Where was that again?

So….

As I sat there thinking, as I do every once in a while, I started drifting into the idea of naming conventions – specifically, on how geography is named.  You know, what gets one culture to name their landmarks and cities after their famous people (like Pittsburgh) and other cultures do it based on whatever happens to be there (Kathmandu in Nepal, or "Wooden Temple") – or why in the American Civil War the Union named battles after nearby rivers and creeks (Antietam and Bull Run) while the South named battles after nearby towns (Fredricksburg and Gettysburg), and why did some names stick from both sides.

I did some very thorough research (about five minutes of Googling) and didn't come to any real conclusions.  I did find something slightly unnerving.  Back to that in a second.

This is something I never tried to do as a fledgling writer.  I often just slapped names on places and people and didn't give it much thought.  I still do in emergency situations, but mostly, I try to find some dynamic reason for why people and things are named as such.  I also try to give different cultures different conventions, that are somewhat consistent internally.  This is part of a good world-building, am I right?  Here's an example for my tabled Sheyla stories:

– In the Innorian Empire (a pastiche of medieval England and some Roman factors), the standard was for male names to end with consonants.  Female names ended in vowels or vowel sounds.  "Soft" letters, like "y" or "n" end either.  On the mainland, names tended to be made of up of harder sounds:  "v," "k," "j," "g," and "p."  On the islands, the softer sounds – "s," "l," "h," "w" – figured more prominently.  In the outlands, the barbarian riders – not of the Empire but of common peoples – usually had short names, where each tribe identified with a single letter which was incorporated in each name. 

– Save for Innoria, the town names tended to be English-style conglomerations – Stonebridge, Highgate, etc. – or Latin-ish pastiches.  (Gimme a break, at least I was consistent.)

Other nations and cultures had their own "rules" for naming.  I had not fully fleshed all of them out but just having those guidelines in place not only made naming my people and places much easier but I think it aided in making the stories more consistent.  (Note to longtime readers:  the versions out online no longer resemble the revamped versions, so I can't speak to their crappiness.)  A little thing, to be sure, but something that may help with world-building.  Building a richer world makes a richer place in which your story takes place and some of that background depth can't help but creep into the tale.

Back to Google.

I've been thinking about this topic for about two days now.  So in the course of my Googling, I found this article.  Tangentially relevant … but the scary part is the author.  I met her once.  She's married to a guy I worked with a few years ago.  She posted this the same day I was thinking of this subject.  Who says there isn't some mass human consciousness already in place?

Eat your heart out, Arthur C. Clarke.  We didn't even have to kill everyone to do it.

Aren’t women just people too?


So…..

I survived my week-long agony at work.  Big conference, with many attendees and I was the Johnny-on-the-spot to put it all together.  Fortunately, it went very well and the big bosses were happy.  Today is the first day in two weeks I have not been in the office so I fully intend to enjoy it by goofing off before getting back to work writing tomorrow.

I had to delay my trip to the local grocery until this weekend.  I normally shop in the evening after work, and for good reason.  Everywhere, teeming masses of shoppers.  Old folks trundling along with their carts.  Families squabbling over brand preference.  Two old friends who had not seen each other chatting in the middle of the aisle. 

I’m an in-an-out shopper (keep your naughty jokes to yourself).  I go in to get what I come for and leave – no lingering, no strolling every square foot of the store.  Everywhere I turned, some other doofus was in my way.  All that kept going through my head was the following Simpsons dialogue:

Mr. Burns:  Before you  begin, let me make one thing clear to you.  I want your legal advice.  I even pay for it.  But to me, you’re all vipers.  You live on personal injury, you live on divorces, you live on pain and misery!  But, I’m rambling.  Coffee anyone?

Lawyer:  I’ll have some coffee.

Mr. Burns:  Want it black, don’t you?  Black like your heart!  It’s so hard for me to listen to you, I HATE YOU ALL SO MUCH!

It’s enough to make you want to order grocery delivery.

{Break.}

Sometime in the past few weeks, I shared some of my writing with a secretary at work.  She read it, more to humor me than anything, I think.  The first story she read was The King of Belmer, my sole venture into Lovecraftian-horror.  (It will, by the way, be appearing in an e-book anthology called State of Terror: Louisiana, by Rymfire e-Books.  It should be out … sometime.)  The story concerns a somewhat annoying couple and their bayou adventure – and subsequent bad things that happen to one of them.  This secretary also read another of my stories.  Afterward, I asked her what I thought.  Her response?

"You don’t like women, do you?"

(This wouldn’t precisely come as a shock to Mrs. Axe, who has hinted that I harbor such sentiments.)

I never really thought about it.  My stories feature a lot of bad things happening to women.  A lot of bad things happen to the men, too.  I’ve written some heroic fiction – you know, white knight, paragon of virtue, that sort of thing – but it never resonates with me as well as the darker stuff.  Most of my protagonists are basically good / moral but have a lot of rough edges, and a lot of horrible things happen to good people – and bad people, and all kinds of people.  Why?

{Merge Break}

I did the best I could.  I tried to be calm but my patience snapped.  One lady had her damn cart turned sideways, blocking the entire aisle while she poked around in the spaghetti sauce.  My fingers clenched the handlebar until my knuckles were white.  I waited about two seconds for her to look up and see me there ….  then I pushed my cart into hers, knocking hers out of the way.  She glared at me but I ignored her.  Why?

Simple.  I don’t hate women.

I hate everyone.

Not a misogynist, sports fans.  A misanthrope.  Okay, I agree, "hate" is a strong word.  Too much energy tied up in that active emotion.  And most people aren’t worth that kind of effort.  Humanity is to be feared, distrusted, and when possible, ignored.

The Matrix is a good movie but the more I watch it, the more I start to agree with Agent Smith’s point-of-view.  Not that humans are viruses in some hippie, humans-are-a-cancer ecological silliness, but that humanity as a whole has not advanced very far from the jungle; we’re still the same greedy, narcissistic, selfish bastards we were when were still competing with the other chimps for control of the tribe. 

I can get along great with individuals.  People, as a group?  Uhm, when is the end of the world coming again?  I weep for an individual’s pain and suffering.  When aliens drop out of the sky and destroy our race as a threat to the good order of the universe, they would be right to do so.

I let someone else (not the same woman) read my Sheyla stories, which feature a female protagonist, who is bright, self-confident, and thinks before using her sword arm.  Many (but not all) of the men in that universe – those with whom Sheyla interacts – are stupid brutes, sexual deviants, or cowards.  Sheyla was my attempt at having a Conan-type character in a similarly amoral, unscrupulous world but with the extra challenge of being female (in a time & place where women were second-tier citizens).  The response?

"Seems like kind of a feminist tract."

You can’t please everyone.  Sometimes, you can’t please anyone.  I think I should move to a ranch in the western highlands where I don’t have any neighbors and can do my writing and woodworking, and live in peace….

Oh wait.  I still have to go to town and get groceries.

Dang.

If anyone would like to weigh in on my anti-woman leanings, feel free.

Sending a daughter away to college

So….

In the movie Spider-Man, Norman Osborne (who would become the Green Goblin) attempts to sell the military his soldier-enhancing drugs.  When pressed by the generals about the drugs’ potential hazards versus it’s suitability, one of Osborne’s scientists reluctantly says, "We need to go all the way back to formula," thus undercutting the sale – and earning a grisly death for the scientist and generals later in the movie.

"Back to formula."  As I sit here thinking about it, that’s the phrase that comes to mind when I think about my Sheyla stories.

As I referenced here, this one of my pet projects.  I really like the main character and very much enjoy writing her.  But as I consider it, I realize I was vastly unprepared to write about her adventures in her wider world, since I really don’t understand how her wider world functions.  My world building has always been a fly-by-night operation.  I can get away with it in a short story.  But on a longer piece, I am only seeing the inconsistencies, not the strengths.

Some of the errors are products of me taking so long between tales that I forget things; for example, in one story I referred to the armies of the Innorian Empire as "Lancers" and in another as "Legionnaires."  Both are placeholders anyway but it annoyed me to see the discrepancy in print.

Then there are more serious problems, such as the general tone of the Empire.  In one story it seems like a benign non-entity and in another I made it amoral and power-hungry.  I’ve had some geographical and weather inconsistencies.  Even the history isn’t safe.  These are the ones that drive me crazy.

Fortunately, it’s not a total loss.  My characters have been consistent; I think I’ve given Sheyla some growth and looking over her development as a character and a woman, it all gels together.  The plots are salvagable.

But I need to put some real thought into this world.  I’m afraid this will require some real dedication on my part and at the moment, I’m hip-deep on another project (my novel).

What’s the "tl;dr" version?  Sheyla is going on hiatus, until I have more time to devote to building up that world.  As I said in a previous post, she’s kind of like a daughter.  And the child deserves better than the half-assed attention I’m giving her.

Thus the post title.  It feels like I am sending her away for a while.  Parting is sad – but the end result will be better for us both.

Count Chocula goes rogue

Without ever meeting one in person, I can honestly say that vampires have sucked the life out of me. 

Vampires are a staple creature for fantasy and horror writers and have been for a very long time.  Drawn from the mists of antiquity, stories about the legends from our ancestors have a certain appeal to the little kid in all of us:  fear of that which lurks in the dark, just beyond the campfire’s light.  In an academic sense, I don’t mind the stories at all.  But now, it’s out of control.  Everywhere I turn in the spec fiction world, this is all I see.  Vampires, vampires, vampires ….  The whole concept is mildly maddening.  How did this craze ever start, anyway?  What made them "cool?"

I, for one, place the blame squarely on the book Interview with a Vampire – or more precisely, on the movie version.  That movie did two things:  one, it set the off the vampire craze, and two, convinced a lot of gullible people that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt had acting talent.

Since then, things are out of control.  Vampires are everywhere.  On the shelves (Twilight series and pretty much everything by Laurel Hamilton), on the small screen (Buffy, Angel, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Forever Knight) and the big screen (Twilight (again), Vampire’s Assistant, Blade, Let the Right One In, Daybreakers).  Those are just the ones I thought of right away; I am certain there are many other popular versions I overlooked.  And more are coming out all the time.  This, of course, does not include those whose ideas have not surfaced.  I know at least three writers working on their own vampire-centric series.

So what is the appeal?  I guess the longevity and immortality of the characters, the mystique, and some sense of animal magnetism at work in their sex appeal.  In most of these cases, the vampires are presented as the heroes and protagonists – or at the very least, simply another viewpoint in the myriad mesh of our world.  So what if they prey on people, right?  They’re just misunderstood.

Personally, I don’t get it.  Vampires and other fiends of humanity’s dreams are supposed to be just that: the fiends and demons, the representation of the darkness within us all.  When we start downgrading those monsters to the level of confused and lovable scamps, do we lose sight of what evil is?  In my own Sheyla stories, I have one character that is a werewolf.  I try very hard to make it clear that the character considers the wolf within a curse, something only to be unleashed in extreme situations – and that his companions understand there is a risk every time that he will lose control and succumb to his bloodlust.  I never want them to think he’s a good guy for being a monster.

I’ve had some people tell me that evil is a simplistic concept.  My response to them is to look in the eyes of a veteran who walked into Dachau – or one of the few survivors of Tuel Sleng in Cambodia – and tell them evil does not exist.  It’s out there and all the wishing otherwise doesn’t change the fact.  John J. Miller said (and I am paraphrasing), "A society that is unable to identify the monsters in its literature will be unable to identify the terrorists in its airport."  I think there is a lot of truth in that.

So I am somewhat annoyed and worn out on the vampire rush.  Yeah, in a few cases (30 Days of Night, From Dusk til Dawn), they are pretty much portrayed as unrelenting evil.  But those are lost in the torrent of the "cool vampire" stories clogging every medium.  It’s tired.  Move on, people, and work on something else.  And not zombies.  This is the next sub-genre that is doomed to be screwed by overexposure, though few are portraying them as the good guys.

And just an FYI, to my mind, the single best vampire movie out there from the last fifteen years was John Carpenter’s Vampires.  Bad guys were bad, good guys were – well, not good, but they were definitely on the right side of things.  They did the bad, dirty work to protect people from the real bad guys.  Besides, James Woods summed it up with this quote about their quarry:

Ever seen a vampire?  No?  Well first of all, they’re not romatic. Its not like they’re a bunch of fuckin’ fags hoppin’ around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies: they don’t turn into bats, crosses don’t work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you fucking over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he’s suckin’ the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don’t sleep in coffins lined in taffata. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin’ heart. Sunlight turns ’em into crispy critters.

I wish the same applied to the vampire literature out there  Maybe if they stop now, it’ll be worth approaching in twenty years.  As it is, enough is enough.

Daily Update #3

Okay, with nothing else to discuss, here is my current update:

– I finished writing a story yesterday called "The King of Belmer" for a specific anthology.  This one gave me fits but I think it is workable now.  The plot is somewhat predictable but I hope the prose and characterization will carry it.  Once I get it revised, off it goes.  Keep your fingers crossed, ’cause if they don’t want it, it will be a hard sell elsewhere.

– I finished writing a story called "The Farmer of Devanda," about a retired official who just wants to be left alone.  Of course, it never works out that way.  Nearly four thousand words and I cranked it out in just a few hours.  I think it’s good but I’ll digest if for a bit, revise, and post for some reviews sometime this week. 

– I also have a germ of an idea for a craftsman who makes a Faustian deal with a shadowy figure.  That’s my next project.

– I worked a bit on Sheyla outlines, fleshing out the next story.  I really, really need to get back to rewriting the earlier tales.  I re-did the first one (The Wolves of Borra Shael) last summer and it was infinitely better in terms of pacing, prose, and consistent character behavior.  It’s out for consideration.

– I submitted a couple more stories, including one called, "A Bird in the Hand," which I sent to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  I really like their magazine and this would be try number … five, I think.  I had one story make it all the way through their slush process but it stagnated in the editor selection pile and eventually came back to me.  I’ll keep trying, ’cause they put out some fun stuff.

– Another submission went to New Myths e-zine, where Victory Crayne is an assistant editor (Victory, please forgive me if that’s the wrong title).  Victory wrote an absolutely awesome guide for critiquing spec fiction, which you can see here.  It’s what I use when I write a critique for my peers – and gives me some things to consider in my own work.  So whether NewMyths accepts my work or not, I’ll always be grateful to her for having that guide out there.  (I don’t know Ms. Crayne, but I tend to be pretty informal, so many apologies to Victory if she reading this and feels I am too forward in referring to her by first name.)

More to follow … maybe I’ll have a sale to report next time.  (Yeah and pigs might fly out – well, you know the rest.)

Red Sonja Redux – AKA My “daughter” Sheyla

No, this isn’t about that craptacular movie with Brigette Nielson.  Blarg.  That film was an insult to fantasy movies.  And even though it may not come to fruition, this isn’t about the remake produced by Robert Rodriguez.  It could be, because I’m a fan of his work.  But it’s not.  This isn’t even about the comic version of Red Sonja (though again, it could be – Adriano Batista has done outstanding work on the covers, some of which you can see here).

Sidebar:  for an awesome portrait of the character, see this picture on DeviantArt.  The proportions are right, muscle-tone is great, and her look is flinty and beautiful.  Fantastic.

No, this about my Red Sonja.  Or Red Sonja as she should have been, in my humble opinion.  This is about my character, Sheyla.

Sheyla is a red-headed teenager from a tiny fishing village in the Borran Isles, which are part of the Innorian Empire.  Early on, some tragedy forces her to leave the Isles and head out into the world as an adventurer.  Along the way, she gets tangled in a wide variety of plots, intrigue, love, and adventures.

Sheyla’s story actually started as a throwaway tale and has gone through a few iterarations so far.  I like to think I did this the right way; I eschewed the rape-lead-to-fantasy-powers origin, which I always thought was a bit facile.  Instead, Sheyla’s skills are evolving as the story goes.  She spends time a lot of time learning and training.  She’s not invincible.  She’s been overpowered before and more than once, has to rely on her brains and feet instead of her sword arm.  She’s not perfect and though attractive, certainly not a ravishing beauty.  And though I have nothing against the concept, she doesn’t strut about in a chainmail bikini.

But what I hope she does do is prove to be an appealing character to readers.  She’s brave, resourceful, and her attitude has evolved from a naive village girl to a battle-hardened, practical adventurer … and that is what I hope the reader sees and enjoys.  I hope, I hope, I hope….

I have five Sheyla stories finished.  I had six but scrapped one.  So far, we have:

The Wolves of Borra Shael
The Creeping Horde
Brigands and Broken Dreams
He Who is Cursed
Fall of the Prophet

And I am completely rewriting "The City of Rust," which would be #6.  I have two more outlined, and conceptualized at least two others.

All told, the first five stories are 15K to 25K words long each.  If I did my math right, they add up to about 100K words.  Right in the sweet spot for a paperback..

So … any publishers out there who want to take a look?  I’ll hold my breath … for a little while, anyway.