Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Writing Year: The March Numbers



Month three of my little experiment to write a half million words in a year has come in like a lion (see? That’s March!) and now we’re moving into April. Before I start pranking people today, I thought I’d report on the results for March. Here's the stats:

Projects Started: 1
Projects completed: 0
Bonus Projects (meaning, things not on the calendar): 3
Words typed: 46, 027
Target number: 42, 466
Surplus: 3,561

Much better! I had to push and fight and sweat to meet this deadline, mostly because I had huge pressures in my private life finally coming to roost. Thankfully, most of them are off y plate. I don’t know if that’s contributed to the glacial pace of Replacement Gorilla, but I’m essentially twice-over my time budget on this book. It’s sitting at 38 thousand words and I’m on target for 60 thousand or more for a final draft. I’m having a ball writing it, and I am really happy with where it’s at right now. Of course, it’s not about what I think; other people have to like it, as well.

One of the things I jammed on during a productive session was a series of short stories involving Clay Stark that take place in between the ten year periods between each Gorilla novel. One of these stories, “A Whim of Circumstance,” is already done and was published in the collection Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard. Other stories have suggested themselves, based on the weirdness that took place in that story. I’m eager to get to some of these. Scott Cupp suggested one to me that is just too good to pass up.

I am behind in some of my other projects, but I kinda knew that would happen. Right now, I’m content to push other things back to make sure Replacement Gorilla is as good as it can be. I’ve kept my schedule loose after June to take care of overflow, new projects, and the like. Also, I’m on track to publish my backlist.

First up is The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, the first book in the Con-Dorks Saga. By the end of the year, the three Con-Dorks novels will be in print. Also on deck is Road Trip, which is a kind of sequel to one of the major Sam Bowen stories (which will be available later this year) and also a kind of linchpin in the San Cibola universe.  The books that take place in the San Cibola universe will all have a special logo to identify them as such, so anyone wanting to follow along may do so.

Finally, I just got the final edits back for my collection of Sailor Tom Sharkey stories to be published by Fight Card Books. This book will be available as an ebook first, but I’ll have physical copies on hand at Robert E.Howard Days this year, in case anyone would like a signed copy. I love these stories and I’m really glad this book is coming out for other people to read and enjoy.

And don’t worry, those of you who are wondering about my review of Wonderbook. I’ll get back to it. It’s perhaps ironic that I’ll finish that review after I finish Replacement Gorilla. Wouldn’t it be the height of irony if my book sucked because I didn’t heed the great advice found in Wonderbook? I’m going to roll those dice and do it, anyway. We’ll see what happens.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Unapologetic Hugo Ballot Campaigning

Yeah, I know what you're going to say: the Hugos are Broken, awards don't mean anything, it's not about winning something, my vote doesn't matter because of X,Y and Z, and insert-your-personal-complaint-here. I'm not going to debate any of what you just said.

But if the system can be gamed, then let's game it.


I'm not telling anyone what to do. But there are a lot of blanks on the Hugo Awards nomination ballot, and every year, I see stuff that I've never heard of, or seen, or experienced. Just once, I'd like to be in on that campaigning little clique. Note: I've not included every category below. If you attended last year, you may already have some thoughts on the matter. You may have already filled out your nomination ballot. The good news is this: you can revisit that ballot and add things. Yep. You really can. Go here: http://www.loncon3.org/nominations.php and do it. Here's the official website to the Hugos, as well: http://www.thehugoawards.org/ If you were in attendance at Lone Star Con 3 last year, you can nominate! See the Hugos website for other ways to participate.

Anyone who knows me and my interests will have no difficulty translating why I listed what I did. This is an attempt to load at least a couple of heroic fantasy works/things I care about/people who are no longer with us/my own shit onto a ballot that, despite the grand list of reasons why you shouldn't, (and despite the industry's ongoing struggle to catch up to the latter half of the twentieth century re: parity, gender issues, and POC problems) is still a going concern. I picked a few things that are of a heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery nature to highlight. Feel free to add more when you go vote. If you need a refresher, there's linkage below.

Best Short Story
TITLE                                                 AUTHOR                   PUBLISHER
"Timeout"                                            Neal Barrett, Jr.           Ray Guns OverTexas/FACT
                                                                                                           
"Defenders of Beeman County"         Aaron Allston               Ray Guns OverTexas/FACT

"Take a Left at the Cretaceous"          Mark Finn                     Ray Guns OverTexas/FACT

The good thing about the ballot is, you can put multiple things on it. So, that's nice!

Best Related Work

TITLE                                                 AUTHOR                   PUBLISHER
Blood  & Thunder:The Life               Mark Finn                   The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press
and Art of Robert E. Howard                                                                   

The first edition of Blood & Thunder garnered a World Fantasy nomination (not a win), and it would be nice if the second edition would at least capture a nomination. I have no doubt that few enough people have read the biography that are part of the Floating Temporary Permanent WorldCon Convention Staff and Attendees and would vote for it on the official ballot, but a nomination alone would allow the book to justifiably stay in print as a scholarly work. 
                                                                                 
Best Graphic Story
TITLE                                                 AUTHOR                               PUBLISHER
King Conan: Hour of the Dragon       Tim Truman                             Dark Horse Comics

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
TITLE                         CREATOR/WRITER/DIRECTOR               STUDIO/SERIES
“The Red Wedding”       Erin Gibson, Bradly Schulz            HBO/Game of Thrones

Best Editor (Short Form)
EDITOR
Rick Klaw                   RaygunsOver Texas

Rick has been doing this for a while, and doing right by the authors and artists he's worked with. He deserves a nomination.

Best Editor (Long Form)
EDITOR
Lou Anders                 PYR

Best Professional Artist
ARTIST
Tom Gianni                             RobertE. Howard Foundation Books

Best Fancast
TITLE                                     PERSONNEL
The Cromcast                          Josh Adkins, Luke Dodd, Jon Larson

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Work in Progress 2: Replacement Gorilla

Author's note: This is part of my novel-in-progress, Replacement Gorilla. Currently about halfway through, at sitting at 25K words. I'm really having a ball with this story. Finally. It took a while to find the voice. And the plot. And all of it. There's such a thing as being too close to the subject matter.



The Plainclothes cop was called detective Cliff Pittman. And he gave me shit for my stage name. The photographer was called Detective John Sullivan. Cliff and Sully. They set me down in a dark room, metal table, wooden chair, and one light bulb. It smelled of piss and blood. I wasn’t handcuffed, which was small comfort. I’d heard from some of the rowdier day players all about the quality and thoroughness of the L.A. police department’s beatings. They were legendary in their attention to detail. I’ve never been more thankful for three beers in my life.
Pittman did most of the talking, while Sully stood behind him, just out of the range of the light bulb. A pale Irish shadow with his arms folded in front of him, offering the occasional observation. It was a well-rehearsed routine, and they sold it, brother.
“Starsky, we talked to the front office about you,” Pittman said. “You do day-player work, stunt work, and now you’re playing the gorilla.”
“We covered this already,” I said.
“Humor us,” said Sullivan.
“That’s some pretty specific work you’re doing. Playing the monkey, I mean.” Pittman said. “There can’t be too much call for that, even at shithole studios like Intrepid.”
“Well, somebody’s got to play the cop in this picture,” I said, pronouncing it just like McAuley did.
I’ll give Pittman credit for one thing: he didn’t telegraph his punch. It shot straight out from his waist and caught me on the bridge of my nose. If he didn’t break it, it sure as hell wasn’t from a lack of effort on his part. I could smell the blood and taste it and I shot up out of my chair to return the favor. Sullivan was in front of me before I could adjust my trajectory and I ran into him at full force. He just grabbed me by the arms and pushed me back in the chair.
“I don’t think you wanna do that, Starsky,” he said, pinning me in place until I stopped struggling.
“Call me Clay. We’re all friends, here.”
Sullivan turned to his partner. “He’s got brass balls, I’ll say that for him.”
“I ain’t impressed,” Pittman said. “And the longer he dances with me, the more pissed off I’m gonna get.”
Sullivan backed up against the wall, refolding his arms. “Yeah, Clay, maybe you’d better just answer the questions, huh?”
     “I’m waiting for you two to ask me one,” I said, wiping my nose. It wasn’t broken, but it was bloody as hell. I went for my handkerchief before I remembered I gave it to Louise.
Sullivan tossed me a cheap replacement. Pittman let me clean up for a minute and then said, “Okay, tough guy, where were you on June the third?”
I really had to think about it for a minute. I counted backwards to remember. “Wednesday night. I went to Rudy’s with the guys.”
“The guys,” said Pittman. “Like who, for instance?”
“Joe Wilcox, and some of the other guys from Jungle Jones. We started shooting on Monday, and we were blowing off steam.”
“How long were you there?” Pittman asked.
I puffed out my cheeks. “Well, let’s see...”
“Come on, Starsky, quit stalling,” Pittman barked.
     “Didja close the place down?” prompted Sullivan.
“Yeah, we all left there after two in the morning. Steve kicked us out.”
“See, Cliff?” said Sullivan. “They all got the same story.”
“Yeah, Wilcox told us the same thing,” Pittman groused.
“Is that a bad thing?” I said. “Ernie was respected. He was one of us. We were all sick about what happened.”
“Not so broken up that you didn’t touch his widow to buy the suit, eh?” Sullivan said.
I nodded. “Yeah, I wanted to break into doing what Ernie did. But I think stabbing a guy to get the job is a little much, even for Hollywood.”
“How’d you know he was stabbed?” said Pittman.
“Remember, Cliff? Clay was the guy lurking up the rafters,” Sullivan said.
“Oh, right.” Pittman snapped his fingers. “Hey, Sully, you remember how he came down the ladder when we caught him? He just slid down on his own steam.”
“Neat trick,” said Sullivan.
“Takes strength,” said Pittman.
“It sure does,” said Sullivan.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Only this,” said Pittman, leaning in. “You could’ve given your pals the slip and drove back to the studio, and decided to take Ernie out on your own, then drove back and slipped in while everyone was in their cups, and no one would be any wiser.”
“That’s nuts,” I said.
“Not really,” said Sullivan. “You got motive. You got means. And this would be opportunity.”
I looked at both of them, incredulous. They were deadly serious. Pittman’s punch had knocked most of the beer out of me, but their demeanor scared the rest of it right out of me.  I swallowed and tried to be as sincere as I could.
“You guys still hang murderers here?” I asked.
“Yep, for now,” said Pittman.
“Maybe the gas chamber, if the politicos have their way,” said Sullivan.
“Okay,” I said. “I want to tell you guys a couple of things. I get paid twenty-five bucks a day for stunt work. If I’m wearing the suit, I get paid double that. Fifty bucks a day. That costume weighs sixty-five pounds when it’s dry, and about eighty pounds when I’m sweating. I can’t be in it for more than a few minutes, or I can pass out, or worse.”
“What do you want from us?” growled Pittman. “No one’s making you do it.”
“Let me finish,” I said. “If you want to make any money as a gorilla man, you gotta hustle. Two or three jobs a week, if you’re lucky. You need your own suit. There’s only a few guys and they all have their own suit. I’m buying Ernie’s on an installment plan. And now, I’ve also paying the head of wardrobe a fiver on every job to keep the suit in working order.” I took a breath. “I thought this would be a fun way to make some extra bucks, but now I’m thinking twice about the whole goddamn thing. Now I ask you guys: does that sound like I’ve got a motive to kill the King of the Gorilla Men?”
Sullivan cleared his throat. Pittman turned away and they exchanged a few looks that I couldn’t read. When Pittman turned back to me, he was smirking. “Okay, Starsky, you may not know who did it, but I ain’t convinced that you don’t know something about who did. Alla you Hollywood types are very close.”
“Is that a crack?” I asked. “Coming from the guy making goo-goo eyes at his partner just now? When are you two gonna tie the knot?”
Pittman’s smile broke. He stepped aside, muttering, “And we were getting along so well, too.” Sullivan was right behind him.
Sullivan hit a lot harder that Pittman. A lot.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Work In Progress: Replacement Gorilla


This is literally just a sliver from Chapter One. I'm in the middle of Chapter Seven now. If you like this, and want to see more, just let me know in the usual manner. Hope you dig this little peek. -Mark
 
Joe walked off, leaving me and his curiosity to stare at the stage and wonder what they were doing over there. When Joe didn’t immediately return, I looked around until I found the scaffolding that led up to the rafters. I shouldered my duffel and nonchalantly walked over to the metal rungs, then scaled them quickly and disappeared from under the bright lights.
Up above, on the narrow boards that ran parallel to the banks of lights, I felt a lot more comfortable. I was doing something physical. That always made more sense to me. All of the ropes, pulleys, and flats could be operated from the small platform anchored to the wall underneath the scaffolding. Two catwalks ran across the stage, out of the view of the cameras, and allowed various creatures to fly and other special effects to be performed. On the opposite side of the stage, several thick ropes had been decorated with wire, leaves, and paint to resemble jungle vines. These were anchored overhead to a second set of beams, and counterbalanced with sandbags. Stuntmen could swing onto the soundstage and land precisely on their mark. Down below, it was easy to see the rows of fake plants and trees held in place with two-by-fours, terracotta pots, and piles of sand.      
 I shifted my duffel bag to my back and carefully walked onto the closest catwalk, using the railing for support, until I had an unobstructed view of the crime scene below. I leaned down cautiously to get an unobstructed look.
Ernie Fleischman was flat on his back. Mouth open, staring up at me, a panicked look in his eyes, which were still ringed with black greasepaint. It took me a minute to see the cause of his death: a knife, one of the props, from the look of it, was buried to the hilt under his ribcage. His body was surrounded by a chalk outline, and other things were circled in chalk that I couldn’t quite make out.
The cop that had been arguing with McAuley now appeared and said to the photographer, “How do you figure it?”
The photographer wore a similar brown suit and jacket as the cop. He put his camera down and said, “Okay, here’s what I think.” He walked stage right about six feet and pointed to the open trap door in the middle of the stage. “The killer waited until he heard the deceased coming, then jumped out...” here he pointed, to the raised platform below the trap door, “from here, and stabbed him. You can see from the angle that the handle is pointing down, the blade turning up into the ribcage.” The cop stood up and pointed stage left. “Then he ran off that way, down the stairs. There’s a service entrance that leads out back.”
“Any ideas as to who could have done it?” asked the plainclothes cop.
“Well, whoever he was, he was strong as an ox.”
“Athletic, too. He’d have to spring up from the platform, there, and drive it home in one motion.”
“Jesus Christ, it’s hot.” said the plainclothes cop. He took his hat off and mopped his brow, rolled his head back, and his eyes met mine. “Hey! Get down from there!”
I stood up hurriedly, walked to the opposite end of the catwalk, and slid down the ladder in one fluid motion. I was met by the two cops.
“Who are you?” the plainclothes cop asked.
“Clayton Stark,” I said.
“Phony name,” said the photographer. “These guys don’t have real names. What’s your real name, buddy?”
“Creighton Starsky,” I said.
“Let me see some ID,” Plainclothes snapped.
I handed over my driver’s license as the Photographer asked, “Did you know the deceased?”
“Yes,” I said. “I mean, no...I mean...”
“Jesus Christ, make up your mind,” said Plainclothes. “Did you know him or not?”
“I met him once, at a party. I knew who he was, but I didn’t...” I stopped when I realized what I was about to say.
Plainclothes smiled. “Well, who said you did, Starsky?”
“No one,” I said.
Photographer was suddenly all smiles, too. “What were you doing up there, Starsky?”
“Nothing. Just looking around.”
“You working on this picture?” Plainclothes asked.
I nodded.
“What are you doing?” Photographer asked.
“I’m playing the gorilla,” I said.
The cops smile now looked like a shark’s mouth. “Did you know that the deceased, Mr. Fleischman, was playing the gorilla in this movie?” Plainclothes said.
“Before he died,” said Photographer.
“Yeah, but now that he’s dead, Clayton here’s got a job,” said Plainclothes.
“Ain’t that swell?” said Photographer.
“It’s convenient,” said Plainclothes.
“Like a coincidence,” said Photographer.
Joe suddenly appeared at my side. “Hey, Clay, what’s going on?”
“Your friend here was up in the rafters, gawking at us,” said Plainclothes, “After I specifically asked you circus types to stay back and let us work the crime scene.”
“We were just asking the snoop here a few questions,” said Photographer, “And we’ll probably be asking him some more.”
“Real soon,” said Plainclothes.
Joe drew himself up. He was legitimately tall, not just Hollywood tall. It had the desired effect. “Don’t get tough with me, buddy. I get hit for a living. You got any questions, you go through the front office like the rest of the fans. Come on, Clay.” He pulled me away from the two cops.
“Hey Starsky, you got an alibi for last night?” Plainclothes yelled.
“Let him go,” said Photographer. “He’s a simpleton.”
After we had walked half the length of the studio floor, Joe hissed, “What the hell were you doing up there?”
I just shrugged. I wanted to tell Joe that I wanted to see Ernie’s dead body, just to know that he was truly gone, but I knew how it would sound, so I kept my mouth shut.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Writing Life: February’s Epic Fail


Last month I mentioned my goal of a 500,000 word output in a single year. I think a report card like this every month will keep me honest and accountable. February was a short month, and I was starting a new project. How did I do? Let’s go to the stats:

Projects completed: 0

Projects I was trying to complete: 1

Words typed: 24,963

Target number: 38,356

Shortfall: 13,393

So, basically, February sucked. I’m not making excuses, or anything like that, because I did write something every day. It may have been just a paragraph, but I kept writing every day, despite a couple of catastrophic setbacks in my personal life that all but took me out of the game for about ten days. I’m better now, but the damage is done.

LegendaryGorilla Man Charles Gemora.
I’ve modified my March schedule to allow me time to finish off this project I started in February. It’s called Replacement Gorilla, and it’s a mystery novel I’ve been carrying around in me for ten or more years, now. It’s been made worse by two previous attempts to start it, both ending in failures. The first time out, I had the tone all wrong, and the second time around, I had the voice all wrong.

The good news is this: third time is a charm. I’ve got the tone and the voice just right, and I’m well past my last attempt. Plot is plotted, story is storied, and now all I really need to do is get it out of my head. It’s been tough at times, but my energy high and I’m ready to have this out in the world so people can see it.

I might, if anyone is interested, put some samples up for folks to read. Just a taste, really. A sliver. Throw me a comment or a PM if you want a sneak peek or two.

ConDFW: A Report of Sorts
Part of what got me back on track again was my now-annual pilgrimage to ConDFW. I like this convention, a lot. It’s a great way to shake off winter and gear up for the spring and summer shows. They do good programming and I know a lot of the Dallas SF scene, both fans and pros. But there was something about this year that was a little different, and very cool.

I’m getting a reputation for being a good moderator on panels. It’s not that hard to do, really; you need the confidence and command of the topic to be able to pose interesting questions, and the force of personality to dictate what shape the conversation will take. Acting ability helps, as well as public speaking. Oh, and you have to resist the urge to take over the panel and plug your own stuff, ad nauseum. Okay, come to think of it, maybe there’s more to panel discussions that a lot of people think.

Regardless, I’m good on panels. This year, I had some big crowds, and I also sold several copies of my new book, Empty Hearts, to people I did not know. This was very gratifying. It tells me I’m either: reaching an audience at these shows, or I’m finally putting some stuff out that people want to read. Or maybe both.

I do have a small sect of folks who attend all of my readings. If they are at the show, they are at my reading. Nice people, all. I give good readings. But this was the first time that my reading partner and fellow author, Patricia Burroughs, yielded some of her reading time to hear me read more stuff. She also bought a copy of Empty Hearts, prior to the reading. It was extremely flattering.

This ConDFW was about connections, more than any other. I ended up talking to fellow authors and establishing (and in a couple of cases, re-establishing) connections. To put it another way, I’m finally starting to feel like I belong there. It’s taken some time, and I’m not always the best about putting myself out there, but going to ConDFW and FenCon and making the effort to participate was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The 100th Post
I’d hoped for something more monumental than a state of the union address. Oh, well. What can you do? I’ll get back to posting more Writing About Wonderbook soon. I’m halfway through the book right now. The short answer is this: it's great. If you are on the fence about it, get off the fence and go get a copy.