Thursday, August 29, 2013

Q&A and an excerpt from Shadow Galactic

Q&A

Q: How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?
I tend to be inspired by real life heroes, and I have an intensely visual imagination. When those two things intersect, I get sparks of inspiration, and entire worlds unfold. I fall in love with fantastic settings and throw normal people into them. Also, I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars and comic books, so a lot of those elements get caught in my lens.

Q: What is your process in getting ready to write?
I start with the setting at its broadest level and zoom in until I have the character I want to carry the hero's burden upon their shoulders. A lot of time is spent visualizing the world, its natural challenges, and how confronting them on a regular basis might shape the culture of the people who call that world their home. From there, I give a lot of time to research, to character backstory, and to naming everything I can think of. When I'm done, I make a list of character and location abstracts to refer to while writing, so as to avoid continuity violations. After that's locked down, I outline each chapter of the book. With all those things in place, I'm ready to type the first words.

Q: What is the overall writing process? (listen to music, quiet, etc.)
Oddly enough, it's a rather uncomfortable series of internal switches that must be flipped in order for me to reach the state of mind where I can actually write. I feel like I always want to write, but with things like life occurring amidst all that want, it's a desire that's constantly sidelined. It takes some quiet to start, and sometimes a lot of staring at the ceiling. After that's out of the way, I sit down and queue up some Basshunter, Enya, Daft Punk or one of their equivalent stations on Spotify and lose myself in the music. It just sort of flows after that, and it's suddenly a couple hours later. I don't get enough sleep when I'm writing.

Q: How do you go about researching for your books?
Wikipedia is a very dear friend and good starting point. I try to be as accurate as I can be in portraying subcultures, as well as what physics I'm obeying and disregarding, so my research travels take me far and wide. Some of my favorite sites include:
nasa.gov
fenichel.com
mayoclinic.com
fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.asp
life.bio.sunysb.edu/marinebio/
audubon.org
physlink.com and
what-if.xkcd.com

Q: What do you do for character development and character interaction?
It try to imagine the kinds of parents my characters had, and the kinds of parents their parents had. I put the predecessors into the setting I've developed and try to imagine what challenges they faced and how that would shape their priorities. I imagine what mistakes they made in the character's upbringing, and how that has affected social interaction, what insecurities it's generated, and what confidence has developed as a result of facing those challenges. At that point, I challenge the character with the brutal aspects of the setting and give them a chance to grow.

As for interaction, I try to imagine what psychological triggers lurk under the surface for each of the characters (poor Valerie Sawyer towards the end of Shadow Galactic). From there, I imagine how they've coped with emotional scars, what they would normally feel, and what they would do when they can't afford to feel what they want. I let those states drive conflicting emotions that in turn drive as authentic conversations as I can imagine. I try to make my characters decisive and somewhat archetypal, both for ease of writing and for giving the reader something familiar in an otherwise unfamiliar environment. I write and rewrite dialogue five or six times before settling on the cadence and final exposition.

Q: How do you figure out the motivation behind the heroes? The villians?
The motivations behind the heroes are pretty simple: they seek friendship, love and security, but more than that, they're courageous. My heroes are willing to face their fears, even if it costs them everything.

Writing believable villains is a bit more challenging. A villain is someone who is willing to put their own desires (no matter how depraved) above the wellbeing of everybody else between them and reaching their goals. They're willing to kill their peers. And while writing a homicidal psychotic is a pretty easy solution, it doesn't make for a very complex character. I saw or read somewhere that "normal" people only ever kill for three reasons: money, love or to cover something up. So I ask myself: what drove my villain to this point? Lodoxol's father was murdered. Regardless of the circumstances, he loved his father dearly. He is willing to kill for love. Rowan too, in a sense.


Shadow Galactic Excerpt

Amanda joined Lodoxol within the Operations Room. Looking to his crew, she said, “Can we have a moment, please?” They paused to regard her. “It won’t take long.”

“Sir?” replied one of the soldiers.

“You heard her,” snapped Lodoxol. “Everyone, out. Now!” Hurriedly, his soldiers rose from their stations and exited the room. The moment they were gone, Lodoxol turned fierce eyes on Amanda and snarled, “Never do that again! You overstep your bounds, eh hm.”

“Stow it. You need me.”

Lodoxol raised his hand, but he flinched as his belt turned suddenly to dust, and his pants began to slip. He committed both hands to holding up his pants. Eyes wide, grinning, he whispered, “You did it! You learned how to do it!”

Amanda smiled roguishly. “Damn right, I did! Look, if we’re going to save the Earth from my brother, we’re going to do it together, as equals. Understand?” Lodoxol appeared to be choking as he wrung the top of his pants. “And I need some assurances. I heard a few unsavory rumors about you while I was down there, and I’d like to put them to rest.”

Gradually, his cheeks returned to their usual river mud coloration. His eyes lost their red rims, and he exhaled coolly. In a hush, he asked, “What were you told?”

“It doesn’t matter, because I choose not to believe it.”

“Then the rumors are already put to rest, eh hm.”

Shaking her head, Amanda countered, “Not exactly. I still have plenty of doubts about the quality of your character. After all, you did essentially kidnap me from my home world right after you threw a truck at me. I understand why: you’re looking at the bigger picture, but a normal, compassionate person may have chosen to go about things in a more socially acceptable fashion.”

“I have repeatedly offered to return you to Afskya, eh hm.”

“And every time I took you up on it, you had another reason why we couldn’t go back just yet. Always an apology and a promise of soon.” She crossed her arms. “But I was kind of stuck here without any sort of leverage, so I didn’t push too hard.” She chuckled quietly. “I guess I’m still stuck here, but now I have leverage.” Pointedly, she glanced to the ring of leather dust at Lodoxol’s feet.

Lodoxol smiled, his triangular lips slick with saliva, and his snout twitched. “I see. You’re not so unlike your brother, after all.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t turn this around on me. I’m just asking that you do one good thing for me, before I sign papers, so to speak. One good thing, as a show of good faith, and that we do this as equals.”

“Ellogon culture has very strict roles assigned to men and women. My men will not take well to being ordered around by you. They may resist, eh hm.”

Amanda shrugged. “I don’t give a shit. Show them your belt if they need convincing. Believe me when I say that however this goes, I am no longer your subordinate.”

“Your tone has made that abundantly clear.” He tilted his head somewhat. “What good deed would you have me undertake?”

With a triumphant smile, she answered, “I’m not sure yet. Let’s check the Mayday channel.”

“A fine idea, eh hm.” Rigidly, Lodoxol led Amanda from the Operations Room to the Costaguana’s bridge. Along the way, he stopped by the quartermaster’s office for a new belt.

They soon reached the command deck, and its bulkhead hissed open to reveal a large, circular chamber. Along the walls immediately to her left and right, auxiliary stations formed a semicircle, each with a chair placed before it. Several paces out, just to her right, the captain’s roost sat between two other seats. Ahead of the officers’ stations, a trio of wide terminals rose at an angle from the deck, with two chairs placed before each of the tactical stations. Overhead, a narrow ring of green light radiated out, joined by four wide, illuminated spokes that spanned the entire width of the ceiling. They bore the central ring’s same shade of green.

The officer of the watch bolted upright and rumbled something in native Ellogon, so deep in tone that Amanda had difficulty distinguishing unique sounds. He glared her way as he addressed his captain. Others rose from their stations, clearly incensed by Amanda’s presence. Lodoxol answered in Ellogon at first, but he quickly followed with, “At ease, all of you. We sail a Terran starship, and we must be prepared to accept certain Terran customs. From this point forth, whenever you’re in the presence of this woman, you will all restrict your conversations to English. If you’re not fluent, you will be silent.”

The officer of the watch leaned in close. “So this is what your glorious plans have come to?” He tugged on his red uniform, a fading remnant of the once great Ellogon Empire. “We don’t wear these for the pride of our people, son of Perymdak. Remember that!”

His captain’s eyes flashed, and Lodoxol snarled, “Amanda, a demonstration, if you please.” He stepped back, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“Nope,” she responded, and Lodoxol turned wide eyes her way. “What’s your name?”

The officer of the watch spat on the deck at her feet.

“Ah, insubordination. That’s one day’s wages, according to your contract.” She looked to two able-bodied soldiers and added, “Plus a day in the brig. Take Officer Angry Spit to his cell.”

“I will never heed the command of a woman,” growled the officer of the watch.

“The thing is, I share the captaincy with Lodoxol now, and I’ve had plenty of time to familiarize myself with the Costaguana’s bylaws, as well as the contracts each one of you mercenaries signed.” Her expression darkened. “Brig. Now.”

With a primal Ellogon howl, he lunged at Amanda, his hands outstretched. Instantly, his clothing turned to dust, and he found himself choking on his roar. Desperately, he tried to cover his shame, and he dove behind one of the tactical stations.

Lodoxol guffawed. “Well done, Amanda, eh hm. Well done! Although I might have preferred something a bit more lethal.”

Startled by her display, it took the soldiers she had indicated only a moment more to collect themselves and restrain the officer of the watch. They led him stumbling from the bridge. One by one, the remainder of the command crew stood up slowly and saluted their new co-captain.

“Good,” said Amanda, and she returned the salute. “Who handles ship’s communications?”

An ellogon to her right raised his hand. “I do, sir.”

She narrowed her gaze and muttered, “Close enough.” With a contained smile, she approached him and said, “I need you to tune in to the Mayday channel. We’re looking for someone that really needs help, but who isn’t likely to get it in time.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Q&A: World Building

Q: What process do you use when creating a new world?
A: When devising a new world, I ask myself the following questions:
• What kind of star does it orbit?  There are only a small range of star types that allow for a habitable zone to naturally occur.  With the possibilities of advanced terraforming, that range is expanded, but not by very much.  However, it does allow for some "dead stars" to provide a planetary home for frontier colonies.
• How large is the planet and what is its chemical composition?  Again, there is only a finite range of planet sizes and densities that would ever support ongoing intelligent life, regardless of how advanced terraforming ever gets.  On top of that, that planet must be part of a 3rd generation star system (or younger) and have sufficient raw materials to sustain a colony, or at least to pique the interest of developers.
• There's a lot of mysteries in the galaxy!  What mysteries make sense for this planet?  For reasons that are puzzling at present, many outer galactic rim worlds demonstrate high concentrations of iron and gold.  This is contrary to what is expected, based on the life cycles of star systems within the Milky Way.  With those blurred lines in mind, I take a few liberties with some of the hard science in order to create some fantastic locations.
• If geological and bio-diversity are largely predictable, and if Earth is a pretty good sampling of what we can expect to find elsewhere in the universe, what features distinguishes an entire PLANET from other planets?  I spend a lot of time imagining how the rise of one dominant species might influence the fate of an entire world.  While survival and environment did much to shape human culture long ago, humans have in turn had a direct and measurable impact on the surface and climate of Earth, driven largely by a need to expand, survive and create.  Our means of doing do have determined what tools we use, and those in turn have influenced much of our arts and culture.  So, what if a species of bird born to a higher-gravity world rose to dominance?  I give you Afskya, and I give you the ospyreans.

Q: What is your favorite one so far and why?
A: My favorite world so far is probably K'n-yal, because it's pretty mysterious.  It has a complex, aggressively regenerative ecosystem that is driven by a sentient, unknown intelligence implied to be on a planetary scale.  As the series progresses, I look forward to peeling back the layers until the heart and soul of K'n-yal is revealed.  Second to that, I'd say it's a tie between Huya, for its gritty mix of rustic life and high tech culture, and Ixion Prime, for its beauty.  Of course, the hologram-laden high-rises and floating markets of Thasad are pretty awesome to imagine, and the endless dunes of Ry'lyeh would be breathtaking.