Thursday, January 31, 2013

Worldbuilding: Food, Drink, Holidays, and Culture

If you don't know about the Worldbuilding Blogfest yet, obviously you haven't been reading my blog. You are forgiven.

Today's going to be short for me, because my book is set in modern day NYC, which means the food, drink, holidays, and culture are all common knowledge. There is one thing to add, though. A food: human hearts.

In my book, when a devil or demon consumes a human heart, they gain magical strength from it. The demons, being chaotic and much more animalistic (Spell check says this isn't a word. Lame.) than devils, love ripping the hearts out and gobbling them up raw and bloody. Devils wrote a book 101 Things To Do With Human Heart, a cookbook with various glazes and culinary techniques to make heart scrumptious.


That's all for today. Tomorrow is the grand finale of the Worldbuilding Blogfest, so don't miss it!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Worldbuilding: Religion and Magic

Worldbuilding Blogfest. Check it out!

As some of you have realized by now, there's a good mix of Christianity and Hellenic mythology involved in the true nature of the world of my book. There's also a tad bit of Norse mythology when Freyja shows up as a character.

Greek-Inspired

There have been five ages of man. First the Golden Age, filled with beautiful, wise, long-living people, who when they died became daemons, or beneficial guardians of the world. Second the Silver Age, where the people spent a hundred years as children, pretty much ignoring the gods and doing whatever made them feel good in the moment. They spent a few years all grown up, then died, becoming the blessed of the underworld.

Here's where I start to add things. These impetuous people were so bent on being childish and pulling pranks that they broke out of the underworld and started messing with the world for kicks, becoming what we know as fairies.

Third came the Bronze Age, where the people were constantly at war. After Judgement they were tossed into Gehenna (Christianity-inspired, obviously), but they were so good at fighting they didn't sit around and get tortured, they became the torturers (demons). As this Age ended, the gold daemons got really mad that each new group of peoples on earth was worse than the last, and in their rage they transformed into demons as well. They let loose the bronze demons, right as a new age dawned. Fourth the Heroic Age, where men were noble and generally good. When they died, they became demigods, or angels, whichever you prefer to call them.

Last is the Iron Age, the one currently going on. It's filled with misery and bickering, and people lie to come out ahead. The Greek gods have forsaken the world.



Christianity-Inspired

God, Judgement, heaven, and hell, are all truths in my world. Hell has three levels (see Worldbuilding: Geography and Climate), and heaven is largely unmentioned. Judgement began shortly after when, in the Bible, it was said it would happen soon, but since the population of the world is going up so quickly, the line in the place of the dead is only getting longer. Someday perhaps humanity will break the world, or it will fall apart from age, and everyone who remains will go in the line. Then God can catch up with everyone and Judgement Day (or Eon as the word also translates from Greek) will finally be over.

Magic

Magi have kept themselves secret from normal society, only ever knowing a handful of other magi in the course of their lives. There are several specializations they can take, such as necromancer, evoker, enchanter, diviner, etc. Necromancers and enchanters are almost always evil. Necromancers use souls of the dead to reanimate corpses, stealing them out of line for Judgement to do so. Enchanters tend to go into politics and use their persuasive magic to benefit themselves. Evokers used to be the most common type of magi, being close to the elements and expert at hurling them for massive bursts of damage, but in the modern world it's an impractical skill.

The magic system basically follows a d20 system, but I take a few liberties here and there. If I wanted to follow the rules exactly I'd petition for it to be published under the label of either Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, but that's not what I'm going for.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Worldbuilding: History & Politics

So in today's iteration of the Worldbuilding Blogfest, we're delving into the history (and politics) of the world in my current WIP. The politics aren't so different from actual modern-day NYC, and on a broader spectrum the US (as in the federal government has way too much power, and despite this the City was cleaned up greatly within the last several years by an amazing mayor). The only additional political structure in my books are the interactions between various fantasy races/species who may or may not have them in real life, we can't tell.

'What are you talking about' you say. Cats and dogs. In my book, they can talk, but only other animals who can talk and humanoids that can use magic hear them. So it's well known to the magi community that cats really are annoying, using any means they can to find a mage owner so they can tell them exactly when/where to scratch and exactly when/what to feed them. They look down on dogs, who (while their intelligence levels on average are lower than cats, but border collies and dogs like them have higher ones) are easier to please and don't spend their life fretting over getting someone who can understand them, they just enjoy the person they get.

And because you all liked my picture yesterday so much:



On to the fantasy creatures. From now on I will be blending the history of these creatures and the politics of their societies.

There are five ages of man, as in Greek mythology. A basic understanding of them may be gathered here. They will be referenced in the demon paragraph.

Grotesques, or living gargoyles, were created back in the time of St Romanus (the year 625 AD or so), who claimed to have created the first gargoyle out of La Gargouille, a dragon who'd rampaged his people (magi know it wasn't him). No one knows who the real benefactor was, but grotesques were created to ward off evil. They were annoyed with this duty, though, and avoid it when possible (by hanging around places they don't think evil will strike), instead playing tricks on people and each other, and using their ability to hang off buildings to spy on people.

The first devils were the fallen angels, Lucifer and 1/3 of all the angels at the time, who were tossed out of heaven and into Tartarus. Lucifer is the only surviving devil of these originals, though one other lasted almost as long as he (more about him in the next paragraph). Devils are immortal, but living as long as they do tends to drive them nuts, so they end up putting themselves in the way of death or suffering a transformation (again, more on this later). They are infertile amongst themselves, so they use succubi to procreate, and legal contracts to gain firstborns. These children go through a test when they are about 18 (or later if they've been doing poorly), to become a fully-fledged devil. Devils got out of Tartarus by betting God they could corrupt humanity, and Him putting a door on their plane of hell and saying, "So try it."

The first demons were the people from the Golden Age. After becoming nice guardians of the other ages of man, they became bitter at seeing each new age being crappier than the last. They decided it would be more worth their time to torture mankind and wreak havoc. Lucifer's second-in-command was the next to become a demon, going mad from the pointlessness of the devils' goal. The people of the Bronze Age also became demons, and a few from the Heroic Age. Demons also breed with the people put in Gehenna that they torture.

Magi have successfully blended into society since the Salem Witch Trials. Many enchanters go into politics, but rarely for the good of humanity. Enchanters tend to be extremely self-centered.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Worldbuilding: Geography and Climate


Today is the first day in the Worldbuilding Blogfest, in which I am supposed to give the geography and climate of the world my novel is set in.

It's modern day NYC.

So, that was short. There is, however a little more to include: the layout of hell. Hell is a place that is visited in my novel, and since it's the part of my world which I crafted (including a lot of research done over the years. Yes, research. On hell) myself, it's probably going to be the main focus of my participation in the Worldbuilding Blogfest. Except days 2 and 3 will have a bunch of added things to Earth.

Hell

Hell is a three-tiered place. Since one of the words for hell in the Bible actually just translates to "place of the dead," the top layer of hell is just that...the place that absolutely everyone goes when they die. It's basically a waiting room (not as boring, though. There's restaurants, strip clubs, video games, television, and all other manner of indoor entertainment while you wait), where everyone is gathered to await Judgement, sorting them into one of two places: heaven or Gehenna. Climate of the place of the dead: room temperature, no weather.

Gehenna is the bottom layer, and it serves two purposes. First, it's where those Judged as unfit go to be tortured for eternity. Second, it's where demons are sent to be contained. Demons, being completely chaotic and evil, wind up doing the punishing on the people. Demons, like devils, are sterile with one another, so one of the ways the demons torture humans ends up with baby demons. You get the picture. Climate of Gehenna: humidity off the charts and always 110 degrees...except in the burning pits. It's hotter there.

The middle layer is Tartarus, the place where the fallen angels were imprisoned. Fallen angels became the first devils. The devils turned this section into a massive office, with paperwork abound, a headquarters from which they corrupt humanity. Climate of Tartarus: slightly too chilly for short sleeves, but not cold enough for a sweater. Rains paper when the imps fly through distributing it.

Here's a picture!


See how expert I am with Paint? I'll be back tomorrow with the History and Politics segment.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Worst Beginning Ever

For this week's Friday Scene, I'm participating in the Word Master Challenge. I have 300 or fewer words to write the worst novel opening ever. Excellent. First, let's examine what makes a bad opening page.
  • Too much back-story (any on the first page is too much)
  • Too much description
  • Beginning with the character waking up
  • Dialogue without context
  • Too many characters
  • Having the character's physical description given like they're looking at themselves when they aren't, and they are gorgeous in every way. (This one is a pet peeve of mine that isn't as recognized as these other problems)
The list goes on. Other things are more nit-picky, though, and I have limited space to violate all the rules.


When she opened her eyes, she saw the light streaming in through her window like a beacon in the dusk, glittering gold motes floating and twirling in the air. She blinked her lush, black eyelashes, which were almost an inch long and so full they looked like a butterfly wing, down over her mist-colored eyes. She sat up, spilling her yard-long, black hair across her pale shoulder, and pulled her blue, silk, knee-length nightgown straight.

The glorious light reminded her of a time gone past that she missed horribly...

*

“He won't like that,” Jess said, frowning.

“Too bad.”

“We could try it at night,” Nuts suggested, then blushed as everyone looked at him.

“Hey,” said Sonya, “that's not a bad idea.”

*

Victoria smiled lazily at the memory. They'd been so young, then, with so much left to learn...

She got up out of bed, going about her day like it was any other day. She ate a breakfast of oatmeal and bananas, with a tall glass of orange juice. Eating healthy was vital with her condition, it balanced out all the bad. Then she took a brisk, short walk, just enough to get her blood pumping, but not enough to tire her unnecessarily. She gazed lovingly at the trees on her walk. They stood out crisply against the sky, all manners of green—emerald, lime green, grass green, jade, pine green, gray-green, and mint. Their bark looked like gnarled knuckles that had been raked apart by thousands of claws, peeling in places and clumped in others.

Little did she know, this day was not like any other she'd had before.

Wasn't my beginning truly awful? Don't worry, I won't take this any further. What writing mistakes really grate your nerves?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

One More Word on Queries

I realized today that while I told you how query writing can be frustrating, and what makes a good query, I forgot to tell you the most helpful thing I've discovered about them. If you use the Character, Conflict, Choice formula, it helps you define your book in your head.

When I first wrote my query for my first book, From Halvmane's Shore, I had a really hard time doing it. Not because queries are particularly hard to get right (though they are), because feedback and revision can cure that quickly enough. The main problem I had was that my book was flawed in its plot arch, giving a fake climax (yes, haha) before the real one at the end. And the characters didn't know the main problem until after the fake climax. They spent half the book not knowing about the real, main, issue, and this made it nigh impossible for me to go from the hook at the beginning of the book to the main conflict in the three paragraphs of my query.

I tried to cut the book in two, and have the first part be a novella and expand the second part into a full story, but I realized I'd dug myself a big, stinking hole. And after having worked this story for so long, to realize the monumental effort I'd have to put into vast rewrites, how I'd barely put any effort into it that would survive to the final draft...it was crushing. I decided to (finally) shelve it and work on something new.

All this, my personal sob story, to say the query can save you from this. I've now decided on a new personal practice that I would recommend to any other writer: write your query's first draft immediately after writing your book's first draft.

This practice cements in your head the most important elements of your novel: Character, Conflict, Choice. And it will draw your attention to any problem with these elements now, early on in the process, when it won't make you cry to think of a revision. Because you were going to do that anyway.

The other benefit to writing your initial query draft now is you can edit it between every edit of your book, when you're waiting on feedback or to let the book sit. Many authors don't like queries because of the time they add after writing your book before you can send them out. So don't let it add time! Do them between the cracks.

I did something rare and finished my Friday post before the day of (yay me), and I'm excited to share it with you. Until then: When during your process do you usually work on your query letter?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mist Inspired

On the 1st next month, I will not be posting a scene of fiction. That's because I'll be doing a post for The Worldbuilding Blogfest, which starts on the 28th.

In other news, I am just a few pages short of having finished my first revision of The Complete Guide to Being Evil, which will now go out to beta readers (I have two I can really count on and one possible new guy), so I pretty much have no control over when it will be done editing at this point. But when it is...I can't wait to query this thing. I received some excellent advice on my query in various places, including over at The QQQE and at Falling for Fiction, and I just want to send it out now. But I will wait...

Lastly, I've finally gotten around to reading Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson. I knew I would love his writing after watching his online writing lectures, which I think propelled my level of writing forward a great deal. I'm in the middle of the book, and the setting is so cool, I want to do something in the vein. So without further adieu, here's the Friday Fantasy Scene.


The mist wrapped around her as she strode through the streets. When she got to the right keep, she stood in a braced position, with one leg behind the other. Then she burned steel.

Blue lines appeared in varying thicknesses, pointing from her chest out to several different places. She focused on a smaller one in the direction of the keep and Pushed. The sound of glass shattering sounded in the night, and she knew she'd probably pushed a window latch into the room it was on.

She smirked. Teach that jerk to mock me... She chose another small line, and Pushed it as well. The next line she Pushed, she felt her feet slide back an inch on the ground. She abandoned that one, and continued Pushing the small lines in front of her, causing as much damage as she could to the keep.

Lights flared on in many windows. She shut off her steel so she wouldn't be a beacon in the night to a Seeker, and walked away as silently as she could. She didn't have any metal on her, so no Coinshots or Lurchers could find her, either. She would walk away from this completely anonymous, unless an Inquisitor cared about a Misting vandalism on  the keep, which was improbable.

The next time he made a fool of her at a party, he's lose more than a few windows.

What books inspire you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged by by Blair over at A Writer's Progression in the Next Big Thing blog hop. I answer ten questions about my WIP, which will (fingers crossed) be the next big thing. Thanks for the tag, Blair. Follow the link to see more about her cool alien-infused YA in the works, and check the end of this post for a few more authors who may join in the hop.

Here's the ten questions.

1. What is the working title of your current/next book?
The Complete Guide to Being Evil. All the characters start out at some level of evil, and it's supposed to be funny, so there you go. A play on self-help books.2. Where did you get the idea for that book?
A crazy, random dream I had. Normally my dreams are too ludicrous to make any sort of sense, but this one...I woke up and said, "I can not stop thinking about this idea." And this was seriously the day after I decided to shelve my first novel and write something new (after too many years of trying to force it to work to even admit).
3. What's the genre of the book?
Urban Fantasy. I'm going to probably query it as "quirky Urban Fantasy" though originally I wanted to call it "comedic." I just can't figure out how to get the query itself funny, while still being everything else a query needs to be. But it's a comedy in the classic sense, that most people end up happy in the end.
4. If you could pick actors to play the lead characters in your story, who would you pick?
I definitely know Evander, the male lead, would be Andrew Garfield, from The Amazing Spiderman.
He's scrawny and awkward, just like Evander! Gotta love that type. No "He's like a god on earth, perfectly sculpted and suave" male leads for me.

For Kalara, I'd take Ariel Winter, from Modern Family. She also starred in a fake Dora the Explorer movie trailer, which is just plain awesome.

And for the big baddie, Mr. Brentley Whitcomb? Michael C Hall, from Dexter. The show got old, but I kept watching because of his engaging acting. Imagine him with no scrubble, and his hair dyed salt-and-pepper. He's a little young, but he's so good at being creepy...

And for Maria, Aubrey Plaza. Oh, please make the movie now so I can watch something new with her in it! I fell in love with her character April in Parks and Recreation.
(Since my original post I have removed the pictures which stopped working.)
5. How would you describe your book in one sentence (10 words or less)?
Daddy's girl makes deal with devil to kill necromancer.


6. How will your book be published, submitted through the traditional route to a traditional publisher or will you be handling it yourself through Indie Publishing methods?
I will be querying agents, then publishers. If no one bites, I'll write something new. I want my work to be good enough for a publisher to be confident it will sell before I try to sell it.7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of this book?
I wrote it during NaNoWriMo 2012 (the epiphany from question 2 happened three weeks before November. Convenient!), finished it a few days before December. I plotted it in a week and a half before then.
8. What other books within your genre are similar to yours?
It takes place over the course of a few days and is urban, like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, but it's also a silly world, where everything's funny for being the way it is, like Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See number 2.
10. What about your book will pique the reader's interest?
I'm hoping they'll pick up the book because the title's interesting. Then I hope they'll be hooked by the deliciously-bad characters, and the journey they take to figure out being evil isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Hope you enjoyed hearing about it! I'll tag a few more people to join in the fun:

Ink in the Book
One Magic Bean Buyer

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Queries Continued

Wow. I got very sick yesterday. By the evening I'd lost so much water/nutrients that I completely blacked out.

But now I'm better, if a little weak. And I'm back to finish what I started, this discussion on queries. I queried  for my book, From Halvmane's Shore, with little success. I don't know if it was the query itself, or that I'd tried to sell an 80,000 word epic fantasy (not my smartest moment, that), or if it was the first few pages I sent along with it (did you know that as long as the agent/publisher doesn't specifically say not to, you can paste the first five pages of your novel into the email and no one will get annoyed with you?). What I do know is that book wasn't ready to be published, and as my first book idea, it wasn't going to be ready any time soon.

So I wrote my current WIP, The Complete Guide to Being Evil. I'm so much more excited about it, and I'm convinced it will be my breakout novel. For it to be so, I have to present a killer query to show it off.

So what makes a good query? It starts with the three C's: Character, Conflict, Choice, in that order. After you have those, you have to be sure it carries the voice of the novel. And it should be right around 250 words long, arranged in three paragraphs. So as an example, here's what I have so far:


Riches, youth, magic, Kalara has it all. She's a classic evoker--hurling fire, ice, and electricity is her specialty. As her father always said, the classics are important. Here I've introduced the Character Kalara as un-apologetically full of herself, and a daddy's-little-girl.

Meet Whitcomb, a powerful necromancer who doesn't want anyone discovering he's selling the souls of the dead who go through his funeral home. Kalara finds out he's also a mage, and lets him know they have that in common in an endeavor to network. His response is an attempt to teleport her into the Hudson River, and it almost works. Scared for her life, she elicits the help of a devil. The Conflict is that "this town ain't big enough for the both of us." Giving both Kalara and Whitcomb's specialties as magi has given some of the setting, as does saying they're by the Hudson.

Enter Evander, son of a devil. He's fresh from failing his final test to become a devil, and making a deal with a mortal would save him from disgrace. He has Kalara sign an overly fair contract: in return for borrowing his power for five days, she has to give him a heart from one of his enemies so he can eat it and grow stronger. If she fails to deliver the heart, he eats Kalara's instead. Choice: Kalara chooses to solve her conflict through evil means. There's also stakes: if she fails, she dies.

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO BEING EVIL, finished at 60,000 words, is a quirky Urban Fantasy. And of course, always say title, word count, and genre. If you have publishing credentials, put those here. Some agents also want a "why I wrote this" segment, though I assume for most people the reason is "because I love writing."

I know this example isn't perfect, but I hope it helps you in your efforts to write your own queries. If I ever get a book deal I promise to come back and show you the final version of the query that does it for me! Until then, I'll try harder to stick with my normal posting schedule. Though I am compiling a spreadsheet of fantasy agents and their various submission guidelines, which I'll have to share here once it's completed.

Are you still on your original story idea? If not, what number book are you on? How many books have you queried for, and how many queries did you send out for each?



Saturday, January 12, 2013

Queries

 Blarg, I'm a whole day late! I'm sick, so I'm going to keep this post short.

I'd like to talk about queries. A query is a page of words that could make or break your book as far as whether it gets published (unless you're counting on self-publication). If you have one you'd like another pair of eyes on, give me a try. Arbiter of sanity @ gmail . com (no spaces).

Queries can be super frustrating. You have to boil tens of thousands of words down to a neat little snippet, but not only that, it has to grab the agent/publisher's attention. I'll come back as soon as I'm feeling better and discuss this in more length, but until then, here are some questions to answer.

Have you tried to query before? How much success did you have?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Magic Zit Remover

If you were here last week you know I had trouble figuring out inspiration for my Friday Fantasy Vignettes. Thank you for all the suggestions! What I'd been forgetting during my struggle was that a long time ago, my father in law gave me a book called The Write-Brain Workbook, which contains 366 writing exercises. I'd done several of them, but then moved, and forgot about it.

So now I'll be picking that back up, using it to inspire my short scenes, and posting the exercise so that you can all try them out, too, if you like. And if you do, you can submit your exercise for critique here on my blog. I don't mind if you don't plan on getting such a small thing published, it's helpful to you to get feedback on any of your writing, to gain incites into mistakes you're more likely to make. And it's helpful to me to have more content on my blog and to give my editing skills more practice.

Finish this story: She adjusted his tie...

She adjusted his tie and gave Rick a stern look. "Remember. No funny business."

He nodded, warmth flooding his cheeks. It was his big brother's wedding today, so he had to be there. People would talk if he weren't.

She ruffled his hair and went into the room where everyone who would take part in the ceremony except the bride and a few bridesmaids had gathered. He glanced at the sanctuary doors and decided he didn't feel like joining the throng sitting uncomfortably in the pews just yet. He loosened his tie back to how he'd had it, stuck his hands in his pockets, and started walking down the deserted hallway.

He heard activity in a room ahead. As he approached, he heard, "Here, try this."

"It's hopeless. I look stupid."

"Try popping it."

"That would make it worse."

"Try shrinking it with ice."

The door was ajar. Rick leaned close, trying to see what the fuss was about, and accidentally bumped it. It swung inward, creaking in protest.

Suddenly four pairs of eyes were on him, three of them belonging to the missing bridesmaids and the last one looking at him from the bride in the mirror. She had red streaks down her face, and an angry red pimple on the end of her nose.

"No seeing the bride," said the maid of honor with a step toward him.

"It's fine. He's already seen." The bride slumped, covering her face with her hands. The bridesmaids shrugged and gathered around a table spread with various tubes of liquids, deliberating. Rick wondered what he was supposed to do. She'd given him permission to stay, but he had nothing to do here.

Except...he took a step forward. The funny business his mother had warned him against was magic, which he'd discovered recently he could use. He didn't have a whole lot of control of it, yet, and had made some strange things happen. But she looked so distraught, what could it hurt?

He pointed at her zit, and willed it to turn into healthy, smooth skin. Before his eyes, the welt lost its color and shrunk down to almost nothing. He cut the power, before something went wrong. But now how to explain it?

He snatched a random tube off the table, to a chorus of, "Hey!" squirted a little out on his finger, and touched the bride's nose.

"There."

"That's lip gloss! That's not going to do anything!"

The bride put her hands down, and her eyes widened when they met her mirror image. "Look!"

They all looked and saw that the problem was resolved, if her nose was a little shiny. When their eyes turned to Rick he shrugged and said, "It wasn't that bad." Then he left the room before they could ask him questions.

"Thank you!" the bride called after him. He grinned.

_

Oh, and a big thank-you to Matt of QQQE for critiquing the query I've cobbled together for my WIP. Find out what he has to say here.