As more people come down with the coronavirus, the concept of social distancing has been put forward as a way to slow the spread. This reminded me of a story I read a long time ago by Isaac Asimov called “The Naked Sun” where social distancing is taken to the extreme.
“The Naked Sun” takes place on a planet where everyone is isolated from one another. They use holographic projections to communicate and robots to do their bidding. Wanting to actually view someone in the flesh is considered ‘dirty’. As you can imagine, sexual intimacy is scarce.
So when someone is murdered, imagine the shock and confusion. A human couldn’t do it because they don’t interact with one another. It had to be a robot, but they are programmed with laws to prevent them from harming humans.
I always thought this was an interesting, but unlikely scenario used primarily to set up a fascinating who dunnit situation. Except now I see people calling sick from work, changing from shaking hands to Vulcan greetings or elbow bumps, a jump in home grocery deliveries, working from home, studying/taking tests from home, cancellations of large events, and I think perhaps it isn’t all that unlikely after all if given the right circumstances.
Clearly we aren’t at this level of isolation, but I can imagine a society which became used to cleanliness in space, low population density, and robots to do all the work. Perhaps they experienced contagions before they fled and colonized the new planet.
Could society give up something as fundamental as touch, cuddles, and kisses? I doubt it, but this is an interesting read anyway, not only for the society world building but also for the murder mystery.
By the way, I’m doing fine so far even though Kirkland is a five minute drive from my house. My heart goes out to everyone who has friends or family coming down with this new flu. Let’s hope the warmer weather nips it in the bud.
It’s been a while since I posted to my blog, though I did write up a number of reviews for the Hugo nominations which you can read here.
After all that reading and reviewing, I thought I’d touch on something a little closer to home. Namely, how this aging body decided it had enough with my diet.
However, this story starts a long time ago when I was in grade school and used to skip breakfast rather than risk having to ask my third period math teacher if I could go to the bathroom. She was ancient to my young eyes and wore a full habit which thoroughly intimidated me. It would be many, many years before I made the connection between pancakes and syrup, and my third period fears.
Funny thing happens when you get old (or maybe not so funny); your body develops allergies or simply rebels at certain foods and you’re left trying to figure out WTF. I first noticed a problem with my birthday cake when my body rejected the icing. Pillsbury white icing is so yummy, but the lower bits weren’t impressed. Then it was my beloved Pop-Tarts. And the Log Cabin Maple Syrup. What did they all have in common? High fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
I thought, fine, I’ll just skip eating the foods that have it, including giving up my soda (sob!). Except, this stuff in EVERYTHING from ketchup to food coloring. Surprise!
So I went digging for alternatives:
I’ve found that organic means real sugar instead of HFCS. And the home made buttercream frosting is really yummy. With the organic food coloring I can write Happy Birthday in color on the hubby’s cake without any bodily objections.
The plus side of ditching all HFCS products is that I no longer have sharp hunger pains that made me eat more than I need and I’ve switched to eating actual fruit (oranges, peaches, nectarines) and mini-carrots when I’m in a snacky mood and drinking mostly water. I toss in a few beers and wine here and there but none of that has HFCS either. As a result, I’m losing weight and feeling better than I have in years. No fad diets, just ditching HFCS.
All this makes me wonder if the prevalence of HFCS is one of the reasons we have an obesity problem in this country. I never gave it a moment’s thought until my body said heck no and I found out how common it is. I already knew eating healthier cost more money ($2.00 for a single orange!!) but this seems really bad. Enough so that I thought I’d share.
In November, I posted a blog about storytelling in games, specifically World of Warcraft. After this season’s ending of Game of Thrones, I immediately knew I wanted to blog about telling stories on screen vs books.
Whether you enjoyed the last season of GoT or not, you have to admit the visual spectacle was impressive (just ignore the failed military tactics). This showcases what movies do best. The actor looks straight at you with a look on their face coupled with the right supporting music and you can feel anything from triumph, to anger, to crushing despair. No need for words at all. Same with battles. It’s so easy to show a huge battle and what everyone is doing on screen. That same scene can get confusing in text format. I recall reading the Helm’s Deep battle in LoTR and it never had the same impact as hearing the characters speak their rousing speeches or seeing Gandalf charge the slope to save the day.
I definitely wish stuff like that was even half as easy to write in books. It takes a whole lot of the right words and some past character development to evoke the same emotion. However, if the author gets it right, I wind up spending two days savoring that book when it ends. I love finding stories like that. I definitely want to write stories like that!
On the flip side, books can go into a whole lot of detail that can’t possibly be included in a movie. A movie is limited in length, so it has to use every possible shortcut to get from start to finish and still contain the essence of the book. This is probably the biggest reason why people complain about movies based on books. There’s always going to be something cut from the book to squeeze it into the movie, and the books will always have more background detail. In the GoT case, they tried to jam too much into too short a time and people felt the disparity between the level of detail in early seasons vs the broad brushstrokes taken in the later seasons. While they’d never be able to include everything from the books, the last two seasons would have been better served by adding a bit more.
Another thing books do really well is reveal your favorite characters’ inner thoughts. This issue came up in a Facebook group when people began discussing the Wheel of Time series which is coming out soon. Many of the characters in those books have internal dialog. But how do you translate that to screen? You can try voiceover narration like Blade Runner, but it winds up feeling awkward and forced. I did enjoy the pop up images in Ally McBeal where she showed her thoughts, but that is probably better suited to comedy than epic fantasy. I think the best thing they could do is have a character around to listen as the main character vocalizes their thoughts. Or maybe they’ll skip this and try to show thoughts as actions. Whatever they choose to do, I can’t wait to see WoT on the screen!
My takeaway from all this rumination is that movies are great for visuals and evoking deep emotion at a glance, helped along by those tear jerker soundtracks. Books are great at getting into the headspace of the character and for giving you way more details than a movie could ever have. And it’s a great joy to have both, even if you prefer one over the other.
This weekend’s Game of Thrones episode was one hour and twenty two minutes of nothing but epic battle. Don’t worry, I won’t spill any spoiler details, but I did want to share my observations, especially after I commented on Facebook that it was the best fantasy battle I’d ever witnessed and someone disagreed and said they liked the battle for Helm’s Deep better.
I liked that battle as well. In fact, I enjoyed all the battles in the Lord of the Rings movies. But all those came with inspiring speeches and bits of tension relieving humor. Fine examples of battles for high fantasy.
I consider this Game of Thrones episode to be the best example of a grimdark fantasy battle. It’s interesting how both are relatively similar – beginning tension, interesting use of strategies, utter hopelessness, and the last second save. And yet, the look and feel are very different.
In the beginning, you feel the hopelessness in both battles. But in LoTR you get a few good pep talks. GoT gives you grim silence. In LoTR you see the orc army arrive, rain drops pattering on metal armor, orcs howling to intimidate (which worked pretty well), and a bit of comedic relief with an accidentally loosed arrow. GoT used silence and darkness like a weapon to ratchet up the tension. And there was no humor.
I’ve never seen a movie do that before. Usually, they get on with the action. But GoT makes you sit there for several minutes with nothing but darkness and silence. No sign of the enemy. Time advances. Still no sign. Time drags on and nothing. Your favorite characters are also waiting in silent anticipation, clutching their weapons nervously as they peered into murky darkness. They know the enemy is coming, but they can’t see it. And they can’t hear it.
If there’s one thing I learned from waiting over three hours to get on the Space Mountain ride in Disney World as a kid, is that things are 1000 times more frightening when you can’t see. I loved roller coasters, but that ride scared the crud out of me because I couldn’t see the track.
This worked on me as I was sitting in comfort watching the episode unfold. I’ve read many battle scenes that describe waiting for the battle as the hardest thing and I never really felt that until this GoT episode when the waiting became a Thing. I wish I could capture that essence and somehow recreate it in writing.
I can’t really go into detail about the other aspects of this battle, since that would be too spoilery and some people want to binge watch after all the episodes are out. Suffice it to say that it was all dark, gritty, fearful, terrifying, and awesome. Think Helms Deep but without the comedic relief and with lots of dark and creepy. We are talking zombie invasion after all.
Even if you never watch Game of Thrones, I recommend watching this episode – season 8 episode 3 – since I believe it to be the best and longest fantasy battle ever made on film.
Spring arrived with a couple of nice sunny almost 70 degree days. Naturally, this being Seattle, those days turned to clouds as soon as I saw a news report that we might possibly see some Northern Lights activity.
This would have been cool:
Instead we got this:
I finally had my fake tooth post insertion appointment – postponed from when we had a foot of snow in the neighborhood. Arrayed before me on a large tray were the cutest tiny tools. They reminded me of my days of playing around with the Dremel, only in miniature. After surviving the piercing agony of shots to numb the gum, the drilling began. Then came putting in the post. This revealed the cutest tool of all:
It’s a tooth-sized combination ratchet and torque wrench. My fake tooth post got ratcheted in like a mini sparkplug! It was the oddest thing. Even weirder, you can buy the tool on Amazon! I always said you could buy everything there, but I wasn’t really expecting to find it when I did a search. Surprise! You can click on the image if you really want to check it out.
Finally, we get to the aftermath of Snowmageddon.
The big front rhododendron became a leaning tower of shrub. I talked about this in the last blog, but here you can see just how far forward it pulled out of the ground. Our vine maple didn’t fare much better. The front trunk snapped off at the base and the other trunks weren’t in good shape. One had a split and was using the roof as a crutch.
The tree removal people came by early and chopped through the tree like it was butter. With a five man crew, they were here maybe fifteen to twenty minutes! We were sad to see the tree and bush go, but replacements have been ordered and will be planted this week. The front yard looks so bare right now with them gone:
I hope your spring has been less about tooth drilling and tree removal and more about sunshine and things sprouting. And if you are in the Midwest dealing with the flooding, I hope you stay safe and dry.
Here’s to hoping spring has no more nasty surprises in store!
February arrived like it usually does with grey skies and 40F daytime temperatures. When the rest of the US got hit with a polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting into the -60F wind chill (been in that, not fun, never wanna feel that again!), Seattle was business as usual.
Then, six days in, we got hit with a mild case of polar air. 17F is pretty cold for this region. Still, nothing a cup of hot cocoa and a warm blanket can’t fix.
On February 8, Seattle woke up to a rare, big snowfall that lasted until the 9th. The railing outside my porch wound up with around six inches of the white stuff! Our snowfalls are typically around one or two inches.
Now usually this stuff melts after a day since we hover near 40F during the daytime. But at six to eight inches, it would take a few days. Not really a big deal since this fell over the weekend and my tooth appointment wasn’t until Tuesday. I wasn’t worried.
More snow was forecast for Sunday afternoon and through Monday. What are the odds of accumulation in Seattle? Not too high, normally. Except outside looked like this:
And there was no sign of it stopping. The roughly three inches that melted were quickly replenished. At that point, I knew there was no way we were getting out of our driveway. No shovel and a muscle car = snowed in!
When you have steep hills like this, and nothing in the neighborhood gets plowed, we wind up with no food delivery on Sunday, no trash pickup on Monday, and no tooth appointment on Tuesday.
Nobody could get in and nobody could get out. Which presented a minor food problem since the food truck couldn’t get into the subdivision on Sunday during our normal delivery and we couldn’t go out to fetch anything.
Hubby: We’re snowed in! We’ll starve. Maybe I should call Pizza Hut and see if they can get in…
Me: I think you underestimate the amount of food we have in the house.
I drag out the box of pancake mix, two packages of bacon, and one tube of Pillsbury breakfast biscuits. With iron resolve, I look up recipes on making the dreaded gravy — something I tried long ago and failed miserably at. See, I grew up around women who could just toss that stuff in the drippings and whip up something that tastes awesome. Not me though. My attempts tasted like raw flour (eww)! I’ve had a hatred of flour ever since.
2:2:2 – two tablespoons of drippings, two tablespoons of flour, and two cups of cold milk. Who knew that was the secret to making gravy. Yeah, ok, to be fair when I asked experts about this, they gave me look and feel guidelines rather than actual measurements which would have helped a newbie. It also helped to watch a video that showed how long you are supposed to cook it. I love the internet for recipe instructions.
Aha! I made my first EDIBLE gravy and conquered my flour phobia once and for all!
Biscuits and gravy are fine, but wouldn’t last long. Thankfully, I also had one frozen pound of beef. No problem, I can make golden curry with rice.
Problem – no rice! It seems the hubby was being nice when he filled the smaller bag from the bigger bag, only he didn’t tell me, so I assumed I still had big bag rice left. Whoops!
No problem – I added a can of diced tomatoes and potatoes to the golden curry and it turned out even better than ever! Good thing because the snow kept on coming until late Tuesday, early Wednesday.
The city roads have been plowed, and they still look like a bad idea to be driving on them. I looked up our city’s winter equipment which would make a Midwesterner laugh:
Three 5-yard truck with Plow/Material Spreader
One 5-yard truck Plow/900 Gallon Liquid Anti-icing Applicator Trucks
One 5-yard truck 900 Gallon Liquid Anti-icing Applicator Trucks
One 1-Ton 400 Gallon Liquid Anti-icing Applicator Truck/Material Spreader Truck/Plow
Two 9000 Gallon CCB Tanks
One 140-Ton Salt Shed
Accumulation is so rare out here that I had fun watching the neighbor and two helpers try to get his car out of the driveway using a spade, a hoe (I kid you not!), and one rare unicorn snow shovel. At this point there was a foot of snow everywhere. Amazingly, his front wheel drive car made it into the street and past my house. Later though, the car returned, having been defeated at the steep curvy section leading out of the subdivision. So close!
After a few false flickers, the power finally went out Wednesday. Nothing says boredom like having no power. My high end laptop sucks battery juice faster than an athlete downing Gatorade, so writing was out. I could read on my Kindle, but the air temperature was cooling and I found playing pretend mummy and napping was the best course of action. Nobody dared open the fridge because who knew how long the power would be out?
It wound up being eight hours or so. Ah, electricity, how I missed thee! As an added bonus, the overworked city snow plows finally got to our subdivision for Valentine’s Day, so Safeway was able to sneak in a small delivery. Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like having more meat to make more food with glorious electricity restored!
I would like to call out Safeway for their awesome customer service. Their drivers kept trying to deliver even when the conditions were bad. They also tossed in free flowers on Friday when we finally got a real order delivered because their normal roses that the hubby ordered were in bad shape.
Also a big thanks to the city snow plow and electric crews who had to work in a foot of the white stuff through five plus days of snowmageddon.
Our front yard had some casualties in all of this. Oddly enough, it happened once the snow began melting and the ground softened. The front bush was so weighted down unevenly, that it pulled up from the ground. I’m not sure if it can be restored yet. Several other bushes were also pulled forward, but their bases looked solid, so I think they’ll recover. However, the front tree wasn’t so lucky. It has four trunks shooting up from the ground and the front, major one snapped off at the base. It’s going to look pretty sad come spring.
I had a plan. It involved a short story and a Halloween release date. My characters said screw that and did their own thing. The result is a novella (almost 30k words) that took a bit longer to write, but I think the end result was worth the wait.
This story is set one year after Adrian saved his Lenore in The Vampire’s Raven. Marcus, the necromancer, made a brief appearance then. Now he gets his own adventure involving souls and demons… lots of demons.
I had fun abusing the Seattle Underground. It seemed the perfect place to hide bodies and demons. If you are ever in the area, you should take the tour. It’s not as bad as I wrote it (creative license and all). Actually, it’s a fascinating piece of Seattle history.
Both stories tie into a series I will be writing in the future sometime after the Summoner series is done.
Speaking of Summoner – I’m back to editing what I’ve already written and tweaking things so that stuff leads into other stuff more smoothly. Love the vague? Gotta avoid spoilers! I don’t have itchy skin, cracked teeth, or holidays to get in the way, so it’s full steam ahead!
I’ve enjoyed playing World of Warcraft for many years. Released in 2004, the gameplay and graphics have gone through several improvements. But perhaps the most dramatic leap is with their story telling and cinematics. With the latest Blizzcon (convention where Blizzard fans meet up), I saw some new cinematics which gave me the idea for this blog.
First, a little background. World of Warcraft sprang from Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and its sequels, which were Horde vs Alliance real time strategy games. When Blizzard put out the massively multiplayer game, World of Warcraft, it already had a large back story from its predecessors. Each race has a unique culture and belief system and lives in different areas from forests or mountains to an underground steampunk-like city. The attention to detail is on par with anything you’d read in epic fantasy, including a timeline that spans several thousand years.
Early on, the quests were simple, the non-player characters (NPCs) didn’t have voice overs, and not all the quests were connected to anything remotely interesting beyond that NPC’s need to get bear steaks. They were a means to level up your character and not usually much beyond that. There were a few detailed quest chains, but they were rare. And while I defintely geeked out on the epic Onyxia quest chain, especially the NPC walking through Stormwind, there wasn’t a lot of meat to the story telling that would intrigue an author.
Today, the technology to tell a story in the game has improved to the point where we have voice over for many characters, animated cutscenes to show you what is happening, and movie-quality cinematics for special occasions. This also gave rise to an added level of quality in the story telling. I think it also helps that they now have authors like Christie Golden contributing to the team.
Here’s what a quest chain is like today in WoW:
And for completeness sake, here’s the Horde side:
It’s almost like being a participant in a choose your own adventure story (remember those?) Except most games are still pretty linear and don’t allow you to play sides unless you are a Bioware game which has good and evil decision trees. I do remember quite fondly playing Knights of the Old Republic (KoTOR) and finding out I’d been duped. I went from a goodie-two-shoes Jedi to raging Sith Lord in under three seconds which wound up thoroughly crashing my save file. I had to limp along to the finish line and never did get to see my ending ceremony… not that I’m bitter at all… no, really… ok, maybe there’s still some agitation! But can you blame me? I poured over sixty hours of my life into that game in only a few days time because story immersion is very addictive and I’m very susceptible. Anyway, back to WoW…
In stories, every action has an associated reaction. Just think if you came from a culture of honor in battle and you had an unwilling part in burning innocents. A picture is worth a thousand words, but this video is worth several thousand.
You don’t need to know anything about these people to feel their pain. It’s spelled out quite clearly in their words and actions. This is a pretty deep character development piece for a video game. I instantly wanted to create a troll because he rocked. I also have a crush on Saurfang ever since several expansions back when he was nice to me as a Horde character while the current leader of the Horde was a complete ass.
Now we get to the actual battle which is another impressive piece of CGI work. I really want Blizzard to do a CGI movie. Heck, we almost have a movie here with all these cutscenes and cinematics and quests.
And speaking of quests, the continuation of this story takes place by questing in the game. This is over twenty minutes of story telling that I’d compare pretty favorably to any of the battles in HBO’s Game of Thrones. You’ll notice the in-game cutscenes aren’t as highly detailed as the movie-quality cinematics. That’s because they use in-game rendering to make everything. It not only shortens the time it takes to make them so gamers can enjoy more of them, it saves on disk space and download speed.
I don’t expect you to watch everything, but it’s very useful as an author to study how story like this is presented. It only takes a few words to evoke passion and immerse the participant in what’s going on. Also, I’m going through there (I played both factions) on my character, casting spells (I’m a mage) and taking damage from that green poison while trying to rescue allies. That makes it even easier to hook the participant into the story.
And there’s this big cliffhanger at the end of all that which was left unresolved until Blizzcon finally revealed what happened with Saurfang (yay!!). Even in games I don’t like cliffies! Here goes:
As writers, we have our work cut out for us in trying to generate such emotion since we don’t have the benefit of body language. With a single table toss, you got that Saurfang was pissed. That’s harder to do with only words, but doable. My current protagonist slammed his hands against the table and stood so fast the chair scraped against the metal flooring. It gets the point across well enough.
However, music is far more potent, which is why movies use it. A soundtrack can eviscerate the heart with a few carefully crafted notes.
The voice actor for Jaina Proudmoore, Laura Bailey, sang the following song live at Blizzcon. This is a haunting song that kills me every time I hear it, but to see the emotion in her eyes while she sang it… yeah… anyone have a tissue or three? It was especially interesting because Laura said she uses her fear and vulnerability when singing in front of an audience to evoke that quiver in her voice. Also, another person on the panel talked about how the Russian version used real sailors for the male voices.
And finally, I include a cinematic about an enemy to both the Horde and Alliance because this is so creepy and another excellent work. Plus, it was mentioned in the Blizzcon discussion panel on cinematics. The person on that panel who was involved, got excited when she learned it was going to be horror. I hope you enjoy!
Last month I displayed the new cover for the eBook. As the days passed, the paperback cover began pleading with me to fancy it up as well. So I finally caved and began working on the full wraparound version. What’s that look like? Well, here goes:
Dang, doesn’t that look sexy! I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Now I just have to iron out a few more nits and it will be available for purchase.
This might not mean anything to you unless you are also an indie publisher, but recently Amazon took the final step to migrate all books on CreateSpace (CS) to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Ah CS, how I already miss thee. The migration was easy enough but I ran into problems when I went to update the cover and interior on KDP.
Interestingly enough, the cover template used for CS is the same one KDP gives you, yet their book is a teensy tiny bit smaller which means I had to move the back text in a bit to keep it from being lopped off. I got a proof copy (a physical copy of the book before it gets published) and stacked it on top of the older CS copy and you can see the slight shrinkage in both height and width, though the spine seems the same. Same parent company, same POD printer hardware (or so I thought), slightly different size. Hmm…. Easy enough to fix, but I was definitely surprised by this.
I expected issues with the interior manuscript. The original reason I published the paperback using CS was because, back in November, 2017, I started getting an error when uploading the manuscript. CS happily accepted it, but KDP spit it back out with a generic error that was completely unhelpful. Being the impatient, excited newbie author that I was, I avoided the issue by going with CS. Well, now that avoidance is biting me in the butt! There’s probably a life lesson here about trying to use shortcuts. Oh well. Now I have to dig in and discover the means to fix this (meaning beg KDP people to look into it!) so I can finally have the updated book for everyone to repurchase because it’s just that awesome! (Kidding. No, really. But if you want to buy a second version, I won’t stop you!)
And there’s a fun glimpse into the trenches of indie publishing. I hope you enjoyed it! 🙂
The internet is a really cool way to connect people across the globe. Yet, for all its awesomeness, these connections can be too easily severed when someone goes offline for whatever reason and you never hear from them again. I’ve had this happen several times over the years I’ve been online gaming, and once again it struck when The Summoner’s cover designer’s web site shut down with no idea of what happened and no way of finding out. I hope he’s OK because he did a really great job of Frankensteining at least six separate stock photos to create the original cover that still graces the paperback version.
While it’s a great cover, it doesn’t really strongly brand the series — something I decided I wanted when I put book 2 out. So I asked a new designer to touch up the cover and do some magic with the branding. See the result for yourself:
Looks pretty cool, huh? 🙂 And there’s no doubt this is book 1 in a series. I’m really pleased with the look and plan to use this designer going forward — he makes such epic fantasy illustrations, that I want to hang them as posters on my wall! Now I just need to finish book 2.
And on that note…
I took a small break from writing this past month, which is ultimately a good thing. See, I’m not one of those plot everything ahead of time writers. I explore the story and get to know my characters as they react to situations and sometimes surprise me. While I know the main characters pretty well, I have several new characters and more fleshed out side characters that needed some loving. So, while it means no book out for summer which is a bummer, it does mean that when it does come out, it will hopefully be well worth the wait.
May the rest of the summer be free of Mother Nature’s wrath and may yours be enjoyable! I need to get back to writing… so blog you again next month! 🙂