Most of the short stories I have currently or will put into the Other Works tab are from writing competitions. Golden Years was from a competition specific to a genre called Solar Punk; I’d never heard of that genre beforehand but coming up with a fitting story wasn’t too difficult. Triple Whammy is different from my usual style because it was from an interesting competition. It turns out the U.S. Army has open writing competitions as part of its TRADOC (that stands for Training and Doctrine Command) Mad Scientist initiative. It’s called Mad Scientist because it’s used as a method of crowdsourcing and the idea is to let people’s imaginations run wild as they write what they think certain situations might look like in the future. I don’t recall exactly what the guidelines were for my submission but it was broad, and was something like “what do you think overseas threats will look like in 2050?” It then provided an outline involving relations between fictional countries. This year the prompt was based on what information landscapes (computing/infrastructure/media/communication) might look like in 2035. I didn’t submit anything for it since the guidelines specified nonfiction entries only.
When I wrote Triple Whammy I hoped it would be different from other submissions. I figured most contestants would bring in Star Trek- style sci fi words and bring in things like tanks made of indestructitanium that could only be damaged with a quadrilliwatt femtopulse laser. That’s why I centered the plot around a journalist instead of diving deep into the battlefield. Even though it didn’t win the competition writing it was still a fun experience. I always try to learn something new when writing and the countries mentioned are not real but after some Googling I found they’re the names of places that are used in army training scenarios. I also learned a lot about 3-D printing, although I couldn’t work a lot of those details into the story. I would definitely recommend the TRADOC Mad Scientist competition to other writers who are looking for new challenges. The whole point is to ask for ideas of what the future might look like and in that sense it seems like more outlandish the submissions get the better. It’s a great way to bring out your wildest dreams.
My nephew also drew a picture of a Mystic Rampage character. Here is his depiction of the Old Ticker.
I know an artist named Alison Nichols who agreed to take a shot at illustrating some characters from the book. She also reached out to one of her friends to do the same. The top picture of Flarence is her work. The lower image of Soleil was done by Lothar Speer. I think they both did a great job. That smug grin is exactly what I imagined when writing Flarence's scenes and I really like how Soleil's poisons look like they're being directed through small cyclones.
This has nothing to do with any of my writing projects, but like a lot of people I've had free time lately to invest in hobbies. Fiber arts is an activity that seems to have become popular since the shutdown. Knitting and crocheting appear to be the most popular forms but I prefer weaving. I also really liked the show Arrow and I'm glad it ended on a high note. I'll probably redo some of these later and make adjustments, but there are other super hero logos I'd like to try next.
It isn’t always clear from my stories, but I’m a fan of fan of science as well as science fiction and fantasy. While writing the first Mystic Rampage book I was working on a biochemistry degree and tried to incorporate some of the concepts into how the Genie’s powers work. In a way, it helped me through classes by providing a reason to study more closely and fit concepts into a fictional story in a way that made at least kind of made sense. That process became more difficult after introducing Dr. Wicker, whose powers are based on physics. In case it wasn’t obvious from my writing, physics is not my strongest subject, especially when it comes to the quantum level. Everything about that character was based on a Kindle-fueled crash course in sub-atomic particles. Most of it was from books by Leon Lederman (God Particle, Beyond the God Particle) and Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of The Cosmos), as well as other science fiction authors who incorporated the standard model or similar concepts into their work like Douglas E. Richards (Quantum Lens) and Douglas Phillips (Quantum Space). While these authors were helpful and got me to the point where I could make general statements, I had to avoid going too deep into any details since I can’t explain what I don’t know. Hopefully that will change soon. Earlier this year I decided to go back to school. I was accepted into a graduate program and signed up for classes earlier this week. It’s still a chemistry degree, but one of the classes involves quantum mechanics and how it relates to chemical reactions. It sounds like a complicated course and I’m sure there will be a lot of late nights but I’m looking forward to studying leptons in terms of their quantum properties instead of picturing them as just dots on a Lewis diagram. Hopefully there will be some information to work into the series and give it more impact to any readers who also happen to be science geeks. Book 2 isn’t scheduled to be released until 2021, so there’s still time to absorb new information and try to build it into Dr. Wicker’s world.
There have been some new faces in the critique group. I’ve been bringing in pieces of the final book so one of the newcomers asked for a synopsis of the earlier ones to get them caught up. It didn’t seem like a difficult request and I figured it wouldn’t take too long to put something together. After all, everything is written down, so all I had to do was review them chronologically and bring up the main events. It turned out to be a very difficult request and it took a few days to put something together. The first book is just over 250 pages. That’s less than half the length of any Game of Thrones book, and compared to some Stephen King books it’s practically a pamphlet. In spite of the relatively short length it sounded very complicated when I tried rushing through all the events. Nothing seemed clear, especially when trying to explain how magic works in my world, and as soon as I had a page written I felt the need to delete it and start over. It seemed most coherent when instead of selecting important events and trying to explain why they happened I focused on conveying the themes and portrayal of the characters. This is something I’ve been dwelling on a lot lately since current events have made me consider how the characters might be perceived (especially Officer Tymbir; he’s an aggressive person who happens to be a cop but I never intended for him to be depicted as a bad cop). The main themes I emphasized, and the ones I hope readers take away, are people finding their purpose in the world and finding someone to carry on in their place. That was the reason behind Flarence and Soleil’s disagreement about their mysterious rulers. It was also the reason Darren and Tyrell had such a close relationship and why Claire was never far from Flarence. If I had those themes in mind when I was pitching this book it probably would have been easier to find a publisher. I guess every work of fiction gets needlessly complex when trying to go through the series of events and explain why they happened. That’s part of what keeps people interested and sometimes readers have a sense of pride when they’re able to make sense of it all. Still, getting too deep into those weeds makes it easy to lose sight of the main purpose behind the story which is more important than any plot twist.
I’ve finally finished the conclusion to my trilogy. It feels like a milestone so I want to take a moment to reflect on my current position.
While the conclusion is finished the book isn’t. I’ve only been focusing on the last 1/3 of it. I usually don’t like writing piecemeal but moving forward has been challenging because things that came easily before are difficult now. This is most notably the case with the action scenes. Two years ago having characters fight was the easiest way for me to add a few thousand words to a chapter. Lately it’s been taking a day or longer to write them. When I was writing from start to finish I kept getting stuck. It’s not that I’m lacking material. I’ve introduced new characters with their own powers and personalities. Writing their battles is taking so long because I’ve been hesitating a lot, wondering if what they’re doing is the best way to use those powers, or if their actions really fit their personality.
Another writer I know likes to bring up the Hellraiser franchise where (SPOILER ALERT) a character is torn to pieces with chains in the first movie. He admits to enjoying that movie, but feels like it maxed out the brutality too early and when the sequel came out he thought what are they going to do, tear someone into even smaller pieces with even more chains? I think he’d describe my writing issues as the result of “pulling a Hellraiser.” There’ve been so many fight scenes that when I try to put in something new it doesn’t feel new. It’s just another person defying gravity, nothing we haven’t seen before in this story.
I’m not discrediting my work. It still ends with a battle and while writing that final clash was tough I’m satisfied with how it turned out. However, I feel it’s best to alter my style prior to that portion. There will still be a place for icicle-shooting guns and super-strong zombies (sorry, Enchanted corpses), but I’m going to try making it more of a mystery than a traditional thriller. Changing things up so late in a series seems like a risk, but I’ve been looking back at the earlier parts and they feel forced. I don’t expect coming up with brain teasers for my characters to come easily. I just hope it will make the chapters less stale.
The Mystic Rampage series has been going on a while and every now and then I’ve taken a break. Usually it happens during NaNoWriMo and it’s helpful to spend a month focusing on a different project. The problem with that month is that it comes with its own stresses due to the deadline and even if I’m not planning on getting the story published I still desire it to have a certain level of quality. The past few weeks, I’ve taken a lesson from my office ergonomics team and have been taking what I feel is the writing equivalent of a “micro-break.” Instead of taking a single month once a year I’ve been taking a day or two every week to work on a different story; a fan fiction. I’ve always been nervous about that genre since plagiarism can be a serious issue. That being said, it’s been fun. The stories come more easily when you don’t have to create a new character from scratch. It’s been a struggle lately to reach my usual one thousand word limit for the current novel in my series, but with the fan fiction I’ve been able to reach it without too much trouble. I never considered fan fictions to be “real” writing since they inherently take someone else’s work, but now I feel like I owe writers on those forums an apology.
Constantly being busy has made the past few years rush by. Now that most places are closed and everyone is urged to stay indoors it feels like time is at a standstill. I’d probably get stir-crazy if grocery stores weren’t still open, providing at least some reason to get outside once a week. The other people keeping me sane are members of the Cyberscribes writing group. I’m not a good millennial and doing anything online is usually a struggle, but one of the members knew about something called Zoom and it’s been surprisingly easy to use. In addition to pushing each other to keep progressing with our work, maintaining the meeting times has provided a sense of normalcy while everything else has been changing. It’s easy to take for granted how therapeutic having a schedule can be until it’s forced to change. Having some free time felt relieving initially, but these past few days those free hours have ticked by more slowly. Knowing people are still expecting weekly submissions to discuss provides a deadline to meet, and it’s been keeping me active. I don’t know how long this sheltering in place will last, but I want to show my appreciation for fellow writers who have been passionate enough about what they do to keep it up and push others to do the same. It has been very helpful while everything else is off limits.
The year started with good news. The future of the Mystic Rampage series seems promising. Responses from participants in the blog tour that concluded last November were positive and I appreciate everyone who took the time to read Made to Be Broken and share their thoughts. My publisher also said he is excited to continue being involved with the series and putting book 2 in stores. The bad news is the next one won’t be published until next year.
Initially, thinking about that lag time was frustrating. I feel like the second book is ready to go through the publishing process now. I finished a rough draft over a year ago, gave it to beta readers, and made major revisions based on their feedback. I’m anxious for responses as well because if readers liked the heroes in the first book, I’m confident they’ll love the villains in the second. One particularly psychotic character was especially fun to write. However, if there is a bright side to the long wait, it’s that I have more time to focus on part 3.
I started this story in 2013 and didn’t expect to be at it this long. I have ideas for other novels, and sometimes Mystic Rampage feels like a distraction. I was actually hesitant to make it into a trilogy. The end of book 2 leaves questions unanswered, but my target audience seems like the kind of people who would enjoy a little mystery. I don’t remember what pushed me to give a third installment a try, but it came out being a full length novel. Unfortunately, only about half of it works. The rest is so ridiculous I'm ashamed to have it on my flash drive.
Those results aren’t surprising. I didn’t spend a lot of time outlining the third book since I wasn't even sure I'd be writing it, and if I don’t start a project with a solid plan there’s pretty much no chance of it working out. However, there is enough workable material in my rough draft to keep going, so Mystic Rampage is going to be a trilogy. That’s going to mean putting all my other projects on the back-burner … again.
It might be for the best, since it will provide a reason to continue modifying the second book. Since I was leaving readers scratching their heads anyway, I figured I might as well make it as wacky as possible. The epilogue of book 2 included a floating shrunken head that communicated telepathically and a secret society developing a neurotoxin capable of taking away a Genie’s powers. Neither of those concepts has been easy to fit into the plot, so I stopped trying to work them into book 3 and took them out of book 2. There will probably be other things I’ll add or remove from both installments by the time I’m done. It will take a few more years, but at least I’ll know I had ample time to perfect both to the best of my ability. The main lesson of the publishing process seems to be in the value of patience; that, and setting aside as much time as possible for revising.