From Scratch – Part 4: A Different Approach

Previously on From Scratch, I changed my mind a million times, indicated I’d soon be writing about this story, and had every intention of submitting it to that short story window I found….yeah, about that.

Everything went a little bit awry with my plans to submit my sci-fi story, but in the best way possible. You see, I set out to get my feet wet with writing short fiction again after taking a too-long hiatus thanks to focusing on a novel I wasn’t enjoying writing, and thus actually not accomplishing much of anything at all.

So the deadline? Missed it.  The word count? Blew out. The fantasy story I was also planning to write? Never got around to it.

None of this is bad though!

Instead of an 8000 word short story that was water-themed, I instead wound up with a 20,000 word sci-fi novella that I think is legitimately the best thing I’ve ever written – certainly I like it more than I’ve liked anything else I’ve done, and it hasn’t taken my usual ten edits to get it to the stage where I’m not embarrassed by it either. Hell, I wrote it from start to finish pretty much non-stop and knew exactly where I was going with it pretty much the whole time, which never happens with me.

What started out as a simple heist story is instead a good chunk of meaty story, a military space opera influenced by Star Wars and Firefly and all the other usual suspects, but with a focus on what I hope are interesting characters and a unique scenario that elevates it into something different while also walking the line between action, humour, tension, and cool space ships shooting at each other.

So yes, unfortunately I missed the short story submissions window I was aiming for.  Instead, I’ve now got my sights set on the TOR novella window opening in early May.  I think I’ve basically got zero chance of success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a crack.

Wish me luck!

Finally, to show the difference a bit of time makes, here’s the intro to the story – now called Calayasii – from the latest edit. You’ll notice that it is fairly similar tonally, but there have been quite a few little changes here or there compared to the earlier draft:

The starfighters of Corsair squadron skimmed an ocean the colour of smoked glass, leaving chaos in their wake.

‘Incoming fighters: state your business.’ The query from Holy City Flight Control stabbed into Ayla’s mind. Most chip communications were not so intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. Illusory lights floated into existence before her eyes, pink orbs illuminating a path toward the Holy City. ‘Hangar alpha-four, landing pad eighteen in City West. Deviate from the designated flight path and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters.’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being any shade of blue Ayla had ever seen.  Lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and kept her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

Game of the Year 2017

Honourable Mention:

Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)

Taken from http://gimmegimmegames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/F30AB73B-5A28-4D3C-AE1F-2A3D2D2086BF-22364-00000A15D39A382D_tmp.jpg

NANI?!

An honourable mention only because I just haven’t played enough of it yet, otherwise it might have made the list.

Runner up (for similar reasons): Dishonoured 2 (PC)

 

Most Disappointing:

Dawn of War III (PC)

Taken from https://static1.gamespot.com/uploads/original/43/434805/3057640-1.jpg

Nowhere near as cool as it looks

Somehow Creative Assembly took the worst parts of the two games preceding this one and created something that was very pretty, but ultimately kind of shallow and not particularly enjoyable to play.

 

Top Ten:

10. Persona 5 (PS4)

Taken from https://d17omnzavs9b58.cloudfront.net/assets/article/2017/04/03/persona5_feature.jpg

Styyyyyyyyyle

A contender for most disappointing game, Persona 5 makes an incredible first impression through amazing music and presentation that oozes style.  However as the game goes on, the flaws become more apparent: companions are shallow with only a couple being interesting at all; dungeon design goes from being quite cool to utterly abysmal; and, worst of all, the translation into English is garbage, robbing a lot of the dialogue of any charm it may have originally possessed.

Persona 5 is still a good game, but it pales in comparison to Persona 4 on every level except the presentation, which is a real damn shame.

9. Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)

Taken from https://media.playstation.com/is/image/SCEA/horizon-zero-dawn-impact-poster-ps4-us-07feb17?$twoColumn_Image$

Go on, kid, climb the robo-giraffe, make yourself famous!

I’m not a big open world guy, but Horizon managed to capture my attention through a combination of a really well-realised setting and an excellent protagonist.  The story moved well, and the gameplay was pretty satisfying and presented a nice challenge.  Horizon was an entertaining and extremely pretty game and I look forward to seeing where the inevitable sequel goes.

8. Sonic Mania (PS4)

Taken from https://cdn.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Sonic-Mania.png

Not pictured: Big the Cat or any of the other post-Megadrive bullshit

I grew up as a Sega kid and Sonics 1 through & Knuckles hold a special place in my heart.  Mania represents a return to form for Sonic games after literally decades of utter shit, and was a great and surprisingly challenging nostalgia trip.

7. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen / Long War 2 (PC)

Taken from https://cdn.2kgames.com/web/xcom.com/images/overview/xxvy3598yt/x2woc_screen_newfactions.jpg

Look at these miscreants

I’m going to cheat here and use place two major pieces of content for XCOM2 under the same heading.

Long War 2 is a massive mod that fundamentally alters the way XCOM2 plays, adding in a tonne of new content and complexity that makes the fun but flawed original game substantially more interesting, not to mention challenging.

War of the Chosen is a massive official expansion that fundamentally alters the way XCOM2 plays, adding in a tonne of new content and complexity that makes the fun but flawed original game substantially more interesting, not to mention challenging.

Of the two, LW2 was definitely the more complex and interesting, but I really liked the additions that War of the Chosen made.  It’s a real shame that it seems the the two expansions will never be truly integrated with each other.

6. Hand of Fate 2 (PC)

Taken from https://www.defiantdev.com/img/screenshots/4.jpg

I love-hate this bastard

Hand of Fate 1 was a great concept, combining rogue-like facets with a mix of collectable card game, RPG, and arena combat.  Hand of Fate 2 expands and improves on this in every way and is a fantastic game to sit down with for a half hour burst or for several hours as you try to conquer the various challenges.  Even losing doesn’t feel too bad, as every run will see you unlocking new cards to ensure that things go differently next time.

5. Pyre (PC)

Taken from https://i.gadgets360cdn.com/large/pyre_characters_1499320697424.jpg

That dog has a moustache. You can make him shave it. This should be in first place.

SuperGiant continues to hit it out of the park by creating weird genre mixes and adding in their unique style.  Similar to Persona 5, Pyre has a unique and gorgeous graphical style, matched by incredibly good music by Darren Korb.  Unlike Persona, however, the writing is as good as the presentation.  The gameplay is no slouch either, mixing visual novel aspects with a surprisingly deep religious rite version of basketball…kind of?  It’s hard to explain, but Pyre is definitely worth dipping into and finding out first hand.

4. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Taken from https://cdn.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Super-Mario-Odyssey-gameplay.jpg

Sleazy mustachioed bastard

This game was worth buying a Switch for.

Super Mario Odyssey plays the way you remember Mario 64 playing, and combines the best parts of that game (and mediocre sequel Sunshine) with bits and pieces of the rest of the franchise, and then tops it off with a bunch of changes and that Nintendo polish to make what is easily the best 3D Mario game.  The possession mechanic is heaps of fun, the worlds are all unique and mostly interesting, and the game oozes charm.

3. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC)

Taken from https://cdn.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Wolfenstein-2-Review-02-Censored.jpg

This is a good game

Wolfenstein: The New Order was an amazing game and the sequel continues literally minutes from where the first left off, leaving the fight against the world-conquering Nazis behind in Europe to instead take the fight to an America that has capitulated and collaborated.  What follows is a game that is both surprisingly emotional and, sadly enough in these times, rather cathartic in unabashedly portraying Nazis as evil and worth fighting against.

Thankfully, Wolfenstein II has the chops to let you mangle Nazis with dual shotguns while also just-about-perfectly walking the line between poignant examination of how American society could embrace Nazism and an absurd, darkly humourous alt-history 1960s where the Nazis won and built a space station on Venus.

2. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PC)

Taken from me, meeeeeee!

Couldn’t resist using a personal screenshot for this one

Mr Unknown loves his all-caps apparently.

What is there to say about PUBG, really?  The game is a phenomenon that does nothing original, instead cribbing parts from a bunch of older games and mods (ARMA, DayZ, etc). What it does do is put those disparate influences together pretty much perfectly.  Everything in PUBG feels just right – the maps are incredibly well designed and memorable, the guns feel good to shoot, the vehicles are just the right type of shitty, and the game covers everything from horror game in Solo as you know you’re being stalked by someone, through to a fun hang out with a group of friends in Squad. You can take it as seriously or as lackadaisically as you like, and no matter what you’ll have fun.

No multiplayer FPS has grabbed me like this since probably Team Fortress 2.  I’ve put hundreds of hours in already, and I’ll be putting in hundreds more getting murdered with my crew.

1. Yakuza 0 (PS4)

Taken from http://cdn.gamer-network.net/2016/usgamer/Yakuza-Zero-Shot-03.jpg

Sorry Kuze 😦

Like many Westerners, I’d heard about the Yakuza series over the years, but had never imagined playing one.  That all changed when Giant Bomb began playing through Yakuza 0 in their excellent Beast in the East series.

It took me maybe three episodes before I decided to buy the game and I am so happy that I did.  Yakuza 0 is simply incredible. It tells a fantastic crime story, has a great combat system, and there’s so much to do that it kept me going for more than 30 hours.

Yakuza 0 isn’t just my game of the year for 2017 – it’s legitimately one of the best games I’ve ever played, and is the reason I’ve picked up Kiwami, will be picking up Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6, and will continue to play each new remake and original game.

Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook Launch

Celebrate the launch of Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook with editor Christopher Sequeira and contributor Meg Keneally!

It is the year 1890. Brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, and his trusted colleague and biographer, Dr John H. Watson find themselves in Australia – half a world away from their customary English environs – after resolving a case of major international significance at the request of the highest authorities. Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook is a treasure-trove of historical and literary delights,with 16 new cases written by a stellar line-up of great Australian mystery and suspense writers.

Contributors include yours truly, Kerry Greenwood, Meg Keneally, Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warron, L.J.M. Owen, and many more.

DATE AND TIME

Thu. 2 November 2017

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm AEDT

LOCATION

Kinokuniya Bookstore

The Galeries Level 2

500 George Street

Sydney, NSW 2000

 

Book your free tickets now!

New update shortly

Just a quicky to apologise for the lack of updates recently – I’ve had that fun combination of battling illness and work that has made my writing time dry up a little.

However, coming down the pipe shortly is the next installment of From Scratch, an update on what I’ve been reading, and most excitingly of all, information on the release date AND book launch for Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Case Studies in November at Kinokuniya Books in Sydney.

Exciting times! Stay tuned.

From Scratch – Part 3: Pantsing It

Previously on From Scratch, I managed to avoid making a decision on which story idea I wanted to go with, and instead decided to write both!

I’ve since worked a whole bunch on my still-as-yet-untitled sci-fi story of space pirates hijacking holy water, and I’m very happy with how the first draft is coming, even though I’m already over the maximum word count despite probably only being 3/4 of the way there.  Even better, I’m reasonably sure I’ve got a tonne of stuff to remove, and that I’m going to have to insert a bunch more into the early parts of the story to plant enough seeds for the later plot points to pay off (once I’ve confirmed what those are!).

Does all of this sound kind of chaotic? It is! That’s because I, with this particular story, decided to go back to where I began as a writer:

I decided to pants it.

There is a writing methodology that is all about the meticulous planning: the author writes a short overall plot description (like my earlier pitches), expands this out into, say, a page or two of plot summary hitting the key points, and then expands this out in turn to be a chapter by chapter or scene by scene summary forming a novel framework.  In the case of a short story, you’d generally not go further than the page or two of summary, although you might go further down the rabbit hole with detail there if the story was particularly complex. Obviously, this is a broad guidelines – it varies by author or project, but the key rule is taking a structured, planned approach toward your work, giving you a framework where you are essentially “filling in the gaps” until the story is done.

That is the literal opposite of what I’m doing.

Instead, I decided to write by the seat of my pants.  This has traditionally been my chosen method of writing, with the end result being a whole bunch of partially completed projects and relatively few finished ones.  Basically, I sit down with an idea, and just write.  As the words come out, the skeleton of a plot starts to form, and I can organically respond to it, following it to a conclusion.

With my new story, this has actually been working really well.  I have an idea of how I want it to end, and I’m enjoying exploring the different ways of getting there, even as I rapidly realise there’s whole chunks I’ll need to rewrite.

A lot of people I speak to about writing are blown away by idea of drafting and redrafting.  The idea that you can type the last word and know that you’re probably only a quarter of the way there (if that) frustrates a lot of people, never mind the utterly alien concept of handing said work over to someone else to read and dissect and send you back to rework whole chunks of the story.

This is a necessary process for all writing styles, but it is particularly so when writing without a solid plan.  As someone without an artistic bone in my body, I’ll nonetheless liken it to my probably misconception of sculpting. I have the roughest of designs in mind. I get the base structure into place and begin to visualise where it will end up, and then I chip away until I get there in the end.

This story is taking shape so far, and I am actually feeling pretty confident it’ll be something decent in the end.

With that in mind, here’s the intro to the story – again, this is the first draft. It’s probably garbage, is subject to change, read it at your own peril, etc, etc:

The sky was the dull sheen of gunmetal, mirrored perfectly by the ocean. The four fighters of Corsair squadron skimmed above the water, leaving chaos in their wake.

The query from Holy Ter City flight control stabbed again in Ayla’s mind – most chip communications were not intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for emergency refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. ‘Landing pad eighteen in Ter City West. Deviate and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being cobalt or any other shade of blue.  Every single thing about this damn mission was lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, current revolutionary, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and decided to keep her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the smoked glass surface of the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

More about the story itself…next time, on From Scratch.

From Scratch – Part 1: Go Pitch Myself

Due to getting bogged down for the longest time in working on my first novel, I’ve decided to cleanse my palette a little bit by getting back to the thing that brought me to the writing dance in the first place: short stories. 

From Scratch is going to be an ongoing documentation of my journey from searching for an idea through to (hopeful) completion and submission of a story.

Burning out on writing sucks.

I didn’t realise that was what was happening to me at first – surely, I was just struggling with working on a novel, right? Anyone transitioning from writing a tightly edited 6000 words is going to feel overwhelmed trying to make an 80,000 word story come together properly, never mind then having to redraft multiple times.

I kept telling myself that, even as I found myself doing less and less work on it.  Worse, despite knowing that I do my best from a productivity standpoint when I have multiple projects underway simultaneously, I kept trying to laser focus in on this one project that I was growing to hate-hate (instead of my usual love-hate that I have with all my work).

No longer! A random run-in on Facebook led to me finding the following call for submissions for water-themed speculative fiction. This is perfect – a short story window I can aim for that, even if I am not successful, will challenge me to come up with a concept taking into account a theme I may have otherwise never arrived at.  Even better, it’s open to all spec fic sub genres, which tickles my recent urges to get back into the fantasy and sci-fi spaces.

In the end I arrived at a fork in the road, one way leading back to my dark fantasy world I have previously explored in Heart Eater and an upcoming as-yet-unnamed novella. The other leading me to a space opera vision of pirates and revolutionaries I’ve had in the back of my mind since I first read the Rogue and Wraith Squadron books of Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

I decided to write quick summary pitches of both stories, to give me an idea of a broad plot outline I might decide to follow:

Fantasy:

PLACEHOLDER, follower of the Ocean Path and medic for a band of mercenaries, has a crisis of conscience when her leaders accept a job to slaughter a village of orcish civilians.  Abandoning her post, she goes to the orcs and uses her healing powers to keep the civilians alive in the face of overwhelming odds, even as she struggles with their distrust of her, the betrayal of her former friends,  the demands of her pacifistic religion, and the knowledge that every person she heals brings the deaths of them all inevitably closer.

Sci-Fi:

Captain Ayla Neshitani – space pirate, insurgent, and reluctant revolutionary – is tasked with a mission to steal the Calayasii, a derelict fuel tanker-turned-shrine from Ter, the spiritual home of the Cobalt Imperium.  Ayla’s squad is to infiltrate the ocean world, fill the Calayasii to the brim with holy water, and retrieve it for sale to the highest bidder. Of course, things don’t quite go according to plan, and Ayla finds herself faced with an unexpected ethical question regarding exploiting the spirituality of her enemies.

Which will I choose?

Tune in for Part 2.

What I’ve Been…Doing?

Hello, hello!

It’s been a while, but for once I actually have some pretty good, real life reasons for it being all quiet on the blogging front:

We bought an apartment, had to move into said apartment, discovered we could not get internet connected at said apartment, and have to wait until the NBN is available in said apartment at some point between July 1 and September 30 (and I’ll believe that timetable when I see it).

This, combined with being pretty busy with the whole moving into a whole new place thing and actually turning it into a home (with furniture and everything!, has meant that my capacity to sit at a PC and type up a blog post has been…limited, shall we say?

All of that is going to change now, however, as I am filled with resolve to use the limited data on my mobile phone for something other than downloading Giant Bomb videos and streaming iZombie and American Gods.

Coming up, I’ll be talking about the following (in no particular order):

  • More details on my two upcoming short story publications;
  • Some details on my renewed focus on the novel I’m currently working on (by working on, I mean thinking about without actually writing anything down);
  • What I’ve been reading, playing, and watching; and
  • Something a bit more experimental, in which I detail the process of writing and submitting a short story from scratch through to the submission and acceptance stage.  This will be my first new story submission in a number of years, which should make it even more interesting/frustrating/infuriating to work on, yay!

I don’t know what the exact schedule of all of this will be, but it will at least be kinda regular by my standards.

Thanks for reading.