to see, the cover jacket isn't meant to be this glorious mural depicting a climactic scene at the peak of the book. Rather, the cover jacket should embody the essence of the story. For example, Spirit of Orn, which I am in discussions with my designer currently, has tons of viking imagery because it takes place in the Sogn og Fjordane county of Norway. Therefore, one would think that the cover should have something related to vikings. I was told however that this may seem somewhat misleading by my designer. So we decided on a temporary layout (subject to change) with pieces of drift wood with Celtic knots etched onto it. Just like any movie trailer, the point of the cover jacket isn't to entice the reader with a particular scene or moment, but to draw them into a world that they can walk around in. More so than a movie, a book's universe needs to be tangible because, unlike a movie, the reader will be spending a considerably longer time there than in any movie.

So the moral of the story is: hire a designer. Always remember this: as a writer, it is your job to write, not design.

Beyond that, I shall see you Monday where we shall conclude this series and introduce the future format of the blog. Hope to see you then!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Self Publishing Part 1: Building Tribes

The last week or so I've been giving you tips on how to publish your material with a brick and mortar publishing house. As you know this can be likened to getting signed onto a major record label. A lot of your success depends on varying factors, but primarily your agent's ability to make connections in the already crippled field. It's hard to publish this way these days because of the advent of digital publishing. I don't know how much people realize that the Amazon Kindle is a game changer in this field, so I'll be focusing primarily on that realm of publishing. It's what I've been able to research thus far, so even I am still getting a crash course in this route. So let's learn together and see what we can do here.

The first part of this series will focus on the most important and foundation building aspect of self publishing, Tribe Building. This can also be known as Social Media Engineering, or Networking. Regardless how you want to refer to it, this is the most important step in publishing the novel you are currently writing or are planning on writing any time soon. Here's why: Nobody knows who you are!

That's probably the biggest problem in publishing. 1) No one knows who you are, and 2) no one cares about you or your book. So your biggest goal is to change those perceptions and market yourself as a budding, successful author. I've attached a step by step process here for you. It's no guarantee, but by what I've been told by those successful with getting exposure through social media networking, it's a great start.

Step One: Start a Blog

Starting a blog is incredibly important. It's the only free, recurring window into your "genius" that people will see and take part in. People who are witty, intelligent, and otherwise helpful will get the most attention. For instance, the reason why I've been publishing a series on how to get published and write a great story is not just to toot my own horn, but I really love to do this. I care about you guys and want to share my knowledge to see your great ideas become successful. Starting a blog and blogging tutorials is a great start, but it takes direction. Here are some ideas of what to consider when starting a blog:

  • Post regularly: At least two times a week, on regular intervals. (Example - I post every Tuesday and Thursday.) What works best however is posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • Post Relevant Content: If the blog is serving the purpose to help publicize your book the nature of the blog should always include a facet of the story you are trying to tell. For instance, I am going to take the MWF publishing approach and write on the first day, a writing tutorial based off of a particular selection of text from my book. The second day will be a flash fiction (500 words or less) set in the universe of Spirit of Orn, and the third day will be a personal blogging day. 
  • Network with Other blogs: Right now I publish articles for Sequart Research, which is where the predominant source of traffic on this blog comes from. The only way to get exposure is to saturate yourself in markets relevant to your book. Right now I'm trying to break into some fiction blogs to become a contributing columnist, not because I love writing fiction  but because the people those websites attract can be referred back to this blog. It's the best way to attract people in a synergistic kind of way.  
Step Two: Start a Twitter

Twitter is huge for networking! I would certainly try to leverage its usage as much as possible. This section however I can't give too much insight on, only because it's so subject to circumstance that it's really hard to give advice on what to do and what not to do. The best attempt at advice I can give here is to tweet at least twice a day, and follow people of interest in your life that are popular, but not so popular that they are no longer reading tweets. Also something to take into consideration, is that certain publishing houses will re-tweet articles and reviews of their content if you tweet to them saying that you reviewed one of their titles. I did this in my Tale of Sand article and it gave me tons of great attention.

 More or less that's the top two things that I can think of right now. I'm still learning too. If I could write a third step it would be to research other means of funding as publishing can often be extremely expensive if you are publishing something that is physical, like a comic book in hardcover. Take a look at Kickstarter tutorials and training, because they certainly help. Remember though, those are all based off of pretty much what I've just told you. Bottom line here is pretty simple: Build your tribe. Get people to care about who you are and what you do and have to offer them!

See you on Thursday!