Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Psychological Problems and Rewrites.

What's going on my faithful readers and friends?  jonny here with another update on my upcoming fourth book (and science fiction debut).

It's been a crazy week since last Wednesday, and what I've gotten done is very exciting.  For starters, I'm starting to develop the idea of the Wandering City Blues as a psychological condition some of my characters face.  I added a bit into "Timeshare" about it, having realized I missed a golden opportunity to do so, and it's cropped up again in my murder investigation.  The Wandering City Blues are the theriopolitans' counterpart to cabin fever (or, if you live in Hawaii, "island fever").  It's a kind of open-spaced claustrophobia, or a restless anxiety about being in the same place for too long.  I could've called it "Theriopolitan Claustrophobia" but that doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?

In terms of spoiler-free plot development, I went back and completely rewrote a new chapter I'd done a couple weeks ago, in which my two main characters meet.  I liked the original version alright, but you all deserve the best I can produce and after sleeping on it I decided the first try wasn't as solid as I'd hoped.  However, the new version, which is basically unrecognizable compared to the first, is far better and not only am I better for it but the book will be as well.  I hate to have not gotten it right the first time, but I suppose it's all part of the process.

Fun and interesting fact:  I want to clearly express the condensed pot of stew that is life on the backs of the colossi, so I'm utilizing different nationalities for characters - and even different languages, when appropriate - throughout the book.  So far 99% of the book is in English but I also have conversations in Thai and Swedish.  I'm not using subtitles or the comic book-like "*Translated from Thai" etc., but the things are easy enough to grasp in context.  What'll really be tough is later on when I have to build a weird vernacular of English and assemble full conversations in it, but that's another story for another day.

See you next week!

Total Word Count:  27,898

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More from My Personal Mixtape.

It may not be apparent, but just to clear the air, I have not contacted many of my all-time favorite musicians and negotiated licensing rights to associate their music with my book(s).  No band so far has any involvement whatsoever with my next book, besides the very important caveat of what I listen to while I write, to inspire me and get me in the head of a character.  So today I'd like to share three more bands/songs whose music I hear in this world.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Oraculum

This project calls for many high-energy moments.  Foot chases, narrow escapes from death, races against time and even traversing ropeways suspended 1,500 feet above the ground.  I combed through my collection and found plenty of great fast-paced music (eg Squarepusher, Slayer, Autechre, Aphex Twin etc) but nothing quite fit the bill until I found this eight-minute gem from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The percussion is so rapid it sounds like it's almost going to stumble over itself the entire time, and the other instruments add to the feel of precision, grandeur and suspense I feel pairs well with some of the scenes I have in mind.  Give it a listen, imagining two protagonists chasing a suspect through a beast-city at running speed, dodging people through the changing scenery of bazaars and bustling city life.

Sizzla - Heard of Dem (Ante Up Remix)

(Click URL for video)

Judas Priest didn't subliminally convince anyone to commit suicide, nor did Wu-Tang or N.W.A. initiate gang culture.  Even still, the news would have us believe otherwise, and the portrayal of musical sub-cultures like hip-hop and heavy metal makes people uncomfortable just at the mention of them.  While I listen to and love both, I think there's an element of unfamiliarity with them - doubly so when they come from other countries - coupled with the widespread rumors of their apparently mystical links to crime.  So I have a mini-mix of foreign hip-hop to accompany the greatest question mark in my book: the city on the colossus Sao.  Rumors fly that Sao is inhabited solely by criminals, cannibals, terrorists and the inbred.  It's unfamiliar, aggressive and alarming.  I can imagine no better song to play while I write Sao than this remix of Sizzla's "Heard of Dem."  Sizzla is a Jamaican talent and his delivery here is forceful, loud and full of slang. My motivation is also that I think hip-hop is largely misunderstood, and I think the residents of Sao would say the same of themselves...although I don't agree with the latter.

Peter Gabriel & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Taboo

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a Pakistani singer of Qawwali, a long-form Sufi devotional chant.  In the early 1990s he collaborated with Peter Gabriel on several tracks, the best known of which is "Taboo" for its inclusion in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.  I first saw NBK when I was 11 and have always felt that freedom and nature were major backdrops of the film, and I feel this song just oozes both.  Ali Khan's soaring vocals seemed so liberated and natural to me, they inspired me developing the Psamanthe culture.  Psamanthe (pictured in a previous blog entry below) is a flying bird-like colossus, her residents disembarking her on skyscraper rooftops to camp for up to two weeks on end before strapping back onto her and flying above the deadly fog.  The majority of her population are Tlingit Indians, some of our only (real-life) remaining humans who worship a bird deity.  Their portable campgrounds and advanced symbiosis with their host provide them with a unique and unconstrained worldview compared to the melting pot democracy of Triton or the ominous unknown monarchy of Sao.

Each of the aforementioned components of the book have several more songs in their oeuvre, just like my previous entry about the music of the day-to-day life in the city has so many tracks, but these should help bring you into the world for now.  Thanks for tuning in; be sure to share this page with your friends and help me get #WanderingCityBlues trending on social media.  See you next week!

Word Count:  25,434 (with another 3,600 words of scenes and notes)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Progress; Contest; Word Count.

Hey everybody!  It's been a pretty crazy week up here in northern Virginia so I haven't had much time to sit with the book but there is some good news to report - and we have a new contest!

First, the progress.  In the last two weeks, I've added over 7,000 words to Book Four.  Unfortunately, that was mostly last week, but it's still great news.  The best part is, I'm still just scratching the surface of what I can do.  This novel is going to be a goliath compared to my first two books and probably longer than my last book (The Broken Paragon).  The good news about that is that it's also going to be fascinating.  I really busted my ass researching this project last summer and fall, and all that work is starting to really pay off.  For example, one of the scenes I added in is a really fun and bizarre look at supply and demand on the theriopolis, and is loosely inspired by an anecdote in the fantastic novel World War Z.  In the interest of not spoiling it (hint hint, bookmark this blog post for future reference), it's the scene with Carol Lee, her great-great-grandmother Marianne and a U-Haul full of livestock.

Second, there's a new contest up!  Yesterday on (my publisher) A Carrier of Fire's Facebook page, a post went up asking what prized possession or family heirloom you would take with you in the event that you had to quickly move from your house to a theriopolis and why.  The best answer is going in the book with a personalized thank you to the contributor, so get cracking!

Next week I'll be posting with an opportunity to help fuel a Q&A with me about this next book, so stay tuned.

Total Word Count 3/10/16:     21,198.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

First Look: Psamanthe! (Also, Cigarettes Explained)

Greetings, friends, fans and sci-fi lovers!  jonny Lupsha here with another look inside my upcoming science fiction debut.  I've got some really exciting stuff for you today but I'm saving the best for last so read to the end!

First things first.  When I came up with the idea for this project, I knew it wouldn't work as a story if it didn't work factually.  I knew I'd have to do several hundreds of hours of research to figure out how to move every essential in life from the surface up to the sky without many staple commodities we take for granted.  Fresh air wasn't a huge problem but food, antibiotics and prisons took a good deal of time.  Hell, just figuring out how to get humans to travel from one colossus to the other took close to 30 hours of research and involved me looking up everything from medieval siege weapons to rope climbing gear.  Eventually life on the theriopolis began to look feasible.  Without soil or dirt, there would be some things we'd have to give up and some we'd have to work around, including raising crops through indoor hydroponic and aeroponic gardens with soil substitutes and compost.

But then I had to figure out cigarettes.  At the heart of this book is an old-fashioned detective story with bad slang, a trail of clues, unfaithful seductresses and an unshaven detective who smokes like a chimney.  Unfortunately, due to the limited space on each colossus, there's no room for large fields of crops - no cornfields, apple orchards or rows of tobacco plants.  Even if there were the space for it, tobacco ruins soil so I don't know that it would be allowed by the final people on Earth.  It could jeopardize their remaining crops and they'd all starve to death.  But I wasn't willing to give up, so I had to figure out how to smoke cigarettes without tobacco.  Hoo boy.  I started by going to a bunch of head shop and hookah-related websites detailing various herbs and plants that could be grown hydroponically that may have similar tastes or effects to our common cigarettes.  I found three plants that could serve as a blend of smoking herbs:  Damiana, from Mexico; Kanna, from South Africa; and Wild Lettuce.  The former two mix for a solid herbal smoke that relaxes and energizes while Wild Lettuce gives the smoker a bit of a buzz.  When mixed in the proper dosages, Detective Leon Adler could feel groovy and alert enough to keep him hooked on them.

So now that I had a blend, what to do with it?  I could've gone the easy route and have him fashion/carve/barter a pipe, but that was a little too Sherlock Holmes for me.  Leon is definitely more modern than Holmes so I wanted him to smoke cigarettes, not pipes.  But since there isn't enough soil around for small forests - generally only enough for a town square with several large trees to provide an extra cushion of fresh air - how do I have someone roll a cigarette without paper?  I've heard that pages from The Bible make good rolling papers, but that seemed a little sacrilegious for him.  So I looked up how to make paper and found that if you grow coconuts, the fibers from the outside of the husks can be pulped with a deckle and some water, then shaped and dried out to become paper.

Last question:  If Leon can buy blended cigarettes and roll them in paper made from coconut fiber, how will he light them on demand without a lighter or matches?  I don't want him sitting rubbing two sticks together half the damn day, right?  Fortunately this problem presented a solution quickly and simply with several methods used by Survivorman types.   The best came from refracting light through curved glass during the day.  Like burning an ant with a magnifying glass, any curved glass like a lens from binoculars can harness and concentrate the rays of the sun to rapidly heat something - in this instance, the tip of a rolled smoke - and set it ablaze.  There's a nighttime method too, but we'll leave that for the book.

So there you have it!  As promised, how to keep up a smoking habit with no tobacco, no paper and no matches/lighter.  Now I have two more exciting pieces of news for you.  First, in the last 10 days or so I've written three scenes for the book.  The first two scenes go together in the main manuscript immediately following the almost-15,000-word setup "Timeshare."  Those scenes involve Detective Adler investigating a crime scene then following up with an eyewitness interview.  They're a good start to the main story in the book at about 3,100 words and the more I write, the more ideas I get.  Secondly, the third scene came from one of those spontaneous ideas I had while writing the first two scenes and it almost immediately grew from a one-paragraph moment of exposition to a 3,700-word scene that will likely take place about 1/3 of the way into the book.  So I've written a brand new 6,800 or so words for the book in the last 10 days, but over half of that needs to wait until I write my way to it later this month.  For those keeping score, my total book word count is up to about 21,500 right now and I still have the vast bulk of it to write.

Lastly, and most excitedly, I recently received a great piece of concept artwork for Psamanthe, my flying colossus, from visual artist extraordinaire Brian Whitmire.

Brian's style is radically different from his brother Nick (who put together Proteus for us), and I really like what he did with Psamanthe.  I think she'll be bigger in scale than he implied here, but I love her hybrid avian/mammalian appearance and seeing her letting her residents off to camp on a rooftop for a while and rest.  In the book, she'll drop them off there like babies at a nest and go forage for food for them, likely diving into the water and scooping up a mouthful of several dozen (or hundred?) fish and releasing them for her humans just like a real mother bird.  They can eat the fish or trade them for high prices since they're the only place to get fish.

Alright!  Keep tuning into Wandering City Blues for more information on this book.  I've got behind-the-scenes looks new details, concept art and more to share with you so keep checking back.