Thursday, February 28, 2013

DeviantArt Spotlight - Inetgrafx

The artwork below is copyrighted to inetgrafx. I make no claim to this work as my own.

One of the many things I do to stem writer’s block and keep the creative juices flowing is surfing (insert link) deviantART. Just by checking out the most popular submissions over the last eight hours every couple of days is more than enough to give some flash of insight into a story arc that may be waiting to burst, or un-stall one waiting to carry on. It may not be a full-fledged story, but a component on one I’m currently working on – scenery scenes are spectacular for this. In my own way, I’d like to recognize these artists for truly amazing artwork, be it photography, ink on canvas, or manipulated photons in digital form.

Chinese Monestary by Daniel Kvasznicza

Chinese Monestary by Daniel Kvasznicza (inetgrafx on DeviantArt), really emotes and epic scale, a scope to the structure and its position in the mountains, overlooking and protecting the valley below.  The multiple pagodas and towers hint at a series of structures built upon the next, demonstrating the structures age.  The lower levels show smaller sub-structures for logistical functions, storage and for the peasant caste.  The high ridges on either side protect the structure from the flanks, the only real approach hinted at from the far side, under the watchful eye of the parapets and upper pagodas.  You may not have noticed how deep the structure is; truly near city sized.  If you look hard enough at the smaller structures dead center you catch glimpses of people moving about, providing a reference for just how massive this castle truly is.

The emotional connection with this picture is quick and deep.  My fantasy manuscript is set in a quasi-Japanese setting with heavy influences from Chinese and Korean culture and history.  The samurai that rule the J’in Empire would very likely have constructed something like this in a crucial mountain pass, or a high feature overlooking a key valley.  A structure such as this was the inspiration for a castle that was attacked by a goblin invasion force, the results entirely lop-sided and favouring the goblins.  The result of this begged the question:  How would a herd-like race typically favouring stampeding charges en masse have the capability to destroy such a formidable structure?  The answer to this question is the subversive and driving force behind the antagonists and their agenda.

The inspiration this piece provides is just spectacular.  The majesty and detail of the work takes you right into it.

Check out the other works, professional and personal on his website, linked in the comments below the DeviantArt piece.  He also has quite a varied and impressive list of credits!  Working with a company out of Montreal, Quebec, Meduzarts has a series of works that will inspire and impress, with a client list and project files that will equally raise your eyebrows.  If I were ever to translate my fantasy setting into a book or role-playing game, I’d love to see this artist’s artwork play a major part in it.  The fact he’s also from Canada doesn’t hurt either....

Friday, February 22, 2013

Get Your Geek On! Oh, And Write Too.

One of my favourite past-times, aside from writing speculative fiction, is playing table-top war games.  Warhammer 40k was the first one that caught my attention, back in grade 7 when one of my classmates brought in his older brother’s White Dwarf magazines.  White Dwarf is a Games Workshop publication for all their games, Warhammer 40k inclusive.  I saw the pictures and read the army descriptors and the various units and fell in love.
Not until years later did I get into the game.  Other game systems joined my repertoire of table-top gaming, now dwindled back down to just my 40k armies.  The cost of the game in terms of cash for the models and time to paint the miniatures certainly curtails how much I get to play, but I still game as much as I can.

The odd thing is how much my wife accuses me of being a closet gamer.  Frankly I consider myself a closet geek.  Being an officer in the military certainly doesn’t lend itself to bragging rights over playing games involving little painted plastic models, or writing thus far unpublished speculative fiction for that matter (aren’t I the optimist).  On that vein, it seems that a lot of writers keep their passion a secret, tucked away and reduced to when their friends or colleagues aren’t around.  Described as such, it almost sounds like an addiction.
Getting together with other gamers certainly lets me get my geek on; no pressure, same interests, etc.  The people certainly vary, in age, employment, income, you name it.  Great, now I’ve made my gaming group sound like a rehab session; group therapy for the gaming afflicted.  Living with a major military base nearby does draw more than its fair share of military personnel into the hobby.  There is a gaming club on base, primarily for tabletop gaming, which I unfortunately can’t participate in due to timings and distance.  The local gaming store is the only real venue, which includes a number of the base club players as well; I can say with certainty that I am one of the few officers that shows up to play.
I was more than a little surprised by the recent email and phone call from another captain that used to work in my Branch, asking whether I played Warhammer 40k.  The cryptic email was worded almost in code, or certainly would have looked that way to the uninitiated.  We talked and I discovered someone else with the same passion for tabletop gaming.
Then I wondered about how this reflects on my writing hobby.  Not everyone is open about this little part of their lives, almost embarrassed or afraid how others would react – especially so when you ask them to read your work, or they themselves ask.  What will be their reaction?  Will they enjoy it?  Will they hate it?  Agents and publishers are strangers, phantoms unknown at the other end of an email address that make a yes or (typically) no judgement.  When dealing with friends and family, things somehow seem more personal. 
I’ve never allowed anyone to read my fantasy manuscript, largely because it was far from finished, let alone polished.  Now that I’ve completed the final draft, I’ve started sending bits and pieces off to be reviewed, to see where it stands.  It’s soon off to either finding a beta reader or through the rounds with agents and publishers.  This leads me to wonder, how many others out there have closeted their ambitions to being a published author from friends and family?  Is it something you keep hushed away?
NB:  For the sake of clarity, I don’t want anyone to think I have minimized the trials of those with addiction.  In my position I am privy to the sometimes sordid and wretched results this may cause.  I would also like to applaud those who have beaten their particular ‘dragon’ or continue to fight their personal battles.

NB 2:  I feel I must make a statement about the recent and, in my personal opinion, atrocious handling of the whole 'Space Marine' is a trademarked term for book and e-book publications.  As you can imagine, most any reasonable person, typically a concept used in the basis for legal decisions, would find any credence to GW's claim.  I don't think they have a leg to stand on and am absolutely thrilled to see Amazon re-offer the book that caused the kerfuffle. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Speculative Fiction for Budding Authors

To take the lead from authors such as Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card, I’ll classify speculative fiction to include science fiction and fantasy, as well as the myriad of sub-genres out there (i.e. steam punk).  Thankfully, my interests in writing bridge from fantasy into the wider spectrum of genres of speculative fiction.  I have a number of short stories and ideas for some novels in a science fiction setting, both set in different future Earths.  Why does this matter?  Well, apparently the market has a huge influence on what avenues most writers pursue to get published.
For the most part, short story outlets (be they magazines or short story compendiums) are where the majority of new writers get their first publications.  Most of these outlets are either purely or predominantly science fiction.  The options for the budding fantasy author in the paying and large circulation short fiction milieus are much fewer and farther between.  This isn’t a rebuke or critique of the system; it simply reflects the market demands.  The fewer places one can go to submit fantasy short stories, the more and more it makes you lean towards full-length novels to find a way to express the stories you wish to express.  The other option of course is to throw your story into the mix with the others in the crowded fantasy market.  This I have done and will continue to do so.  I thankfully also have a number of ideas to springboard outside of the fantasy genre.
This of course doesn’t discount the novelization avenue for a speculative fiction story, be it science fiction or fantasy.  It certainly is the harder of the two to break into, with the obvious pay-offs dramatically higher, both financially and professionally.  Thousands of budding authors present what they hope to be the next best seller to an industry that is also looking for the next book to sell millions of copies and make them money.  It is a business, and the model is ever adapting with the introduction of electronic formats of publications.
What does this mean for me?  Well, my darling manuscript at the moment is the first of a hopeful series tentatively called the Ochra Cycle.  I’ve retooled it and reworked it from the initial behemoth of 182k words – yeah, that sucker was over 700 pages long.  Looking back at the first draft, I shake my head.  Ludicrous, ridiculous and a number of other choice adjectives come to mind.  Heck, it was painful to read.  The current version is down to around 90k – less than half – and better by an immeasurable magnitude. 
This doesn't mean it is finished or polished.
I started vetting it (for lack of a better term) over at the Absolute Write forums.  There were a number of glaring issues I was blind to until someone else pointed them out, as well as some incredibly helpful suggestions and ways to correct things.  For the most part, reaction to the storyline has been really positive as well, which is encouraging.  Off to re-write version two-point-oh and see what the fine folks at AW think.
I can’t wait to correct things and get it out there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sources of Inspiration

Weird news reports more imaginative than anything you could imagine.  I remember hearing a famous personality (singer, actor, politician, whatever) say that they never read fiction, they read biographies and documentary non-fiction exclusively – fiction wasn’t nearly as entertaining and engrossing as real life.  I recall my initial thoughts were “How narrow-minded.  Fiction is a way to escape and let your imagination take flight.”  As an aspiring novelist, I now fully realize just how exceedingly short-sighted and paradoxical my original opinion was.  One of the things I’ve been striving to accomplish is a clear sense of realism, insofar as it is set in speculative fictional serttings.  What I mean is the reactions and emotional drive of the characters should match their personality, given the choices they have and resources at hand.  Personally I find nothing worse than seeing a character saved from the frying pan by some magical stone they just happened to pick up, or some mega-character swoops in and saves the day.  The tropes that have permeated fantasy and science fiction novels are many and often repeated.  How to make it different?
A prime example might be George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  The magic is minimalistic, the dragons number three total, and not until well into the series.  The majority of the action is based on high political drama set in a medieval setting, with a brutal war ravaging the main continent told by about 21,238 different points of view (I exaggerate, but maybe we could round down to 21k).  Don’t get me wrong, this series had me hooked and I can’t wait to see how it and the television adaptations develop.  What had me hooked were the engrossing (in some cases just plain gross) character developments and the way he shows them adapt and react.  There are winners, there are losers, and the losers are typically given the dubious reprieve of losing their heads.  Whatever the case, it appears that most reactions are based on what a person would reasonably come up with, given the scenario.  There are tropes to be sure, yet it is political fantasy that grips the reader like the snappy dialogue of the television programs the West Wing, Battlestar Galactica and other high calibre shows.  I suppose GRRM’s background writing/producing for television might be something of an influence.
So how does one escape the trap that is fantasy tropism?  One method typically pushed is to read widely in your field.  I read reams of science fiction and fantasy, which provides a gauge for what the industry would or would not accept; at the very least, how to differentiate myself.  Another method would have to be reading outside of your field, to get an idea for different ways of showing a reader what you wish to explain.  Reading non-fiction and auto/biographies certainly gives another basis from which to draw upon.  Finally, just plain real life in general can provide some invaluable clues or triggers for a story.  Some of the really bizarre news articles are you just couldn’t come up with yourself.  I know, I’ve tried it, and I’ve got a particularly vivid and flourishing imagination.  Cases in point: