Writing Journal – 1/16/2016

I wrote less actual words on Bloodmender’s outline, but I did make some big breakthroughs in putting together the actual arc for Sera. I know what her arc will be and how it will take her through the book, and I know how the book ends. I’m excited to write it!

This week, I had one story rejected and one story I’ve marked as never responded. I’m going to send out a few more stories next week.

This week’s progress:

  • 2,087 words written on Bloodmender’s outline.
    • Sera’s arc is finalized!
    • I know how the book is going to end, which is a big relief. I’m excited about writing it now.

Submission Updates:

  • After 250 days with no response (and ignored queries) I’ve marked the market I submitted “Twenty Floors Up” to as DNF. The story’s going in the drawer for now (over 15 rejections) though I may pull it out again some day.
  • Received a rejection (as expected) from the large pro market to which I submitted “The Simworld Design Contest”, pretty much exactly where Duotrope said I would. So hooray for statistics being accurate!
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Writing Journal – 1/8/2016

With the new year started, I decided it’d be fun to keep a journal of my progress on various projects for a year or so and see how that went. So, this is entry one of what will be a weekly summary of my progress on all sorts of things.

I hope to look back at this to get some idea how much I typically get done in a year. Also, for anyone interested in progress on my books, this may also provide some entertainment. Who knows?

This week’s progress:

  • 3,350~ words written on Bloodmender’s outline.
    • I’ve got may be 2/3s of book material outlined, but I’m still moving it around to see where it fits in the overall narrative, and debating what’s strong enough to keep and what’s weak enough to cut. It’s always a tough call in the planning stages.
    • I’ve left myself a number of plot threads to resolve and character arcs to plot, so I’ll be another week or two on this before I’m comfortable enough to start the first draft. Sera is absolutely going to be a driving force in this one (hence the title!) but I’m not yet sure how complicated her plot arc will be.
  • Wrote a new 1500 word writing experiment for the January Fantasy-Faction Writing Contest: “Sponge Riot”. It’s so far beyond my normal work I have no idea if it’s any good, but our prompt was “Breaking the Fourth Wall” and, at least, this story does that!
  • Submitted “Firesworn”, my short fantasy story set in Glyphbinder’s universe, to a pro market.
  • Submitted “Extraction”, one of my cyberpunk short stories, to a token market with a huge Twitter following.
  • Submitted “The Book of Codes”, one of my science-fiction short stories, to a pro market.

Submission Updates:

  • My science-fiction short story, “Twenty Floors Up”, has been at a token market for 244 days with no response. I doubt they’re going to respond, but the story’s been rejected pretty much everywhere else, so I’ll probably toss it in the drawer for the time being.
  • My cyberpunk short story, “The Simworld Design Contest”, has been with a pro market for 131 days. Given they usually reject stories a few days from now, I’m expecting a rejection next week sometime.

 

 

2015 In Review

It’s now been January 1, 2016 on the east coast for a good while, which means it’s time to review how I did in 2015!

Below are a complete list of my published novels, published short stories, short story experiments, and blog posts from last year.

Looking back on it now, I actually had a fairly productive 2015!

Looking forward to 2016, I don’t have anything set in stone (Bloodmender is slated for the first part of 2017) but I already know I’ll be querying Supremacy’s Shadow, revising Whispers of Murder, writing, revised, and editing Bloodmender, and probably writing some new short stories.

Also in 2016, expect more themed writing experiments for Fantasy-Faction’s monthly writing contest (one new 1500 word story each month!) and a yet unannounced short story sale I’ll talk more about soon.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Fantasy Faction Writing Contest – Space Opera

Among the many cool things on the Fantasy-Faction forums is a monthly writing contest, where the moderator provides a writing prompt (which can be anything from Space Opera to the color Blue) and people submit short flash pieces (ranging from 500 to 1500 words) matching the theme. I’ve found it fun to try to come up with story experiments based on these prompts, and I plan to start re-posting these on my blog after each contest concludes.

I actually referenced snippets of the story below for my earlier blog post, On the Use of Dialogue Tags In Fiction, and with the contest now concluded (congrats, JMack!) I thought it would be fun to post the story in full. I’ll likely continue to post these writing experiments on my blog as the contests wrap up, as well as a brief explanation of where each story came from.

With “Hitting the Arch”, the prompt was “Space Opera” and that, of course, got me thinking about my favorite recent space opera, the Mass Effect series. That, naturally, got me thinking about the words in the title – mass and effect, which refers to the fact that the ships in that series use ‘Mass Effect’ drives to travel between star systems. While what a mass effect drive actually DOES is never fully explained (beyond handwavium), it did start me thinking about a drive (or engine) that literally ran on mass. Sort of like “Mr. Fusion” from Back to the Future, where you can insert anything and burn it for fuel.

Once I had the idea of a spaceship reactor that could burn anything, I then focused on the other common aspect of space operas (spaceship combat!) and wondered what would happen if a ship burned all of its mass (fuel) but still needed to get somewhere, urgently – a matter of life or death. That idea was the kernel of this story. Enjoy!

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Hitting the Arch (Space Opera, first posted on the Fantasy-Faction forums) – 1,050 words

When the enemy bombardment finally stopped, it left Captain Diego Harker’s scout ship drifting in the void. He ran his hands through his black hair and waited. They had evaded the enemy fleet. Now, they had to warn their own.

“Give me our energy reserves.” Together, their shields and engines had burned unprecedented mass. His ears still rang from the impacts, but they were alive.

“We’re empty, cap,” Carter said. Diego’s XO was all bare skull, bent frame and hard eyes. “It’s all burned.”

Without the shielding from their universal reactor, any further impact would turn their ship to scrap. That had been a big enemy fleet. “Suggestions?”

Laster spoke first. “We can burn anything for fuel, right? Let’s burn our rations.” He was nineteen, fresh out of gunnery school. He shaved his head to look like Carter and that pissed Carter off.

“That much mass would get us two burns.” Carter steepled his meaty fingers. “Three, if we’re lucky.”

“Not enough.” Woo rubbed at his eyes. The math to elude the enemy fleet had almost finished him. “To hit the archway we need at least thirty, and what would we eat?”

“Each other,” Laster quipped. No one laughed.

“What about our bulkheads?” Woo asked. “Can’t we pull off some scrap?”

“You pull anything off the inside of this ship, you’ll kill us all!” Mainard was a good engineer, but he had a temper. “We’re built lean. Nothing here can burn.”

“If we don’t close the archway,” Diego reminded them, “the Imps will bombard Ariadne and God knows who else. Woo, how’s our path on the arch?”

“What path? We can’t path without mass.” Sweat glistened on Woo’s forehead. “With the frequency this particular archway jumps around, we’ll never hit it.”

“So we guess,” Carter said. “Burn once a day, split the difference between the archway’s position today and tomorrow.”

“That’s a sixteen percent chance!” Woo snapped.

“Do it,” Diego ordered anyway.

It didn’t work. The archway skipped five times in twenty hours. Diego and Carter split a ration inside Diego’s tiny cabin.

“We need more mass.” Carter chewed. They both knew what that meant.

Diego saw no other options. “I’ll tell the crew.”

“They’ll mutiny, cap.”

“They won’t. We owe them the truth.”

“At the cost of Ariadne?”

“I’m not feeding anyone to this ship without explaining why. I’ll lead by example.”

“Don’t be an idiot. You go last if you go at all.”

“I’m not killing my crew in their sleep!”

“They’ll understand when it’s over.”

“We’ll draw straws.” They broke the news on the bridge when they rationed out that day’s water.

Woo had already figured it out. Mainard looked like he was going to blow chunks, but he didn’t. Laster was oddly introspective about the whole thing.

“But, a human … a body, I mean. How many burns do we even get?”

“Eight to ten,” Woo said.

“You said we needed thirty.”

“Learn to multiply.”

“Enough.” Diego held out the straws. They were actually strips of Crack-Seal. “If the Imps were gunning for your families, would you give your lives to stop them?”

Woo nodded. Laster did too. Mainard didn’t. “There has to be another way.”

“Name it.” Diego waited a bit.

Carter drew the short straw. If mutiny was on the crew’s mind, Diego trusted no one else to watch him while he slept. They all went to the reactor room together.

“I’ve got a daughter,” Carter said before he stepped inside. “On Ariadne’s moon.”

Diego’s throat went dry. “You never said one word.”

“Didn’t matter then. Her info’s in my file. Tell her I died saving the universe.”

Laster sketched a salute. Mainard and Woo did too. Diego just squeezed Carter’s shoulder. “She’ll know.”

Carter’s body bought them nine burns. Diego didn’t sleep that night. No one tried to kill him.

Now two days from the archway, Diego conferred with Woo. They had hit forty-two percent. The archway moved that night and Mainard drew the short straw. There was a scuffle.

“You can’t do this!” Mainard shrieked. It took Laster and Woo to muscle him to the reactor room. “It’s murder!”

“I’m sorry.” Diego snapped his holster open and made his face a mask.

“My wife’s on Ariadne! Our son!”

Diego opened the reactor door. “They’ll know.”

Woo lost his grip and Mainard got an elbow free. He almost took Laster’s head off before Diego shot him in the face. Mainard’s body bought them nine burns.

With one day left, they got lucky – seventy-four percent on the archway. Laster pushed away the straws.

“You don’t need me.” He was too calm for nineteen, too ready to die. “You need command and navigation.”

Diego shoved them at him. “Draw a straw.”

“I’m married too, sir. The Imps will bomb her back to the dark ages.”

“Captain.” Woo grabbed his hand. “We’re close, the math is simple. You do the burns. I’ll draw for you.”

Laster moved. Diego blocked him. “I said draw.”

“Put in it my report.” Laster held Diego’s eyes.

Laster bought them nine burns, close enough to warn the archway ahead of the enemy fleet. Diego sent his report with a Commendation of Valor for all his crew, even Mainard. Then he sent a message to Carter’s daughter.

As drones towed them in he and Woo sat on the empty bridge. The garrison captain guarding the archway had known Imps were in the system, but no one had known just how enormous the enemy fleet actually was. Retreating through the archway and collapsing it was their only option. That would keep Ariadne safe for decades.

“Captain,” Woo said then. “You’re from Helio Two.”

“Yeah.”

“Family there?”

“Two sons. My wife is dead.”

“If this archway leaves the network, it’ll take two-hundred years to get back there at sublight.”

“I know.”

Woo sat back and interlaced his fingers behind his head. “I’m never getting married. Too much to lose.”

“They’re worth it. They’re the reason I can do this.”

“Then I’m having five.” Woo forced a false smile. “If two got you through this, I’m hedging my bets.”

A rescue ship soon docked. They boarded. Together, they went through the archway one last time.

Diego never saw his sons again, but they knew.

THE END

ArmadilloCon 2015 Schedule

I’ll be a guest at ArmadilloCon 2015 in Austin, TX, from 7/24-7/26. If you’re in the Austin area, please come by and say hi! Here’s the panels and presentations to which I’ll be contributing:

Armadillocon 37

Omni Southpark Hotel, 4140 Governers Row, Austin, TX 78744

Friday 7/24

5:30pm-6:00pm – Conference Center

Author Reading (assuming anyone shows up :p)

6:00pm-7:00pm – Ballroom E

Game of Thrones: Comparing the Book to the Show

Exploring the faithfulness of the adaptation and the high points of the books vs. the show.

Saturday 7/25

2:00pm-3:00pm – Ballroom F

Virtual Reality Presentation

Presenting the latest developments in virtual reality, which will shortly be entering the mainstream with the commercial launches of VR headsets.

8:00pm-9:00pm – Southpark A

Writing for the Game Industry

What opportunities are there for writers in tabletop and video gaming? What are the differences from other media when writing these stories and characters? How do you break into this industry?

9:00pm-10:00pm – Ballroom F

Economics and Infrastructure in Worldbuilding

Building a fictional world that would actually work.

Sunday 7/26

No panels today (I have an early flight, unfortunately)

ConCarolinas Schedule

It looks like my schedule for ConCarolinas is nice and firmed up now, so, here it is! I’ll also have a table at the con where I will be hanging out and talking about books, gaming, the videogame industry, or whatever else people are interested in. If you plan to be at ConCarolinas this weekend, please stop by and see me!

You can find out more about the Con here:

http://www.concarolinas.org/

Friday, 5/29

Agents of Shield – 7:00pm in Concord 1

Discussing the hit Marvel TV show, what works, what doesn’t work, and why we enjoy it.

Saturday, 5/30

Magical Objects – 12:00pm in Carolina C

How can we use magical objects in fantasy? How can we make them interesting without making them overpowered?

Creating Characters that Work – 2:30pm in Carolina A/B

We’ll discuss how to write interesting protagonists, sidekicks, antagonists, and just about every other type of character you might find in a novel or short story. How can we make them interesting and memorable?

The Short of It – 7:30 in Carolina C

We’ll discuss the craft of writing short stories, getting them critiqued and ready for publication, and finally, getting them published.

Sunday, 5/31

Getting into the Game Industry – 10:00am in Concord G

I’ll be discussing different paths to becoming a professional videogame designer, and my fellow panelists will discuss how to get into the RPG/tabletop industry.

Real People in Unreal Worlds – 1:30pm in Carolina C

We’ll be talking about how we, as writers, can make our characters and their actions seem real and believable regardless of the unreal nature of the worlds they inhabit.

If I’m not on a panel or checking one out, I’ll be hanging at my table on Author Alley. Hope to see some of you there!

The Standard VR Cockpit, and Why I Want It

One of the most common types of games thus far released for VR have been “cockpit simulators”: games where you drive a car, or fly a spaceship, or pilot a giant mech. These experiences are ideal for current VR because they mimic what users are doing in real life -sitting in a chair and looking around at the environment. In earlier posts on VR I’ve talked about the three elements that immerse players in virtual environments – the Bubble, the Proxy, and the Controller – and today I want to delve a bit more into the Controller and why I’d like to see developers settle on a standard VR cockpit.

Two game development studios, Frontier and Tammeka Games, have each recently released games users can experience in virtual reality – Elite: Dangerous and Radial-G. Both games render your body (the Proxy) in a virtual cockpit (the Bubble) where you control your racing pod or spaceship, and both look great – however, no physical controller set up will match both cockpits. Each game has its cockpit and controllers configured differently and as a VR user, the first thing I want to do is set up my physical controllers to as closely match the virtual environment as possible.

In Elite: Dangerous, the cockpit uses a HOTAS setup, with the Proxy grasping a flight stick in their right hand and a throttle in their left. In Radial-G, the Proxy instead holds two throttles, one in each hand. This means I, as a user, would need to either purchase two controller setups to mimic these cockpits in the real world or, at minimum, reconfigure my physical set up before switching from game to game.

VRCockpits

Development of VR experiences and controllers are still very much in the “Wild West” phase – everyone is working on their own iterations and this can (and should) continue as the technology becomes more mainstream. However, if developers settled on a unified cockpit design that a controller manufacturer could then reproduce and sell in physical form, VR users would have an easy solution for mimicking the appearance of each virtual environment in the physical world. Being able to touch and manipulate your spaceship, car, or racing pod’s controls would go a long way toward increasing presence and I’d love to see someone tackle this as VR goes mainstream.

Before, I’ve mentioned the subtle effectiveness of the desk demo that ships with the Oculus Rift and how it establishes presence by so closely mirroring physical reality (you, in a room, in a computer chair, looking at a desk). That simulation grows even more immersive when you can match the height of the virtual desk to the height of your physical desk at home. You can then place your hands on the virtual surface of the desk and encounter a hard surface – your physical desk – where your eyes in virtual reality tell you there should be one. When this happens presence takes a huge jump. The world feels vastly more real because you can touch it and this makes your VR experience all the more compelling.

The same principle applies to cockpit simulators. After I fire up the game and put on a VR helmet, if I can see a joystick and then grasp it in my hand, my sense of presence jumps by an order of magnitude. If I can see my manipulation of a real world object (such as a joystick) reflected in a virtual environment, that sense of presence continues. This sort of experience is easily obtained with current technology.

The Oculus Rift uses two processes for tracking the position of the user’s viewpoint in VR – gyroscopic sensors in the headset (which determine your head’s pitch, yaw, and roll) and an IR camera, which evaluates the position of individual dots on your headset and uses this data to adjust your viewpoint as you lean forward or back. All of this technology easily translates to physical controllers and could be passed to a simulation and rendered, just as the user’s viewpoint is rendered now.

Why not build a joystick that can detect its Pitch/Yaw/Roll as you use it? Why not build a steering wheel that tracks its Roll as you turn it? And once you have those, why not paint small IR dots on both that the Rift’s IR camera can use to place them within the virtual environment? This would make even modular set ups possible, where the simulation detects and dynamically positions your physical controls based on where the IR camera detects them in the user’s real world environment.

A set up like this would allow a simulation to place your controller where it actually resides, bolted to your desk, in relation to your viewpoint. Taking it a step further, the IR camera could even detect what IR dots on a steering wheel are not visible and use them to place your hands on it in virtual reality (the presumption being if the dots are covered, it is because hands are obscuring them). Sensors within the joystick or wheel could detect its Pitch/Yaw/Roll and reflect those in the simulation in real time.

A controller that tracked this data and passed it to the simulation could, when synced with the Rift’s IR camera, create a wheel or joystick users can grasp and manipulate in VR in real time. You’ll see the wheel turn or the joystick shift within the simulation as you move it in the physical world.

This is why I’d like to see a universal cockpit for VR simulations or, at least, several standard setups from which I can choose. As a user, I could then buy the “Rift cockpit” with a physical joystick, throttle, and steering wheel that the Rift’s IR camera could then detect and place so that their placement in the simulation mirrors the real world. I could buy one VR cockpit and have it match any number of different virtual experiences. Grasping and manipulating controls in real life and seeing my manipulation of those controls mirrored in these simulations would make VR more immersive and fun.

While the process of getting many different game studios to agree on a universal cockpit set up is daunting, we have seen companies agree on standards before (OpenGL and DirectX are two examples). Even if we never agree on a universal set up for a virtual cockpit, creating controllers that can send data about their states and positions to a simulation and using the Rift’s IR camera to place them within the virtual environment would be amazing. This would be a great way to solve one of the most noticeable problems with VR right now – the inability to touch and manipulate objects within the simulation – at least in regards to cockpit simulators.