Friday, December 28, 2012

Preditors & Editors Poll is up!

And I'm apparently in the running for Best Artist and my covers are up in the Best Cover Art category! I'm in good company, too, and it's awesome to see so many artists getting recognized!

So, please, take a moment and stroll on over to the P&E poll to cast your votes!

You can find the artist page here.

And the cover art page here.

In addition, in the Science Fiction & Fantasy catagory, familiar and awesome nominees include: Kat Holmes, Mike Arsuaga, Larraine Wills, and Mary Andrews!! Congratulations!! I can personally attest to their awesomeness, since I've worked with all of them. *nods*

You can vote for the best of that category here!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Trailer for A Sign in Blood

Yeah, it's been a long time in coming-largely because I resisted learning to use the video making program for so long--but I've finally made a book trailer I'm happy with! I'm not quite to the point where I'm ready to offer book trailers with my other promotional artwork, but... I had a lot of fun with this, and I hope to do that soon!



Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Season Cover Art Giveaway - Winners!!!

All right, everybody, today's the day! Thanks for sticking with me through the giveaway. There were a lot of great entries and I wish I could do covers for you all!

The winners are ... *drum roll*

1st prize (a full promotional package (1 promotional poster design (24”x36”), 1 cover flat design, 1 bookmark (two-sided), and 1 web banner - $200 value) goes to Cameron McKeth!

2nd prize (1 eBook cover + print cover - $100 value) goes to Jane Monson!

3rd prize (a free print cover - $75 value) goes to Annette Gisby!

I'll be emailing the winners today to discuss their artwork. Most of all... Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Next Big Thing

On the 5th, the wonderful Chrystalla Thoma tagged me into the Next Big Thing blog chain! She answered these questions, I’ll answer these questions, and then the people I tag will answer next week! It’s a whole merry-go-round of fun! Or something. *G*

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Born of this Soil. This will probably be the actual title, as well. I get attached to them and, if I have a choice, I cling to them.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came from a lot of places, actually. Part of it is from the question of what ancient societies might have been like if they’d experienced some of the ‘progressive’ influences of the printing press and some of the Enlightenment ideals. Some of it comes from the characters themselves. A lot of my stories start because I come up with the characters and then the story unfolds as they move through the world I’ve set them in, the way they deal with things makes things happen.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Political fantasy. Definitely. It’s my favorite kind of fantasy. There’s also action and adventure, conspiracy and magic, but lots of political intrigue!

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s always a difficult question for me. I have a really definite vision of my characters and it’s difficult for me to think how an actor might play them. Plus, I tend to feel that most movie versions aren’t as good as the books. Not all of them, of course, but a good many movies cut out characters of color, change story lines and the movie makers don’t always care for the material the same way an author does, so… I tend not to consider movie versions.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The murder of one of her people, and her drive to protect her less than legal mission to save other magic users, leads Beshauna into a world of political intrigue, shadowed conspiracies, and shifting loyalties.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have no idea. I won’t know until it’s finished, but I’m not ruling out either.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Exactly 30 days. I wrote it for NaNoWriMo. First drafts aren't the real challenge to me. It’s the editing that takes me ages! As you can imagine with a first draft written in 30 days. :-D

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh, my. Such a dangerous question! But, hmm… I’d say that some aspects are similar to the Nightrunner books by Lyn Flewelling, and some aspects are like Crossroads series by Kate Elliott.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I don’t know how to answer that question. A story starts niggling, and I write it. It’s what I do.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

I wanted to write a story with a mix of people, with deep cultures and a secondary world that felt tangible. I enjoyed exploring the characters and politics and the setting, and I think readers will enjoy it, too.

And to hear more about the next big things, check out...

Cherylanne Ham
Cindy Borgne
James Hartley
Mike Arsuaga

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holiday Season Cover Art Giveaway!



Have you been looking for a cover artist? Need promotional artwork for your masterpiece? Well you’re in luck! To spread the joy of the holiday season, I’m giving away my services!

1st prize is a full promotional package (1 promotional poster design (24”x36”), 1 cover flat design, 1 bookmark (two-sided), and 1 web banner - $200 value).

2nd prize is 1 free eBook cover + print cover ($100 value).

3rd prize is a free print cover ($75 value).

So drop on by and leave a comment to this post with your name and email address to enter! I’ll take all the names and randomly choose three winners.

Open to entries until December 15th and winners will be announced on the 17th!

Leave a comment to this post to enter!

Or check out my work here

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Back in Action (at least a little)

Hey all! I am slowly, but surely, returning to work. *nods* I've been taking it easy and slowly (not generally my specialty), but I am finally able to get this done again! Oh, Deity, but does that feel good! I'm going to be writing up some blog posts (some other ideas and thoughts have come up, so those will probably be interspersed with the other posts I've got on my plate) and I've just completed a new cover for MuseItUp. *points to the left* :-D

Also, the cover I did for Becca Mills' Nolander is up in the Bookplex Cover Art Contest!! Voting opened on Friday, if you want to stop by and VOTE! Because, if you vote, you can also enter to get FREE BOOKS! How awesome is that? I know, damn awesome. *nods*

I've also updated my cover art page here, and added links to the book pages for all the books that are out and up for sale! As far as writing goes, I've had precious little time for it. However, I have managed to get some revisions in on Sings the Distant Heart, and I get in a few hundred words here or there on other projects. Hopefully, there will be some quiet time soon and I'll be able to get something finished!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Argh, and other laments.

Hello all.

I've been away a while because I'm dealing with... a neck thing. The doctors said it was a pinched nerve (well, actually, they first said it was high blood pressure and admitted me to the hospital) and then they said it was herniated disk, and then they said that they had no idea what it was and I needed to go to a neurologist. An appointment for which I am still waiting. *eye roll* So, right now I am basically living a pain-avoidant existence and, unfortunately, sitting at the computer too much is one of the things that causes pain. So, I have to put my computer time to the best use I can and, right now, the blog isn't high up on the list, not when I still have to tend to school and work.

If emails or comments are slow to get replies, well that's why. That is also why I am not posting long, involved essays on a) siege engines, b) the relationship between political organizations and religious institutions in the development of secondary worlds, c) agriculture, and d) deserts. However, these are the topics I'll be focusing on when I get back!

Hopefully, I will be able to post *something* in the next while, but we'll see how it goes.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Organization and Using Word

I am a compulsive list maker. I don’t feel as if I can wrap my mind around a subject until I’ve made at least one list on it. And I say “at least one” meaning that it’s often more like two or three. It keeps me pretty organized. I have lists for research topics, lists for the things I want to know about each topic, etc. You know what makes all those lists easier?

Hyperlinks in Word!! I have just discovered the best use of these things, ever. You can link to your own documents! So, I can make a list on any topic (or of my other lists), and then pull up the individual .docs, .pdfs, etc., just by hitting control and clicking on them! How was I missing this? It’s wonderful!

I now have a master list of all my stories and I can just ctrl + click and bring up the file just like that! Got a paper I need to write using various research references? (Which I actually do…) Make a list with hyperlinks! Okay, so this is really geeky and probably a bit OCD, but … lists!

Okay, I’m going to go now… *hangs head* …Back to my lists! Hee.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Steampunk

Okay, so I've been showing restraint and not posting every cover that I've been working on, BUT this is my first Steampunk cover, and I'm a little in love with it, so I'm going to post it here. *nods* It's for Inventing Love, by Killarney Sheffield--which you should soon be able to pre-order from MuseItUp!

I've also updated the Book Cover page! Working on some more posts, too! Oh, no! Maybe it's a sign of the Zombie Apocalypse. *nods*

Monday, June 18, 2012

Basic Agriculture: Types of Crops

Types of Crops

Not all cultures grow wheat. Wheat is not a requirement for a low-tech culture. Starch, however, is. But there are many ways to get starch. From barley to arro root to rice to corn and on and on. I think the best way to figure out what your culture would be eating is to take a look at our own cultures. But, that's not always a perfect indicator, because there are some plants that just happened to evolve in a specific area and never had the chance to spread. If they'd had the opportunity, they might have become prolific, or they might not have. So, don't just focus on a single area. Focus on a given environment. If conditions are similar in two different areas, but those areas are on opposite sides of the Earth, they're usually going to have different types of plants. However, your area can have both.

That doesn't mean you should just toss in plants at random, of course. Crops may begin as wild growth, but the difference between "gathering" and "agriculture" is cultivation. Your culture chose to seed these plants, year after year. They chose to do the hard labor of making room for them and tending to them because these plants gave your culture something. Food or shelter or necessary raw materials. Agriculture isn't random. The most valuable crops are the most versatile crops or the ones that are most vital.

These are the ones that get the most space, the most time, the most attention. If you can make a lot of different things out of it, or you absolutely have to have it, you grow it in as much quantity as you can. For instance, when doing the worldbuilding for Born of this Soil, I was looking up similar environments. River delta, fertile soil, near the ocean, with a warm and moist climate. In researching I came across a list of crops grown in such an environment and saw 'persimmon.' It piqued my interest. I've never had a persimmon. I've heard of them, of course, but I really had no idea what they were.

So I did some research; you can make so much stuff from persimmons! Seriously: breads, coffee(ish), tea(ish), beer, molasses, pies, jellies, candies, wine, brandy. Pickle them, dry them, grind them into fine powder and sprinkle them on other stuff. And I thought—much as I'm sure many among my culture would have—well, that takes care of half my needs right there! And I liked the idea of the persimmon, versatile little weirdo that it is, being their favorite fruit. They're considered an acquired taste, and because the Andoli have been conquered and are living under the rule of another culture, I wanted them to have things that were very distinctly theirs. The ruling Ephendri think it's a horrible taste, but since they profit from the sale of it, they have no reason to want to stop persimmon growth or sale. My Andoli characters even make and drink bootleg persimmon brandy, wine, and beer. It's something they share with one another, something which does not get offered or given to the Ephendri characters—for the most part, although there is one (maybe two) with whom it's a point of symbolism.

So, choose your crops with the same care that your culture would. Really think about what their needs will be and how they can satisfy them. Crops have to be grown and harvested, and that takes time. Some crops can be harvested more often than others, some provide more bounty than others, and some take more care and attention than others. You don't have to know the entire evolutionary history of a crop in order to use it well—although, you know I won't stop you if you want to know!—but you should have an idea of when they can have it, how long they can store it, how much they can do with it, and how much of it they'll need. Oh, and who's harvesting it and when!

Plants and Description

However, even if you're making up your own fruits, vegetables and grains, or making use of something we don't to any large extent, you might also consider tying it to something familiar. If you don't want your culture or species to feel completely alien to the reader, having them enjoy something that is familiar can help. Of course, you have to be careful with this. On the one hand, there are words you can use to describe the taste that aren't references to our own world—such as sweet, bitter, sour, spicy, rich—and then there are words that relate to substances that may or may not exist in your background—salty, sugary, peppery, nutty, buttery.

It is possible that your world contains these things, but each world is different. Even if they're on your world, it's possible that your culture or species doesn't have or use them, or they're too expensive for most people. Knowing where these things come from, how and where they're most likely to be found, or how they are made allows you determine where they are and aren't.

This is another reason to consider a climate rather than a specific area. You can take plants from similar climates (the more similar the better, in fact) even if they do not belong to the same small geographical region. If you're worried that taking two different plants from radically different places will confuse the reader and make them unsure what they should be picturing, don't name the plant. Describe it instead. Can you name every tree you walk past? I can spot an oak, a magnolia, a dogwood, a crepe myrtle, a linden, a cypress, a birch, but I can't tell you want a maple looks like. I can't tell you the names of half the bushes I see just walking down the street. You don't have to name everything, name the ones that you think your readers will be able to picture and describe the rest.

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Note: Yes, I know I said more on sentient plants next, but this needed less writing and I am slammed, so agriculture it is! Besides, maybe your wheat is secretly plotting to take over the world! :-D

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fantasy Artwork

I warned you it was coming. *nods* This guy was so much fun to work on! The little tendrils on his face and neck were probably the most intensive part. I had a blast playing with his coloration and skin texture, and I love his expression!

I'm going through my files for artwork to use on some pre-made covers and I couldn't resist this guy. It will be a fantasy or SF cover, but I haven't decide which yet. I suppose it depends on what strikes my fancy while making it! Right now I'm leaning toward the fantasy, if only because I haven't gotten a chance to play with a high fantasy cover in a bit.

Still plugging away on Sings the Distant Heart. These things take me *ages*, yeah? But I think I'm close and I plan to have it read for submission by the end of the month!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Computer Meltdowns and Cover Art

Sorry I've been basically drive-by posting. My computer had a meltdown a couple of days ago and it took forever to get all my software reinstalled! That's a freakin' nightmare, let me tell you. Also, there's a new kitten in the household. He was rescued from the middle of the road and he was a holy terror for the first few nights. Would not stop yowling! He's fine now, after a bath and some food. Now, he's exploring and playing and sleeping on my hand while I try to work in photoshop. (He's just too cute to move.) But! I'm back up and running again, and hopefully I'll be getting around to comments, doing another worldbuilding post (sentient plants again! Then, I think more agriculture, and then back to the desert for culture building!). I've got a ton of projects all going at once (Note to self: send chapters to Chrys!!) and I'm bouncing between them all. Which is a lot of fun, but also pretty hectic! Oh, well. I work well under pressure.

This *points to cover* is my latest assignment from MuseItUp! It's Trixie's Hot Box, by R.L. Courtright, and I had such fun with it! I love working with light and shadows, and the neon was a blast to do. Other than the cover art, I'm working on some other pieces, all fantasy and science fiction, which are totally my favorites. Big surprise, right? :-D Two for my own books, and some others just because I wanted to. Always fun. Expect to see some of that soon, too! Plus, I totally have to redo the blog. My monitor has a different resolution now and my non-repeating background does not stretch. *glares at it* Stretch, damn you! Er, yeah. Perhaps a little too much caffeine? More than enough rambling, at any rate!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Music While Writing

While I generally listen to music while writing, I don’t make playlists or anything for my books. I think it’s because I like to listen to songs I know really well, songs that fade into the background when I’m really into what I’m doing, only popping into my awareness when I’m sitting back to consider a scene. Even then, I don’t want to be distracted. I might get up and do something, but it’s always the kind of thing that won’t take up too much of my brain. Washing dishes, straightening up, feeding the cats, taking a short walk. Things you can do while half on auto-pilot.

I suppose I like to listen to “auto-pilot” music, too. Songs I can sing along to without having to think about the words. Because there’s always something going on in the back of my brain when I’m writing. It may not be conscious, but it’s still there, and it’s still taking up brain power. Which is why, when I come back to the writing, I can often start typing away, whatever I was considering having been resolved.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Just a Fly-By about Dialogue and Characterization

You know what my favorite part of a story is? The dialogue. Seriously, because when it’s well done, it’s just so much fun to read. At least, I think so. Give me a good conversation and I am totally hooked. I love the interplay between characters, the back and forth that tells you so much about who they are and how they relate, to the person they’re talking to, to the world they’re in, to the story.

I love it when characters argue, or have a discussion where they’re at cross purposes. I love it when one character is saying one thing—and the reader knows it—and another character is hearing another—and the reader knows that, too—because I think it shows the depth of understanding the author has for the characters, and has given the reader. You know? You can’t have two different characters, talking about two different things, but thinking they’re talking about the same thing unless you know how they think!

Did that make any sense? The point was, I love it when an author knows a character so well that the words coming out of their mouths make real sense, because we—the readers—understand that character, because they’ve been explained to us by the author. (Although, hopefully through the cunning use of characterization and not because they’ve literally been explained.) Dialogue takes on a whole new depth when the reader really gets what the character is trying to say, regardless of the words they’re actually saying.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Of Cover Art and Freelancing

You know, it occurred to me this morning that I probably hadn't mentioned that I'm working as a cover artist these days and y'all were likely wondering why I kept posting cover art to the blog. You probably figured it out anyway, but it's still annoying that my brain doesn't automatically upload itself to the net. Silly brain. Can't I get some kind of upgrade for that?

I'm working at MuseItUp, but I'm also taking on freelance clients. I'm looking to build up my client list and portfolio, so I'm only charging $75 a cover at the moment. If anyone's looking for a cover artist, I'm available. You can see my work... Er, right there *points to the right* or more of it here!

This cover, though, is for Mary Andrews' Fireborn Chronicles: Revelations--which you already know, because it's written right on the cover. Isn't that handy? *nods* I'm really happy with the way it came out, and I totally loved working with the colors and getting the feel of it down!

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Desert, Part 3 – Plant and Animal Species

Photo by Moyan Brenn.
Deserts are not the lifeless expanses that we sometimes think they are. Some are extremely barren, yes, but not all, or even most. Many contain vibrant ecosystems adapted to the little moisture they receive. Desert sand and soil is, often, very rich in nutrients. What it is lacking in, is water. A desert is typically defined as an area which receives less than 10" of precipitation per year. That's not 'no water,' just 'little water.' And when it does rain in the desert, this water can stick around for a while because it soaks in and fills underground hollows. This is how oases form, and the reason why you can have such a fertile area in a dry place. The wet ground can support plant life, and the plant life can provide shade for other plants and animals.

Some oases are lush, green islands in a sea of sand or rock, but there are other types of plant life in other types of deserts. In North America, the deserts of Mexico and the American Southwest feature plants like creosote bushes, sagebrush, the Joshua tree (with found only in the Mojave desert), and—let's not forget—cacti (with one exception, native only to the Americas) and other succulents, and the Lithops ("living rocks," so very cool) which are native to South Africa. As you can see, many desert species find it hard to travel outside of their particular areas, largely due to their high degree of specialization.

There are many ways in which plants learn to live in deserts. In windy deserts, plants typically stay low to the ground. Many desert plants work to limit the amount of sunlight and heat they take in, but there are different ways to do this. Cacti have spines which break up the wind around them and help cool them down. Some plants have leaves that always grow so that the broad sides (which take in light for photosynthesis) face north or east, the directions of least sunlight.

Cacti and other succulents soak up water, storing it in modified stems or leaves, allowing them to go for long periods between 'waterings.' They're basically the camels of the plant world. And, as anyone who has ever forgotten about an aloe for an extended period of time can tell you, you can actually watch these plants turn from brown to green as you water them and the tissues in their leaves (or other storage devices) suck in the water.

Often desert plants go into a dormant phase through the drier seasons (which can be summer or winter, or any other time, depending on the position of the desert and the surrounding weather patterns), waiting for rain to fall in order to seed. They may drop their leaves during this time, not because they're dead, but just as deciduous trees do in the winter. Their dormancy means they cannot divert what energy they have to leaf production and maintenance, so the leaves drop off as the plant focuses its reserves on more vital functions.

Because rain can come on quickly, and dissipate just as quickly, some plants are waiting for the first drops of moisture in order to spring into action. Sometimes literally, as some desert plants have evolved so that their dry tissues expand when they become moist, allowing them to actually fling their seeds out. This gives the seeds a good chance of landing far enough away so that they won't be competing with the parent plant for resources, but still within an area which is likely to have resources and to get rain (because it has for a long enough period for the parent plant to become established). So, areas which get rain, and which have fertile enough ground to support plant life, can be filled with seed-shooting plants, instead of having a cluster of plants which all have to compete for the nutrients in a smaller area.

The insect and animal population of a given desert is also a 'concern' for plants. Plants have a complicated relationship with insects, especially, and this is only truer in many deserts. Some insects require certain types of plants in order to procreate (they will only lay their eggs within a given species) and others require the plants for food, which can be destructive or non-destructive to the plant, depending on what the insect needs. This can lead to very specialized relationships in which certain types of insects will protect plants they need from other more destructive insects. When that's not possible, plants may develop other strategies, such as the Lithops which look exactly like pebbles. Seriously, if you didn't know better, you would think they were just another speckled rock on the ground, except for when they're flowering. They often have very pretty flowers, in various shades, but unless they're flowering, they look like rocks.

In most deserts, mammals play a small role. There generally aren't enough resources to provide for larger mammals, but there are exceptions, such as camels, donkeys and gazelle. Most mammals are small, and many are rodents (moles, mice of varying types) or lagomorphs (rabbits of varying types). There are also canines and cats of various types. Both are generally smaller than their non-desert dwelling counterparts (mountain lions being an exception here), generally they have adaptions like large ears (a way of catching breezes and cooling the blood, which flows close to the surface of the skin when it moves through the ears. Basically, large erect ears are like radiators for desert species), smaller bodies, less or shorter fur, etc.

Reptiles—lizards, snakes, etc.—are very common in deserts. Their cold-blooded natures make them really good at dealing with the heat. Some will burrow down into the sand when it gets too hot or too cold, and then come up to lie in the sun until they're properly warmed up again.

There are many, many different types of creatures that live in deserts, and the adaptations that these species develop can provide a lot of interesting fodder for species you're creating. If you're doing a non-human desert-living species, I highly recommend researching the animal adaptations that have developed and incorporating some of that into not only your species building, but into your culture building as well.

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Which will be the topic of my next desert post!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Update and more Cover Art!

So, I've been working on Sings the Distant Heart lately. It's a short (Ha!) story, but there's a lot of detail involved and it's been really fun to work with! It's absolutely speculative fiction, I don't know whether to call it fantasy or science fiction, though! A wonderful friend of mine read it over and offered some great notes. Now I just have to figure out how to pull it all together for the second draft. *ponders* There's a lot involved because the species--and therefore the point of 'view' character--are all sightless. It means that descriptions become an interesting challenge. There is so much that, even if we don't describe it visually, we use sight words to communicate. But this species evolved underground, and there's no need for them to have eyes where there is no light, so they use their senses of hear, smell, and touch to navigate their world. Everything needs to be communicated in those terms, and yet make sense to the reader. So, it's been a blast!

Also, I finished another cover for MuseItUp, S.S. Hampton's Better Than a Rabbit's Foot, and I'm really happy with it! I really enjoying doing cover art. Graphics are a bit meditative for me. There's a set of problems to solve (how to fit this, where that should go, how big that other thing should be), but all you have to do is try things out. If one thing doesn't work, go back and try something else.

The art does remind me, though, that I need to do the next post in the desert series here. It's mostly written, but I just have to read it over and get it posted. Life is chaos, but that can be fun. At least, it's not ever boring. :-D

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin

LaviniaLavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While there were a few things that I didn't like, overall I found this to be a wonderful book that I absolutely could not put down. I love Ms. LeGuin's writing and this book was no exception. I thought the style was wonderful, and the character voice was stunning. The first person really works here, as this is very much Lavinia's story. I loved the early Roman setting and the way Ms. LeGuin really brought it to life, filling it with so many wonderful and expressive details that made it shine. I also loved the way Ms. LeGuin intertwined Virgil's Aeneid with story, pulling out aspects and elements that made this a lovely read.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cover Art!!

Hey all! I've been way busy. I've signed on as a cover artist with MuseItUp Publishing! They're keeping me hopping, with the help of school and writing, of course. I thought I'd share some of the work I've been doing form them with you guys!



So, that's part of what's been keeping me busy! Of course, it would have something to do with books, right? I have so much fun with these covers and I love working with other authors! Hearing that they're happy with their covers really makes my day!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Copyright, Creative Commons and the Modern Writer

So, this morning, after being awoken by the urgent need to sort out the flood happening in my kitchen, I sat down to hop on the internet and check my email. This is generally my morning routine, sans flood. But this morning I found something fascinating in my inbox. This happens occasionally, because I have the best friends ever, but today it was something to do with writing, with my work, with innovation and ingenuity and ... Okay, let me just tell you what it was...

May 17, 2012 -- Unglue.it (http://unglue.it) the crowdfunding site that lets book lovers pay authors and publishers to make their already-published books free to the world under a Creative Commons license, is launching on May 17, 2012 at Noon EDT.

If supporters pledge an amount chosen by the books' rights holders before a given deadline, those books will be released as "unglued" ebook editions. The five authors and titles that will have initial campaigns at launch will be:

● Michael Laser, 6-321
● Joseph Nassise, Riverwatch
● Nancy Rawles, Love Like Gumbo
● Budding Reader, Cat and Rat
● Open Book Publishers, Oral Literature in Africa, by Ruth Finnegan.

For these campaigns, deadlines vary from approximately two to six months, and funding goals from approximately $5,000 to $25,000.

As the popularity of ebooks skyrockets, readers have been discovering both their convenience and their disadvantages. Proprietary formats and digital rights management (DRM) technology lock ebooks to specific devices and make it hard for people to keep reading their books as technology changes. Many ebooks cannot even be lent by libraries. Unglued ebooks solve these problems. They have no DRM and can be copied and shared without infringing copyright due to the Creative Commons license. Instead of receiving royalties, rights holders are paid one licensing fee of their choosing in advance. Book lovers pledge toward this fee using the Unglue.it platform.

"The ebook technology revolution creates new opportunities for innovative markets that support readers, authors, publishers, and libraries," said Eric Hellman, President of Gluejar Inc., the company behind Unglue.it. "Our crowdfunding platform will help the books that we love join the public commons for all to enjoy and cherish, while still respecting copyright and creators' livelihoods."

About Unglue.it: Unglue.it (http://unglue.it) is a crowdfunding platform which rewards rights holders for making their ebooks available to the world under a Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org). Unglue.it runs campaigns for previously published books, allowing book lovers to pledge toward giving them to the world. When rights holders' target prices are reached, they receive funds in exchange for issuing an unglued ebook edition which can be freely read, copied, and shared, noncommercially, worldwide. For more information, see http://unglue.it/press.

For more information please contact:

Eric Hellman
President, Gluejar Inc.
press@gluejar.com


Yup. You read that right. I have so many thoughts it's difficult to know where to begin! I mean, YAY!! Right? At least, I think it's a great big yay. Copyright wasn't intended to last forever, but rather as a way for authors (and other creators) to have a temporary monopoly on their creation, to give them a chance to establish a market, make a profit, and build an audience before the work entered the public domain. However, in recent years, the term of copyright has been extended. Now, on the surface, that maybe sounds like something that's good for the rights' holder. But that really depends on how you measure the success of a work. Public domain allows works to live on in our culture, allows works to live on as part of our collective accomplishments.

Copyright was originally established to help strike a balance between a creator's need to make a profit on their works and the public's need for shared cultural experience. Copyright is a monopoly. The only person allowed to sell the work (to make 'copies,' as it were) is the one who holds the rights. But authors have been selling those rights for... Well, ever. We sell them to publishers, so that they can provide us with cover art and marketing and distribution. We sell the foreign language rights so that our books can be published in other languages. And, while publishers generally don't buy foreign language rights right off the bat, this isn't any different, in that sense. Except that you're selling certain rights directly to the public and putting a cap on how much you earn for some of your rights.

Now, let's take a closer look at these points

1) Selling your rights directly to the public. Self-pubbed authors do that every day, and many with small presses as well. In fact, unless you get an advance, the amount of profit you make off your book is entirely dependent on the public. If they buy your book, you get profits, if they don't, you won't. In unglue.it's setup, the public pays first, and then gets certain rights to your book. What those rights are depends on the CC license under which you release it. You can read about specific CC licenses here.

2) Many books which go through traditional publishers never earn out their advance. I've been told (anyone out there who can confirm or deny this, please do comment!) that $5,000 is a pretty good advance these days and, so far, that's the minimum amount an author has requested for this project. Now, with that kind of advance, and a trad publisher, you can also sell foreign language rights, which is more lucrative. But with a Creative Commons license, you are still absolutely free to sell your book, and you can choose a non-commercial license which means that no one else is allowed to sell your book. Only give it away. So, who would want to buy your book if it's legally available for free? Well, we give books away all the time. We give books away for review, we give books away for promotions, and sometimes we make certain titles free just to get our name out there and generate buzz. Whether or not you want to trust that a given title will continue to sell after being released on a Creative Commons license is up to you, but what about that novella you were going to put up free on Smashwords? There are some things we'll only know when there's actual data coming in, and it's a perfectly valid (and wise) choice to wait for that data. However, we give things away all the time.

Depending on the license you choose, the only difference there has to be here, is that you're saying that the people who have this book? They can give it away, give away copies of it, and lend it out as well. Even if they didn't pay to get it in the first place. Which is the truth with actual physical books. Anyone who buys a book (or is given it by a friend) is absolutely free to give it away, lend it out, scribble in the margins. It's theirs. Now, these are ebooks, and digital media allows people to make unlimited perfect copies and someone could, conceivably, create thousands of copies of your book and give them away for free. Oh, no. The horror. The horror. Is this what we're afraid of? Seriously? I mean... sign me up! I would be thrilled if there was even one person how there who loved my book that much! (Who wasn't a good friend, my fiance, or directly related to me, obviously.)

And, moreover, Creative Commons licenses are customizable! Unglue.it doesn't tell you what license to choose. You don't have to give away all your rights, that's the point of the Creative Commons license. You can choose which license you wish to apply to your work, and which works you choose to apply it to, and which ones you want to keep under a tradition copyright. You could choose to license your work as 'Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs' which would mean that people could give your book away, but could not change it, or sell it, and must attribute it to you. Or, you could use 'share alike' meaning that any work using your work to create a derivative, must also be licensed the same way. And all Creative Commons licenses require attribution.

Now, for those who worry that this kind of thing will encourage piracy, or that this type of licensing will mimic piracy... think of what Neil Gaiman has to say on the subject, or this article, and this article on Forbes, or this article on Discover. Okay, the last one is a little off topic, but the video is funny!

So, those are my thoughts on the topic. I'm sure there are tons of other opinions out there, and I'd love to hear them! What do you guys think about this idea of crowdfunding for the release of rights? Would you ever consider selling your rights this way? What are the possible pitfalls that you see in such an option? The advantages? One way or another, I think this is something we should absolutely be discussing. So, talk to me, people! :-D

Okay, now I have to go check on the progress of Project Dry Out the Kitchen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rain Makes All Books Better

I love writing or reading when it’s raining. There’s something about the sound of it pouring down outside and being curled up with a good book, of any variety. Even books that don’t want to get written, or books that I’m not enjoying as much as I’d hoped, are better when I’m reading them during a rainstorm. It’s even better if there’s a blanket, and the lights are dim, and it’s just me and the book. Except for maybe a cat. A cat kind of completes the experience. *nods*

Mysteries are particularly good like that, of course, because all mysteries take place on a dark and stormy night. Except those which happen on a bright, sunny day, of course. Thrillers, ghost, and horror stories are all equally fun when it’s raining. Noir is a personal favorite for those times. With fantasy, well, it doesn’t really add much to the atmosphere most of the time, but there’s still something soothing about the sound of rain. And it’s not just the rain itself, but the sound of the wet outside. The wet tree limbs moving in the wind, the sound of cars going by on a wet road.

It’s all somehow evocative. I even love being out in the rain, so it isn’t just that it’s nice to be curled up, warm and dry, with something to help pass the time. It’s cozy, I guess, and it seems to almost shut off the outside world. Maybe it’s because it helps you get lost in the book, because all the distractions seem to quiet down for a while.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Worldbuiding - Agriculture Basic: Types of Crops

Types of Crops

Not all cultures grow wheat. Wheat is not a requirement for a low-tech culture. Starch, however, is. But there are many ways to get starch. From barley to arro root to rice to corn and on and on. I think the best way to figure out what your culture would be eating is to take a look at our own cultures. But, that's not always a perfect indicator, because there are some plants that just happened to evolve in a specific area and never had the chance to spread. If they'd had the opportunity, they might have become prolific, or they might not have. So, don't just focus on a single area. Focus on a given environment. If conditions are similar in two different areas, but those areas are on opposite sides of the Earth, they're usually going to have different types of plants. However, your area can have both.

That doesn't mean you should just toss in plants at random, of course. Crops may begin as wild growth, but the difference between "gathering" and "agriculture" is cultivation. Your culture chose to seed these plants, year after year. They chose to do the hard labor of making room for them and tending to them because these plants gave your culture something. Food or shelter or necessary raw materials. Agriculture isn't random. The most valuable crops are the most versatile crops or the ones that are most vital.

These are the ones that get the most space, the most time, the most attention. If you can make a lot of different things out of it, or you absolutely have to have it, you grow it in as much quantity as you can. For instance, when doing the worldbuilding for Born of this Soil, I was looking up similar environments. River delta, fertile soil, near the ocean, with a warm and moist climate. In researching I came across a list of crops grown in such an environment and saw 'persimmon.' It piqued my interest. I've never had a persimmon. I've heard of them, of course, but I really had no idea what they were.

So I did some research; you can make so much stuff from persimmons! Seriously: breads, coffee(ish), tea(ish), beer, molasses, pies, jellies, candies, wine, brandy. Pickle them, dry them, grind them into fine powder and sprinkle them on other stuff. And I thought—much as I'm sure many among my culture would have—well, that takes care of half my needs right there! And I liked the idea of the persimmon, versatile little weirdo that it is, being their favorite fruit. They're considered an acquired taste, and because the Andoli have been conquered and are living under the rule of another culture, I wanted them to have things that were very distinctly theirs. The ruling Ephendri think it's a horrible taste, but since they profit from the sale of it, they have no reason to want to stop persimmon growth or sale. My Andoli characters even make and drink bootleg persimmon brandy, wine, and beer. It's something they share with one another, something which does not get offered or given to the Ephendri characters—for the most part, although there is one (maybe two) with whom it's a point of symbolism.

So, choose your crops with the same care that your culture would. Really think about what their needs will be and how they can satisfy them. Crops have to be grown and harvested, and that takes time. Some crops can be harvested more often than others, some provide more bounty than others, and some take more care and attention than others. You don't have to know the entire evolutionary history of a crop in order to use it well—although, you know I won't stop you if you want to know!—but you should have an idea of when they can have it, how long they can store it, how much they can do with it, and how much of it they'll need.

Choosing Plants and Crops

However, even if you're making up your own fruits, vegetables and grains, or making use of something we don't to any large extent, you might also consider tying it to something familiar. If you don't want your culture or species to feel completely alien to the reader, having them enjoy something that is familiar can help. Of course, you have to be careful with this. On the one hand, there are words you can use to describe the taste that aren't references to our own world—such as sweet, bitter, sour, spicy, rich—and then there are words that relate to substances that may or may not exist in your background—salty, sugary, peppery, nutty, buttery.

It is possible that your world contains these things, but each world is different. Even if they're on your world, it's possible that your culture or species doesn't have or use them, or they're too expensive for most people. Knowing where these things come from, how and where they're most likely to be found, or how they are made means allows you determine where they are and aren't.

This is another reason to consider a climate rather than a specific area. You can take plants from similar climates (the more similar the better, in fact) even if they do not belong to the same small geographical region. If you're worried that taking two different plants from radically different places will confuse the reader and make them unsure what they should be picturing, don't name the plant. Describe it instead. Can you name every tree you walk past? I can spot an oak, a magnolia, a dogwood, a crepe myrtle, a linden, a cypress, a birch, but I can't tell you want a maple looks like. I can't tell you the names of half the bushes I see just walking down the street are called. You don't have to name everything, name the ones that you think your readers will be able to picture and describe the rest.

Friday, April 27, 2012

New Urban Fantasy Out Today!!

It's been a long road, but today Getting Ahead comes out from MuseItUp Publishing! I really love this story for a lot of reasons, but mostly for its quirky, yet gritty, tone and its characters. I adored writing Nick and Renee. Y'all know my love of character interaction and these two let me have some real fun in that arena. They work together so well, and compliment one another so much, and they just won't stop with the snark! Not that I'd actually want them to, of course!

When Detective Nick D'Artori arrives at the scene of the Troll-Killer of Portal Park’s latest attack, he knows his night isn't going to be boring. Finding the Troll-Killer's victim alive—if missing one of his two heads—seems like a stroke of much needed good luck. But why would the victim, a royal guard, have wandered away from his duty? And was it only coincidence that the Troll-Killer happened to target him? The inconsistencies lead Nick and his partner, Renee Arbors, down a new road of investigation, but they’ll have to negotiate it while foiling mad bombers, carjackers and trollish magic.


Excerpt:

Nick's gaze slid to the portal eddying over the old oaks. Defined only by the circular, spiraling movement of its blue light, it was easily twenty stories in diameter. The attack had occurred in a secluded area, and though a mile from the portal at the park's center, it was bathed in electric blue portal-glow. The night became a grainy monotone, like an old movie on bad film. He'd never imagined such a thing existing, but in the last five years a host of strange things had become common sights. Trolls, centaurs, and gnomes stepped through the portal and became part of his world. Not elves, though. Apparently they were mythical everywhere.

Now he saw almost as many gnomes crossing the street as humans, stood behind them in line for his coffee and glared at them in traffic. Trolls and centaurs weren't as common, but he'd stopped to give directions to a group of centaur tourists just that morning. There had been a time when all he'd seen were humans. They were everything, the whole world. The only thing one could possibly mean when one said "people."

He'd been a beat cop when the portal materialized, patrolling Crown Street when the night suddenly burst to life. The air had grown thick and hard to breathe, carrying a charge like nothing he'd felt before, static electricity mixed with cold fire. The shoplifter he'd caught had run off and instead of giving chase Nick stood staring as blue light blazed over the city. Bright as dawn, but hours early and far too fast, he thought it must be an explosion of some kind, until he got a better view. The portal--which hadn't even existed just two minutes prior--loomed above City Park, its light inexplicable and terrifying.

Nationwide speculation became an epidemic. Fact, fiction, and theory blended together and soon became inseparable. Some insisted the Large Hadron Collider experiments, half a world away, were to blame. Some said magic had created it. Some called it the work of God. Which god became a dispute of its own. One way or another, the portal was there. They'd had to deal with it. "Chaos" best described the following years, although at times "panic" and "bedlam" also applied.

Now it had become the beating heart of the city, bridging the 'old' and the 'new,' joining them. Now it wasn't just a city. It was Portal City, and if the people in Washington hadn't decided to move closer, they paid attention to what went on. It didn't make his job any easier, yet Nick turned to the portal. He followed the variations in the shades of light, eddying in a giant circle defined by no-one-knew-what. It wasn't growing. It wasn't shrinking. It showed no signs of going anywhere, but it had taught Nick that nothing—absolutely nothing—lasted forever. His entire world could change in a single, impossible moment. Nothing was ever guaranteed to be the same tomorrow as it had been the day before.

He didn't know if he could forgive that.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Agriculture Basics: Location, Location, Location

Note: Sorry it took so long. The post kept growing and growing, and my life is chaos. Which, yes, is actually a perpetual state for me. So, on to agriculture and worldbuilding...

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There's a lot to know about agriculture, especially in the modern era. It's a science, and even historically it was complicated. Different cultures approach agriculture in different ways, and some are more tied to their products than others, although in a smaller area with less chance of travel, agricultural products tend to form a larger part of a nation's economy. I can't tell you how to grow crops, but I can help you figure out how your culture grows crops, what kinds of crops they're likely to grow, and maybe clarify how that fits into your culture's economy.

Location Considerations

The fact that different sorts of crops grow in different climates and locations isn't a surprise to anyone. Once you know what climate your culture/s is living in, you can research similar climates to find out what grows there in our world. Now, you may be making up new plants, fruits, grains, etc. Or, you might be supposing that things we don't (or can't) use as a food source are actually vital to your species or culture. All of that is great. If you want to create a truly unfamiliar or alien world, food is a really good way to communicate that difference. It's a basic necessity, and humans (as your readers are likely to be!) have distinct ideas about what it should be and how it should be eaten. Food is one of the biggies when it comes to the divides between cultures. How we prepare our food, season our food, and what bits we eat/don't eat/are forced to eat can tell your reader a lot about a people.

Remember that in an agriculture system, foods are seasonal. We only have a limited concept of this today because we can import foods from places which are in the grips of different seasons. In addition, our ability to preserve foods (in non-pickling ways) means that we can transport them farther and sometimes have them year-round. This isn't the case in lower tech backgrounds, although in higher tech science fiction backgrounds, it could be even more the case. Perhaps there are whole planets that serve as giant farms: The Bread Baskets of the system.

However, the growing location matters even more when food can only travel a given distance. If your nation is particularly large, there are probably sections of it which have some products while others don't. For instance, anything sea-related is unlikely to travel well, or last long enough to make it too far inland. Someone from the interior of a country is not going to be used to the foods they find on the coast. The same is true of a lot of different crops. Smaller nations may all have access to the same types of food, but you'll also need to consider how far outside of your nation crops and foods can be transported. That will affect which things can be traded with outside regions and which can't be, as well as what types of foods and crops will be found in the surrounding areas.

In addition, there are methods of food preservation which will allow your culture to transport some foods farther, or allow them to keep longer. Food preservation in lower tech backgrounds often meant pickling, smoking, or drying. Grapes become raisins through drying, just as plums become prunes. Dried banana can be really good. Many different types of vegetables can be pickled, from carrots to beets to cabbage to onions and on and on and on. It's important that you do your research because in low tech backgrounds food goes bad quickly. If it's something you wouldn't leave out overnight and still be willing to eat the next day, just think of what it would be like before pasteurization and preservatives.

Spices and seasonings may be common or uncommon in your world; it really depends on the environment in which your culture lives. Herbs and spices can, generally speaking, be fairly easily stored to retain their flavor, so they can be available to a wider audience than items like fruits and vegetables. However, the farther they have to go, the longer it takes, the more risk is involved in transporting them (to both the transporter and the cargo), and the more they cost.

If your culture lives surrounded by nutmeg and mace, than it's readily available, inexpensive, and probably a large part of the flavors of their local foods. Of course, there's every possibility that someone else wanted those flavors and it can reach a point where the people who grow the stuff can't afford to eat it because it's more valuable to them as a source of income.

Also consider the process needed to acquire the spice, crop, etc. There are a lot of ways to get salt (ocean, mining, salt flats), but some are going to produce more than others, some are going to require more hard labor than others, and all these different types of salt are… Well, different. Remember that the price of something depends on a number of things:

• How common is it?
• How many uses does it have?
• How much effort does it take to create/harvest?
• How far does it have to travel?
• How popular/necessary is it?
• Who controls it, and how tightly?
• How often is it available?

Fruits and vegetables are much less portable than herbs and spices. Some can be dried or pickled, such as peppers and plums (prunes). Some travel pretty well, such as potatoes and onions. Some are fairly delicate and aren't going to make it far, such as peaches. Apples are a whole other story because they release ethanol as they age and can actually speed other fruits and vegetables along. Imagine trying to transport those in a closed wagon over long distances!

So consider not only the location in terms of what can grow there, but in terms of what will make it out of there and what won't. Consider the different microclimates and regions of your nations. Foods can become synonymous with the areas from which they come, and you can use crops and foods to help define your cultures and to create boundaries between them.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Update

Well, that post on Basic Agriculture is still coming. I wasn't actually coherent this weekend (I don't think I'm totally coherent now, but other than that and a lingering cough, I'm doing much better!) and I didn't think it would be a good idea to edit and post what I'd written until I could guarantee I was at least making sense. Er, as much as I ever do. :-D

Unfortunately (to some degree of 'unfortunate'), I now have the final galley for Getting Ahead (!!!) to look over, a paper to write for class, and a read through of an article I wrote that needs a quick look over. Once I've got all that wrangled, I'll be all over the basic agriculture! Promise!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Desert, Part 2

Note: You know how I said I had a lot of desert research thanks to A Sign in Blood? Yeah. I so wasn't lying. Plus, I found more in another notebook. :-D This series has gotten longer, but I'm not going to post it all in one go (or series of goes). This second post will be the last one on deserts for a little while, so that I can post on a couple of other topics (agriculture, agrarian cultures vs. non-agrarian cultures, and siege engines). However, I will be coming back to it fairly soon. Desert posts after this one will include desert landforms, plants and species, desert cultures, and some more generalized worldbuilding thoughts.

Also, all temperatures in this post are given in Fahrenheit.

Part 1 | Part 2

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Temperature

Many (but not all!) deserts are hot. One reason for this is the fact that many form near the equator, where sunlight is more direct and temperatures higher. However, this is also exacerbated by another influence; dry ground, rock, and sand are less capable of absorbing heat than is wet ground, plants or water by itself. So, as these surfaces are heated by the sun (especially the very direct sunlight near the equator), they release their heat into the air which then becomes hotter, especially the first 6 or 7 feet of air closest to the ground. Above that, temperatures can be dramatically cooler.

Deserts can also get very cold, very quickly, having a large shift in temperature between day and night. The reason is that these surfaces (sand, stone, dry ground) release heat easily, so once the sun goes down and the heat is no longer being constantly replenished, the heat bleeds off and the air cools. This cooling and reheating of desert air perpetuates the dryness of the desert. Because sand is such a poor conductor of heat, the sand below the surface also takes a good while to warm up. This cooler area allows organisms and creatures to be somewhat protected from the heat.

Because it is the direct sunlight which heats up the hot deserts, areas protected from the sun and dry winds (as by rock formations, oases, etc.) can also form microclimates. The microclimates (which includes the below surface sand) can be cooler and—protected from the drying wind—sometimes more moist. It is in these areas which life is most likely to be found.

However, not all deserts form within 30 degrees of the equator. The deserts of Central Asia (Gobi, Takla-Makan, etc.), for instance are caused by continentality (the drying of the air as it moves inland, bleeding off its rain in the more coastal regions), the rainshadow effect (or a combination thereof), so while they are dry, they are not necessarily hot.

The Gobi, considered a cold desert, actually does have some very hot temperatures in summer (up to 122 degrees), but can also reach lows of -40 degrees. The average temperature there is around 37 degrees, but it can change very quickly, with shifts of up to 60 degrees happening in as little as 24 hours. Snowcapped or frosty dunes are a somewhat familiar sight in some regions of the Gobi. Like most non-equatorial climates, the temperature depends upon the season. In summer, temperatures get to about an average of 66 degrees, while an average late winter day might be around 2 degrees.

Still, this is just one particular desert, in order to give you an idea of what kinds of temperatures you could be looking at when building such a place. Polar deserts are, obviously, much colder for much longer periods, but also are a very different biome.

However, if your characters or culture live in, or must travel through, a place like the Gobi desert, they're going to have to be prepared for the massive shifts in temperature. They may not just have to deal with the cold, but also with extreme heat. Or the possibility of very cold nights, with almost pleasant days. Dealing with the challenges presented by our environments is one of the things which makes a culture, one of the things that defines it. Finding unique or interesting solutions to your culture challenges can really make them come alive.

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Formation Considerations

And, lastly, a few more things to take into account when you're creating your deserts: continental drift, atmospheric changes, and volcanic activity. In short, things change and deserts were always something else at one point in time.

This is important to remember because your characters can, in fact, stumble upon lost civilizations chased away by volcanic eruptions, petrified forests half-buried beneath the sand, and fossilized creatures (practically, this mean hippos and elephants and such, but in fantasy or science fiction terms, dragons, dinosaurs, etc. Maybe even a dormant virus just waiting to be revived in an unsuspecting populace. You know, fun stuff! :-D).

So, keep in mind that things change over time and what is now a barely crossable obstacle for your characters or a challenging environment in which to build a civilization, could have once been a lush and thriving forest, a vast and powerful trade city that controlled most of the known world, or a massive tar pit in which many young dragons once met their tragic ends.

Even if you're not going to use those as plot elements, they make great visuals!

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Next week, I'll be discussing basic agriculture and hopefully I'll be able to fit it in one post of a reasonable length! Well, we'll see… :-D



Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Sign in Blood's Last Free Day!

Well, today is the last day you can get A Sign in Blood for free! I've been lucky enough to be a guest on three fabulous blogs: Dreamer's Perch, Unnecessary Musings, and of course over at Chrystalla Thoma's, where I talk about different aspects of the stories.

Currently, A Sign in Blood is ranked #85 Free in Kindle Store, #2 in Kindle Store > Fantasy > Epic, and #52 in Kindle Store > Genre Fiction!! And huge thanks to everyone who helped it get there!!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Deserts, Part 1

Note: I have a lot of research on this topic from my worldbuilding on A Sign in Blood, so I'm going to have to split this up into a few posts. Right now, I'm planning on two, but that could change once I really dive into it.

Part 1 | Part 2

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Part of worldbuilding is knowing where to put things. After all, different types of geography don't just appear randomly and fully formed on the face of the earth (or any other planet). Usually. Everything we see around us is the natural result of the forces exerted by the sun, currents, rain, and even the Earth's rotation in space.

Understanding these to some degree helps a writer to build a world. And using geography to do this isn't just a matter of accuracy or realism. Understanding different landforms helps a writer by giving them options they may not have considered, or even heard of. When you're writing about something you've never experienced—as we all often are—it's better to go in armed with knowledge and some idea of what you could be creating, rather than later realize that your vast, sweeping desert is really a giant sandbox.

Knowing what the options are here, and how those options came to be, frees you up to get creative and gives you the tools to build something really spectacular. So, without further ado, here are some ways in which deserts are created.

Basic Desert Formation

Deserts generally form on either side of the equator because the air there is exposed to intense sunlight and it heats up. There is a lot of ocean at the equator, and under this intense heat, a lot of water evaporates. This air, both hot and moist, rises up in the atmosphere, gradually cooling as it does. Hot air can hold more moisture than cool air, so the cooling rings the moisture out of it. This precipitation falls on the land at the equator, producing the tropics. The now dry, cool air then descends again about 30 degrees away, on either side of the equator. It warms and expands, becoming even drier for being rewarmed, and this is one way in which deserts form. The land in those areas of dry, rewarmed air doesn't have the moisture to support much, if any, plant life.

There are some things to consider when building your world. This cycle happens because of the vast among of water at the equator. If your world doesn't have as much water at the equator, or has more, you'll need to adjust your world's weather accordingly. In addition, if your world has a weaker sun, for some reason doesn't get much sun at the equator, etc., you'll have to adjust for that as well.

Also, deserts, just like other types of geography, have landforms (which we'll talk more about in part 2) and characteristics that come from the ways in which they were made. And these can vastly affect and the look and feel of your desert, which can vastly affect the way you describe your desert and the things your characters are likely to encounter while in them.

Another way for a desert to form is if the area is far inland from the ocean. Most of the moisture in the atmosphere is evaporated from the oceans, and then falls on land. As the air moves in toward the center of a continent, it gets more and more dry and, by the time it reaches the farther inland destinations, it's got no more moisture to give. This is the case with both the Gobi and Takla-Makan deserts.

The "rainshadow effect" can also create a desert. In this case, a mountain range has a windward side against which moisture-bearing air flows. This air is then pushed up higher into the atmosphere by the mountains. As it goes higher, the air is cooled and the moisture condenses, forming precipitation on the windward side. However, on the leeward side (the side not exposed to moisture-bearing air currents) the already dry air descends, becomes warmer, and so drier still. This can create a lush forest on the windward side, while leaving the leeward side, and the ground for some distance beyond, a dry steppe land or desert. To get an idea of these types of deserts, think of the American Southwest.

Other types of deserts are caused by coastal cooling. Air moving over cold water becomes cold and therefore cannot hold as much moisture. As it moves over land, it rewarms, becoming drier still (especially if there is no moisture to absorb as it rewarms). In such areas, such as the Atacama and Kalahari deserts, fog or mist often occurs along the coastline (and inland to a certain extent), but rain rarely does.

While any of these forces can, by themselves, produce a desert region, they often combine and this can make a desert even more severe.

Next time we'll talk about desert heat, and the lack of it, and landforms in the desert (unless that turns into two posts).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Favorite Kinds of Books

Reading a lot of short stories lately. I just don’t have the time for full-length books, and I’m really getting frustrated with it. Not that the short stories aren’t lovely, but sometimes you just crave something long and involved and filled with details. Something you can immerse yourself in and look up three hours later, blinking and wondering how the hell you zoned out for so long. I love books that can pull me in that way and I really, really miss them.

This is probably why I like fantasy series and big fat fantasy novels, because it’s so much fun to just get lost in a good book now and then. One of those books that pulls you in so deep you miss dinner, your favorite TV show, and a couple of phone calls.

Hmm… Maybe I should split the difference and find a nice novella to burrow into.

What’s your favorite absorbing book? The one you can never manage to put down without losing at least an hour?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Awesome Authors and Badass Books

Some of you may know that I've been working on a new page for the blog for a while now, a place for me to showcase my favorite books and the fantastic authors who wrote them. Well, I finished it! Okay, so that's not technically true because I'll be adding to it. There are still bunches of wonderful books and authors to mention. But I finally got it started and posted and that's a big damn accomplishment for me, at the moment!

I almost thought I lost it there for a moment (Blogger did weird things), but it's still there!

So, check out Awesome Authors and Badass Books!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Authors and Research

Authors--me absolutely included!--think they know everything. No, seriously, we do. I have argued the most obscure points of things that I've never, ever done--or will do--and can get totally pedantic over details. And, you know what? I’ve often been wrong and still argued my point without stopping to think it through. (*cringe*)

The point is that authors don't know everything. (I hated typing that. :-D)

Research is absolutely necessary to bridge that gap, but conducting good research can be tricky these days. The internet, which is a marvel and a wonderful thing, is also a hotbed of false information, incomplete information, information that seems to say one thing when it really meant to say something else, and—interestingly—a stunning lack of information on some topics.

I love to research though (as you may have noticed if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time) and I try to compile my research into something approaching an interesting blog post and share it. That doesn’t mean you should ever just take me at my word, of course. Finding more sources is important, as is reading up on the topic at hand. But, I thought I’d do a post on researching topics, which is really more about how I research topics.

Generally, I start with Google and Yahoo. No one search engine is going to have everything, so it’s good to use different ones. I also sometimes start at Wikipedia when I’m researching online. Now, Wiki is not a credible source, simply because it’s so easy to change the info and citations and blah, blah, blah. It really isn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great resource as a place to start. Seriously. It shouldn’t be the end of your research, but it can be a wonderful way to get an overview of a topic and to find out where you can go and what you need to search in order to learn more. Just don’t get lost on it, or base all your research on it.

Once you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, you can start the more targeted searches. I like to look for specific phrases which are in someway unique (or largely so) to the topic at hand. The more general your search phrases, the more unrelated results you’ll get.

Once you find the information, you have to look at where and who it’s coming from. Some websites are just more credible than others, and while there are sites out there with good information that aren’t obviously credible, they mean more work for you. You have to verify what they tell you, and you can’t just assume they know what they’re talking about when they don’t give you any reason to. Some sites, such as .edu and .gov sites are—generally speaking—more credible. When it comes to .org sites, it’s down to the organization which publishes them. If the organization is credible and cites credible sources for the information given, you may not need to verify any further, but… You may. It’s down to your judgment.

Blogs may or may not be credible. For instance, take me. I am not an expert on anything. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything. My posts about geology (or whatever) do not list citations and, while I do my research, I am not a geologist (or whatever) and could well be wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong. (Yes, I hated typing that, too.) Or maybe I’m using information that’s out of date. Or maybe I was out of my mind at the time. (Hey, you don’t know.) However, I try to provide information from a writer’s and worldbuilder’s perspective. I try to link the research I’ve done to the ways it can be practically applied in worldbuilding and writing, so the spin that I present may be useful because it sparks ideas for the use of the facts. If you check my facts, and you find that credible people (people with actual authority on the topic) tend to say the same things about those facts, you may find me credible. (Or you may not, and that’s totally cool.)

But regardless of your opinion on my credibility, my spin (linking facts to worldbuilding and writing) may still be useful to you. You may think, “You know, I should go check about the types of mountains there are, I think there’s something off there,” but my reasons for saying it’s important to know what types of mountains you’re worldbuilding may still be valid. And I may still have a point about how that affects the economy of your culture.

So blogs and the like, even if their facts cannot be considered credible, can be useful. And, if you happen to come across a blog discussing oceanography which is written by a well-known and well-respected oceanographer, you can probably consider them pretty credible. (Unless, of course, they’re saying that the oceans are filled with yummy, melty cheese, in which case you might want to verify a bit before you go diving in with crackers.)

Also, remember that even research--as thorough as it may be--cannot show you what the real-life experience is like. While I heavily endorse research and the digging out of facts, some things aren't actually facts. One person may do things one way, and insist that that's the right way, but that doesn't mean they're correct. It doesn't mean there aren't other ways of doing it, or that their experience is typical. Varying your sources helps, getting more than one point of view means that you can verify common things like terms, theory, common facts, etc. The things that more than a few people agree on tend to be the most factually correct or at least representative of the widest range of experience (assuming those people have some authority on the topic, of course).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Upcoming Posts and News

It's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry about that. Life came up and smacked me over the head and dragged me away. However, I'll be returning to a semi-regular posting schedule again now and slowly working through the comments the blog has received while I was away.

Upcoming posts include:

Authors and Research
Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Desert
Agriculture Basics

And, depending on how quickly I can get my research finished and compiled:

Siege Weapons!

I ask you, who doesn't love a nice catapult? :-D

In other news, A Sign in Blood will be going free for a few days soon, so you can expect me to talk at least a bit about that, once I've got the details all worked out. And Getting Ahead's release date is drawing ever nearer! (I'm so excited! It's not even funny!) It's an urban fantasy novella with a touch of noir, a touch of police procedural, and a touch of LOL! With trolls! In evening wear! :-D

(Yes, I realize I'm abusing the exclamation point. I'll stop now.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Rant on Stereotypes, Clichés, and Tropes

This is a bit of tricky topic because there’s a lot more there than meets the eye. I hate it when I’m reading a new story and find that it’s riddled with stereotypes and clichés, but I might admire its use of tropes.

Stereotypes are simplified, generalized, and incorrect beliefs held about a given group of people, and they’re insulting. When stereotypes are used to create characters, the characters become nothing more than two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that are carried around the story by the events. Instead of actual characters, we get bland, re-treaded ideas of what characters are: from the insulting stereotypes about gay characters or characters of color or female characters, to the bland remakes of archer elves and gold-obsessed dwarves. These characters become stock, and all their thoughts and reactions become a predictable mish-mash of the stereotypes. They don’t surprise the reader, they don’t even engage the reader, and often they just (rightly) piss off the reader.

Clichés are a bit more subjective, because included in the concept of the “cliché” is that it is overused. But what I’ve seen a hundred-thousand times and really can’t stand to wade through again, may be someone else’s beloved trope. And it’s tropes that make up a genre, that define what one expects from it and build the boundaries that are ‘genre.’ Whether it’s the farmboy-turned-prince or the chosen-one-of-prophecy-who-saves-the-world, there are certain themes that resonant with readers of any genre. This is where things get tricky. The difference between cliché and trope becomes murky, and defining them becomes harder.

A trope, in my opinion, is a shortcut, a bit of abbreviation that the writer uses in order to communicate theme, emotion, and content to the reader without having to take up pages and pages and come up with a new way of explaining really very basic concepts. One of my favorite tropes is this: the characters are sleeping, except for one who’s on guard or can’t sleep, etc. This awake character sees one of the sleeping characters is uncovered, and puts a blanket over them. It’s a classic scene. You’ve seen it many, many times. Maybe it’s a mother and son, or siblings that have spent a large part of the story arguing, or two people who insist they’re ‘just friends,’ but who you know are going to get together before the end. Although the emotion of the moment is tailored to reflect the relationship, the care and concern this simple act reflects tells the reader something. And it says it all without the writing having to dive into the reasons for it, or what it means to the character, or the motivations behind it. It’s simple, elegant, and gets the point across. It’s a trope.

However, if you take the whole ‘farmboy-turned-prince’ cliché—very popular in both fantasy and science fiction, and even outside genre fiction—and want to run with it, you’ll have to do a lot of work. We’ve seen it over and over and over, from many angles and in many ways. It’s going to take a lot of work to make that mutton taste like lamb. And what does it really say? Oh, you might be able to work in some themes about the “common person” and how one shouldn’t judge another based on their appearance or station in life, but… That’s all crap. Seriously. If the farmboy is a prince, and there’s something special about princes (which is a whole other rant, really), then he was never really ‘not a prince,’ was he? And what’s wrong with being a farmboy, damn it? What’s wrong with being one of the ‘common people?’ This cliché doesn’t speak very well for itself. It requires more: more themes, more concepts, all to direct the reader to the point. It’s not simple, nor is it elegant, and it does nothing for the story.

And, yes, I hear you out there saying, “But does a story really need a theme?” Well, let’s step away from the philosophical before we discuss that, okay? When I talk about themes, I don’t mean some grand point about the state of humanity and the world. But most stories have themes. These are the ideas and concepts which keep recurring in a story, and because most characters think about what’s happening to them in a way that reflects their life, what they think and feel become the themes. Themes don’t have to be huge and sweeping, but can be the really quite simple, such as “people will do anything to protect the ones they love,” or “love conquers all.” Now, granted, these two themes are a bit elderly and well-loved themselves, and perhaps treading toward the cliché, but that makes them great examples of common, simple themes. They’re nonthreatening (because sometimes writers hear the word ‘theme’ and hide behind the furniture like what you actually just said was ‘Dalek’) and we’ve all seen them, and we’ve all seen them done well and done badly.

Tropes are there to help communicate these concepts to the reader. They’re shorthand, revealing the characters without breaking the flow of the story. On the other hand, stereotypes and clichés can gum up the works. Stereotypes keep the writer from building deep, interesting characters, and clichés do the same for the plot. If you choose to write ‘farmboy-turned-prince,’ certain things are already set down. There’s already a tone to the story and a basic outline of how it’s going to go. Now, you can always twist the tale. Say, your farmboy gets his butt handed to him and it’s actually someone thought to be a secondary character that steps up and saves the day. Good! But that’s not writing the cliché anymore, either. Your plot is no longer held up by the cliché crutch, it just uses the cliché to direct the reader’s thoughts and feelings. It’s now a trope!

Stereotypes can be used this way as well, but it’s a lot harder and more sensitive ground. What you have to remember about stereotypes is that they’re often the funhouse mirror faux-reflection of actual people. They’re no more true than a funhouse reflection, they’re twisted and warped, and unreal, and then applied to entire groups of people, and they’re often hurtful. It’s so much easier to just create a character, rather than leaning on some established stock stereotype.

I think the reason we rely on clichés and stereotypes so often is because they’re deeply embedded in our brains. We see the same thing over and over and over and eventually it gets stuck there and—even when we know it doesn’t reflect reality—it becomes a part of our idea of reality. We watch television and, even when we know that children are rarely that bratty, or that no one wakes up in perfect make-up, we see it in front of our eyes and accept it. We read books and, even though we know better, we totally accept that the right idea will occur at the precisely right moment, or that the character always thinks of the perfect snappy comeback.

And not all of these things become thin and worn. Some of them have been around for decades—and longer—and we still write them and read them. That doesn’t mean we should. Take a moment and ask yourself whether your clichés, stereotypes, and tropes are really necessary and whether they help your story or hurt it. Are your characters actual people, or are they cutouts? Is your plot a compelling series of events, or is it held up by visible cliché crutches? Do your tropes communicate, or are they needless and confusing?

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This post is part of a blog hop organized by the very smart Chrystalla Thoma, who you should absolutely check out. And also, check out the other wonderful posts in this blog hop!

A. Merc Rustad – On Voice
Marie Dees - Building a Novel From Nothing
Krista D. Ball - Avoiding the Heroine Stupid Juice
Tomorrow: Ada Hoffmann - On Blundering
14 Febr: Amy Laurens – When Less is More

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Species Creation: Sentient Plants

I've always been fascinated by the idea of sentient plant species. Plants have so much variety, so many adaptations and so much potential for interest. Their experience of the world would be fundamentally different than that of any animal because their methods of living are so different. From feeding through photosynthesis to reproduction through the release of pollen, fruiting, or even budding.

Their point of view would be inherently different and that must have an effect on the way they’d view other forms of life. They need sunlight and water, and they take nutrients from the soil, while all forms of animal life--even herbivores--kill something in order to survive, and imagine that from a plant’s perspective. Of course, perhaps you’re building a species of sentient plant that evolved from carnivorous plants! :-D

Animal life can also have reactions to plants. We can be allergic and they can be poisonous, but plants can also be curatives or drugs. And if that’s the case it would certainly present conflicts, from the idea of sentient plants being the cure of a plague, to an entire black market economy based on the sale of euphoric sentient plant sap. Do the plant people have to die in order to create the poison/drug/curative? Perhaps it’s the basis of their own economy, or the economy of their criminal element.

What would a society of plant people be like? How do they determine who gets the sunniest spots, or the clearest water, or the soil with the most nutrients. Perhaps those go to the leaders, or the oldest, or the strongest, or even the youngest so that they can grow more quickly. The leaders may warrant more sun, while the youngest (saplings?) warrant more water. Are there some plants which are more or less respected? Which get first use of certain resources?

And what about the criminal elements of such a society? What counts as a crime for plant people? They’re just as capable of injuring one another as we are, just as capable of theft, slander, murder. You have to determine how their society punishes such acts, how it views such acts.

Is there hunger or poverty in such a society? There are limited resources. There are only so many spots of ground and plants need hours of sunlight. Perhaps they’ve become nomadic, similar to the way that farmer’s rotate their crops in order to replenish the nutrients in the soil. They may have to be very conscious of what goes into the ground, as well as what comes out of it.

If there’s more than a single species of sentient plant, how do they view one another? Some species might be invasive, taking up soil and sun and water without care for what others need and spreading their own seeds at the cost of other species. Their view of non-sentient plants would be interesting as well. When you need daily sunlight in order to survive, a forest might be a terrifying place, too dark for you to eat in. Plants might even be looked at as we look at other animal species. Some could be pets, but some are probably predators or weeds.

Are your plant people mobile? Perhaps they can move about, but have to put down roots in order to feed and thus must spend parts of the day rooted to a spot. Or perhaps they’re mobile for parts of their lifespan, but rooted at other times. The young might be rooted until they’re grown, or perhaps they grow more sedentary as they age.

Let’s not forget reproduction! How they accomplish reproduction will certainly color their views on any number of other topics, from gender and sexuality to family, religion, philosophy, children, marriage and politics. Some plants are hermaphroditic, producing both male and female blooms. Others have only one gender. Some produce from cuttings and others through different types of pollination. How does a sentient plant view life when reproduction means cutting off a part of themselves to plant in the ground? What sorts of philosophies spring from requiring insects to choose the person you reproduce with?

To us, forests and deserts may be challenging, but how are these geographies viewed by sentient plants? Creating such a species means looking at grasslands and rocky coasts and stretches of sand in entirely different ways. A forest has layers, and each plant that lives within it is adapted to their own space. From the tallest plants which get the most sunlight—and thus block a good deal of it—to the small underbrush which has learned to live with only dappled light. For them, too much sun is just as dangerous as too little. Some plants are resistant to drought and some are not. Some can stand freezing temperatures and some can’t, and all of them deal with these things in different ways. Some of those ways may be similar to our own concepts—if you can’t take the heat, build some shade, or if the weather outside’s too cold, build a greenhouse—but some will no doubt be quite different.

Life cycles also provide a vast array of possibilities. Some plants don’t live long at all, while others can live for centuries. Some lay dormant waiting for just the right conditions in order to spring to life. Some release pollen when stressed, some bear fruit.

I think there’s a lot of untapped potential when it comes to such species. We see a lot of the same types of things over and over, but there so many different kinds of plants and so many different ways for them to evolve, all depending on where they came from. There’s plenty of ways to introduce conflict and story, and so many possibilities for characters and cultures. Basically? I’d love to see more sentient plants!