Writing Progress Report

I haven’t posted a book progress update in a while. So here is one. The fourth Dome of Souls novel is all but ready. It’s proofread, I have a cover, only thing I need to do is to format it and start the publishing process.
Under my pseudonym, I also have a cover for the latest beast and it is ready and currently at the proofreader. Once I get it back, I have to make the final changes and then that one will be good to go too.
So what’s keeping me from doing the final steps of the fourth Dome of Souls novel? The fifth one! 😉 I’m in the process of writing its first draft and it’s been going very smoothly and quickly and I’m already at 75,000 words. I expect the beast to have between 90,000 and 100,000 words in the end, so not much more to go. I’m pushing for the completion of the first draft to stay in the nice and steady creation flow it is in now. While Dome 3 = Jeronimo and Dome 4 = “title to be announced soon”, took a while to write, Dome 5 is like Dome 2 = The Anatomy of Anarchy, it practically wrote itself, because the story was all very clear in my head already.
It was and is a great pleasure to be writing Dome 5 due to this “the book writes” itself aspect. I’m at it for seven weeks now and I suppose the first draft will be finished after ten weeks or so. That would be my second quickest time ever for finishing the first draft of a novel, the fastest being and probably remaining “To Mix and To Stir”, the second Hagen Patterson novel, which took me a mere five weeks to write.
I’m always talking about the initial drafts here, the self-editing etc. process is so much longer than the first draft. “To Mix and To Stir” remains the fastest book also in the department of the overall process including self-editing, and editing/proofreading by someone else. To Mix and To Stir came out nine months after I started with the beast.
The pseudonym book coming out soon is the second fastest. Since I suppose it will be ready in January or February, it took/will take 13 or 14 months from writing to putting it out there. So far so good! I better get back to Dome 5, because I am itching to finish that first draft :-)
Dome 4 will probably come out in January or February too, once I get around to formatting it 😉 Cheers!

Writing Update

I’ve not announced a writing update in an age! So here is one. 🙂 I’m in the last stages of review for my fourth Dome of Souls novel before I will hand it over to a proofreader. Meaning the beast will come out before the end of the year, I hope. My alter ego (I’m also writing books under a pseudonym) is in the same stage with the (maybe) last installation of a trilogy. Theoretically there would be room for another part of the story, but for the moment it’s done. But back to Regina. So the fourth Dome of Souls novel: Remember when the sacked Keepers of Jeronimo left for the freshly found New Earth without telling the revolutionists back home where it is?
We are making a jump into the future again and a thousand years after the fall of Jeronimo, the Earthlings are finding their lost brothers on New Earth. However, what they find is not exactly what they imagined they would. Evil grin.

I must say I struggled a bit through the writing of this beast, since it represented the challenge of two cultures clashing and how to portray those, which is an aspect absent from the three earlier Dome of Souls novels where everything happened within one culture which was in the process of changing itself from within. The culture clash this time was of course interesting and a new aspect, but I did fight with how to, in my opinion, “correctly” portray such a culture clash. It is however a nice preparation for the fifth book, which will (finally) take us to Bahrein. I’m greatly looking forward to writing that beast and since it’s quite detailed in my mind (at least to a much larger extent than number four was when I started), I think the writing process will be quite fast and smooth for the Bahreinian one, though you never know. I guess I can start working on that beast in autumn.

Other than that there are two stand-alone novels slumbering. One has been shopped around agents already without a result, the other is ready to be shopped around with agents, but I’m not finding the patience and energy to write the agent advertising package for that one.
Both stand-alones have the disadvantage of being rather short, just 65,000 words, and most publishers want stuff that’s longer than 70,000 words. Ridiculous that a story can be judged by something like this, but…
I’ll try to send one off to a few publishers, the other to a few agents and after a while give up and bring them out myself again. Though I’m undecided yet whether they’ll be under my name or the pseudonym.
So, I’m busy as usual and my pseudonym has gotten a few fans on whatpadd, just five people or so, but nevertheless it feels good to get encouragement from people who don’t know me personally 😉
And thus the never-ending writing journey continues!

Japan Writers Conference 2017 Report

It’s been a while since I attended the Japan Writer’s Conference, but since it happened in Tokyo this year, I was able to go for one of its two days.
It was great to meet some old friends and acquaintances.
The seminars were a pleasure to attend and a nice distraction from the day job.

The first seminar I went to by Marie Orise dealt with the “downdraft” and the “updraft” of a work of fiction. The downdraft is the first draft, the updraft is the refining, self-editing part of the fiction writing process. Marie made a poll concerning who has more trouble getting the story on paper and who has more trouble refining it. The audience was divided nearly fifty-fifty. I definitely belong into the category of finding the updraft harder to do. I have no problem at all getting a story written. But then refining it, oh my, what an act.
Some hints from Marie what to look for in the updraft were:
If something doesn’t “spark joy”, delete it.
Delete mundane details, no matter how much you like them.
Sometimes it helps to keep the three unities of theater in the back of your mind: The unities of action, place and time and to streamline your story with their help.
Always ask yourself what you want to say, how much of it and in what order.
I shall keep on struggling with the updraft and thanks for the tips, Marie.

Hans Brinckmann did a great seminar on how he turned his WW2 memoirs into two publications and it was fascinating to listen to his memories of when he was a twelve year old boy in Nazi Germany occupied Holland. It’s been a while since I listened to an eye witness report from WW2.

SciFi trilogy author Eli K.P. William’s topic was author voice and other voices like the narrator’s or the characters’ voices in a work of fiction.
Especially since I’m writing in a foreign language, I think it’s difficult to acquire a distinctive author’s voice. I was especially grateful for Eli’s tips on how to make your different characters sound less “the same”. His suggestions were: make “rules” for each character what kind of words they use (e.g. Someone has a Scottish accent), major characters have “dialogue tags” (e.g. Someone says “Oh Lord” all the time and you know it’s that guy speaking and you don’t need an “Z said” so often.), vary the rhythm of speech, imagine characters voices in your head while you write and edit, never let your character say something that’s obvious to the others present (also known as the “as you know, Bob” phenomenon. ) though sometimes this is very tricky, when you have characters explaining essential plot things to each other.
Let’s see if I can implement that into my future stories 😉

The last seminar I attended was on how to get an anthology together. Susan Laura Sullivan and Suzanne Kamata presented their long journeys as anthology editors and I admire the persistence and stamina they had in putting these anthologies together. I especially liked the cover of Susan’s anthology. That’s one nice display of muscles which I’d like to have 😉

The evening dinner had a special feature to offer too, five writers, including the author Peter Marsh, performed songs for a musical Peter wrote. Now that’s something you don’t get to hear or see every day! Congrats to a great performance!

Even though the next Japan Writers Conference will be held in Hokkaido, I hope to be able to attend!

Novel Gardening

They say that there are two basic author types, the architects and the gardeners. The architects construct the plot, framework, outline of their next novel in detail and when they start writing they “follow the plan” and fill the skeleton with flesh. The gardeners start from a naked field and let things grow as they go along without much outlining, structuring, chapter lists etc.

I always considered myself a hybrid between those two, there was usually some planning going on. For some novels I have made a chapter by chapter outline, thus being quite an architect, although I often didn’t stick to the original plan and threw the chapter by chapter outline over board to let gardening take over.
My newest endeavor though, which is as of today 48,000 words long, is the most extreme case of gardening I have done so far and I’m surprised at myself 😉

I had a vague idea for a novel about a year ago and wrote down only a few sentences in my novel idea collection file then simply started writing it out of the blue in July.
Zero outline, zero chapter list, zero plan, just an idea. I wasn’t even sure whether this was novel or novella material but simply felt the urge to start. I am amazed by the free flow of ideas for this project. At around page 80 it completely changed direction, at page 130, I introduced another POV (point of view) character that had not existed until page 120. Now the thing has, or rather will have three parts (just parts within a novel, not sequels or a series). Part one told from POV character A, part two told from newly born, never thought of before POV character B, and for the last part I’ll alternate the POV between those two major characters of whom one, to repeat myself, didn’t exist until page 120.

I still have no clue how this novel will end. It’s incredibly awesome to write it, since every page is a surprise. I have no idea what will happen next, I’ll see as I go along. I had to reverse engineer part one a bit after finishing part two a few days ago, let’s see if I have to reverse engineer some more after the entire thing is done.
It’s also, I believe, my quirkiest novel as of yet. It’s sort of science fantasy by the way. And since I have no clue where this will go, it’s great fun to write this novel!

It’s becoming clear to me though that, at least in my case, the material determines the approach. Some stories have to be outlined but some thrive better if there is no elaborate plan. Plot-based material needs to be constructed, but idea-based material needs more freedom to develop. I’m thrilled to see what the new beast will become 😉

Why I am Bothering to Write Fiction in this Day and Age

Author Kameron Hurley is writing for Locus once in a while and I really liked her latest article, but I feel the urge to write a „response“ from the other end of the spectrum.

Yes, I do have hundreds of rejections slips at home, yes, I have workshopped my work in peer groups extensively in the Tokyo Writers Workshop in the past and also Odyssey Online for five years. Yes, I have leveled up extensively over the past years and my novels now are a lot better than five years ago. Yes, I do believe in continuous learning, refining the craft, etc., and I am sure my novels will be better in five years than my novels are right now. But… I still haven’t „made it“. (let me define having „made it“ as having a major publishing house churning out your stuff and being repped by a reputable agent)
It’s pointless to speculate on the issue of why. Although I can throw a few attempts at reasons into the room:
1) I don’t live in the US or UK
2) I am not a US or UK citizen
3) I am not a native speaker of the beautiful English language
4) I am not good at schmoozing with editors and agents at the few conventions I used to go to
5) I don’t really like short fiction and despite having sold some short stories, I didn’t manage to place them in the two/three big magazines out there, and instead focus(ed) on long-fiction, my real passion.
6) I am not of the kind who loves writing the perfect query letter and the perfect synopsis.

Despite that, I have managed to be published by two small presses in Canada and the US. However, the response times of both publishers are a joke, to put it mildly. I haven’t heard from the publisher in the US in nine months or so, despite emailing him every other week. Their, sorry to say, unprofessional working style drives me nuts.
So, yes, I have resorted to self-publishing – why? To get rid of the stuff! To have it off my desk, out of my mind, done with it, gone, bye, sayonara, to free up space for the next project.

So far all the first books in a series I have self-published went through the submission gauntlet and the workshopping gauntlet. Actually it’s only three – Dome Child, She Should Have Called Him Siegfried and now a space opera published under a pseudonym. I cannot really „count“ To Mix and To Stir and Give Substance to a Thought, because they are parts two and three of the Hagen Patterson trilogy that started with She Should Have Called Him Siegfried.

A fourth start of a series (that I will put out this autumn under that pseudonym) is the most extensively workshopped and edited thing I have written so far. It is good, damn it, a very emotional story in my opinion that suffers only from being fuzzy genre-wise. I call it a second-world historical-fantasy, its second part will be SciFi since it happens 1000 years after the first one. Rejection slip after rejection slip, several almosts and I’m just fxxing tired of them!
Ironically, the books I self-published so far are actually far better edited, workshopped and cared for than the three novellas I managed to publish with small publishers.

I am frustrated with the publishing world, yes, and I strongly believe that the publishing world, as the whole rest of the world, are grossly unfair. On top of that I have geographical and other disadvantages.
I have another book in the pipeline (a stand alone, could be the start of a series though) that I shall send into the submission gauntlet again, whilst pushing out all the other stuff and here is finally why I am in the „game“:

I want to tell stories. I don’t have the ambition to be a master writer like Kameron, I just want to tell all the stories that I have in my head and entertain myself as well as a few other (the dream is many) people with them.
I can’t sit forever on a novel and refine it to death. All novels are abandoned. Maybe I abandon them too early, but there is too much stuff I want to tell to forever linger on the previous book. I’m in it for the fun of writing down a story, I’m in it because it’s awesome to construct entire worlds. I’m in it because I love my characters. For me Jove, Shavendra, Hagen, Al, Juliana, Floyd, Darnar, Talip, Lofgar, Marusar, Jaiah, Sina, Jyrus, Marlan, Hriff and Flin and and and are like people I know and they are asking me to tell their stories. Of course I want people to read them, but I’m doing this to entertain myself, because I laugh, love, and cry together with my characters and I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for their existence, for urging me to write about them and for inspiring me.

The Hardest First Draft Yet

Last weekend, I finally finished my hardest first draft yet – the third installment of the Dome of Souls series, whose so far only published member is Dome Child.

The Dome series is with me since „forever“ and once, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I wrote them all in TV screenplay formats, then revised them into novels, next abandoned them. Dome Child was originally written as a novel only and represents the very beginning of the series. I wrote it „last“ = ended with the beginning, in 2007 and after endless revisions published it in 2011.
After finishing Dome Child, I turned to other things and started several other series, thinking I would not return to the Dome world. The TV script format version represents my 1 million words of crap, or rather 2 million, and for a few years I was determined not to go back to them.

Let me add that the Dome series is spanning many thousand years of future human history and the four parts that I wrote in screenplay format and the one (Dome Child) that I wrote in novel format, are happening in the same world/universe but at different times and each deals with different characters.
Last year though, the Dome bug bit me again suddenly and without even looking again at the original screenplays, I decided to write the second Dome novel (title is yet a secret, let me call it AA) from scratch. That went very well and I am quite happy with the result. AA was easy to write, since everything in it leads to one big, inevitable conclusion.

Without much looking into the finished AA, I decided to write the third Dome novel right after it, again from scratch. Now this one, let me call it JJ for now, is the central piece of the whole Dome of Souls idea. JJ was the first Dome project and from it spawned all the others in the following order, one prequel (AA), two sequels and another pre-prequel, which is Dome Child.
JJ, the central beast, sits like a spider in the middle and throws its threads into all directions. It is the hen and the egg at the same time. The renewed beast had 120,000 words, but then I discarded an entire story line and went back to about 70,000 words and wrote again up to 90,000, which is the current word count of the „finished“ „first“ draft. I have never rewritten anything so heavily yet and have never fought with a story so much. It feels like I wresteled with Shelob herself! A bit exhausted now, I shall let this draft rest and take care of some other books of the plenty I have still in store, before going back to JJ.

The plan is to release the second Dome novel (AA), which flowed so nicely, around the end of the year and it will be JJs turn then next year. I’m thrilled how I will still like it (or not) when I go back to JJ in a couple of months. JJ must be the natural „end“ of what happened in Dome Child and the second Dome novel (AA) and it also must prepare what will happen in parts 4 and 5 and a probable part 6 that spooks around in my head but that has neither been written in screenplay format nor as a novel yet.
JJ has changed so much since its screenplay days. Almost unrecognizable. I deleted and killed entire story threads and characters, other characters are completely re-invented. I am very relieved that for the moment, I think, I managed to tackle the beast and to whip it in shape. Let’s see if I still feel positively about it when I go back to it.

So, an enforced writing pause will commence now in order to review tons of already existing stuff (7, (yes, seven!) novels, which are written, but not out yet). What a pain – since I have another 3 Dome novels to write. Apart from the Dome series, I have another 6 novels in four different worlds in my head! Kyaaaaaaa…. So much to do, so much to read, so much to write and so little time! 🙂

Writing Progress Report – January 2015

What’s going on at the writing front? A bit of a 2014 review and an outlook for 2015:
I am still tired of „marketing“ my books but not tired of writing them.
After disappointments accumulated in the beginning of 2014, I sort of withdrew from the submission circus and have not yet gone back into the gauntlet.
In the meanwhile, I finished my Hagen Patterson trilogy and put out the last one – “Give Substance to a Thought” – in November. Before that I put out the revised version of my first non-self publication „Dark Matters“ under the new title of „The Glow of the Dark“. And before that Dark Quest published my novella „That One Minute“, so actually, quite a lot was happening in 2014 even without the submission and rejection madness.

I also tackled a huge project – going back to my „Dome of Souls“ world. The entire project and world is around since the late 1990ties, was originally written in TV script format and I had sort of given up on it. However, in 2011 I published my „Dome Child“ novel, which was never written in script format but right away as a novel. It constitutes the beginning of the whole „Dome of Souls“ idea. At the time, I thought I end this idea with its beginning and was determined to put the large rest into the drawer and turned to other projects.

I made the bill without the innkeeper as we say in German (to reckon without one’s host?), and now the project has come back massively.
The „Dome“ bug bit me again and I wrote, from scratch, without looking at the old TV scripts, the second installment of this series in novel form. It’s become my longest novel so far, counting a proud 140,000 words at the moment (first draft). I am highly pleased with the outcome and the first beta reader liked it too. Now the job will be to revise this beast and put it out there somehow. I am not sure yet how. Shall I send it into the submission idiocy or just show that part of the business the finger and put it out myself? I don’t know yet.

Some hints as to what’s going on with this series:
The 140,000 words beast is not a sequel to „Dome Child“ and does not deal with the same characters.
The „Dome“ Series is my idea of „future history“. I am visiting pivotal changing points in my version of humanity’s future in this series. Usually the demise of an old system and the birth of a new one.
„Dome Child“ dealt with the demise of the times of Bihindi and its religious sects, and marked the beginning of the times of „Lei Lao“, a guild-based political system.
The 140,000 words beast deals with the end of the times of Lei Lao and takes place 500 years after the „Dome Child“, which is set in an unspecified future of humanity after the „second postmodern robot war.“
What connects all the „Dome of Souls“ novels is of course the „Dome of Souls!“ 😉
While Jove Hendricks was the first „Dome Child“, the „Dome“ has become a more common, if still exotic „gift“ that some humans possess. At the end of the times of Lei Lao there is even a „Dome guild“ where everyone who sees the „Dome“ is registered.

Impatient suddenly, I even started with the third „Dome“ novel, which, in fact, is the central piece of the story. „Jeronimo“ is the book/idea that kicked off the entire „Dome“ series. I’m at the moment in the middle of writing „Jeronimo“ from scratch, without looking at the old TV scripts. Since this is the oldest and most central piece of the idea that’s quite a challenging task.
So, there is a lot more „Dome“ stuff to come 😉
I’m very glad that I went back to this world, I sort of feel incomplete without finishing this big big thing that has been with me for such a long time.

But, I have more in store. At the moment writing work on „Jeronimo“ is resting, since I am, for the 100th time, revising another soft SF project, a space opera, which might also be the start of a bigger series. The problem with this beast is, that it’s written in 1st person and I wrote its first draft before I learned a lot more about the craft and am now struggling with the language.
I still love the story, but the execution and language… sigh… anyway, I already asked Katoh sensei for cover art and it’s excellent as usual and I am eager to get rid of this beast so that I can concentrate on the „Dome“.
I am looking at new ways of distribution and am thinking of publishing this space opera myself via Wattpad. Well, we’ll see what happens.
So, 2015 will, in whatever form, see the birth of that space opera and it will see some action concerning the „Dome of Souls“ novels, plus? We’ll see, since there are even more finished novels in my drawers!

Since I am still frustrated with the submission hell, I guess I’ll just let it burn and consume others, and put things out myself again…
Stay tuned for soft SF pouring out from Regina in 2015 😉

Japan Writers Conference 2014 Report – Day 2

Day two of the Japan Writers Conference (JWC) (here is the report on the first day) was quite “intellectual”.
It started for me with Gareth Morris Jones’ – Psychogeography. I had again the predicament of long distance from the hotel to the venue and missing the earlier train due to breakfast and check out confusions (it all took longer than expected) and missed the first twenty minutes of the session.
I am still not 100% sure what Psychogeography is, but here is what I got:
It’s about how people see cities over the ages.
In the (distant) past there were no maps and you navigated your city from memory. Only with the rapid growth of cities people started to feel “alone in the crowd” and suddenly it was possible to loose yourself in the city like in the woods.
Nowadays you can do interesting thing like playing games in the city.
E.g. Follow the color yellow – a yellow sign, then follow the yellow t-shirt until the next yellow sign etc. to explore a city.
Have fun with following the map of London in Munich… for example.
For those who like it spookier: make a “crime map” of your city = going to places where crimes happened over the past dozen, fifty or hundred years.
Next spring, open a map, let some petals from a cherry blossom tree fall on it, connect the dots and thus make your route through the city. Follow that path, record it, photograph it, film it, write about it.
I still don’t know what Psychogeography is, but this “drifting purposefully” is something I’ve never done yet and am tempted to try it out. I am most tempted by taking a map of Munich and trying to follow it in Tokyo 😉

Next up was a poetry session again, this time rather about marketing your poems rather than writing them considering where we live – in Japan.
Bern Mulvey, our host at Iwate University, held the session.
The odds for getting published in an established journal are even worse than in short story markets, etc. e.g.
5127 submissions, for a journal who publish ten out of them…
Your first hurdle is the graduate student slush reader…
One very valid advice is (also for long fiction) to start the poem at the key moment. Start revising your poem in the middle and you’ll see that often the beginning of your poem is “nothing but” an introduction. Cut it and start at the key moment.
Again: avoid cliches like the plague.
Again: Focus on details, (don’t spend so much time in your head in the poem).
If you use Japanese words – use the original words and explain them in footnotes if necessary.
Set the scene and do it quickly .
Don’t worry (too much) about meaning it will come naturally in poetry (if you are precise).
Don’t try to be deliberately meaningful.
Don’t use quotation marks in poetry, write dialogue in italics if you really need to mark it.
And don’t forget that sometimes you gotta break your own rules.
Don’t fall for the “I am unique” myth… You are not… we are all unique.
You can’t satisfy everyone, but you gotta satisfy someone.
Going back to submissions: find poets you like, look where they submit, submit to where they are being published.
Start with your best poem in a submission and submit more than one.
Shorter IS better. Write an intelligent cover letter.
Many elements of this advice can be transferred one on one to prose writing too! Thanks for this session, Bern.

The most practical (very useful) session of the conference was Tom Baker’s on “Brevity”. (he had to endure all sorts of comments on whether his session would be brief and whether he was done already, lol, otsukaresama deshita. Tom, if you hold the seminar again, name it “condensing” that’s less inviting comments than “brevity” 😉
Tom’s session on how to condense your sentences – the more meaning you can get into your words the better – was especially useful for me, since I suppose also due to my German mother tongue, I have the tendency to be wordy!
Tom demonstrated a number of tricks on how to reduce “bloated” sentences.
Here just some examples from the fifty, too brief, minutes on “brevity”:
a) use active voice – my goldfish was eaten by a cat (7 words) vs. My brother’s cat ate my exotic goldfish. (also 7 words but much more information conveyed)
b) phrases like “which is, who is, that are” can almost always be deleted
c) ditch the word “located”, you can do without it
d) “one of” can be replaced by “a”
e) you can often leave out “with” – e.g. a woman with blonde hair vs. a blond haired woman
etc.
A great session, Tom, thanks a bunch! I shall go through my yet unpublished stuff and mend what I can.

Gareth Morris Jones held another intellectual session that was even more “cryptic” to me than Psychogeography – Fictocriticism
Ever heard about it? After the session I thought to remember having heard about this before during my university days, but since this is usually not my cup of tea or what I concern myself with it was a nice reminder of things long forgotten.
If I got it correctly Fictocriticism is the combination of the two worlds of
Academic discourse, politics, concepts, analysis, criticism, commentary, theory, etc, on the one hand and the world of creative writing, fiction, drama, personal poetics, poetry etc. in one single text.
E.g. write something then write something about what you’ve written – an interpretation in the same text.
E.g. you have fiction and quotes in between.
Some artists seem to have been feeling to be running out of words and were weary of the cycle of mystification (write an “obscure” piece of fiction), then explain it (by academics), then the writer has to write something new that is even more mystic, to that academics have something to interpret again. Why not do both things in the same piece of writing?
Theoretical writing dropped into free flowing writing – as such some artists try to break down the rules of conventional writing.
The only one thing that I personally like in this category is Frederick Pohl’s Gateway. There are bodies of narrative, then e.g. a space ship’s cargo list, strewn into the text. Wow, there is even Fictocriticism in SciFi? Ha, but it’s a cargo list that Pohl invented. Guess that doesn’t count. 😉
For me “story writer” this is a world quite far and unexplored and that I am, frankly, not much interested in. But it’s fun to get to know what fascinates other people.
At the end of the session we did a little experiment and read bits of fiction (all in the vein of philosophical reflection about the world and us, rather than bits of a story) randomly (decided by lottery) to pictures Garet had taken of Osaka (he walked around for 90 min in a Psychogeographic approach). At one or two pictures the text sort of matched the picture. Hey, we created a work of art at that moment. I guess.

It was an interesting and contrast rich conference and I learned a lot! Thanks to all the presenters and the organizers and looking forward to seeing you next year 🙂

Japan Writers Conference 2014 Report – Day 1

This year’s Japan Writers Conference (JWC) happened in Morioka in northern Japan on the 25th and 26th of October. After being unable to attend last year (I was in the UK at that time for the World Fantasy Convention) it was great to see some old friends as well as make new ones.
Since several conferences/festivals happened in Morioka that weekend, we had a hotel shortage problem and I ended up staying at an old but cozy ryokan some 25 km south of Morioka in a place called Shiwachuo on the Tohoku-Honsen train line. What a nice, sleepy hinterland town 😉
Trains went only once per half-hour and I missed one on the first morning, which resulted in arriving 20 min late for the first session.

Karen McGee talked about the Writer’s Bookshelf.
Since I missed the first half, this is only a partial report. What books do you need/should you have on your bookshelf concerning craft, reference books etc.
Some new tips for me were (aside from e.g. Stephen King’s “On Writing”, or “Self editing for fiction writers” etc.:) “The 10% solution”, “Reading Like a Writer”, in the craft category, and in the reference category: “The Way Things Work”, and “The Negative Trait Thesaurus”.
As for Internet sources: “Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus”, specialist forums like e.g. the “locksmiths forum” (who know a lot about locks) are a good address for information and if you search for settings try: “YouTube real estate videos”

Next I “snuck” into the closed poetry analysis session of David Gilby. (Thanks for letting me hang out!).
Three poets read and discussed their poems and it was quite an intense critique session.
Also as a prose writer you have to choose your words carefully, of course, but as a poet even more so.
There were several deep dives into the meaning of words during this session, leaving me with the re-realization that words are incredibly ambiguous and it’s very hard to convey what you mean to others. Even if you try to be concrete, it’s damn hard to be. And: the more concrete you are, the better. Further: avoid cliches at all costs. Both issues are very much true also in (long) fiction and this session was an excellent reminder of the trouble with words.

After lunch in the university’s canteen, I digested villains.
Hugh Ashton gave a great talk on villains.
Sometimes villains can be abstract things (like “fate” in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”), or internal (“The Killer Inside Me” – Jim Thompson).
Your “usual” villain though is the antagonist who drives your hero nuts.
Very often you can trace their villainy down to one or two or more of the seven deadly sins (except for gluttony and sloth maybe, but it’s now tickling me to explore how a sloth villain would behave, (not the cute animal of course)).
Another thing you need to take into account is to make your villain likeable = to give him/her some redeeming qualities so that the audience can identify with him/her. They need a motivation and a schtick or a habit.
The same is of course true for heroes, too smooth and “good” heroes are boring, they need something bad about them too to make them interesting.

We explored a couple of popular and widely known villains under the 7 deadly sins aspect.
Lady Macbeth – her candidate of the 7 deadly sins is envy, her redeeming quality is that she develops a conscience
Hannibal Lecter – pride. He’s a true psychopath, but he can also be kind and considerate, and is very smart
Jame Gumb (the other villain from “The Silence of the Lambs” who skins his victims) – lust. There is nothing redeeming about him, but at least an attempt at explaining why he is a monster
Iago – envy. A smart, intellectual villain who uses stealth, not violence
Goldfinger – avarice. But he’s got style and black humor
Professor Moriarty – pride, the “Napoleon of crime”, high intellectual abilities, funny and sinister, camp and clever.
Next up we did a little exercise in which we created our own little villain in pairs of two, which was great fun.

I don’t write YA (and have no desire to do so) but nevertheless attended Suzanne Kamata’s session “YA or Why Not”
We took a look at some examples of YA books and the floating boundaries to “normal” adult fiction (without even touching the new thing in between: the “New Adult” category (where the protagonist is in his/her early twenties)).
One characteristic of YA is that the book stays on story, without wandering off, but the same is true for a lot of (adult) genre fiction too.
One book we looked at was originally released as “adult” fiction, sales were disappointing – now, with a fresh “younger” cover, they try to re-market it as YA. Thus are the politics of the publishing world.

The last session I attended that day was Bob Tobin’s – the Courage to Write
In my personal case, I do not need the courage to write (I do that quite voluntarily all the time) but I am in dire need of the “courage” (or rather the energy) to market my stuff.
Bob gave a few nice hints about how to deal with your worries of rejection, being laughed at etc.:
e.g.: write down the things you are worrying about and literally throw them into the garbage bag, or if that is not enough, rip them up and flush them down the toilet.
Caution vs courage, if caution is 1 and courage 7 on a scale, where are you and what do you need to do to move more into the courage direction?
Ask yourself what stops you and try to silence your own critic. (You are likely your worst critic).
Stop comparing yourself to anyone else and don’t go to “pity city”.
Create a (supportive) community – without jerks in it.
How to react to feedback: If you get bad feedback from a person you respect, ask him/her to tell you more details. If the feedback comes from someone you don’t respect, disregard it, because they don’t understand you and your work (easier said than done). Always say thanks and don’t argue with people who give you bad feedback.
Write about what bothers you most, be it jealously, fear or being ridiculed… That frees you up.
It was a nice motivational session, which we all need sometimes in the hostile publishing world 😉

Read my report on the sessions of the second conference day next week.
And here is the link to the conference video shot and edited by Tom Baker

Soon to Come – Give Substance to a Thought

My latest novel, “Give Substance to a Thought” will soon see the light of day (November, if all goes well).
It’s the last part of my Hagen Patterson trilogy. Thus it is also the first time that I finished a trilogy in novel form. The entire trilogy took roughly 260,000 words to tell (80,000 + 85,000 + 95,000), not bad considering that the first volume “She Should Have Called Him Siegfried” originally was supposed to be a stand-alone.
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Funnily, the second part was easiest to write. The first draft of “To Mix and To Stir” took me barely 5 weeks. The first draft of the last part – “Give Substance to a Thought” took about 4 months to write.
I kept the same structure throughout the entire trilogy = Alchemist Hagen Patterson as the main POV in third person limited. Then in each book another minor 3rd person limited POV – In part 1 Hagen’s mother Emma, in part 2 Hagen’s alchemy “candidate” (precursor to apprentice) Lana Hardwood and in part 3 the minor 3rd person limited POV has fallen to the alchemists’ arch enemy – the head of the “governmental agents” – a guy called Andy Mitchell. Further each book has a more or less mysterious 1st person POV who tells her story in present tense. In part one that was Hagen’s potion client Helena, in part two a strange lady who turns out to be Al’s wife and in part three it is an even more mysterious entity from Al’s realm that I shall make a secret of right now.
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Last but not least there are “reports” from the governmental agents. Most of them are to be found in part 1, in part 2 they are still there, but in reduced form. Now, since in part 3 one of the agents is a POV character I decided to not use these reports anymore, except for one. In the prologue myself, the author, is agent no. 1 and gives a bit of a summary in the style of “what happened before”. I wrote several versions of this prologue, once in Hagen’s mother’s Emma’s POV even, but then decided to become agent 1 and do the summary in a “neutral” form. I was thinking for a long time whether to do this summary at all or not, but one of my beta-readers advised me to better leave it in, since the piece is so plot-heavy. Is it??? 😉 If the Hagen trilogy is plot heavy you haven’t read my second Dome of Souls novel yet. lol. Well, nobody has read that one yet, since the first draft was just finished some 2 weeks ago 😉 I would call that one plot-heavy indeed 😉
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Back to Hagen and the rest of the cast.
At the end of To Mix and to Stir is the big revelation of who Al is. Part 3 now deals with the “real” Al and his realm and Hagen is quite torn between his “normal” life that consists of brewing potion, being a father of three children and dealing with the governmental agents on the one hand and Al and his problems on the other. Looking at the end of the book – man, it is quite long, since all those threads need to be brought to a closure (Yes, there will be closure, if with a loophole ;-))
Another thing about structure is the timing and pace of the trilogy. the “Siegfried” novel happened within a span one half a year, “To Mix and To Stir” within the span of a few weeks (I think it’s six, I must check again) 13 years after part 1, and “Give Substance” now takes places within the span of a few days (some two weeks in total) and picks up right where “To Mix and To Stir” left off. Such deliberate scheduling has its challenges but it also provides a nice frame that I could hold on to while writing it. And one more bit about structure: Book 1 started with Hagen’s POV, Book 2 started with the POV of the minor 3rd person limited character – in this case Lana Hardwood. Book 3 starts with the mysterious 1st person POV in present tense. It’s all deliberate…
I had great fun constructing this world and also Al’s realm and I hope you will like the grand finale of my musings about the problems of my favorite alchemist of all times – Hagen Patterson 😉 – And I personally am very very happy with Katoh sensei’s magnificent covers for all three Hagen books! Thank you Katoh sensei!

Believable?

I recently watched the “movie” “Tin Man” or in Japan called “Outer Zone”. They sold it for a 1000 yen at Tower Records. I only realized later that it is a radically cut version of the Sci-Fi channel mini series “Tin Man”. I obviously haven’t seen it, and its ratings in IMDb are actually not that bad, however, I found the thing horrible. This “movie” represents the limit of what you can do with editing a story. Maybe the long version = the entire mini-series is better, but this cut to pieces something was one of the worst movie experiences I ever had.

The story felt choppy and sorry, but the leading actress seemed like the most unnatural actress they could find. Her reactions to what was happening around her were completely unbelievable. She shrugged off life-changing events with indifference. Oh, the people she thought are her parents are not her parents. So what? When she first meets the character Glitch her reaction to the fact that he has his brain removed and a zipper on top of his head is lame rather than cool, and so forth.

The wannabe steampunk look had a ridiculous feel to it rather than making things attractive because it served no purpose and was not an integral part of the story. The artificial people in the first OZ village the heroine goes to are causing the reaction – what the hell is that? What purpose does this story item serve? What does it add to the story that these people are half mechanized?
The Wizard of Oz is a great story and the movie a legend (I’ve seen it, but it’s a long time ago). I remember drama and being awfully scared of the wicked witch of the west.

In this “Tin Man” movie the characters are stumbling from one convenient event to the other: They have to find her father. The dog/creature thing immediately finds access to this city underground. There they immediately find someone who gives them a tip without motivation. Then DG, the heroine, gets abducted by no one else but her daddy. Dah!!! Maybe they need more time to get from A to B in the mini series, in the movie though clues come out of the blue and always fit and are highly convenient.

One of the worst sequences is when DG remembers her past. She walks through the woods, the dog/creature thing tells her to remember an oh, so suddenly she remembers everything.
Horrible plotting, one dimensional characters, no explanations for how the heroine and her entourage travel from a to b – and oh, suddenly they are back at the tower of her sister who is possessed by the evil witch of the west.
Why does the bad sister have followers at all? What’s in it for them? Nothing in this movie adds up and it’s a great lesson for every writer on how NOT to do it.
Your characters need motivation, more than one character trait, and they need to react naturally to what’s happening around them. Your plot needs to be logical, even in fantasy you need to explain how people get from A to B, you must make things difficult for your characters instead of presenting them with the next clue on a silver plate. Great lessons learned, thanks, you do really learn a lot as a writer from bad examples 😉

Ballet Under the Dome

Okay, this blog entry will be a little bit of a stretch – Russian ballet vs. American TV.
I’ve been to my first ballet ever and consider that worth a report and I’m watching the series Under the Dome at the moment and got some comments about it too.

Ballet:
I spontaneously went to see my first ballet ever last Wednesday, The Matthew Bourne “all men” production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
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I guess it was a good choice to make this my first ballet ever, since I at least remotely knew something about the story, thanks to a movie I like very much – Black Swan – with Natalie Portman. So there is this princess Odette, who is turned into a swan by a curse and only true love can bring her back or she will be turned into a swan forever.
I kinda expected a “black swan” – the bad sorcerer who turns her into one somewhere but either I didn’t get it or it was missing from the Matthew Bourne production. In the original the hero, Siegfried, is not married and his mother seems to be bitching him around, but in the Bourne production she looked more like his wife than his mother, at least to my eyes.

It was amazing to see just a few gestures establishing their relationship. They looked like they have been married to each other for politics and especially she does not like him and rejects any sort of affection he is trying to show her. Very subtly expressed with just a few gestures and how the dancers posed their bodies.
The swans were impressive, all men and they did an excellent job at looking animal like. I’m kinda interested in seeing a classical production of the ballet where the swans are all girls. With men as swans the esthetics were elegant, yes, but also animalistic. Odette was danced by a dancer called Chris Tranfield (I think) and man, the guy was good. I found the scenes without the swans a bit long and dragging at times, but whenever the swans were around it was interesting and impressive. These dancers don’t seem to have bones in their bodies.
The finale of Odette and Siegfried dying was really amazing to watch. You don’t need words to tell a story. As a writer there are quite some lessons to be learned from that 😉
I shall be on the lookout for more ballet.
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Under the Dome:
I’m watching that on hulu and while I liked at least most of the first season it’s starting to be a bit bland in the beginning of the second season. It’s about a small US town suddenly being trapped under a mysterious, invisible and indestructible dome some 30 miles wide or so. Although there is no ultimate revelation yet, aliens seem to be involved. What I find noteworthy about this series are only two things. Uncle Hank from Breaking Bad is playing the main bad guy (quite well) here and the other thing is the Game of Thrones syndrome of killing off major characters like flies… What has Mr. George R.R. Martin done??? He kicked off a trend to kill your characters. While your protagonists should suffer, yes, go through hardship, have tough decisions to make and and and, what good are they to you if they’re dead?

That does not mean like I’ve never killed off one of my characters but I am weary of the numbers. If I counted correctly, within the 15 episodes that I watched of Under the Dome, five major characters have bit the dust, especially during the last few episodes, where it’s more or less one per show. The dangerous thing about that is that the viewer gets used to it, detaches him/herself from the characters, since you have to be prepared that they are having switched their lights out. The character killing only has an impact if you were invested into that character and when it becomes a standard plot device it loses its impact in my humble opinion. The other issue with that is that you need to replace those characters with new ones that you have to draw out of your hat like a magician and that just doesn’t work all the time. I’ll keep on watching Under the Dome a bit more, let’s say until the Uncle Hank (here he is Big Jim) character bites the dust, but I am not invested anymore. However, thanks to Under the Dome for teaching me something about character deaths for my own writing 😉

Hal-Con 2014 Report

Hal-Con has gone into its fifth year and is still going strong 🙂
Our non-Japanese writer GoHs so far were in chronological order: Charles Stross, Robert Sawyer, Alastair Reynolds, Joe Haldeman and this year it was Peter Watts.
Hal-Con is two days long and always in April. Hal-Con means two things to us here, of course it is inspired by Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey but the Japanese pronunciation of “Hal” is somewhat like “haru” which is a word in Japanese and means spring.
So far we changed venues every year and this year’s event was held in the Sanpia Kawasaki a municipal gathering venue. A bit old and moldy but not without Showa-era charm.

Thanks to writing a lot I have currently six books of mine on offer and that starts to be a bit heavy for carrying it in suitcases via public transport, but, oh miracle, I’m more or less driving a car since X-mas, if driving is still a big challenge for me. But, I made it and arrived safely with my two suitcases full of books on Saturday morning. I am not a morning person at all and was thrilled to see whether traffic would be light at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. It is not, which I find very reassuring, no need to get out of bed for driving practice!

I placed my books into the dealer’s room right away, them being: “Dome Child”, “She Should Have Called Him Siegfried”, “To Mix and To Stir”, “Lord of Water”, the anthology “Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet”, and the revised edition of what was formerly “Dark Matters”, now freshly enhanced and re-published under the title “The Glow of the Dark”.

The rest of the day was spent with translating for our formidable GoH Watts san and also with translating a bit at the “Build the World” program. This year we invented a wandering planet that has an alien intelligent core which is off-center and causes weird spinning and highly disturbs the indigenous species of the planet 😉
The day ended with the GoH party and for me with driving home again 20 km including traffic jam thanks to an accident with police and fire-brigade on my route 🙁

The next morning meant a slightly more relaxed driving for me thanks to now knowing the route to the convention venue, but at the gate happened what I had feared. The Sanpia guard man said I have to remove the car from their grounds after the convention is over and need to park somewhere else for the “dead dog” party (the party at the end of a con for the staff , usually with GoH participation). The “dead dog” party was supposed to be held at a restaurant close to the hotel where the GoH stayed, right behind Kawasaki station with no suitable parking far and wide.

Anyway, it was also the day of my two seminars and between lots of translating I held my “indie vs. traditional publishing” program. It was already the third round for this program and I discussed the good and bad points of self-publishing vs. small presses and elusive big presses with the audience.
Next up was my reading. Unfortunately the iBook program on my iPad with the galley proof of my not yet released second Dark Quest Books novella “That One Minute” kept on crashing and I gave up on recording this reading 🙁
The reading for “To Mix and To Stir” went better, since the book is on Kindle and I’ll be uploading it to YouTube soon (if it’s any good, that is. I haven’t checked the recording yet).

Due to my own two seminars I unfortunately missed Peter’s talk on consciousness together with Japanese biologist and author Hideaki Sena. It’s about time that humans can be in at least two places at the same time 😉

I feel honored that Peter had the guts to board my car after the con was over! He folded into my smallish Suzuki Swift and I drove him to his hotel. He survived! 😉 I let him out in front of the hotel and then ventured into a small side street in search for the hotel’s parking that I had been promised existed. I found it in a side street swarming with pedestrians and it turned out to be a parking elevator. There are a few of those in Germany I’ve heard, but I am not sure whether they exist for example in the US, so let me explain. You must drive your car onto a platform (you must aim well) and leave your vehicle and the platform lifts your car to lofty heights where it stores it out of sight and mind.
I told the operator of the thing, well, um, never did this before. He said he’s not allowed to park it for me due to insurance reasons and just drive slowly. What helped was a mirror, which allows you to check whether your tires are aiming for the rails they must go onto and I managed to park Alfie successfully on the thing in creep speed .

That done, I waited in the hotel lobby until someone else came from the con to pick up Peter and me and to guide us to the restaurant. Now that restaurant was a highlight: A wonderfully nerdy place with Star Trek, Thunderbrids, and whatever other SciFi movie memorabilia and of course also a screen where they played old SciFi movies. Astonishingly few Star Wars stuff in the restaurant, but loads of Enterprise models and also an awesome model of the 2001 Space Odyssey ship and and and. During our three hours in the restaurant there was Forbidden Planet on the screen, Star Trek – the Movie (man they were all still so young there) and an “alien invasion” movie from the sixties perhaps, whose title I don’t know. What an awesome atmosphere to finish off a SciFi con. The restaurant is called “Pepper Land” and is right behind Kawasaki station. I’ll surely go there again and am adding some photos of the restaurant below.
The con was over much too quickly and due to opposite scheduling I actually didn’t get into any of Peter’s seminars, which is a bit of a shame.
Next year’s Hal-Con’s GoH and place are not yet decided but I’ll be there again as always, unless heaven falls onto our heads 😉

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Writing Progress Report

So, what’s happening on the writing front?
Quite a lot (as always):
1) Revised version of Dark Matters. After giving up waiting for Edge SF and Fantasy to re-issue the revised version of Dark Matters (they sat on it doing nothing for over a year), I managed to get the rights back and am putting the revised edition out myself now. I’d very much like to have the book ready before the Hal-Con which happens on the 12th and 13th of April. Yuk! That’s in four weeks! It will be quite a race 😉 Let’s see if I (or rather CreateSpace) manage… The new Dark Matters has a new title: The Glow of the Dark and it has grown from 33,000 to 45,000 words.

2) That One Minute – my second novella with Dark Quest Books – is finished, the galley proofs are checked and now it’s up to Dark Quest to release the book. I don’t know yet when that will happen. It’s all a waiting game in this business (pained smile). Here is a bit of an excerpt from what I like to call a fantasy horror comedy 😉

3) Hagen 3: It’s finished, last revisions are happening, the cover is already commenced to the great Katoh sensei and I’m excepting to get it around Japan’s Golden Week at the end of April / beginning of May. The actual book which concludes the weird adventures of my favorite alchemist will probably be available sometime around July or August.

4) My first full length novel with Dark Quest, the beginning of a high fantasy trilogy, is also in the making and it will probably see the light of day some time in 2015.

5) Two more novels are finished for quite a while already: A space opera and a historical fantasy/sf hybrid. Since I am currently pretty tired of traditional publishing attempts, I am contemplating whether to go the indie-pub route as well or whether continue to submit the beasts. With lottery-like odds it is hard not to get frustrated. I shall read some more Dean Wesley Smith advice and decide later.

6) Another contemporary fantasy I have written at the end of 2013 is now in the revision process and I’m intending to submit it to the Odyssey critique service and then again the question what to do with it once it had gone through final revisions. Try the traditional publishing lottery or forget about that and go on my own.

7) Since the books under points 5 and 6 can all stand alone but could also be the beginnings of series, I found myself at a loss as to what to write next now that the Hagen trilogy is finished. Which series to pursue? The answer is apparently none of them!
Instead I have big plans… it’s back to the Dome of Souls, ladies and gentlemen. It just does not leave me alone.
I don’t know yet if I will really write it all again (all that stuff originally written in TV script format (some hints about that here)) but at the moment something is foul in the state of Lei Lao.
It’s the year Lei Lao 898 and thus of course no characters from the “Dome Child” are around anymore. But the Dome of Souls is going strong and messes with the lives of Lei Lao’s, Jove’s, Vana’s and Shavendra’s successors in the conglomerate of Tonasa.

I’m not even looking at my old TV scripts, I’m writing the novel from scratch out of sheer memory, following the main plot lines and letting it have a new, reborn life of its own. It was just vexing me too much to have “Dome Child” as the only “result” of the ten years I have already spent constructing my future history of mankind, which spans many hundred years and which is held together by the Dome of Souls.
It’s amazing to now revisit the characters of the second leg in this (so far) six-legged monster, my hapless heroes Floyd and Marusar, and to let my lovely villain Master Darnar pull the strings again.
I don’t know yet how long it will take me to write this beast anew and how epic (= long) it will be, but I expect it to see the light of day maybe in early 2015? Let’s see how the Dome of Souls and I will be getting along 😉

Short Update

Another shorter blog entry today, since I am hella busy.
Loads of homework to do for the Odyssey powerful dialogue seminar, whose second lesson was yesterday. The seminar is great as always with Odyssey and the learning curve steep 🙂 It also means a lot of homework though, which I have to get to now.

My car – Alfie – has been slumbering in the garage, but tomorrow he will see some action again, when my teacher comes and we do another two hour round. I hope the temporary scare will ease after that. I will drive with her around the closer neighborhood to (more or less) all the places where I need to or want to go with the car. The plan is to practice then on my own a bit at these familiar places before I venture into the urban jungle again where I don’t know my way around (yet).

As for the flu scare, so far I seem to be OK – phew! And Monday, when Mr. Virus will presumably come to the office again I am not there but on business trip to another of our offices = one more day of safety from him!
From Tuesday onwards I have to sit in the same room again though, let’s hope he is not contagious anymore by that point.
So… but now I have to get to that Odyssey homework 🙂