Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Noob’s Exploration Of The New DC 52: Part 1

So DC Comics’ reboot is finally here, starting with a shiny new Justice League #1. If the last sentence made absolutely no sense to you, then fear not; you’re in the right place.

In what could be construed (by a cynical person, of course, perhaps someone wearing an eye patch and stroking a cat) as either a cheap marketing gimmick or a conscious desire to set fire to well over half a century of comics history, DC, creator of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and enough B-grade superheroes to populate a small country, has restarted a whole bunch of their major comic book lines (and added some new ones).

DC’s reasons for the reboot revolve around enticing fresh new readers to pick up their comic books. What with having so many characters and a plethora of timelines that got shifted around every five minutes, getting into the DC Universe was a little like trying to get the hot girl at school to look past the pimples and braces and see The Real You.

And that’s where I come in. No, I’m not trying to pick up girls. I could be considered one of the targets of the reboot. While I am a card-carrying geek, I never had the dedication, willpower or disposable income to be a regular comics buyer. I loved the characters, watched the movies and animated series, but most of my interactions with the comics came from checking out the trade paperbacks from the library.

So begins my (not so) Grand Experiment. I am going to attempt to read all 52 #1 issues of the new reboot. I’ll give my impressions of all of them here on this blog, and we’ll see whether the reboot manages to convince me to start picking up any of the new series on a regular basis.

So now, let me begin with the very first of the #1s:

Justice League #1 (Beware: minor spoilers)

It’s 5 years in the past, Batman is still just an urban legend, and superhumans are beginning to appear. The whole “uncontrolled vigilantes with incredibly destructive powers” thing isn’t going over too well with the authorities, who naturally decide the answer is to just shoot them and then worry about the consequences later (presumably by planting heroin and guns on Batman’s body).

Despite the pretty cover picture of the entire Justice League flying/running to save the day, most of these characters don’t even get a look in. The only characters in this issue are Batman and the Green Lantern (who decide to have a pissing contest over who’s the awesomest hero) and a brief appearance by Superman (who seems to enjoy punching other heroes for the hell of it). Oh, and there’s also a slightly out of place bit of Cyborg’s pre-hero backstory.

But the lack of an entire fully-formed Justice League isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Batman/Green Lantern dynamic actually works quite well at showcasing their contrasting personalities. Batman is grim, angry and slightly sarcastic, while Green Lantern is cocky and kind of an idiot.

The problem is the comic lacks much of a plot. Batman and Green Lantern chase a mysterious alien robot around Gotham for a while, and a major villain who will obviously be appearing to kick some ass in the next few issues is mentioned. And then, for some inexplicable reason, the two decide to go check out this “Superman” they’ve been hearing all about (there’s some handwaving about “dangerous aliens”, but it seems awfully random).

We get some unintentionally hilarious lines from Batman (“You flew us to Metropolis in a glowing green jet?” What, had he been asleep the whole journey? Did he not notice this wasn’t your average economy class seat? World’s Greatest Detective my ass), Green Lantern continues being cocky and gets Superman’s fist in his face, and then the issue ends.

I can’t help but feel DC should have done a double issue for the very first of the new Justice League series. For someone coming to comics to the first time, there really wasn’t enough meat in the story. Perhaps they should have started with an already formed Justice League doing battle with something impressive, and saved the origin story for a later issue. On the plus side, the art is excellent, and I sure do like pretty pictures.

So the issue could’ve been stronger, and probably should have been to try and hook those new readers. Since it’s the Justice League, pretty much the cornerstone of the DC Universe, I’ll give the next couple of issues a shot. But I’m hoping for some bigger and more awesome things in the rest of the 52.

The challenge has been set, DC. Your move.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Why "The Mercury Men" Is The Best Damn Retro Noir Sci-Fi Web Serial Around Right Now

If you haven’t heard of The Mercury Men, you’re probably not alone. The 10 episode series (7 minutes each) filmed for less than $10,000 was recently picked up by SyFy for distribution online, where all 10 episodes are now available. Written and directed by Chris Preksta and filmed as an independent production (yay indies!), it’s really something special.

Let me lay the story on you. It’s 1975, and apparently color hasn’t been invented yet. Edward Borman, a nobody stuck in a dead-end job, is about to leave the office after a hard day avoiding work. Only, before he can leave, his office building is seized by glowing aliens. Aliens that shoot lightning from their goddamn fingers.

Enter Jack Yaegar, gunslinging engineer who works for the mysterious “League”. It seems the aliens are hatching a doomsday plot, and they’re using Edward’s office building to stage it. If Edward and Jack don’t stop the invaders, Edward’s not going to have to worry about his job anymore.

So why is this web series so ridiculously awesome? Well, for starters, the series drips with retro coolness. Everything, from the concept to the script to the format is clearly inspired by the likes of the old Flash Gordon shows. There's a bunch of nods to these old serials, and a few to more modern works that were also inspired by them, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s always one that leaves you frustrated (but in that good kind of way). Cliffhangers are a tricky art to master, but Preksta and the gang have pulled it off expertly.

But it's not just the retro style that makes The Mercury Men cool. No, it's the fact that they do it with a straight face. It’s got just enough cheese to make you smile, but not enough to make you cringe. Sure, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but it’s not a parody either. They’ve taken those stylistic trappings and made something new and beautiful out of it.

But it’s the main characters, Edward and Jack, that make the series into more than just another web serial. From Edward’s attempts to weasel his way out of every task that’s thrust upon him, to Jack’s cool-headed gunplay (the dude fires glowing bullets from a revolver, and he does it with class), that are the real draw. From the minute you first meet them, you already have a clear idea of who these people are. Not an easy thing to do in 7 minute episodes. Sure, the characters are archetypes, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Hell, it just adds to the old-timey feel of the show. But more importantly, it’s the fate of these characters that makes you watch “one more episode, for real this time” when the To Be Continued title pops up on screen.

And it’s these characters that make you want to want to scream when the series ends on (you guessed it) another cliffhanger. (If you’re reading this, Chris Preksta and crew, you best be making Season 2. Especially if you don’t want your brain to end up in a jar.)

So follow the crew on Twitter and check out the trailer below, then watch the first episode. If you’re outside the US, like me, you may have trouble getting access to the show on Hulu. Try iTunes, or you can be a bit naughty and use a proxy server to get around the regional restrictions. Or else you may just have to wait until it comes to your country.

But to hell with that. That’s one cliffhanger I don’t need.






Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Awesome Fan-Made "Portal" Short Film

Everyone loves the game "Portal". Even people who don't play games. Hell, I bet there are undiscovered tribes in South America who hum "Still Alive" while they're out hunting.

So it doesn't really come as a surprise that fan films are appearing. And I have to say, this one is goddamn brilliant. Portal: No Escape is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, and it transfers the aesthetic of the Portal universe to a dark, live-action movie.

Do yourself a favor and watch it. Do it now. Now, I said!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Cover Art for "The Man Who Crossed Worlds"

It's a hell of a feeling, seeing your characters for the first time. Of course, you see them in your head all the time, and you do your best to get those images onto the page, but it's never quite the same as actually seeing the character with your own eyes.

As the sort of guy whose stick figures send small children running in terror, it amazes me how visual artists can convey so much information instantly. So when the cover art for my upcoming urban fantasy novel (published under my Chris Strange pen name) popped into my inbox, I was practically doing a jig (you don't want to see me dancing; trust me, it's not a pretty thing).

The cover is both fun and dark, full of motion and action, and unashamedly pulpy. Most importantly, it doesn't take itself too seriously.

In short, it IS my novel.

I offer my sincerest thanks to my artist, Hiep Ha Dzung, for creating such awesome artwork. I'm incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with him.

Perhaps if people are interested I'll do a blog post in the future about how I went about commisioning an artist. But for now, without further ado, I'll show you the artwork. I hope you like it as much as I do.



All Miles Franco wants is a cold beer and a bit of peace and quiet. What he’s got is an empty wallet, a shoebox apartment in a city run by gangsters, and a job that looks set to put him in an early grave. Miles is a freelance Tunneler, a man who can open portals to transport people from Earth to an alternate dimension known as Heaven. Not the real Heaven, you understand, the one with angels and harps and lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. This Heaven is a hell of a lot stranger.

When the cops haul Miles downtown for smuggling the natives of Heaven to Earth illegally, they offer him a choice: help them bring down a mysterious drug lord and his interdimensional drug-smuggling operation, or face a long stretch in the pen. Which, of course, is no choice at all.

But when Miles starts playing police lapdog, he soon figures out this ain't no ordinary drug he's dealing with. Some nasty people are willing to spill a lot of blood to protect their interests, and Miles is about to learn that nosing around in gang business is a dangerous job in a city where everyone’s on the take and the gangsters play for keeps.

So much for that peace and quiet.

THE MAN WHO CROSSED WORLDS

Coming Fall 2011

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Thorin's Entire Dwarf Company from The Hobbit

If you've been watching the interwebs, you might have seen some of the tantalising pictures of Thorin's band of dwarves from Peter Jackson's upcoming movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. With the release of the picture of Thorin Oakenshield and his sweet-looking sword Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver at TheOneRing.net, we finally have the full company of thirteen dwarves.

Jackson and the crew are taking an interesting tack with the look for the dwarves, not falling into the trap of making a group of Gimli-lookalikes. Each dwarf is distinct, and in my opinion they look absolutely fantastic. I've heard a few grumbles around the place about the departure from the traditional gruff-looking thick bearded dwarf, especially with respect to Kili (played by Aidan Turner). Sure, his beard may be short and some could argue that he's too good-looking, but hey, you can't argue that he still looks like he could kick some goblin ass. Plus, I won't deny others their eye-candy.

The costumes and weapons look to be up to the stupidly high standards we've come to expect from Jackson and Co, and everything looks to be on track for an awesome couple of movies. I don't know about you, but I'll be rushing into the theatre the first chance I get, giggling like a Tolkien geek.


Oin and Gloin


Bofur, Bifur and Bombur


Dori, Nori, and Ori


Fili and Kili


Balin and Dwalin


Thorin Oakenshield

So what do you think of the dwarves? Are you as excited as I am?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sunday, 26 June 2011

No E-reader? No Problem!

Hey you. Yeah, you. Come over here. I've got a secret to share with you. Come on, just a little bit closer.

You ready? Okay, here goes.

I don't own a Kindle.

I don't own a Nook, or a Kobo, or a Sony ereader, or any cheap knock-off versions of the above.

Shocking, isn't it? I intend to get one one day. A good quality e-reader has a lot of advantages: super ridiculously long battery life, e-ink screens that don't hurt your eyes, the ability to perform all the necessary equations to perfect your race of flying monkeys. But for now, I am completely ereader free.

And yet, I read ebooks all the time. I'm going to show you a few different ways you can turn gadgets you probably already have into ereaders (and buy my books).

iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad/Android device

So apparently anyone who's anyone has one of these thingamajigs. If you've got one, you're in luck; you've got a damn good ereader. Here's a few of the different apps you can use:

Kindle App

The Kindle isn't just a physical ereader that you can order from Amazon. There are also a number of apps for different devices you can download. If you've already got an Amazon account or are going to set one up, this is probably the best choice of app. You can access the Amazon Kindle store directly off your iThing, and any books you buy will be stored in an archive so if you buy an actual Kindle or want to read your ebooks on a different device, you can do so quickly and easily. Here's how to get started with the Kindle app:
  1. Go into the app store and search for "Kindle". Download the app.
  2. Open up the app and sign in with your Amazon account. If you don't have an account, you can sign up.
  3. You can access the Kindle store either through Safari (or Android browser) or from the Kindle app (which will open it in the browser anyway). The Amazon Kindle store is optimized for mobile browsers, so you can search for the title or author you want. Or if you find a link to an Amazon book page on Twitter or the net, you can go directly to the page.
  4. If you have a credit card linked to your Amazon account, things get ridiculously easy now. Had a look at the book and decided you want to check it out? Either buy it immediately with the link that says "Buy Now with 1-Click" or read the first chapter or so first by clicking on "Try a sample". Easy!
  5. The sample or full ebook will automatically be delivered wirelessly to the Kindle app on your iThing. Either continue shopping or go back to your Kindle app. Your new book will download and appear within a few seconds.
  6. Tap the book title within your Kindle library to open it up, and away you go! Within the Kindle app you can swipe to turn pages, or tap on the center of the screen to bring up options such as changing font size and color.
  7. Congratulations! You now have an ereader!

 

Stanza

Maybe you don't really like Amazon. They do eat babies after all, or so I've been told. No worries. We'll go at it a different way. Like the saying goes, there's an app for that!
  1. The story here is pretty much the same as for the Kindle app. Go to your app store, search "Stanza", and download the app.
  2. Now you've got two ways to get books. The easiest way is to do it directly from Stanza. From your home screen, tap on the "Get Books" tab down the bottom. This should bring you to the Catalog.
  3. There's a few different bookstores that sell via Stanza, but the best one if you're looking for excellent works by independent authors (such as myself) is SmashWords.
  4. Once you're in SmashWords you can browse by author, category, title, or just search. I find if you're trying to look for a specific author, it works better if you use the "Last name, First name" format (e.g. Strange, Chris)
  5. Once you've found a book you can download a sample by tapping on the button at the top right that says "Download", or buy a full copy.
  6. If you choose do buy a full copy, it will open the book page in your browser. You'll have to create a Smashwords account. Then the book will be imported directly into Stanza, and you can start reading straight away.
  7. Your other option for loading books into Stanza is to manually upload them from your computer (called side-loading). To do this you can download any ebook in EPUB format from the website of your choice (Smashwords and Kobo are good options). When your iThing is plugged into your computer and it is syncing with iTunes, simply drag the ebook from your computer onto your device in iTunes.

 

Other apps

Other popular choices for ereader apps include the Barnes and Noble Nook app (only available in the US) and the Apple iBooks app. The processes for downloading and using these are similar to what I've described above for the other app. You may want to experiment to find the app that best suits you.

 

Blackberry

Kindle also has an app for Blackberry. I'm not personally familiar with the device, but you can find out more here.

 

No device at all?

Maybe you don't really trust all these newfangled electro-gizmos, or maybe you would just rather spend your hard-earned cash on basic food supplies than fancy touch screen devices. You're not completely out of luck. Granted, those iThings and Androids make pretty nifty ereaders, but there's still one device we haven't talked about. You're probably staring at it right now.

That's right, it's your computer.

Unless you have a netbook, it may not be the most portable of ereading devices, but damn near everyone has one, and if you don't, you're probably not reading this anyway.

Kindle, Stanza and Nook all offer desktop versions of their ereading apps. Check out the links and download away. The best thing about the Kindle and Nook apps is that they will automatically sync all of your devices that are under the same account. So you can be reading my book on your computer before work while you check your emails, then hop on the bus with your iPhone and continue reading from where you left off. Brilliant!

Another option is Adobe Digital Editions. It supports EPUB and PDF formats, and is a great choice if you don't intend to be reading anywhere but your computer.

If you're even too lazy to download an app, Smashwords offers you the choice of downloading your purchased book in various other formats such as RTF (for reading in a word processor), plain text, which you can read with anything, or HTML, for viewing online.

 

Conclusions

So there you have it. Now you've got no excuse not to join the ebook revolution and download a bunch of awesome new ebooks. You can now buy your books cheaply, easily, and instantly. Why wouldn't you?

Get amongst it.

Remember to check out my fantasy novel THE CONVERTED, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or in any format you like at Smashwords.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A Twitter-Tale of Rapture Survival

At 6pm on May 21st 2011 the Rapture was scheduled to begin, according to religious leader Harold Camping. Of course, this didn't happen. But since New Zealand was supposed to be the first country to experience the Rapture, I figured it would be a great chance to start a War of the Worlds-style fictional documentary of the Rapture, posted through Twitter and using the hashtag #FirstRapture

If you missed it, here's the entire tale below. Enjoy!


@crhindmarsh: 5pm NZ time. NZ is one of the earliest countries to see the rapture so I'll be documenting live on Twitter using the hashtag #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 5:10pm NZST: 50 minutes until the rapture in NZ. Pretty quiet so far. I'm anticipating a night of watching horror movies. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 5:30pm NZT: 30min til Rapture. If I get rapturized, I'll try to log onto Twitter in Heaven and let you know what it's like :P #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 5:50pm NZST: 10min to Rapture. Got the phone numbers of my religious friends to check for rapturization and some horror movies #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 5:55pm NZST: 5min to Rapture. Should have got popcorn. Think I'll just crack open a beer instead #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:01pm NZST. Sadly I have not been rapturized. No signs of doom. What a bust. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:05pm NZST Got in touch with 5 of my 7 most religious friends. Most likely the other 2 are in the bathroom, not Heaven. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:11pm NZST Huh, power went out. 3G is still working so I'm on Twitter with my phone. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:19pm NZST Just had a huge flash in the sky, like sheet lighting out of nowhere. Refusing to jump to conclusions. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:31pm NZST Power's still out. Someone just smashed a window at the end of my street. Going to check it out. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:39pm NZST The smashed window was someone looting the local liquor store. Tried calling the cops but phone's not working #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 6:50pm NZST Just remembered I have a crank radio. Lots of static on the air, but could have sworn I heard "emergency" #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7pm NZST: I can hear more looting. Can't get in touch with my gf so going to ride my motorbike to her place. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:06pm NZST Motorbike won't start. Going on foot to my girlfriend's house. Taking my first aid kit just in case #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:11pm NZST So dark outside. All the streetlights are out and there's no stars. Going to talk to a couple of people up ahead #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:15pm NZST No cars on the road. It's spooky. A few scattered people like me around trying to find friends and family #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:21pm NZST Fell in with a couple of people trying to find their friends. They say their other friend just vanished #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:28pm NZST There's smoke on the horizon. Nearly at my girlfriend's house. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:41pm NZST Fuck got attacked by pack of things, dont even know what they were. They got Robert and Jean, people I was with. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:44pm NZST Hiding in someone's backyard. I can hear those things walking past. I've got Robert's blood on me. So scared #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 7:50pm NZST Don't know why I'm still documenting this but people need to know. Coast is clear now. Going to run for it #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8pm NZST They didn't see me get away. Realised I forgot my asthma inhalor. At my girlfriend's house now, but it looks dark #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8:06pm NZST Searched my gf's place but no one home. Just piles of clothes and shoes on the ground. Crap, those freaks are back #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8:10pm Got a photo of one of the things that got Robert and Jean. Don't know what the fuck it is. http://ow.ly/i/bQUK #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8:14pm NZST The things must've seen me go into the house. Beat one of their heads in with a crowbar I found. Blood all over me #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8:26 NZST So scared. There are screams coming from all round the city. I need to keep moving. Going to the mall for supplies #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8:30 NZST There are swarms of insects flying around. Found an abandoned car full of blood. I can hear growling again. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: Don't know what time it is. Got attacked again and one of those things bit me. Trying to find a place to hide #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: 8:52pm NZST Have to be silent. Broke into a house to hide. Bite mark on my leg hurts like hell http://ow.ly/i/bQW2 #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: They found me again. I think they can smell the blood. Locked myself in a closet but they're banging on the door and growling. #FirstRapture

@crhindmarsh: This will be my last post. Phone's nearly dead and those things are nearly inside. God help me. They're here. #FirstRapture #TheEnd

Remember to check out my fantasy novel THE CONVERTED, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or in any format you like at Smashwords.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

May is Zombie Awareness Month, so I decided it would be apt to write a post on how to survive after 90% of the population have turned into dead cannibals and are trying to gnaw on your legs. As you read this guide, remember that adaptability, above all else, is the key to surviving post-Z-day. This guide, like any others, is just that: a guide. Use your best judgement, and hope that it doesn't result in your untimely demise (and reanimation).

1. Know Your Zombie:
I'm not referring to whether the zombie is created by a virus (e.g. Solanum) or through supernatural means. That don't matter a bit. I'm talking about more practical distinctions.


There are generally considered to be two types of zombie: fast and slow. If the zombie apocalypse involves slow zombies, consider yourself lucky. You can fight off or run from a slow zombie more easily. Individual zombies can be separated from the horde and taken out one-by-one. Chances are you'll be laughing all the way to the reconstruction of society.

If you've got fast zombies, though, you're in trouble. These things will be on you quicker than you can say, "Oh fuck, I'm going to die a virgin then have my innards ripped out and eaten. I'm kinda bummed about this situation, to be honest." Your best chance of surviving fast zombies is to shut the fuck up and find a good hiding place. Ensure your group is the right size: not so many people the zombies are attracted for a tasty snack, but not so few you'll end up facing an attack without brothers-in-arms. (Or to have someone to throw into the path of the zombies. Take one for the team, bro!) Which brings us to our next point...

2. Pick Your Teammates Wisely:

You notice how in every zombie flick there's always a few annoying/selfish/cowardly people who get everyone else eaten?

Kill them. Kill them now. Or just blindfold them and dump them out in the zombie-infested city if you're not the murdering type. You're doing them a kindness. Well, not really, but fuck them. You don't want them around. You need people in your group who are skilled in some way. Expert killing machines are always a good one. Doctors, too, as long as they're not too compassionate. Anyone who can jerry-rig some explosives or fix a SUV with only some duct tape and rubber bands. As for anyone with no useful skills, they have to go. Homeopath? Lawyers? Beauty therapists? Zombie food waiting to happen. (Note: if you are say, a writer, you're going to have to fake some skills if you don't want this to happen to you.)

Maybe you're feeling a bit squeamish about leaving all these people to die. Well that's because you haven't reached Step 3...

3. Cut All Ties With Your Humanity:

Lots of people are going to die. Your family is going to die. Same with your friends and the cute chick that works at the movie theatre. And they're not just going to die. They're going to get back up and try to eat you. If you hesitate in killing them, you'll be joining them. Once you learn to embrace your deep-seated sociopathic tendencies, you'll end up safer and happier.

Say you're running with your family from a zombie attack and your cute little son trips over. Now, a normal, well-adjusted person would stop to protect their child. And then what happens? You get eaten, along with anyone else in your family stupid enough to stop as well. Not cool.

But if you've become dead inside, you will actually see this as an opportunity. The zombies will stop chasing you to enjoy some nice juicy child flesh, leaving the rest of your family alive and with one less mouth to feed. If all your family members are too nimble-footed to trip, consider pushing one of them.

4. Weapons
Many people, especially you Americans, will pull out their shotguns and assault rifles and Stinger Missiles at the first sign of a zombie apocalypse and try to shoot the zombies like they're playing Call of Duty.
Stupid. Fucking. Idea.
Here's why: you'll kill some zombies. Whoopdee-fucking-doo. But you know what all that gunfire's going to do? Attract more zombies. From miles and miles around, they'll come for you.

"No problem," you say. "I'll just shoot them as well!"

Great. Until you run out of ammo. Then, instead of the ten zombies you started out facing, you've got 200 of the bastards bearing down on you, and you're sitting there with your empty Glock looking sad.

No, you want weapons that are quiet and can either decapitate the zombie or destroy its brain. Swords, axes, decent sized bats. Whatever you're comfortable with. If you absolutely must have a firearm, use it only as a last resort, then get the hell out of Dodge before more zombies show up.

Oh, and don't be a moron and try to set them on fire. How long do you think it'll take before that fire destroys the zombie's brain? In the meantime they're still going to come at you, and then you have to deal with a FLAMING FUCKING ZOMBIE. This is much worse, for obvious reasons. And that's not even counting the risk of setting your hiding place on fire and burning yourself to death.

Final Thoughts:

Chances are, if a zombie apocalypse comes, you're going to die. Sorry, but it's the truth. If you do happen to be one of the lucky ones, remember: the future of the human race depends on you. So be smart, know your exits, and DON'T GET BITTEN!

Good luck. You're going to need it.

Remember to check out my fantasy novel THE CONVERTED, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or in any format you like at Smashwords.

Fantasy Map-Making

I won't lie; one of the main reasons I write fantasy is the chance to build new cultures, creatures, and worlds. Don't listen to the naysayers; playing God is awesome.
Of course, one of the most important parts of world-building is creating a map for your brand new world. I've spent many an hour lovingly stroking maps at the start of fantasy books. There's just something about a good map that makes the whole world come alive. (Ironically, my favourite map is actually not from an entirely different world. The map in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan is freaking magnificent.)

For my debut novel, THE CONVERTED, I never got past a sketched map in the back of my notebook, and no map has yet been added to the ebook. If and when I write additional stories in the same world I will probably come up with something a bit more concrete and make it available.

But since I am publishing the draft of FALSE GODS as an online serial as I write, I decided it would be wise to have a map available to assist people as they read. I considered just going with a rough sketch, but that wouldn't do the world justice, so I decided to dust off my meagre Photoshop skills and see what I could come up with. Here's the finished result (click for a bigger picture):


In this post I'll talk about how I came to this point. I won't do a full tutorial at this stage, because half the time I was just screwing around trying to get stuff to look right, but I'll give you a look at my process.

Before I even start writing, I like to have an idea of the geography. By far the best tool I have found for this is Fractal Terrains. This nifty software allows you to randomise an entire world, and it will calculate altitudes, climate, and dozens of other variables. You can then tweak the world as you choose, until you get something you're happy with. The demo version is available here, so go check it out.

The continent I chose to use for FALSE GODS is shown below:


As awesome as Fractal Terrains is, I like to do much of my brainstorming and world creation on paper. Being too lazy to actually print out a copy of the map, I just put a piece of paper on my computer screen and traced the image. You are free to do something less weird.

The next step was to add in cities, regions, borders, rivers, and anything else important to the story. It wasn't until after I'd done this that I actually began writing the story. By now I had a fair idea of the geography, in addition to the other world-building I'd already done.

Then it was time to make the proper map. As mentioned above, my Photoshop skills are limited, so I turned to the interwebs for aid. Cartographer's Guild is a website for map-making enthusiasts, and they have numerous tutorials on their discussion forums. There are some incredibly beautiful maps on the site, and I encourage you to check them out if you're interested in making your own map.

Using one of the tutorials so generously provided, and a fair amount of trial-and-error and slamming my head into the keyboard, I got something I was happy with.


I played with the saturation of the image and overlaid a folded paper texture to grunge the whole thing up a bit. Then I was done!

It didn't take nearly as long as I'd feared to make something I'm pleased with. More importantly, it was fun.

What do you guys think? How do you make your fantasy maps?

Remember to check out my fantasy novel THE CONVERTED, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or in any format you like at Smashwords.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A Short Ad Break

THE CONVERTED has just come online at the Barnes & Noble Nook store.

If you've got a Nook, go here to buy THE CONVERTED for just $2.99.

/self promotion

Writing Prompt Wednesday

We've got something a bit more fantasy-oriented for today's visual writing prompt. Get writing, folks!

You'll find the original here.


Happy writing!




Tuesday, 10 May 2011

False Gods: Now a Nutritious Serial

So just after writing my last post, a thought struck me. An idea sent by my muse (a burly woman with a battle-axe) to deal with the endless struggle between writing a novel and posting useful and interesting stuff online.

Why not do both at the same time?

I've always believed that giving away content for free is a great way to get customers. Hell, I haven't ruled out the idea of uploading my novels on file-sharing sites frequented by pirates. Why not put my money where my mouth is?

So here we have the launch of my work-in-progress fantasy novel FALSE GODS as an online serial. New chapters will be added weekly or more often. I'll be posting the first draft of the novel, so don't expect it to be perfect, but hopefully it'll interest some readers wanting to get a taste of my work and give an insight into how I write my drafts. When the novel is finished, it will be published in ebook and trade paperback formats in all the usual channels.

The prologue and first three chapters are already online, so go check them out now. Make sure to subscribe by email or RSS feed so you don't miss a chapter.

Hypothetical Frequently Asked Questions

Q: So what's the catch?
A: There isn't one. I've put a donate button on the site if you feel like donating, but no pressure whatsoever. It's free!

Q: Why do you sound so proud of yourself? You know people have been doing this for hundreds of years, right?
A: Hey, stop being so mean, hypothetical question-asker. We can't all be as original as you. Besides, you can't copyright ideas, so "nyah".

Q: I read everything on the site and it was the GREATEST THING EVAR!!!1! Please please please can I give you more money?
A: See, that's a good hypothetical question. Well if you want to read more from me, why don't you think about picking up a copy of THE CONVERTED (or here at Smashwords)? Otherwise, the final ebook version of FALSE GODS is scheduled for release in late July, so mark that vague date on your calendars (or don't, I'm not going to check up on you...much).

All right, that's enough screwing around. I'd be forever grateful if you check it out and share it with your friends. And feel free to leave comments either on this blog or over at the serial.

Catch you guys next time.

Monday, 9 May 2011

FALSE GODS: 30,000 Words and a Word Cloud

To celebrate me hitting the 30k mark on my upcoming fantasy novel, FALSE GODS, I've made a Wordle cloud of the novel so far. Take a guess who the main characters are. (grin)


FALSE GODS is the tale of 14-year-old Khun and his older brother Monu, the last remaining members of the Osun, a race of tribesmen wiped out by the Rajenti. Forced into hiding among the Rajenti city-states, Khun and Monu scrape out a living on the streets, working where they can and stealing what they need to survive.
 
But to the Rajs, self-proclaimed gods of the Rajenti, the brothers are a threat. If an Osun breaks a bone, he is able to use the Os, a powerful magic that can manipulate matter to devastating effect. When Monu is captured by a Raj's soldiers and taken through the wild Interlands to the capital of the Rajenti Empire, Khun sets off in pursuit.
 
Hunted by enemies both horrifying and deadly, Khun will have to rely on his wits to rescue his brother. But there are many threats in the Interlands, and not all of them are human.
* * *
Below is the cover I'm currently working with. FALSE GODS is scheduled for release July 2011 on Kindle and all other ebook formats, followed by trade paperback. Stay tuned for updates.
 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

THE CONVERTED Gets a New Cover

I've been playing around with covers for my novel THE CONVERTED for the last few days, being generally unsatisfied with my current one. Since I'm not much of a graphic designer or artist, I had a lot to learn, but I've got myself a cover now that I'm happy with. It is being uploaded on Amazon as we speak, so it should be up in a day or two. The Smashwords version won't be up for a few more days, since I'm having some small issues with their Premium Distribution service.

I've also taken this opportunity to correct a few typos that have come to my attention, so the book is generally improved.

I've got several reviews lined up, so hopefully they start coming in soon.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the new cover. I hope you like it.


Thank everyone!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Week 3

Welcome back to another Writing Prompt Wednesday. If you missed the last couple of weeks, you can find them under "Writing Prompts" in the labels.

All right, without further ado, here is your next writing prompt. You might want to view this picture full-size, so click on it to get to the original site.


Happy writing!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Asimov's Three Laws of Second-Hand Book Shopping

This weekend I returned to my hometown to visit my parents over the Easter break. While I was there I discovered the local Rotary Club was holding its Annual Easter Book Sale. People from all over the city donate their books to the sale, and all proceeds go to charity (I believe funds from this sale went to help victims of the Christchurch earthquake).

Naturally, I was all over that shit.

After battling my way through the crowds swarming the Romance tables, I managed to reach the Science Fiction and Fantasy books. Several minutes later I emerged with several well-loved books, among them two short story collections: The Best of Isaac Asimov and Tomorrow's Children, edited by Asimov.


Beautiful, aren't they? I especially love the artwork on Tomorrow's Children. Naturally, the stories are even better than I hoped. Tomorrow's Children has stories from many of the greats of SF, including Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein and Asimov himself. I had to tear myself away from these classics to write this post.

Inspired by Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, I have created the Three Laws of Second-Hand Book Shopping to aid any intrepid travellers who want to put down their Kindles and Nooks to fight the frenzied masses and inhale the scent of mothballs and paper books.


C. R. Hindmarsh's Three Laws of Second-Hand Book Shopping
  1. A shopper may not leave with more books than he can carry or, through inaction, allow another shopper to become crushed by the sheer weight of his books.
  2. A shopper must obey any impulses to buy classic or awesome-looking books, except where such impulses would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A shopper must protect the books he has claimed against all comers as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
So there you have it. You are now prepared to brave the madness of a book sale and come out with both your health and some sweet finds.

Go forth, my children!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sample Sunday Again

Here is another #SampleSunday from my novel THE CONVERTED. In this section from Chapter 4, the protagonist, Anton Springmann, has departed Orton by train after the town was attacked by creatures the townspeople call devils. He travels with a girl named Elisa who was found unconscious after the attack, along with her father and two other people from the town, Ben and Nina. Enjoy!

* * *
A crash cut through the rhythmic sound of wheels on the train track. The carriage shook and people screamed. Anton jerked awake. It was dark outside, but a few oil lamps had been hung in the centre of the carriage. Ben twisted around in his seat to look around. Jarvis had one arm across Elisa and was peering out the window into the night. Nina yelped, her eyes wide.

The carriage shuddered again, and the train began to slow. The other passengers yelled for information. Anton stood up.

A gunshot. The next window over shattered, showering a man in glass. Ben drew his revolver. Anton's head spun. Sweet Jeza. It was happening again.

Ben pushed past Anton and rushed down the aisle towards the back of the carriage. The only things Anton could hear were screams and the sound of glass crunching underfoot.

Anton shook his head and turned back to hurry Jarvis out of his seat. A movement outside the window caught his eye. A gray face came into view, the skin cracked. The devil bounced up and down, reins in its hand. It snarled and raised a shotgun at Anton.

Anton dropped to the ground as the gun went off. Jarvis hit the floor in front of him, his body shielding Elisa from the falling shards of glass.

Anton realized he was holding his revolver. He raised it, pointed it at the window, pulled back the hammer with his thumb. He fired. The gun kicked in his hand. He aimed and fired again. Again. The gray face dropped back from view. Anton didn't think he'd hit it. It would be back in a second.

Anton grabbed Jarvis by the shoulder and hauled him to his feet. Nina followed, covering her head with her hands. A few other male passengers were firing out the side of the train. The women and children stayed low in their seats. A man lay slumped in the middle of the carriage, blood pulsing from his neck.

Ben was at the end of the carriage, firing out the space between the two carriages. His lips were pulled back in a grim snarl.

The train was slowing. The wheels squealed on the tracks. Anton could see gray shapes jumping onto one of the other carriages. They were boarding the train.

"Ben!" Anton shouted, making his way towards him. He stepped over the wounded man's body without stopping. "We have to get off."

Ben fired off another round then ducked back inside the carriage and began to reload. "We'll have to jump."

"What about Elisa?" Jarvis said. He crouched behind a seat, his daughter in his arms.

Ben slid another round into the cylinder and flicked the loading gate closed. "We have to risk it. Come on!"

Anton stood and fired the last two rounds at a figure galloping outside the window. It screamed and the horse fell behind.

A man shoved past Anton and came alongside Ben. His eyes darted around at the bush rushing past. He braced himself on the handrail beside the door.

"Wait!" Ben yelled.

It was too late. The man jumped. He tried to roll as he hit the ground, but his foot caught a root from an overhanging tree. Anton heard the bone crack before the train bore them onwards and the man was lost to their sight.

Ben swore and fired his revolver at another rider who had appeared. Anton holstered his own weapon and leaned out beside Ben. The corner of the carriage exploded in a small shower of splinters as a bullet slammed into it, but Anton ignored the shots.

"Up ahead." Anton pointed. "The bush thins out."

Ben nodded. "Jarvis, Nina, this is our shot. Get ready."

Nina braced herself against the side of the train, mouth half-open, and Jarvis moved beside them in a crouch, his whole body covering Elisa.

"Ready?" Anton said.

"As a whore on payday," Ben said.

"Now!"


* * *
 
Check out THE CONVERTED at Amazon or Smashwords.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Writing Prompt Wednesday: Week 2

Hello friends. Welcome to part 2 of Writing Prompt Wednesday. I'm your host, C. R. Hindmarsh. If you missed last week's writing prompt, you'll find it under "Writing Prompts" in the labels.

So the idea is simple: let this picture spark your imagination and write something. Got it? You sure? I don't need to repeat myself? All right. Let's get this shit moving.


You can find the original here.

Now get writing!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sample Sunday

Welcome to my very first #SampleSunday.

This short section is from Chapter 10 of my upcoming fantasy novel, THE CONVERTED. Felix Wulf is a Criminal Affairs agent tracking the protagonist Anton Springmann across the country, intending to bring him to justice. But Felix isn't known for his kindness.

Enjoy!

*  *  *

Felix Wulf tapped his cane against the door of the law station. He rubbed a handkerchief over his face and it came away coated in sweat and dust. It was only just after dawn, and already the day was heating up. New Alania was just too hot. Why would anyone want to live here?

There was no reply from inside. Felix sighed and banged on the door with his fist. He was annoyed that he had to come all the way out to this little piss-puddle of a town. He couldn't even remember the name of it. Ivy something. He doubted ivy had ever grown within a hundred miles of this pathetic village. Still, it sounded like a solid lead. The man at the train station--the station closest to the devil attack--had a good story to tell. Felix smiled to himself. Devils. Bloodthirsty, vicious devils. These New Alanians were too superstitious for their own good. Felix played out the conversation with the man in his head again. The man's description of Springmann was perfect.

Felix was about to knock again when the door opened. A bloated peace officer with a moustache opened the door, his eyes crusted and blinking.

"Ah, good morning Officer," Felix said, smiling. "I trust I'm not disturbing you?"

The officer squinted out at the sun rising slowly over the mountains and grunted something noncommittal.

"I've been led to believe you might be able to help me with an inquiry I'm conducting," Felix said. "I'm looking for a friend of mine, a Torlander. About my height, dark hair, wears glasses. I believe you had him in your custody recently?"

The officer scowled. His hand dropped casually towards his revolver and he shouted into the station. "Hey, Lee. Got someone here you might be interested in talking to."

Another fat officer stepped into view, a shotgun dangling from his hand. The man's left cheek was a deep purple. Felix fixed him with a smile. Small town morons.

"This guy's friends with that fucker yesterday, the one making eyes at the squid," the first officer said.

Felix's mood brightened. A Skia. The man at the station hadn't mentioned that. Springmann always did have a soft spot for minorities. It was amusing, really, when you considered how he treated everyone else.

The bruised officer brought his shotgun to rest in both hands and strode towards Felix. "Oh yeah? That true, stranger?"

"I'm trying to track him down," Felix said, shifting his weight on the thin cane. "Do you happen to know where he went after he locked you fine gentlemen in your own cell?"

The officer shoved the barrel of his shotgun in Felix's face, his upper lip twitching. These New Alanians were so easy to antagonize. It was almost no fun.

"If you don't want a slug embedded in your ugly face, stranger, I suggest you scram."

Felix sighed. "I've come a long way, Officers. All I ask for is a little information."

The officer took a step forward. "I said get--"

Felix whipped his cane up and struck the man's right wrist. Bones cracked. The officer yelped. The shotgun dropped from his hands. Felix's cane was moving again before the shotgun hit the ground. He stabbed forwards into the man's neck. The officer's eyes bulged as his windpipe collapsed.

While his friend stumbled back, clutching his throat, the officer with the moustache yelled and drew his revolver. Felix's left hand flew out. He grabbed the man's gun hand and slammed the forearm against the door frame. The officer screamed as a bone in his forearm snapped.

Felix returned his cane to the ground and kicked at the man's kneecap with a heavy boot. There was an audible pop, and the officer collapsed to the ground. Tears of pain streamed down his face.

Felix squatted down, bringing himself face-to-face with the officer. The officer tried to scramble backwards, his broken arm flopping uselessly, but Felix snatched his collar and held him tight.

"You see your friend over there?" Felix said. "His windpipe is causing him some trouble. He won't be able to talk. So that just leaves you and me. We're going to have a little conversation."

Felix smiled at the man's fear.

*  *  *
I hope you all enjoyed that. If you'd like to read more, check out the first chapter under the link "THE CONVERTED" in the banner at the top of the page. You can subscribe to my blog or Twitter feed with the links to the right.

And look out for THE CONVERTED when it is officially released April 25th (although if you're feeling impatient, you can already find it at Amazon or Smashwords).

P.S. Copies of THE CONVERTED are still available from the Giveaway program at LibraryThing. Go check it out.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Update on THE CONVERTED

My fantasy novel, THE CONVERTED, is on schedule for release in the Kindle store and Smashwords April 25th, shortly followed by distribution to all other major retailers such as Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

(Actually, as of the time of writing THE CONVERTED is already available at Amazon and Smashwords. If you'd like to get your copy or view a sample before the official release date, go check it out.)

THE CONVERTED is also out with several book bloggers and fantasy book reviewers at the moment, so stay tuned for the verdicts.

If you'd like to get your hands on a free copy of the ebook, you can head over to LibraryThing and sign up for the chance to grab one. I'll also be giving away copies this #SampleSunday, so watch out for that.

To top everything off, you can check out the book trailer below. I noticed the trend among book trailers was that they were all cheesy. I decided to crank up the cheese to the next level. In the words of one of my early viewers, it is "delightfully and tragically melodramatic." It's like a car wreck, you just can't look away...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Skynet and Internet Legislation

I'd like to take a break from scheduled programming to have a short rant about the internet legislation law that was just passed in New Zealand.

Basically, its fucking stupid.

Really, incredibly, idiotically stupid. Its completely unworkable, pointless, and it won't do a damn bit of anything to stop piracy. Basically, I think it comes down to a complete non-understanding by the National Government of how file-sharing actually works. The bill allows copyright owners to request that people who repeatedly share protected material have their internet account suspended for 6 months.

First of all, having copyright holders put the onus on the ISPs is just freaking stupid. Why would an ISP want to cut off its own customers when they have done nothing to them?

Secondly, the Government passed this bill under urgency, which means they got to neatly avoid any chance for public discussion on the bill. Urgency is supposed to be used in emergencies, such as legislation relating to the Christchurch earthquake. Piracy has been around forever, and it ain't going anywhere fast.

And thirdly, it just won't work. I will be most surprised if it stops a single person from pirating anything. The way to reduce piracy is to use the technology available to make things available legally and for a fair price. A war against internet piracy is even more hopeless than a war against drugs.

To really get an appreciation for how little the government understands the issue, go to this link and watch the video where MP Jonathan Young compares the internet to Skynet.

Idiots.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Welcome to a brand new series on the blog: Writing Prompt Wednesday. The premise is simple, I'll present you with a picture or a short video clip, and you use that as a jumping off point to write something. It can be a short story, flash fiction, a poem, or a literary treatise if you like. As long as you write!

I'll be participating too, and feel free to include anything you've written in the comments below.

Ok, drum roll please. The inaugural picture is:


Enjoy, and happy writing!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

More classic steampunk

For some reason I seem to be re-finding several awesome old-school steampunk-related things on the interwebs these days. The following postcards have been circulating around the web for the last few years, and I reckon they've got a sweet quaint charm about them.

They're illustrations by French artist Villemard in 1910, depicting what he thought the world might be like in the year 2000. I don't know about you, but that firefighter picture is sparking an idea for a steampunk short story. Something with a bit of darkness in it...








Find more here.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Steampunk: Old School

According to Wikipedia, Georges Méliès' classic 1902 silent movie Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) was the first science fiction film. I think it's a brilliant example of the mixture of turn of the century values and strange science that makes steampunk such a popular subgenre and subculture today. Check it out!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Change is in the air

My approach to self-publishing has changed recently. In the few short weeks I've been querying agents for my novel THE CONVERTED, self-publishing has really come to the forefront of the blogosphere and the mainstream media. I've followed the news with great interest.

It may be starting to sway my resolve to pursue traditional (or legacy or commercial or whatever we're calling it) publishing. If you haven't read the long yet interesting conversation between JA Konrath and Barry Eisler from a couple of weeks ago, I suggest you do. Even if you're completely opposed to self-publishing, it's an intriguing take on the way the industry is changing.

So have I been convinced? I've gotten a few bites from my query search, but I'm beginning to wonder if self-publishing is a better road for me. I like to think of myself as a pretty independent guy (read: doesn't play well with others) and I like the idea of being able to hold onto my rights and get my book out when I want it out.

Stay tuned...

EDIT: A couple of hours after I posted this, I got another partial request from an agency I'd really love to have representing me in pursuing publishing with a traditional publisher. So I'm still on the fence. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but I'm determined to get my work out there one way or another.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Self-Editing

This week I've taken my first dive into the huge septic tank known in writing circles as Query Hell. I'm taking a staggered approach, with around 8-10 queries for THE CONVERTED floating around at any one time. When rejections come in, I'll fire off a query to the next agent on my list.

So to distract myself from obsessively refreshing my Gmail every 30 seconds (even when I live on the other side of the world from the agents I'm querying and there's not much chance they'd be reviewing queries at 3am) I decided to write a blog post on self-editing, since that's been consuming most of my non-university time in the last few weeks.

In my first draft, I take a NaNoWriMo-like approach. Vomit the words onto the page, finish the story, and only then go back and edit. In practice, it's not quite so easy. I often have fights with my inner-editor where he tries to convince me that I need to find the right word RIGHT FUCKING NOW. Kicking the inner-editor to the curb takes a lot of mental acrobatics for me, but I will never be one of those people who can disable their backspace key. It would drive me nuts.

Anyway, onto the editing itself. First point: self-editing can be hard. It can also be fun, but trying to critically evaluate your own story is like trying to drive at night when it's raining and the windscreen is fogged up and a wasp is attacking you in the eyes. Spotting the bits of your work that shine and the bits that need to be cut out with a scalpel and the bits that need to be acquainted with my friend, the Molotov cocktail, is tricky.

The oft-given advice is to put the manuscript away for a period of time (suggestions range from a couple of weeks to six months or so). This works for me, although I rarely put the editing off for longer than two or three weeks. During this time, I let my girlfriend read the first draft and offer her criticisms. I realise this is heresy in some circles, but it works for me. My first drafts are usually clean enough and lean enough that the general story and character arcs are all in place, even if the prose itself needs an angle grinder taken to it. So my lovely girlfriend asks questions, tells me what characters she likes and dislikes, how the setting works, and so on. I write all these down without (much) arguing and let them percolate.

When the two weeks or so are up, I pull out the manuscript. Now, I've heard a lot of comments around that you MUST read the manuscript on paper. That's not how it works for me. Perhaps since I'm a bit younger than some of the people giving this advice, I'm more comfortable with reading my novel on a screen. Also, I'm a poor student, so spending money on ink and paper makes it harder to fund my instant-noodle diet. Though I write my novel in WriteMonkey, I read it in Word. I use Word's comment feature to make comments as I read through. These comments might be anything from emotional responses to the text, pointing out repeated story devices, inconsistencies, or things I need to add or cut. I don't let myself fix anything at this stage.

While I'm doing this, I also like to re-read my copy of Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Browne and King. I love that book like it's my mother.

Once I've read through the novel I have a good big-picture view of it. I will then start writing additional scenes or extra dialogue or description or whatever the story needs. I don't focus on the prose itself yet. I bounce ideas off my girlfriend, and the plot holes get shored up.

Now is when the polishing comes. I go through line-by-line, reading aloud to myself (with music playing so my flatmates can't hear me). This helps me catch repetition, problems with flow, strange word choices and so on. It also makes it easier for me to pick up typos. At this stage I tend to read the chapters out of order so I don't get caught up in the story and forget to focus on the words.

And then it's done! Well, it would be, if I would ever stop tinkering. But at some stage I have to force myself to put aside the novel and declare it completed. If I don't, I'll keep changing bits and pieces forever, and never get around to sending it out.

So that's my approach to editing my own work. It won't work for everyone, but it seems to do ok for me. These aren't immutable rules. Every novel I write is edited in a slightly different way, but this is my basic outline. And it can even be fun!

Well, these agents aren't going to query themselves. Happy writing!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Terry Pratchett in New Zealand

Just wanted to share this link with everyone in New Zealand.

Terry Pratchett, the ridiculously super-awesome master of comedy fantasy, is coming to Auckland Thursday 14 April. Get your tickets here.

First 100 people to buy tickets get a chance to meet the great man himself. How fucking amazing is that?

I've got my tickets. How about you?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Self-publishing and Traditional Publishing in 2011

So for the last couple of weeks, the web has been abuzz with discussions around Amanda Hocking's success in self-publishing. Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson have both done interesting and thought-provoking posts on this in recent days. Being incautious and willing to throw in my opinions about things I know little about, I thought I'd do a post on this as well. Here we go.

First, a bit of background on where I'm coming from. I am currently unpublished either by traditional or self-publishing methods, but I am planning my submissions for traditional publishing houses. I am not planning to self-publish in the next few years. The main reason for this is I want exposure.

Of course, many self-published authors make good sales. Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath are the prototypical examples of this. If we eliminate the authors that were previously traditionally published, such as Konrath, we can cut this number down quite significantly. I don't have figures (what, you want me to provide evidence to support my conclusions?), but off the top of my head I can count all the new, successful self-pubbed authors I know of on one hand. That may be saying more about my knowledge of the industry than anything else, but in a way, that's my point.

Most readers still buy books from traditional publishing houses. I've seen a bunch of different numbers bandied about, but most agree on this. Whether they buy print books from brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon, Book Depository or ebooks from any online seller, readers buy books from traditional publishers. Especially the Big 6. The big publishing houses have the muscle to edit the book, slap a good cover on it and get it where it needs to be: under the noses of booksellers and readers. Though the royalties per book may be smaller, and authors have less control over the process, those are the authors that have the best chance of decent sales. For now.

I'd have to be a blind hermit to not see the changes in the industry. Big bookstores are struggling and collapsing, ebooks are on the rise, online retailers increasingly becoming dominant in the marketplace, publishers are restructuring. Many predictions are being made, and it's hard to know who to believe. Personally, I'm with many of the blogging agents who don't think the end is nigh. Some publishers and booksellers may struggle, but the entire traditional publishing model won't collapse. It will adapt. Perhaps the small and mid-sized independent presses will adapt quicker, and this will give them a chance to cut in front of the behemoths. Time will tell.

All this is not to say I'm opposed to self-publishing. For many authors, it is a brilliant way of getting their work out there. It is not just an easy path to take if you can't get traditionally published. From everyone I've spoken to, successfully self-pubbing and marketing your own book is a tremendous amount of work. If you can work hard, deal with the steep learning curve, and your writing is great, it is definitely possible to succeed.

It's just not the path for me. For the moment, at least. Who knows what the future will bring?

Happy writing!

Monday, 7 March 2011

World-Building in Fiction

I thought I'd kick off my blog with a discussion about world-building. I was going to title this post "World-Building in Fantasy", but of course, world-building isn't exclusive to speculative fiction novels. Even if your manuscript is set in your current time, in your current town or city, you still need to build up the sub-cultures your characters inhabit, the places they spend their time, and work out how the world drives the story.

I say this because in any work of fiction, the world shouldn't just be a background setting, like some painted backdrop your characters walk around in front of. The world shapes your characters, and your characters shape their world. So even in a highly character-driven story, the world will be an important part of the story, even if your readers don't notice it. Nail down those details, work out how the world, your plot, and your characters interact, and your story will be much richer and more believable.

For the rest of this post, I'm mostly going to be discussing world-building in fantasy (and to a lesser degree, SF. Not because SF doesn't need bucket-loads of world-building thrown in, it usually does, but just because of my personal bent towards fantasy.) For myself, a fictional world usually starts with a single idea or spark. It might be something I see in a movie, or read on a blog, or hear in a lecture theatre. You can get ideas from damn near anywhere, as long as you have the idea receiver in your brain tuned in. You might get a story idea first, but for me I usually begin to develop a world first, then work out what stories could be told in it.

For example, the world for my next WIP came from a mash-up of ideas from:
1) a dream I had about a leather-coated train travelling through snowy mountain passes and
2) another idea in my notebook surrounding a natural environment that had been damaged by a technologically advanced colonising force trying to pass themselves off to the natives as gods or magicians.

The world began to grow because I kept asking questions. Why is the train leather-coated? Maybe when the "magicians" tried to demonstrate their powers, they accidentally released a toxin into the environment that rapidly corrodes metal. Machines and metal weapons would be useless, unless adequately protected.

What is the nature of this toxin? Is it chemical? Biological? Airborne? Waterborne? Ah ha, perhaps it is an airborne biological agent, which is why the train can only operate high in the mountain passes. It's too cold and too high for the spores or whatever to significantly affect the train.

As you continue to ask yourself these questions, more details come to light. Then you can ask yourself about the implications of these new developments on the world, and so on. As you come up with new ideas, feel free to chuck them into the mix and see if they mesh well. If so, great! If not, write it down in your ideas notebook for another story. This process is fluid; things can and should be shifted around, questioned, added to or eliminated. You may even change the entire plotline of the novel. That's fine. Go with it. It's still early stages.

All right, so you've got yourself a nice little world developing. While I'm working on this, I like to start thinking about how the people or other creatures of this world fit in. The world I'm using in my example is fairly forbidding, so humans would be confined to settlements in places where the effects of the biological toxin are less marked. How are these settlements formed? Are they independent city-states, or part of an empire? Ruled by committee or by a ruthless overlord, crushing all beneath his leather-covered boot? How do the common people view their lot in life? Do they resent their leaders, hate their environment? Are they oppressed, or free to do as they choose? What does a normal person do for a job?

When you start getting into the practical side of your civilisations, the most important things to think about are often the essentials of life. Food, water, shelter. Who controls the food supply? He who controls the food, controls the people. Is water easy to come by, or is it a precious commodity? Do people gather together in skyscrapers for shelter, or are they nomads, sleeping under the stars?

One of my favourite podcasts for thoughts on this is the Writing Excuses podcast: Writing Practical Fantasy. Check it out.

So now you've got the practical side of your society sorted out, it's time to consider other aspects. Culture is essential in any society. Culture is not something foreign, it is something that every single one of us has, whether we realise it or not. A white, middle-class person has a culture just as a tribesman in an undiscovered tribe in South America has culture. Understanding how your society's culture operates and how it affects your characters is essential. This can be as wide-ranging as the ways in which a family is formed (nuclear family? polyamory? matriarchal?), to the ways religions interacts with the population and with each other. Was your culture formed after generations of isolation, or were dozens of different cultures thrust together, trading and assimilating each others' cultural quirks?

These are just a few questions I ask myself early in the world-building process. If you want a great list of things to consider in your world-building, I recommend the SFWA World-building resources. They ask you to think about things we've talked about here, along with many others.

About now, many writers (me included) fall prey to world-builders' disease. Somewhere around the time you're working out the evolutionary history of the algae in the pond outside the Chief Mage's tower and the meaning of the name of the King's auntie's third cousin's pet rock, you realise you should probably stop all this world building and actually WRITE THE DAMN BOOK. So put all that world-building into a handy folder and get started. It's ok if you don't have every aspect of the world worked out. Really.

Just fake it.

You heard me. Details are the key. Your readers don't want to read everything you created in your world. They want to read a story about characters. If you provide enough detail to make that world seem real and interesting, they will be happy.

So get your butt in that chair and build that world. Then stop building that world, and get stuck into the real work.

Happy writing!