Friday, February 16, 2018

Military Science Fiction? Hmmmm... That sounds interesting.

I'm one of those kids who grew up on Star Trek (the original series, thank you). It came on at 4:30 p.m. every weekday afternoon right after the Brady Bunch, and watching it was part of my after-school ritual. My two favorite episodes were "The Doomsday Machine" and "Balance of Terror" (which is kind of ironic considering what I did for most of my USAF career! Hah!). In the summer of 1977, I read a paperback version of Star Wars (which was amazing), and then saw the movie shortly thereafter (which was even MORE amazing). In 1979 when I was in junior high, Battlestar Galactica hit the tube, and it was on every Sunday night for a couple of years. I loved Star Trek, but there was something a little more "realistic" about Galactica--and especially Star Wars--that I absolutely loved. The ships, the fighters, the gallant warriors and the terrible villains, all great stuff. The follow-ons as the years went by were great, too. Anyone remember "Space: Above and Beyond" from 1995-96? Loved it!

Why, you ask, am I telling you this? I'll get to that in about 5 seconds...

Fast forward a few decades, and here I am writing sci-fi post-apocalyptic, dystopian, supernatural, and psychological thrillers. It's all stuff I love to read, and I love to write. But I want to try my hand at writing something different.

[...five Mississippi] So why did I tell you what I watched on TV as a kid? Well, I was geek-a-fied (that's a word) at a young age, and I never recovered. Blend that with a 20-year active military career, and viola! I LOVE military science fiction!

"So why haven't you written any then?" you ask. Thanks! Nice segue!

Truth is, I AM writing military sci fi, and have plans for [at least] a three book series called THE HAN WARS. The first book (titled FLEET OPPOSED) is about 20% complete right now, and I'm having a blast writing it.

With any genre, an author has to do a bit of "world building"--putting together the place where you want to take your readers to for a few precious hours. With my other books, I could basically take our present-day world and tweak a few things, but with he military science fiction genre, the world building is a much more involved task. Like I said, the first book isn't even close to being complete yet, but I'd like to share some of my world building so far.

First off, though, here's the draft blurb for FLEET OPPOSED:

***

The Republic has known peace for nearly a century. Memories of the Han War have faded over time, with the pain and suffering of total war, and sense of shared sacrifice in the face of annihilation, both distant memories. Disagreements among member systems threaten to fracture the cohesiveness of a united Republic, but the Combined Fleet—an aging shadow of what it once was—still stands guard.


Beyond the outer reaches of Republic space, an old enemy prepares to strike. Fueled by the oppressive bitterness of defeat, the Han cultivate the seeds of dissent among those in the Republic sympathetic to their cause. To the Han Bloc, the third planet of the Sol system—the heart of the Republic and their ancestral home—is the prize, and this time they will not be denied from walking its soil as victors. The moment to act has arrived.

Aboard the Republic fleet defense cruiser RSS Repulse, Commander Jackson Flynn takes the reigns of command and quickly finds himself in the middle of a war no one expected, a war not only between the Republic and the Han Bloc, but also against the treachery within the Combined Fleet itself. As the fleet crumbles before his eyes during the opening stages of battle, Jackson Flynn knows one thing…

The Han are coming home again, with a vengeance. And his Repulse is on the line.



***

Sound interesting? Hope so. ;) Let's see...there's a Republic, a Combined Fleet, the RSS Repulse, and the Han Bloc...what else? Well, let's take a look, shall we?

This first picture is what I have set as my laptop's wallpaper (a motivator to keep working on the book):


As you can see, there's a bunch of menacing-looking ships coming through some sort of opening in space...and it basically depicts the book's opening scene.

So what about the Republic Combined Fleet? Like most former military, I like to gravitate toward org charts...so here's one:



Three fleets, and an order of battle. But what about the people in the fleet? Well, again being former military, I like rank structures:


A lot of military sci fi I read revolves around some sort of "Space Marines"...that's all fine and dandy, but I wanted to do something a little different:


Now that we know how the rank structure works, how about badges?


A lot of the symbolism from today's military (USAF, US Navy & USMC) is apparent in those badges, and why not? Some traditions run VERY deep, and I figured some might even survive far into the future (with a few tweaks).

Now I'm not even sure if I'm going to use anything from this next picture, but I tried to imagine what a carrier air wing might look like in the world of FLEET OPPOSED. All of the squadron patches are based on actual US Navy & USMC flying units (active and deactivated), with a little of my imagination thrown in for good measure:


Is that geeky enough for ya??? Don't worry. It gets worse. ;) Following the same basic theme, here are the rank structures & badges for the Han Bloc:


In the blurb I happened to mention CDR Jackson Flynn, the commander of the Republic Combined Fleet cruiser RSS Repulse. The story revolves around him, but there's also someone else who plays a major role: Junior Captain Sasha Dracon, commander of the Han battle cruiser Mnementh. Every ship has to have a crest, right? Of course it does:


Another thing I do when I'm writing a book is try and envision what the cover might look like. Here's a couple of raw attempts (basically something I can provide to a professional cover designer as initial ideas):


So there you have it, a little taste of the FLEET OPPOSED world I'm building. If you're a fan of the military sci fi genre, I'd be interested in what you think! Feel free to hop on over to my website & shoot me a message.

A LITTLE DISCLAIMER: Some of the images above were brazenly snatched from the internet--I'm not using any for profit, just for personal motivation only as I write the book. There, I said it. ;)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Get a sneak peek at THE WIDENING GYRE, coming 9.5.17

My fourth novel, THE WIDENING GYRE, will be published on Tuesday, September 5, as a Kindle exclusive.

Here's a sneak peek:
***


“Is there something wrong with me?” Peyton asked. A tear slid down her cheek.
Justine smiled and took Peyton’s hand. “No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, honey. You’re just in the middle of something right now that—” She paused, correcting herself. “No, we’re in the middle of something right now that neither of us understands. Yet. It’s going to be okay.”
Peyton nodded, and took another sip of her tea. She had at least stopped shaking, and more of her normal color had returned to her face.
“Are you feeling better?” Justine asked.
“Now that I’m home, it all seems like a bad dream. But I really did see something, Justine.”
“Then let’s start from the beginning. Tell me what you saw.”
A loud thump sounded through the house, and they both jumped.
“What the hell?” Justine exclaimed, whipping her head toward the front window. “What the heck was that?” At first, she thought someone had pounded on the door, but as she approached the front of the house, she could see a small smear on the window glass.
Something red.
She looked at it closely, peering through the glass. It looked like—
“Is that blood?” Peyton asked.
Justine looked at the front porch, and couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She opened the front door.
Lying on the porch directly below the window was a large black bird. “Jeez, it flew right into the window,” Justine said.
They both stepped outside. The rain had cooled the air considerably, and they both hugged themselves against the chill.
The bird lay on its back, wings spread open as if in flight. Its head hung at an odd angle, and a small drop of blood clung to its beak. It was big, much larger than a common grackle. More like a raven.
“Is it dead?” Peyton asked.
“Looks like it broke its neck,” Justine answered. “Flew smack-dab into the window.” She knelt down to take a closer look. Its chest wasn’t moving, and she gently touched it with the tip of her finger, and immediately pulled her hand back.
It was cold. Icy cold.
“What’s wrong?” Peyton asked.
Justine looked at the bird’s head, and couldn’t look away from its eye. Small and black, wide open, a round shadow staring right at her.
Seeing.
“It’s—it’s dead, all right. Poor thing.” But it wasn’t a poor thing. She wanted to get rid of it, right now. Grab a shovel and scoop it into the trash can out back. And maybe give it a good smack with the blade just to make sure. Close that eye for good.
“Justine?”
She jumped at the feel of Peyton’s hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, honey,” Justine said. She stood and rubbed her fingertip against her jeans, fighting the urge to run inside and wash her hands. “I’ll get the shovel.”
“Are we going to bury it?” Peyton asked.
Justine wanted to take the shovel blade and separate the head from the body, pour lighter fluid on it, and burn the damn thing . . . but it was only a bird, right? It wasn’t the first time she’d seen a bird fly into a window, but the body felt as if it had already been dead for hours. “I’ll take it out back and leave it by the field. The
eye is staring dead eye is staring at me dead eye is
coyotes can take care of it.”
Justine did leave the bird beside the field, at the edge of the corn, just as she said she would. As she walked back to the house, she knew it wouldn’t be there in the morning. The scavengers would take it. Tear it to bits. But she wasn’t about to turn around. She was afraid it might just get up, its head lolling sickly to one side, and fly away.
She couldn’t explain why its body had felt so cold, so quickly, nor could she fathom why she felt so unclean after touching it. And it had hit the window so hard.
Like it was trying to break through, and get inside.
She forced herself to turn around, to prove to herself that her mind was only playing tricks.
The bird’s body was there, right where she left it.
It’s just a bird, for cripes’ sake.
The night animals would take it away.
 ***

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Writing Process…Um, am I supposed to have one of those?





I’ve been asked on more than one occasion about my “writing process.” The first time, I cocked my head to the side like the RCA Victor dog, whined a little, and realized I’d never given it any thought. Do I have a process? I suppose, though “process” seems much too strong a word for how I tend to slap words down on a keyboard.

Every author has a different way to approach a story. Some are organized beyond belief, and others tend to fly by the seat of their pants. Both approaches work, because in the end how you manage to get that idea out of your head and down on paper is what works for YOU.

The basic steps, though, are the same for everyone:

1) There’s a light bulb floating above your head. You have an idea you want to expand into a story. What do you do? You research. Gather pertinent details. Learn. Outline. Figure out plot points. Visualize your characters…names, physical details, figure out their strengths & weaknesses, and get to know them as people rather than random names that will soon be stumbling (hopefully with a purpose) through your plot. By doing these steps, you’re “prepping the battlefield” for what comes next. Personally, my prep work isn’t very extensive compared to other writers I know … I do as much as I need to do get a basic soup-to-nuts story arc in my noggin, figure out my character’s basic traits, and BANG goes the starter’s pistol: Write, write, write, edit, edit, edit, write, write, write, repeat until done. Sounds easy, right? Whatever. It’s NOT easy, and that’s what makes completing a novel so worthwhile. The biggest thing to remember is that every writer approaches a project differently—some spend hours and hours “prepping the battlefield” with outlines, plot charts, character bio development, etc., and others don’t. The right way to do it, quite honestly, is what works for YOU.

2) Write the darn story. You’ve made the decision. You’re ready. You’ve done all your research, outlined, plotted, developed character trait charts, stuck spreadsheets/yellow sitckies/strings-and-tacks all over your plot wall (if you’re one of THOSE writers, which I’m not) and it’s time to sit down at the desk (or kitchen table, or on the couch, or outside if it’s summer, or outside in the winter if you’re a Yeti) or wherever you like to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and all you have in front of you is an uncharted expanse of BLANK.

It’s time to write your novel.

So. Are you done yet? No? You mean to tell me it’s been seven months, and you’re still stuck at the beginning? Well…

Set yourself a goal. Pick a completion date. If you’re lucky, and have a book under contract with a publisher, you’ve got a set delivery date. If you’re self-pubbing, you can set that date for yourself. At any rate, that target date is important (at least it is for me).

Some writers I know say things like, “I just HAVE to write! I can’t help myself! If I don’t get the words out of my head, I’ll go crazy! I have to write for my SANITY! HAHAHAHAHAhaha!” To which, I usually smile politely, and slowly back away. Not only does that sound like they're a prime candidate for suffering some sort of psychotic break, it’s not a problem I have, let me tell you. The words are in my head, but they can stay there, nice and quiet, behaving themselves, until I let them out … when I have the time set aside to do so. Anyway, the words don’t make me crazy, it’s all those damned voices. Wait, strike that. I’m fine. Really. Don’t tell.

So, you have a target date set. Good for you. Now, meet it.

Done yet? No, again? Well let’s talk word count.

In my chosen genre (and where I am in my writing career), 80K words is the “sweet spot” for novel length, so let’s use that for our discussion. To get to that ~80K final word count, figure out what a comfortable daily word count goal would be … for YOU. Personally, I’ve found 600 words-per-day is a comfortable pace. That’s ~133 days total to hit that 80K goal. 600 words is roughly two double-spaced manuscript pages (Times New Roman, 12pt font); doesn’t sound like much, does it? If you tackle that much, every day, day after day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it adds up. Now, some people partake in “nanowrimo” (National Novel Writing Month, held in November every year) where they pump-out a min-50K novel in 30 days. That equates to (if my cipherin’ is correct) 1,666 words per day (a Satanic pace, kinda), every single day in November. I’ve never done nanowrimo, and more power to those who do and meet or exceed that goal, but it demonstrates how much you can get accomplished if you set your mind to it. And, quite simply, that’s the key; set your mind to it. Write every day, even if you don’t particularly want to. There’s an 80K-elephant in front of you, and you have to eat the whole thing … one bite at a time. Take some big bites, nibble a little here and there, but never stop eating that friggin’ pachyderm. *burp*

3) THE END…or is it? So, you’re done with the first draft. Congratulations! Walk away from it for a few days, leave it alone. Come back to it with a fresh set of eyes, and start cutting. You’ll catch a lot of errors/inconsistencies this way as you plod through the draft, but there are still some things you WON’T see because you’re too close to the project. This is where Beta readers come in handy. Find someone (or even better a few people) willing to give the draft a critical read. Listen to what they say, and be willing to make changes. For example, if they find a part of the story to be confusing, even though it makes perfect sense in your head, they’re probably right. It’s confusing. Suck it up, and change it. Revise, revise, revise…and then, on to the next step.

4) Get a scalpel. Read it line by line. Slowly. Look for punctuation errors, repeated words, misspellings…all those things that your reader WILL notice. Again, another set of eyes is crucial; either find a friend who is willing to give it a detailed read, or hire a copyeditor. This is painful, takes time, but in the end, it’s worth it. Like I said, your reader WILL notice the single misspelled word on page 378 that you glossed-over. Guaranteed.

Those are the four basic steps to anyone’s writing process, but there are still a couple of other things to consider.

Find a Place to Write. This is a biggie. Whether you can carve an office out of your home, or write in your recliner, or at the kitchen table, find a place where you can concentrate on your work. For me, now that two of our three kids are out of the house, I was able to convert one of the bedrooms upstairs into an office. It’s made a huge difference. Regardless, find a place relatively free of distractions, and get to work.

Find the Time to Write. Ah, time…the one thing we never seem to have enough of, right? If you’re a little-known author like myself who still has a “day job” and a mortgage, then your writing time may very well be late at night. Everyone has a different situation, with demands that pull them here and there throughout the day. If you want to write, though, you HAVE to find the time. It’s really that simple.

So what are you waiting for? Get to writing!