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Last year I started writing a novel. I wanted to talk about that project, and share some of my frustrations. Now’s your chance to leave before I get all ramble-y in 3… 2… 1…….

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For anyone who’s still here, I want to give you a little bit of a prologue for this, to put everything into context. Some of this is stuff I’ve already blogged about last year, but for those that aren’t aware, I figured it might be helpful.

Last year, I wrote a short story about a guy who has an encounter with some telepathic frogs and learns a dark secret from his family’s history. That’s an extreme simplification of the plot, by the way, because it’s really about more than that. I won’t go on for hundreds of words about it (there’s always other days for that), but let’s just say it involves betrayals, cosmic druids, intelligent animals, and world-spanning conflicts.

Once I finished this story, I knew that the character I’d created wasn’t finished with me. Like seemingly everything I write, this turned out to be the beginning of a bigger work–in this case, an epic modern fantasy series. (Now, I want to be clear about this. I suppose some people would call it “urban fantasy” after hearing a full description of the world and characters, but I don’t feel like that term applies here–though I’m sure those same people would disagree. In this case, I use the word “modern” to distinguish my setting from medieval fantasy and other time/place specific forms of the genre. Any other conclusions you might come to when hearing that this series is epic modern fantasy, are entirely your responsibility!) At some point, I decided the original story would serve as a kind of extended introduction to this protagonist and use it to launch the series. From there, I was going to jump forward a little in the story’s timeline for the start of Book 1.

Until I started getting to the meat of the novel, I had no idea what kinds of issues I’d come across. The answer was many, many issues, and most of them were a result of having rushed into the process. Sometimes you can write a story with only the basics in mind, especially if you’re dealing with a short piece that is contained to its immediate focus. With this one, I left way too much to chance, and it ended up killing my ability to write the story I wanted. I got frustrated, felt lost and didn’t have a strong grip on my story’s course, and ultimately I became overwhelmed by the thought of even continuing to work on it more.

As I’m sure you know from the subtext of this post thus far, nothing worked out the way I’d hoped. I still haven’t published that story, and the novel I started writing (the theoretical Book 1 of the series) hasn’t been finished. There’s a list of different factors that contributed to this, but I can distill it into the two that really matter: I didn’t do enough planning before I started to write, and, not for the first time, I underestimated the amount of effort required to complete a draft of a novel.

Right now, I’m sitting on an short story that’s just over 8,000 words long and needs to have its ending rewritten (more on that later), and a partial draft of a novel that’s a little over 9,000 words. The short story, which I’m now calling Amongst the Wvuront, is pretty far along in its development. I’ve gone through a couple of drafts that I edited myself, and I also had about 7-9 beta readers look at it. Once I can fix the ending, and do a comprehensive edit of the modified text, I think it should be pretty much ready to go.

What’s stopping me from working on the novel? Well, as of a few days ago, not a damn thing. I recently solved one of the big issues that I ran into while working on the draft, and now I know what I have to do to get the project moving again. That’s after I wrap up some of the stories I’m currently in the middle of right now, of course. Gotta stay on track, get my shit in order first, and then I can devote some serious time to a story that’s been burning a hole in my imagination for a while. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post.

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Here’s some of what I’ve been working on for Dryden Nightmares. Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be a complete story–it’s more like an article I’ve written describing one of the elements of the universe, so that other authors and artists will have this information if they want it.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested in Dryden Nightmares. And remember, this is all published under Creative Commons 4.0 BY-SA. If you’ve got comments/questions, please feel free!

Izuntu

The god of blood, power, and discipline; Izuntu’s influence stretches far throughout the multiverse, and his followers number in the billions. His true age is unknown, though stories about him often say that he is older than his current form suggests.

He was once a mortal, part of a protohuman species descended from massive primates that developed on a low-gravity world. These giant creatures resembled hairless gorillas, hulking specimens with barrel chests, powerful lean muscle, and notable for their extra pair of arms; they typically grew to be between ten to fifteen meters tall, with arm spans of up to twice that length. The protohumans that evolved from them lost some of their massive size and gained many of the characteristic human traits (upright posture, larger brains, etc.), while still having an extra set of arms. Izuntu belonged to one of the earliest generations of this new protohuman, but his intelligence quickly separated him from the rest of his people. When he saw their relative ignorance and learned that he could outwit them, Izuntu used his superiority to control others and destroy anyone that opposed him.

A cosmic event of unknown origin, a storm of intense energy that ripped through Izuntu’s world, destroyed nearly all life on the planet. Most of his people died during the storm or succumbed to fatal changes to their environment, but Izuntu was somehow transformed, his entire being changed on a molecular level. He grew to the height of his ancient ancestors, his skin stretched and hardened to become living armor, and he developed an incredible appetite for blood. None of the other surviving members of his species changed in such a fashion, and so they became the first to worship him, believing that he had been chosen from them by some force even greater. Izuntu discovered that his thirst for blood also came with the ability to sense the life energy inherent in the blood, and in time he found a way to convert this energy, using it as fuel for a form of magic. Once he discovered a method of travel to other universes, Izuntu began to increase his power exponentially.

For eons, Izuntu has been trapped by a group of his rivals. When these rival gods were unable to destroy him, they combined their essences into a stake of pure energy and used this to pin Izuntu in place inside of a nebula. They hoped to keep him trapped there until such a time when someone or something would arise with enough power to destroy him forever. While their trap worked, they underestimated the extent of his power, and Izuntu focused his will to begin pulling objects from space toward him—and finally absorbing them, increasing both his size and power. Eventually, his most devoted followers discovered his imprisonment and began the tradition of siphoning their own power to Izuntu. These offerings multiplied, until Izuntu’s only limitation was his inability to free himself from the gods’ trap. Over time, Izuntu’s body has grown obscenely large due to his never-ending supply of power, now taking up as much space as a entire galaxy. He has absorbed and consumed much of the local universe within his reach, including whole planets and stars, which have become a part of his engorged mass. While he can no longer directly impact events outside of his immediate surrounding, Izuntu’s faithful continue to advance his causes across space and time, growing to new levels of power and eliminating the weak in their path.

The Cult of Izuntu

The cult of Izuntu exists on many worlds, and includes a vast multitude of worshipers with varying degrees of devotion. There are no prohibitions regarding who can or cannot worship Izuntu, the only requirement being a desire to gain power, in any form, and use that power to assert dominance over those less powerful. An obsession or fascination with blood and other bodily fluids is common among his worshipers, and practically a must for those seeking to join the ranks of his priestly caste—but there are many for whom these physical aspects of the cult hold no appeal. A follower of Izuntu need not be anything aside from strong, capable, and driven, so long as she or he values might above all. Some in his service act as individuals, preferring to hoard as much power for their own use as possible, while others form sects in an effort to unify their collective power for mutual gains.

Izuntu praises humility in thought and speech, but also favors bold and ambitious actions. He has never been known to seek out followers, instead waiting for those worthy enough to find him and, for a select few, gain passage to his realm.

There are many magic users among the followers of Izuntu. While the practice is not required by the god, he does approve of its use as a means to acquire more power. Since it normally involves the use of energy to affect change, magic is a form of power itself. Those who can learn to wield their own energy, take it from others, or use the ambient energy in their environment, show an aptitude for building a power base—which is most praiseworthy in the eyes of Izuntu. Using magic for its own sake is considered showmanship or trickery, at best, or a waste of power, at worst. Izuntu does not hold one form of magic above others, even the blood magic which has been a staple of his godhood, and does not actively encourage his followers to learn it or not. Even without a set of rules or guidelines regarding the use of magic, cultists tend to favor certain magical traditions more than others, including blood magic, death magic, curses, conjuring, and enchanting. Priests of Izuntu are almost always skilled in at least one form of magic, since it allows them to more fully utilize the energy at their disposal.

The path to priesthood is open to all of Izuntu’s followers, but the challenges inherent in achieving this rank are sufficient to deter all but the most worthy. To begin this process, a follower must seek all available sources of external power within their local range, and use whatever methods they can to take control of as much of said power as possible. Often this involves mass murder, insurrection, and/or nigh-unspeakable acts committed for the sake of empowerment. In addition, offerings to Izuntu are made over time, usually as a sign of faith that he will later repay these gifts. Once a follower has attracted Izuntu’s attention through deeds and offerings, Izuntu may decide to send them a dream-image depicting his mark: the wounded heart.

Mark of Izuntu

If the follower receives the message and intuits its meaning, they can then make a new offering to Izuntu using the mark. This signifies a pact with Izuntu, and officially binds the user to him as a member of his priestly caste. Using Izuntu’s mark is a privilege which he grants to those in whom he senses true potential, and they are encouraged to apply the mark whenever and wherever it would aid their acquisition of power. The mark’s use in rituals, magical or otherwise, acts as a kind of amplifier through which Izuntu lends a portion of his own energy to the cause. This allows his priests to perform incredible feats that they would usually be unable to accomplish otherwise. For maximum effect, the mark must be made in blood.

A priest that has gained a significant amount of power will sometimes receive another dream-image from Izuntu, showing the path they must travel to reach his realm. If the priest receives this second message and again intuits its meaning, she or he may decide to embark on a journey to Izuntu’s realm for the purpose of becoming one of the Blooded.

The Blooded of Izuntu

The Blooded are Izuntu’s high priests, they have reached his heart and drank of its blood. To be granted this gift, a priest must overcome a series of challenges. Many candidates are destroyed in their attempts to become one of the Blooded, and often their pilgrimages last for years. The first challenge is to reach the nebula where Izuntu resides, still pinned in by the trap. Using the dream-image given by the god, the priest then needs to discover the location on their own. Izuntu will not offer any further guidance until the candidate reaches the nebula. Once there, the candidate must communicate with Izuntu, who may then provide instructions for completing the next challenge.

The candidate’s next challenge is to collect a series of items as part of their fee to enter the god’s realm. In no particular order, the candidate must gather the following:

I.    Blood of a Thousand Foes: The candidate must harvest the blood of one thousand enemies, and store it in a suitable container for use during the rite of entrance. This does not need to be a large volume of blood; as little as one drop from each individual will do.

II.   Hair of a Thousand Beasts: The candidate must gather a body part from one thousand beasts; they do not necessarily need to be hairs, any part is acceptable. Hair is a common, and wise, choice, because it can easily be integrated into an item of clothing worn by the priest. Using these parts to make weapons and armor is also a fairly common practice.

III.  Memory of a Thousand Lives: The candidate must find a way to take the memories of one thousand lives, and seal them in a suitable container for use during the rite of entrance. Use of a ritual or magical tool is essential for this task, except in those few cases where the candidate has an innate ability to take the memories of another.

When the candidate has collected all of these items, she or he must return to Izuntu and present them to the god. In addition, the candidate becomes a supplicant—offering all of their power as a gift to Izuntu. To transfer their power, the supplicant must release their blood upon the living wall of Izuntu’s flesh. If the offering is acceptable, the supplicant is granted passage and the wall of flesh parts, pulling aside unnaturally large sections of muscle and bone to form a gateway leading to the worlds that Izuntu harbors within himself. After crossing into this realm, the supplicant receives some of their power back from Izuntu. The last stage of the pilgrimage tests the candidate’s adaptability, by sending them into an extremely dangerous situation with only a fraction of their abilities at hand.

The third, and final, challenge is to find the heart. Buried somewhere in the galaxy-sized contents of Izuntu’s overgrown body, his heart is still beating strong: a planet-sized organ swollen with the corrupt blood that fuels his power. The candidate is left to traverse the weird landscape in search of the heart, fighting their way through the masses of nightmarish creatures living inside Izuntu. Among these denizens are other priests on the pilgrimage, some of whom have been lost in the god’s realm for centuries, or longer. This is the most difficult part of the candidate’s journey, and the one which most effectively culls the unworthy. There is no way out of this realm without Izuntu’s permission, and all candidates will serve Izuntu whether they complete their pilgrimage or not.

I keep making promises about how I’ll take some time to share what I’ve been up to lately, and I’ve been wanting to reflect on how my year’s gone up to this point. So, this is an attempt to do a little of both. You’ll have to forgive me if this post seems scattershot and doesn’t all make complete sense–that’s what the inside of my head has been like for a while. Also, I tend to ramble, and this is won’t be a quick read. You’ve been warned.

Should I start with the good or the bad? Let’s do the bad first, then we can move on and talk about better things.

I started this year off by saying that I wanted to read and write more, but the results are mixed. For a while, I was reading at a good pace, maybe not as much as I could have but still a decent amount. I wasn’t having trouble finding books I wanted to read (and I’m still not, actually) and I had lots of time to read them. At some point I slowed down, and since then I’ve gotten busier with work. I know I could have read way more than I have this year, and I’m cursing myself every day as my list of books I want to read keeps growing.

As for my writing, it’s been a trial at times. I’ve been making a conscious effort to think about my stories more, focus on what I’d like to accomplish, and finish more of the pieces that I start. I’ve had some success, there’s no denying that fact. Big picture, though…I feel like I can, and should, be doing more to improve my craft. At the end of the day, no one can hold me accountable for my writing goals aside from me. I just don’t think I’ve been doing a good enough job of that.

I’ve got a couple of self-published stories available on Amazon, both of which took a lot of work and a bit of good fortune to get made, but I was hoping that I’d have at least one more published by now. Obviously, things didn’t work out that way, and there’s no sense in dwelling on that or throwing a big pity party over it. I’m trying to take away something positive from it, and it’s this: I still have plenty to learn, and a big area where I can improve is managing my expectations. I believe it’s important to set goals, and to accomplish them whenever possible, but I’m also figuring out that sometimes it’s about setting goals that I can manage better.

One last topic before I move on to all the good stuff. In spite of my insistence that it wouldn’t continue to happen, my habit of letting projects grow beyond my ability to keep up with them remains. I launched a series, published two stories that are part of the series, and created a blueprint for how I wanted to outline the setting, flesh out the characters, and get things in order, all to ensure that I’d make regular progress on the series going forward. For the most part, that hasn’t happened, and it’s partially due to my failure to carry out these preparations. I have several of the next few stories in my series planned out, but I haven’t done enough to actually make them a reality. Again, I can’t blame anyone except me for this.

But, now, for the flipside to all of that.

In terms of my growth as a writer, author, person, etc., this has been a landmark year. I can sit here and bitch about how I wish I’d published more, read more, finished more of my stories…yet, I did publish earlier this year. Catch and Release, the first story in my series, came out this past April. I put a ton of work into writing that story, and then even more into getting it out into the world. It’s a short story, and it’s only scratching the surface of where the series is going, but, dammit, I accomplished something.

(For more about Catch and Release, read this, this, and this. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, chances are you already read those, but if not, maybe take a look.)

Rune: Barin-Bál

Rune: Barin-Bál

I don’t always give enough credit to my accomplishments, and I’d be lying if I told you that I take every opportunity I get to talk about my stories with people I meet. Basically, without letting it rule my thoughts, I need to focus more on what I’ve achieved. Add to that the following: I’m currently working on a couple of new projects that hold a great deal of promise.

One of these new projects is still in the early stages–so, I won’t go into much detail about that right now. I will tell you, A) it’s a weird mix of horror and western, and B) I’m writing it as a serialized story. There’s a whole lot more to it than that, but I’ll save that for another time. I’m excited to be working on something horror-related, I’ll say that much.

The other project is something that I briefly wrote about here on the blog early last month. I’m writing a short story for an anthology called Rise of the Europan, along with five other authors: Dan Hunt, Eugene Kelly, Kitty Sarkozy, Don VanAusdoll, and Tracy Vincent. This anthology is set in The Dryden Experiment’s shared science-fiction universe, and it focuses on the end of an era.

Each of our stories revolves around the titular event, in which an ancient life form inhabiting the moon Europa revolts against human occupation of its land and begins a war against humanity’s growing colonization of the universe. What’s great about this story collection is the range of stories that will be included. All of the authors are working in the same setting, but we’re all developing different aspects of the Europan’s rise. For example, Eugene is working on a story from the perspective of the Europan itself, while Kitty is writing a story about a working-class man who gets caught up in the conflict.

My contribution centers on the military resistance put forth by humans on Europa, led by the forces of Terra Corporation. It’s a war story, showing what life is like for soldiers on the alien moon during the fighting. The protagonist is an aging special ops fighter who’s been sent to Europa as the result of her body rejecting the latest round of enhancements given to her by her employer. She arrives on Europa thinking that she’s going to spend the rest of her days in non-combat duty, until the Europan’s assault on the human population forces her to take command of the Marines stationed there, and attempt to fight a resistance against the powerful being. I’ve had ideas for these kinds of stories in the past, but this is my first attempt at actually writing one.

The deadline for our first drafts is September 1st, so, somewhere around then, I should have more news regarding this. We haven’t set a release date yet, since our stories aren’t finished, but I’ll keep everyone up to date on all of that as soon as I find out something definitive. What I do know as of right now is that it will be published in both electronic and print formats. I dunno how the other authors that I’m working with feel about this, but I’m thrilled, since it will be the first time one of my stories is in print.

Look for more posts related to Rise of the Europan as we get closer to its launch, including more info about my story and the other stories that are part of the anthology.

As you’ve just read (if you made it this far, congrats! …what? no, I don’t have prizes, sorry), I’ve been busy. I wouldn’t say that I’ve improved much in terms of doing orderly and timely work, but I’m still trying to get there. I’ve enjoyed working with other writers lately, and I’m hoping that being part of a group will help me improve my process. It’s difficult to force accountability onto oneself, so I appreciate that I’m involved in a project that will keep me focused.

For now, I’m going to keep on the way I have been, juggling various things and occasionally throwing another object in the rotation, all while hoping I can do it without dropping something and ending up buried under a pile of crushing almosts. There’s always more to do, and never enough time to do it all the way we’d hoped.

While I’ve had some serious stretches of time that felt hopeless this year, when I step back and do my best to be objective (as much as anyone can), I feel pretty good about what I’ve done. Could I have done more? Sure, but I didn’t. All that’s left for me is whatever I can transmute into some form of wisdom that might aid me in the future, or might not.

I’m gonna shut up now, but if you’re curious and/or have questions about anything, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email: damianroache@gmail.com

Well, you know how I’ve been talking about The Dryden Experiment lately? They’re launching the first book set in Dryden Apoc, their post-apocalyptic universe, and I was lucky enough to get an advance copy to read and review. In case you missed it: The Dryden Experiment is a way for authors and artists to publish their creations without relying on traditional publishing hierarchies or selling off the rights to their work. By using Creative Commons, people working in Dryden have the freedom to explore amazing worlds that are filled with the collective imaginings of others. The Dryden Experiment website is currently undergoing a revamp, but if you’re curious, please take a look at the Facebook page: The Dryden Author and Artists Group. Anyway, on to my review…

How do I tell you about this wonderful book without spoiling all of the fun parts? (Like the part with the axe!) I’ll tell you what it is and what it is not, and maybe you’ll begin to understand what made it such an enjoyable read.

Lorelai, You’ll Never Die is the story of one badass woman on a journey westward, through the remains of a once-thriving country that’s been ravaged by a series of catastrophes so traumatic, that what’s left is only wasteland. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity in the storyworld: we’re never told exactly where this all happens, what year it is, or what started the end of the world. And that’s the perfect setup for this book, because all of those details are extraneous to what’s really at stake here. Lorelai has a destination, but the name of that location makes little difference–it’s about how she gets there, whom she meets along the way, and everything she must do to survive. She’s going west, the world is a shell of its former self, and what’s left of society isn’t humanity’s finest. Those are all the details you need to get pulled into this book.

A close reading of the text provides hints to some of the answers, for those that simply can’t stop wondering what set everything in motion, but I never once felt that the lack of definitive answers took away from my enjoyment of the story.

Characters are the heart of this work, and there’s no shortage of interesting people along Lorelai’s way. She meets hitmen, rapists, psychopaths, cannibals, and soldiers, to name a few. At the start, few of the characters Lorelai meets linger in the story, either due to a violent turn of events or the fact that she doesn’t stay in one place for very long.

Whether they’re in the book for five lines or five pages, every character has an impact on Lorelai. Brief encounters at the start of her journey echo in the later pages, especially when we, as readers, begin to distrust every new acquaintance almost as much as Lorelai. While not every character in the book has a developed history that we’re aware of, it’s impossible to meet each new one without wondering how they’ve survived in such a world. Lorelai comes across some new, unknown survivor, and there’s a process happening in her mind as well as the reader’s–a survivalist’s mathematics, where numbers are replaced by expressions, body postures, and weapons, and every equation is a way to categorize new dangers.

The structure of the book mirrors the wandering, almost episodic nature of Lorelai’s life in the post-apocalyptic world. Instead of a novel, we’re given an assortment of short stories that form a whole. There’s a common thread running through them, but their separation allows for different kinds of stories to be told within the larger work.

This framework made reading the book an adventure in its own right, because I was never quite sure what sort of tale to expect next. It allowed for moments of surrealism to bleed into the story, or even fantastic interludes that clearly didn’t match up with the rest of the book’s general tone. The narrative has room to breathe, room for different reading experiences, and ultimately that’s what makes Lorelai, You’ll Never Die more than another apocalypse story.

Pacing is another strong point, with moments of contemplation throughout all the chaos that never slow down the story’s forward momentum. It’s indicative of the way this book was written, which is to say, it’s deep and compelling without being weighed down by its own prose. The writing doesn’t demand too much of the audience, but it isn’t simple or boring.

My only criticism of the book involves its ending, one that I felt came on too fast and didn’t show me enough impact. Again, it’s hard to talk about without spoiling anything, but I will say this: the ending left me wondering what was at stake, what had been learned, and, oddly, what it had all been for all that time. It’s not that the ending didn’t make sense, or that it was contrary to everything before it, but it lacked the conviction of the previous ninety-percent. Maybe this was intentional, as a way to express the uncertainty of Lorelai’s future as the book comes to a close; though, it felt more like the story ran out of steam. Overall, this is a minor complaint. The ending didn’t take too much away from my reading experience, and I don’t think it’s enough to deter anyone from picking this book up.

Laura Konrad has started off Dryden Apoc in stunning fashion, and I’m excited to see what she’s coming up with next. Her vision of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Lorelai treks through is one that will delight readers with its familiarity while simultaneously unsettling their notions of what this story is or should be. It’s the foundation for a whole host of amazing stories that are yet to arrive, and it confronts many of the most difficult, troubling issues that we struggle with in our own world. You’ll cheer for Lorelai, watch her struggle over and over again, and cringe with her when the darkness of a destroyed civilization seems too much to overcome. You’ll wonder how she can continue to survive, what it will take for her to keep going, and you’ll be surprised more than once at the answers to those questions.

lorelai cover

Lorelai, You’ll Never Die is available for pre-order on iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo, and B&N for 99 cents, and it’s live everywhere on August 20th.

Itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/…/lorelai-youll-neve…/id1019259992…
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/559572
Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/…/ebook/lorelai-you-ll-never-die
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lorelai-youll-n…/1122300263…