Building a Fantasy World: Geography, Climate, Weather, and Time

I thought I’d do a bit of discussion about world-building, especially with a focus on fantasy genre world building. I’ll be using the setting of Echo of the High Kings for this, my upcoming epic fantasy novel. First, one thing I feel is valuable is taking the time to establish a world, culture, history, and all that goes with it. There are fantasy stories and novels where this is all kept very vague or even mutable. I would point out, however, that some of the most successful fantasy authors are the ones who have taken the time to build the world in which their characters live. It isn’t just about knowing what lies beyond the hills the characters are climbing, it’s also about knowing why the character’s culture and background might drive his decisions.

For my science fiction and fantasy novels, I like to do extensive world building. There are a million details that I like to know. The place I started, with my epic fantasy, was the world. I drew the original map as the first bit. Maps are a staple of epic fantasy, but that’s not why I drew mine. I drew it because I wanted to know where things were in relation to one another, long before I even started writing. I started with a large, central continent, which I gave a large inland sea. This sea both split the continent, and allowed for trade along its coastlines. I wanted trade to be well established, so that communications and travel are also established. Also, while I wanted each area to have its own background and culture, I wanted them speaking a common language in most of the areas, which basically required that they have constant communications and travel, else over generations their languages would shift. I also crafted a natural channel or rift that connected the inner sea to the southern ocean, and left the top of the sea open to the northern ocean. This meant that the natural trade facilitated by the inner sea could easily spread to the rest of the world. From there, I wanted to establish natural boundaries that would separate some of the more distinct cultures and empires. Mountains and rivers often act as the natural boundaries with nations, so that’s where I started. Also, with the large geological rift splitting the continent, I figured there would be some extreme tectonic upheaval. This served another purpose because I wanted a strong presence and threat of barbarians, so I established high mountain ranges, with deep, secluded valleys which could act as the refuges for these barbarians as they attacked the lowland civilizations. I also wanted an ‘evil’ empire, based in the south, so I crafted a deep jungle region for them to live in and follow their bloody and violent gods.

Map drawn, I wanted to know where this was in relation to other places. I made my decision, early on, that I wanted this world to be part of a greater universe. So I expanded it. The continent was joined by four others, which make up the world of Eoria. Eoria, I decided, has a severe axial tilt, which basically means that the seasons are very extreme, making for scorching hot summers and bitterly cold, dark winters. In addition, it has a much longer orbit than Earth, a total orbit that lasts six hundred and ninety nine days, which are twenty six hours long. I divided this up into twenty four months of twenty nine days, along with three non-month holy days. In addition, each month would have four weeks of seven days along with a single feast day. Why is that important? Well, it means that those scorching summers last for six months… and the winters the same. It means that a campaign or fighting season could last as long as eighteen months, depending on weather. It means that extreme snow-fall in the winter will lead to particular designs for buildings and that spring flooding will be a huge issue, as will drought control in the summer. This is a setting where survival of civilization requires work, hard work at that. Surviving winter is an endeavor that requires preparation and forethought and a certain level of pragmatism, especially in the far north where the growing season relative to the rest of the year is so short. With only a six month growing season, it makes sense that many northerners would turn to raiding to augment their supplies for eighteen months of cold and darkness. It makes even more sense that they might make pacts with beings or creatures that others might find unfathomable, in order to prevent death by starvation or freezing.

What about tides? And also, with that severe axial tilt, how is that maintained? Earth has a moon, a large one at that, which maintains our axial tilt and provides us with ocean tides. Here I came back to the fact that Eoria is going to be part of a larger universe. Maybe not at first, but they need to be able to adapt to the idea that there are other people out there. How better than another world, just as blue and green as our own? Thus, Eoria has a twin world, Aoria, also a life bearing world. In addition, it has cities and towns and people of its own. More, there has, at times, been contact back and forth. Thus, people know it is there, and the underlying assumption is that of course there are other worlds, other people. Eoria and Aoria are locked in orbit together, a dance that has lasted several billion years. They are distant enough that the tides are not extreme, though they are higher than what we are used to here on Earth. Why does that matter? This will make harbors and channels more important, for both tactical and strategic considerations. Deeper harbors will prevent ships from being stranded on low tide, while deep channels will remain navigable.

Moving outwards, there’s the star that both worlds orbit. I could call it ‘the sun’ but I’ve already established that this isn’t Earth. Nor is it some almost Earth. This is Eoria. In Eoria, they call their star Auir. Now with the orbit for Eoriel being so long and therefore so far out, Auir needs to be a bit warmer than our sun. Therefore, Auir burns a bit hotter and has a faint greenish cast to its light.

At this point, I’ve developed the world, its climate, its weather, and even a calendar. That allows me to link things not just to a timeline but also to peg down when characters might celebrate a holiday and when they might shutter their windows and hunker down in fear of dark or wicked spirits. The weather and geography allow me to design the cultures of the people that live in certain places and to justify some of the actions they may take as a result.

Godzilla 2014 Movie analysis: Characterization & Plot (spoilers)

Okay, so as promised, here’s my more indepth analysis of Godzilla (2014). Spoiler alert: I’m going to discuss in detail some of the scenes and events of the movie, so if you don’t want some of the twists and turns spoiled, watch the movie then read this. Why analyze Godzilla when there are plenty of other movies, presumably with better plots and characterization? Because I can, and because it contains a lot of excellent examples.

Because elements of the plot and characters are intertwined, I’ll jump around a bit. The movie begins with Monarch exploring an open pit mine in the Phillipines. They discover the bones of some ancient, long deceased primordial beast, along with two spores, one of which has opened and ripped its way out of the mountain, leaving a trail of destruction to the sea. The movie then jumps to Japan, where engineer Joe Brody is a distracted man worried about seismic anomalies. The movie does a good job here showing him as a workaholic who is both very concerned about the safety of the power plant and doing his job well, even if that may inadvertently cause issues with his family.

The scene establishes him as a somewhat-absent-minded type who is nevertheless well loved by his wife and son and also sets the ground for friction with his son later on in the movie. It is well done, particularly for the set-up later in the movie, as early on his son has made him a happy birthday banner, which his mother promises to show to Joe later on.

The action then comes quickly, as the seismic anomally cracks the nuclear containment and floods the lower levels of the facility with radioactive coolant in vapor form, forcing Joe to choose between waiting in the hopes that his wife can get clear or saving the entire population of the city to include his son. It’s a well-done scene where he gets a last moment with his wife, though I think it would have had more emotional impact if it hadn’t been given away in most of the trailers.

Up to this point, we still haven’t seen the titular Godzilla. One might expect the seismic anomally to reveal itself as the beast… but you’d be wrong. The power plant collapses, and the young son to Joe watches from school… but there’s still no monster(s) to be seen.

Revert to fifteen years later. Joe’s son, Ford, is now a US Navy EOD officer, just returned from a long (really long, 14 months, holy cow) tour. This is a moment, plot wise, which gave me a bit of a headache, but only from dealing with EOD types, who most often had six or nine month tours, even during the Iraq Surge. Anyway, I digress. He disembarks the plane, links up with wife and his own son, and has a bit of a party with them. Then, before there’s any solid characterization between wife, son, and Ford, there’s a phone call that his father (Joe) was arrested in Japan.

The characterization here was very bland. It basically makes Ford into generic military man, his wife into generic spouse (we find out later she’s a nurse), and his son into generic military son. They are entirely bland, with nothing of note beyond the fact that fourteen months made them both miss Ford. There was no development of the relationships, nothing beyond the fact that they are obviously very close, because it shows them being close and saying how close they are.

The movie then goes to Japan, where Ford is now reunited with his father, takes him back to his father’s apartment, and we see that Joe has developed an unhealthy fascination with the ‘accident’ that claimed his wife’s life. At this point, we get some great characterization on the part of Joe. He’s furious and frustrated, and we see that the absent-minded engineer has descended into obsession.

What we don’t get here is any more development with Ford, who feels like a secondary character. We see that he doesn’t agree/approve of what his father is doing, yet he is easily swayed to sneak into the restricted area after an impassioned plea. I felt like this scene had a lot of potential, perhaps to have Ford accuse his father of killing his mother (which he did) or lay out some angst about how he has made something of his life. Instead, he just sort of makes some filler dialogue and we move on to the restricted area.

In the restricted area, we get some more opportunities for anticipatory scene destruction (beautiful overgrown city falling slowly into ruin) followed by plot revelations that despite the collapse of the power plant, the evacuation, and the restricted area… there’s no radiation. The father and son duo rush to their old house, where Joe recovers his data and then sees the Happy Birthday banner his son made for him and his wife hung up in their office for his return, fifteen years ago. It’s a good scene which shows some emotional catharsis for Joe, and establishes that he is tormented by his past and must find some resolution.

Ford, on the other hand, goes back to his room and picks up a toy soldier. Not so much of an impact. The best part was the little terrarium with a cocoon and a label “Mothra” as a nice little implication of what is coming.

Not long later, they get arrested, and then dragged into a military style base built on the site of the power plant. Inside we finally get our first look at the monster… but it’s not Godzilla. It’s a chrysalis, inside of which something has absorbed the radiation of the reactors. (Yes, the science gives me headaches, but it’s a Big Stupid Monster movie, so leave your knowledge of science and physics at the door)

The plot thickens as Joe shows that his knowledge of the attack implies that another attack is immenant. No sooner is this revealed than the chrysalis begins to become much more active and the order is given to terminate it.

Me, personally, I’d probably try something more… final than electricity, particularly when the creature is shown to have an as yet unknown effect on electromagnetic fields. Nevertheless, they try. The creature then explodes out of it’s chrysalis… and it is definitely not Godzilla. The movie has done a great job to this point of amping up the anticipation. We know that we’re going to see him sooner or later, but for now, we get plenty of carnage as the monster smashes the entire facility, sprouts wings, and flies away. Oh, and it has a nifty EMP attack that disables vehicles and the electrical cage they held it in.

We’re back to the Monarch guys, scientist A and B who really don’t have much character at all. They’re essentially cardboard cutouts, with A being the one to announce events and explain things and B being the one who warns everyone that they can’t possibly do what they’re about to do. Scientist B is all the more annoying because she never says why we shouldn’t do things, just that we shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, Joe was wounded in the monster’s escape. Not long after this, on a helicopter ride to an aircraft carrier, he warns his son Ford to take care of his family. Shortly after that, he dies. Now, in my opinion, this was either an attempt to evoke sadness or a desire to save money and have Brian Cranston appear less in the movie. Having him die at this point basically transferred all the burdens of being an interesting character onto Ford… who we’ve already seen very little interesting about. I’m not saying they couldn’t have made him interesting, but they expended that effort on Joe, who is now dead.

Ford doesn’t take up a vow of revenge against the monster that has killed both his parents. He doesn’t seem to care, just wants to move on. So he catches a helicopter to Hawaii, tries to call his wife, and that’s pretty much all the emotional response we get.

Cut to Scientists A & B, who now reveal that Godzilla is back. There was some mention in the reveals earlier that they thought they killed him, but nothing about where he might have been. We see big scary fins as the monster swims along. Scientist A says that Godzilla is a Primordial Alpha, a predator which will hunt down the flying monster and put things back in balance. The US Navy seems unable to take action, unable to track the flying monster, and clueless as to where it is going. Right up until a Russian nuclear sub disappears and then reappears somewhere on Oahu.

Teams sent to investigate locate the monster. Godzilla then rages into the city to attack. We get our first look as Godzilla attacks. There’s a rather cool fight sequence wherein a whole lot of folks in Oahu get drowned by a tidal wave generated by Godzilla, trampled by said monster, or smashed by the flying monster. Right away, however, we see that Godzilla is at a disadvantage by the other monster’s speed and ability to fly. Unbelievably, they manage to make Godzilla both strong and powerful (witness his destruction) and incredibly weak.

My complaints in this sequence is first that the military is painted as both ineffective and unable to take even the most simple precautions. They already know that the flying monster has an EMP attack. What do they do? Send in helicopters to attack it up close and then attack with jets… also up close. Beyond that, Ford has a nice little series of scenes where he saves a kid… but then there’s no resolution, he reunites the boy with his parents, but there’s no feeling of accomplishment, the boy goes on his way and Ford continues trying to get back home.

At this point, Scientist A and B realize what Joe figured out on his own, that the monster was using echolocation to call to another of its kind. They can’t possibly think of who it might be talking to, certainly not Godzilla… until Scientist A says that it is absolutely not possible that it was talking to the other spore, because they dissected it and put it in… you guessed it, the radioactive waste storage facility. Because, since it feeds off radiation, that’s the safest place to put it. *sigh* This is where the plot begins to give me a headache.

Flip to a team which races down an open highway. Visually, a very cool scene, with helicopters and humvees and all kinds of military awesomeness. They pull up, begin to check the site, and then… wow, there happens to be a gigantic, three hundred foot hole in the mountain that absolutely no one noticed. That’s right, it ripped the side of the mountain away and was already halfway to Vegas. Which it quite impressively demolishes, the devastation being shown in a sequence of cool scenes.

The second monster and the first are now expounded to be male and female, and that they’re trying to breed. The military now announces their best plan to date: lure all three monsters (Godzilla too) twenty miles out in the ocean away from San Francisco, the apparent target with nukes, detonate them upon arrival. And, because they know that the monsters use EMP, they install mechanical triggers. But wait, there’s more… lets move the nuke(s) on a slow-moving train (subject to the EMP attack) with the final plan being to put it on a barge (also subject to the EMP attack) and oh, yeah, start the count-down before the nuke even manages to get out of the harbor. Oh, that fancy new trigger can’t be remotely stopped either… so no way is that going to end badly, right?

Possibly the worst, most fallible plan given the situation. Inevitably the land-bound monster number two eats all but one of the nukes. Not long after that, the flying monster snatches the remaining one (after the mechanical timer is engaged) and the two establish a nest in the middle of San Francisco, with eggs, armed nuke, and incoming Godzilla Alpha Predator.

This then comes to some of the best scenes in the movie. Someone apparently does the math and realizes that if you fly high enough you can avoid the EMP (would have been useful to move said nukes, maybe even in a B-2 or B-52 or something designed for that rather than a train). So there’s a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump into San Francisco just as Godzilla makes landfall and starts a fight. Not much sense in it, but it does look very cool. The fight sequence here is both visually impressive and evokes emotion. At this point, they’ve basically established that the military can’t stop these monsters, humanity’s only hope appears to be that Godzilla will destroy them and then go back to doing whatever a three hundred foot tall lizard does in his spare time.

But it’s quickly obvious that Godzilla is over-matched. The flying creature is faster and more nimble and works in concert with monster number two, which is almost as big and tough as the titular monster. The fight sequence here manages to establish Godzilla as an underdog, which automatically is a positive. The intrepid special forces (I think, they don’t make it clear, but why would they carry M4’s against giant monsters? You would think they’d swap out for some bigger weapons, maybe a few more AT4’s, some grenade launchers like M320’s or M203s, or hey even ) team manages to get to the nuke, but there’s a problem, the lid is stuck shut. Apparently they’re in an alternate universe where no one has invented crow-bars, hack-saws, or other useful tools, so the decision is, with thirty minutes left, to carry the warhead across town to the waterfont, put it on a boat, and drive it away to a safe distance. Again, I’m left scratching my head, because it really doesn’t make much sense. And our main character is an EOD guy, right? He should know all about cracking the thing open and getting it to work. But nope, he’s onboard with the plan. We do have a moment of brilliance, then, when, seeing the eggs, he uses a handy fuel truck to blow the nest sky-high.

This then triggers big monster number two to leave the apparently defeated Godzilla, come back, find the nest destroyed, and identify Ford as the culprit. Before it can take action, you see a brilliant light, and from my experience, the crowd goes wild as Godzilla unleashes his radioactive breath attack. It was a visually impressive scene and was brilliantly done to make Godzilla seem the protector. Unfortunately, the flying monster intervenes, and big monster number two runs after the folks with the nuke. It kills off most of them without apparent effort. Thankfully, Godzilla has a reprieve of only fighting one opponent smash the flying monster, but then he’s buried by rubble. Again, a good scene, you see the underdog (underlizard?) finally get in a solid blow, but it amps up the tension of the fight sequence.

Ford tries to do what the others did, starts the boat, which is handily hooked up to some kind of Iphone touch pad, and the collapses, only to have the boat putter out as big monster number two unleashes its EMP attack, and then prepares to kill him. Godzilla saves the day (again) ripping back the monster’s head, breathing radioactive fire down the creature’s throat, and then ripping the head off in a finishing move. The boat starts up again, Ford is rescued, and Godzilla collapses, later to rise again to the cheers of the humans he saved. (Despite being named a predator, he did not actually eat the two monsters he killed, which also bugged me)

I will note that I enjoyed the movie, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the character I most related to was a three hundred foot tall radioactive lizard. It definitely could have been a better movie, with stronger characterization of the people in it. The science and physics were so far beyond real that you basically needed to ignore reality. Those at least remained consistent throughout. The plot was unnecessarily convoluted, with apparently a great deal of effort spent to ensure that Ford’s wife was downtown giving him reason to try to stop the nuke (as if saving everyone else wasn’t good enough) and also in making sure that said nuke was there to be stopped. I feel like they could have accomplished this in a less… well, stupid fashion, rather than having generals and admirals craft a plan that a five year old could poke holes in. But it worked despite those flaws, because the overall building tension throughout the movie until Godzilla himself is finally revealed, followed by continuing to pay out for what the audience wanted to see: a giant radioactive lizard causing havoc and smashing monsters in the middle of a major city.

Godzilla Movie Review

Here’s my quick (spoiler free) review of the new Godzilla movie (2014).   I’ll do a full review, later this week when I’ve got more time, where I’ll pick apart some of the plot, characterization, and such.

First off, I enjoyed it. The overall design of the movie was well done. The story was revealed in such a way to build anticipation and the action scenes were over the top and involved lots of smashing. It was a Big Dumb Monster movie, which didn’t require a lot of thinking. There were a couple scenes which brought some good quality emotional highs and lows into the movie. So I recommend it from the perspective that it does get you emotionally engaged, especially with the titular monster.

On the other hand, the characterization throughout was very weak. Particularly on the ‘main’ character, who seems more like just an observer rather than a real part of the story for most of the movie. It’s a Kaiju movie, which means the science/physics isn’t going to be stellar… but there were a couple moments where I had some serious issues, mostly where the ‘rules’ they established changed, sometimes from one scene to the next. My last irritation was that the plans to stop the rampage basically had about the same level of thought put into it as a scene on Looney Toons with Wile E. Coyote.

Overall, I thought it was a fun, fast movie, and I’d recommend seeing it in 3D (unlike most action films) where you can see every moment of glorious destruction.


Her Majesty’s Western Service by Leo Champion

Here’s a sample section from Leo Champion’s Her Majesty’s Western Service, available at Amazon here.
Unlikely partners…

In a steam-driven alternate 1963, the British Empire faces off against neo-Tsarist Russia in cold war over a divided former USA.
Pirate captain Karen Ahle is an upper-class Southern exile with a vendetta against the mercenaries who’d butchered her family nineteen years earlier.
Imperial Vice-Commodore Marcus Perry is a duty-focused, by-the-book career officer sworn to uphold the law.
They’d been on a collision course until Theron Marko, Luddite anarchist and Russian agent, showed up with his own agenda.
Now they have to work together. If they succeed, Perry’s name will be cleared and Ahle’s crew will live. If they fail, North America’s map will be redrawn… by the Tsar.


Chapter Three


Like James Curley, Joseph Kennedy and his sons came out of Boston, and in a more peaceful world they might have been only bootleggers – maybe to legitimize in high finance, perhaps even to follow Curley, with his acknowledged early-career mob ties, into politics. Instead of becoming the most notorious raiders to originate in Boston since the time of John-Paul Jones.”


From The Last Hurrah: President Curley’s Third Term. Edwin O’Connor; Little, Brown, 1956.


The pirates came at a quarter past five, out of nowhere and from an abandoned township on the Nebraska side of the old Kansas state line.

Sir! We have four – no, five, six, eight, nine, shit, a whole lot of blacks rising in front of us!” Swarovski cried out from the bridge of Imperial Air Service airship DN 4-106.

Late afternoon, dark lines of clouds in the west. Clouds above them, too, at about three through five thousand feet relative.

Turn to engage,” Perry said calmly from his command chair of black leather. He’d have been more shocked if this weren’t the optimal time for pirates to attack: it’d be dark in half an hour. For the last half-hour he’d been expecting something. And he’d known, from the more-alert bearings of Swarovski and Martindale – and Halversen, when he’d visited aft again a few minutes ago – that the others did, too.

If it was going to come, it was most likely going to come during the last hour of daylight; time to engage, and much more time in which to run.

Signals, hit squadron general quarters. Now, please.”

Aye, sir.”

Sir. We have more coming from the north. Little hills, they’re rising out,” Specialist Second Vidkowski reported. “Sir! We have ten, fifteen, twenty, and sir, I strongly suspect there’s some up above.”

Ahead of them, the convoy was reacting. Increasing steam, turning to bolt.

In these situations, the captains tended to react like sheep: every man for himself, and the hell with formation or safety. Irrational – he’d audited a hundred lectures where civilian captains had been told not to outrun their escorts, to stay where they could be protected or, if need be, recovered – but a universally-human panic reaction anyhow.

I have to remember that my weapons are stripped for airworthiness, Perry told himself, looking at the ship plot. There was a fully-functional pressure-gun right below him, a fully-functional one aft. There were a nominal twelve missile batteries, of which only two were actually manned.

The missile batteries are not to be considered applicable in this engagement.

They’re ignoring flashes, sir. Definitely hostile,” Kent reported.

For the first time, Perry actually looked up to see the enemy – or rather, looked away from his consoles and through the window. Little birds, tiny ones, that had been hidden in the township. From the north, to the left, they were powering in on an intercept course to the convoy.

Signals. Rockets and guns may feel free to engage. Repeat: Free fire is authorized.”

Fire at will is authorized, confirm, sir?”

Fire at will is authorized, confirmed,” Perry said.

The instinctive response, as it always did, calmed him. This was combat; people were going to die. But it was also known and familiar; the protocol, the confirms, the etiquette. Every man on 4-106 had a job to do; every man was doing it. It reduced the visceral, random chaos of combat down to something known and manageable.

Pfung! Pfung! came from down below, the fore pressure-gun battery. Then, irregularly: Pfung! Pfung!… Pfung!

Sir! Fore One reports confirmed hit, one of the fucking bastards is going down in flames!” Swarovski exalted.

Very good,” said Perry. “But Weapons, I did remind you about your language earlier. Please do remember that we are officers on one of Her Majesty’s ships, not pirate trash.”


And my compliments to Fore One. Specialist Bronson was ready for his own gun, I’d say?”

Very much, sir.”

Sir, more coming from the northeast,” Martindale snapped.

Looking around. Yes – more shapes. A lot of them.

This just turned serious, Perry thought. The number of confirmed bandits was pushing forty. We have a real fight on our hands.



General Quarters,” Airshipman Second Gilford said. “We got action! Pirates!”

Yeah,” Rafferty said. “Time to kick ass and chew bubblegum.” He pulled a stick from his hip pocket. “Want a piece? Strawberry, it’s good.”

The comm buzzed. Rafferty picked up his handset. “Rocket Three. Yessir. Yessir, understood.”

What’s he say, boss?”

Just got fire at will clearance. See hostiles, take `em down. So put a shrapnel rocket in there.”

Got it,” said Gilford, reaching for the ammo feed.

Pirates didn’t figure on us having a ship like this,” Rafferty said. “Lot of `em aren’t gonna make another mistake like that; not for a while. Maybe not ever.”

Gilford hefted the missile into its breech. Rafferty sighted down the bore – there was one, a tiny little scout-class, probably spring-powered and held together with glue and frayed rope. Barely a hundred feet long, only semi-rigid; typical expendable piece-of-trash pirate riser.

Range three hundred fifty,” he said, mostly for Gilford’s education. “Cut like this” – with a blade, he released the cord that held the stabilizing fins; now, when the missile came out of its tube, the fins would pop up on their springs – “set to three fifty, that’s twelve and two, so the fourteenth notch here, hit the timer there – and yank the cap; missile is now live.”

Missile is now live,” Gilford repeated.

Crosswind, relative speed, relative height, possible intervening objects during flight time? Rafferty did the math quickly. He’d been a missileer for twelve years, and this had become second nature to him. He understood the variables at an instinctive level, made careful adjustments to the tube in a way that looked like no more than casual fidgeting.

And, we point it, we sight, we see that he’s moving vaguely towards us at a rate that don’t count for shit, but where’s the little punk gonna be in twenty seconds? Looks about the same, maybe a little ahead. Cone clear!”

Cone clear!” Gilford echoed, shouting, as Rafferty fired. The nine-inch-wide, two-and-a-half-foot-long missile exploded out of its tube, its backblast flaming in a cone through the bay behind the launcher. Gilford and Rafferty were out of its way, but the shout – and a warning light outside – was for the benefit of anyone walking through the corridor.

Trailing fire, the missile streaked toward Rafferty’s target. He watched it with a monocular scope as it struck the pirate high-amidships and blew.

Shrapnel ripped through the pirate’s gondola, shredding sacs and releasing hydrogen that the explosion’s fire set alight.

Within seconds, the pirate ship was a floating, directionless inferno. Men were bailing from the cabin, throwing themselves loose before they or their parachutes could burn. Flaming debris fell like rain as bits of the gondola detached.

High explosive, the next,” Rafferty said. “Sure you don’t want a bit of gum?”



Three thousand feet above, on the lower edge of the mile-up clouds, a pirate named Karen Ahle looked down at the melee.

That’s it,” she said, pointing at 4-106. The line-class airship was heading through the center of the brawl, jinking every so-often, guns and rockets firing intermittently.

Go, cap’n?” asked her henchman, a big man in his forties named Ronalds. He chewed on a straw as he looked down.

Go,” Ahle said. “Stagger across – left to aft. You know the plan. Go!”

One after the other, Ahle, Ronalds and six of their crew launched from the airship, paraglider chutes opening as they steered for the long bulk of 4-106.



Missileers to starboard,” Perry directed. “Helm, increase speed and take us into that cluster.”

Sir!” Swarovski replied, keying a control and reaching for his mike.

Going in, sir,” Martindale said.

A burning hydrogen sac floated past, just below them, attached to a large, thin section of gondola-plate. The air was full of debris, especially the hydrogen sacs. Almost all civilian dirigibles had crude fire-detachment systems; if a sac caught on fire, it could be released – with part of the nets or plating – before the fire could spread. You lost that sac, but you saved the ship.

Of course, you then had to re-inflate a new sac, and you often had to ditch cargo to make up the weight in the meantime. The usual pirate tactic was to force a cargo ship down, land themselves, get the crew off at gunpoint – an unwritten understanding was that the downed crew wouldn’t resist, and the pirates in turn wouldn’t use any more force than they had to – then re-inflate the dirigible with their own compressed-hydrogen cylinders and fly it off.

That was what most of these trash were attempting to do. Barely-airworthy ships, makeshift contraptions with just enough hydrogen – or, in a couple of cases that Perry had seen, simple hot air – to get aloft and take a stab at something with missiles or crude cannon. This was just a matter of killing them before they could; the pirate ships were easy targets, except that there were so damned many of them, and all mixed amidst the bolting, un-coordinated ships of the convoy.

Loose fire – and it was all too easy to hit something you didn’t want to, from a swaying airship in an irregular wind – was a bad risk. Airships had a lot of hit points, but nine-inch missiles were designed to inflict real damage. Stray shots into civilian freighters would be doing the pirates’ own work for them.

4-106 sped up. The fore guns chuddered, blazing shot and tracers into a larger pirate dirigible, something actually airworthy. The pirate tried to evade, and Perry saw a pair of riggers on the tail, physically forcing it. Another rigger worked with a wrench on a stuck panel, which as Perry watched was released, a burning-from-tracers hydrogen sac lifting out. Two more had caught while that panel was stuck, and those two sacs released a moment later, navigational hazards for the next few minutes.

Martindale turned slightly, so that the starboard missileers and the aft guns could have a chance at that dirigible. Two missiles fired, one of them missing but the second, a high explosive round, blasting the rudder – and the two men working it, unless they’d jumped clear at the last moment – into fragments, along with the aft fifth of the ship. Both of 4-106’s batteries opened up on the burning wreckage, pounding three-inch rounds along the length of the gondola, down into the cabin. Men jumped, parachutes opening behind them as they fell.

Good kill. Excellent job, Swarovski.”

If we only had more men, sir.”

Ifs and buts, Weapons. We’re doing entirely adequately for what we do have. How about that hot-air job over–”

The aft battery opened up at the hot-air balloon Perry was pointing at, shredding its loose air sac in seconds. Three men jumped from the basket as the thing began to fall from the sky.

Ensign Hastings is doing quite well, don’t you think?” Perry asked. “Pass that on to him, please.”

Will do, sir.”

And Helm, keep going in. Weapons, put one missileer back to a port battery, if you will.”




Four of the Imperial line-class ship’s riggers were on the outside, maintaining the steering vanes and keeping them clear of debris. One of them was spraying foam onto a place near the nose where a burning sac had been blown into the gondola.

Ahle steered her paraglider onto that man – no, a woman, her hair in a tight bun. She looked up in shock and found herself facing a long pistol.

Detach and depart. If you’d be so kind.”

What – who are you?”

Captain Karen Ahle, at your service. Now, if you’d please detach and depart? Your crew will be following you shortly, Senior Airshipwoman.”

A quick glance back showed that Ronalds, Herrick and the others were kicking off the other riggers the same way. One of them had already jumped, his parachute opening.

You’re pirates? Boarding us?”

We’re not the Air Marines your ship, quite conveniently, is presently without. Now, if you would please?”

The woman detached – her rig from the safety cable – and looked, again, uncomprehendingly at Ahle. Then she checked the bracings on her parachute, ran to the side and took a flying leap from the airship.

The top of the gondola was corrugated aluminum, broken up by the big steering vanes. Ahle ran hunched along them, her rubber-soled boots gripping the surface well, despite the thirty-mile-an-hour backwind and a crosswind. You learned, after a while.

Ronalds and Klefton had already found a hatch; Klefton, a lean man with an assault rifle and a number of ropes, watched as Ronalds jimmied it open.

Drink, boss?” he asked, pulling a silver hip flask.

Don’t mind if I do,” Ahle said, and took a swig of the rum. She passed it to Ronalds, who took a swig and returned the flask to Klefton.

Time, boss?” Ronalds asked.

Ahle checked the chronometer on her left arm. The clock was ticking up to the minute. “At the sixty.”

Hooked in,” Ronalds said. “I’ll go first?”

I’ll go first, Ronalds,” said Ahle, and connected the rope.

Below, a pair of missiles streaked out at a ship a couple of hundred yards away, less than 4-106’s own length. One missed, and the other exploded near its aft.

Sixty. Go!” Ahle said, and leapt down into the gondola.

Inside were structural braces and vast helium sacs. The thing was seventy-five yards in diameter; seventy-five yards down, the height of a twenty-storey building to the cabin area. She rappelled in short bursts, dropping three or four yards at a time. Fore of her was a huge structural brace, a double-triangle shaped like a Jewish star, with big brown helium sacs on either side. A ladder ran through the center of it. Behind, secured in place with narrow girders, were more helium sacs.

Drop, pull, drop. The rope swayed hard, kicking her around as the dirigible accelerated, slowed, turned. Every so-often she caught hold of the ladder to steady herself; every so-often her swinging rope slammed her into the ladder, or into one of the sacs.

After one of the ladder’s rungs collided hard with the small of her back, she decided that she preferred the sacs.

A curse came from Klefton, as something like that happened to him. Well within the minute, their footing was stable. A passageway; a door marked ‘Medic Bay.’

Ahle un-hooked herself and drew her pistols. One long revolver, in her – dominant – left hand; in her right hand was a pressure-pistol with special ammunition.

We go in. Klefton, you come with me to the bridge. Ronalds, go through the gondola and link up with Mackinaw at the stern. Boyle’s team will be in the engine room. Kick out anyone you see along here. Understood?”

Got it, boss,” said Klefton. Ronalds touched two fingers to his temple.

This is a beautiful ship,” said Ahle, as she kicked open the door to the medical bay. Her guns covered the place, but – as she’d expected – there was nobody inside. She turned back to Ronalds. “Let’s make her ours, shall we?”



See that one over there? The one firing pressure-guns into that Allied Freighting bird? Helm, take us closer. Weapons, missileers to port and we’ll show the gentleman what real gunnery looks like. That should put fear of the law into the last of his friends, too.”

Sir,” said Martindale and Swarovski.

Belay that order, please, Vice-Commodore,” came a female voice. The accent reminded Perry of upper-class Southern, although terser and less-twangy than the usual drawl.

He turned. As did Swarovski and Martindale, and the others on the bridge.

A woman in brown, with a complex rig, was standing at the entrance, a pistol in each hand. Brown hair tied in a ponytail, a face that was a little too square to be beautiful, green eyes with a pair of lifted goggles above them. Behind her stood a yellow-haired man with an eyepatch and a submachinegun.

What the hell?”

Vice-Commodore, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you and your bridge officers to abandon ship. Klefton, clear out that fore gun.”

You’re pirates?” Perry asked. Complete, absurd, disbelief. A pirate was pointing a gun at him here, on the bridge of 4-106? Was this a–

Tell Ricks that this is not an appropriate joke to pull in the middle of a battle. Ma’am, please find an unoccupied cabin; I don’t think you realize how serious this is.”

No, Vice-Commodore. I’m afraid you don’t realize how serious this is,” the woman said. “This is not one of your friends’ pranks, and these guns are both loaded. I want all of you to put your hands in the air and go to the starboard side. Including you, Vice-Commodore.”

You’re hijacking my ship.” My ship!

The yellow-haired man – Klefton – had opened the bridge access hatch to the fore pressure-guns, was shouting something down. He twitched his gun to the side and fired a shot.

That broke the unreality. A gunshot. Here. On my bridge.

One of the female pirate’s guns was pointed squarely at Perry’s chest. The other, a revolver in her left hand, was sweeping across the bridge crew, covering them.

Slowly, Martindale, Kent and the others were moving to the starboard side.

I trust that you are all wearing standard Imperial parachutes,” said the woman. “You may take backups from their locker, if you see fit.” The tone of her voice lowered. “But please don’t attempt to reach for weapons. I would be very upset if I had to shoot somebody.”

You’re taking my ship?

All three of those gunners jumped, Cap,” said the man called Klefton.

You’re taking my ship?” Perry repeated.

That’s rather the point of this operation, Vice-Commodore. Now, if you’d please put your hands up and move to starboard?”

They’re taking my ship and nobody has even fired a shot and I cannot believe this is happening–

Suddenly Perry’s right hand went for his sidearm, an automatic pistol in its holster at his hip. It was covered by a flap, and the double-barrelled pressure gun in the female pirate’s right hand went blurp, once, twice, and Perry’s hand was stuck.

White goo, sticky white goo, all over the top of the holster and Perry’s right hand. Sticky and hardening, and Perry found himself looking down the muzzle of the pirate’s other gun, the long revolver.

Klefton muttered something, covering the rest of the crew with his submachinegun.

Vice-Commodore, I do not appreciate that,” the woman said. “Those are gel rounds. That gun is now empty. I will have to use more harmful ammunition if that should happen again. Now, please, put on a parachute and jump.”

You can’t do this.” Perry glared at the woman. Confident, almost smirky, not even bothering to shoot him with real bullets. Not even bothering to disarm him, or the others! Just walking onto the bridge and telling them to jump.

He looked again at his pistol. The whole top flap was covered with the gel; for that matter, it was hardening on his own right hand, becoming a solid crust. The gun wasn’t accessible, but she can’t just take my ship!

It’s getting dark,” the pirate said. “I imagine it will be easier for your crew to rendezvous on the ground while there’s still light. In any case, I’m going to request that you and your people kindly vacate what is now my bridge.”

Some of them – Kent, Vidkowski, Singh – had strapped on parachutes. Others were doing so. Service uniforms did have small backup parachutes sewn into the backs of them, and riggers of course wore proper ones, but nobody really wanted to trust the in-shirt ones if there was an alternative.

Very well,” Perry said. He glared at the woman. “You’ll hang for this, you know. You might take my ship, but you won’t live to keep it.”

I don’t expect to live forever, Vice-Commodore.”

What the hell do you want with a line-class warship? Nobody’s going to buy it!” Except the Russians. Or the Franco-Spaniards. Or the Sonorans. Or… but I won’t suggest that.

The pirate’s gun tracked him as he put on a parachute.

That’s my own business,” she replied. “If it helps, I can give you my word that I will not be selling it to the Russians or the Romantics.”

The word of a thieving pirate. I can take that to the bank. You’ll hang, bitch. We will pursue you, and we will find you, and we will try you. And we will hang you.”

She smiled – she’s laughing at me, the bitch!

You’ll have to succeed in the first of those two before I swing, Vice-Commodore. Now, my apologies, but you really must be going. Specialist Second, open the starboard-side door and depart. Now, please.”



You two,” came a hard voice.

Rafferty turned to see a large, begoggled man with an automatic rifle, standing in the entrance of his missile bay.

Who the hell are you?” he demanded, although it was obvious: pirates have boarded us.

The rifle was pointed at himself and Gilford.

None of your business who we fuckin’ are. Get away from that tube, open a hatch and jump out. Now.”

You’re pirates?” Gilford asked. “You’re pirates attacking 4-106?”

Taking it over, kid,” said the man. “Bridge, engine room, you lot. Now, out with you. Cap Ahle said not to kill anyone, but you sons of bitches just give me an excuse and I will. You bastard Imperials been busy right now killing my friends.”

Rafferty looked at the assault rifle, which was primarily pointed at him and not Gilford. He was standing in the door, fifteen feet away; too far to rush easily. And the only things in immediate reach of Rafferty were missile-setting tools, which wouldn’t throw well.

OK. Gilford, go to the locker and take out two parachutes. He’s got a gun pointed at us; do not make sudden moves and do not give him an excuse to shoot us.”

The Airshipman Second nodded hard, reached down into the locker.

Rafferty hit the missile trigger and threw himself to the left.

The missile exploded out, in a direction Rafferty really didn’t know or care about. The flaming backblast went over Gilford’s head, past Rafferty and into the pirate, who turned just fast enough to avoid taking the brunt of it in the face.

Then Rafferty was on him, shouldering aside the gun, wrestling the pirate into the ground.

The man had been in his own share of brawls, moved quickly himself. Rafferty reached for a knife in his boot, but the man saw the movement and an iron-strong wrist closed around Rafferty’s forearm.

As good as me, and half again my weight, Rafferty thought, and blew a chewing-gum bubble into the man’s face, onto his goggles. It popped and the pirate cursed, orange residue blocking his sight. Rafferty head-butted him in the mouth, hard, then kneed him in the crotch. Pounded his head into the deck several times, punched him in the stomach, and banged his head into the deck a couple more times for good measure.

Gilford, go over the son of a bitch and find the pistol he’ll have somewhere,” Rafferty ordered, reaching for the man’s assault rifle.


A one-eyed, yellow-haired man with a submachinegun was pointing that gun at Rafferty, a booted foot on the rifle.

You’re lucky I don’t like Cooper very much,” he said to Rafferty.

A thug, a boor and he stank,” Rafferty agreed.

Dumb, too. I’m not. Get the hell hands in the air and jump. Junior man, throw senior man one of the parachutes and then the two of you get out now.”

Bastards hit me,” groaned the other pirate.

You deserved it. Now, two of you, get the hell out. Chutes on and jump, now. From the catwalk.”

Rafferty caught the parachute that Gilford threw to him. Shook his head slightly in response to Gilford’s ‘do we do anything now?’ look.

OK, OK. We’re leaving,” Rafferty said.



Their personal property,” Ahle said to Klefton. “In the cabins; gather it up and throw it out with a parachute.”

Their personal shit?” Klefton asked. “Why the hell do we care about that? Some of those guys are gonna have good stuff there. Always a few bucks you can get for spare uniforms and shit.”

We’re pirates, not thieves. And that was an order.”

Harvey says we’ve got the engine room,” said a woman named Guildford, coming in. “Thing’s firmly under our control. No trouble except the missileers who beat up Cooper.”

Like I said, ass had it coming,” said Klefton. He took another swig of the rum and tossed the bottle to Ahle, who took a long drag. “Teach him some humility.”

Guildford, Klefton, gather up the crew’s property and throw it out. We’re going to need every hand to get this thing to the rendezvous.” And – she took another swig of the rum; traditional and I could use a stiff one – “good job, everyone. We’ve taken us a hell of a warship here!”



Perry seethed, hard, as he swung from the parachute in the growing darkness. Furious.

That smirking bitch. That fucking goddamned smirking bitch. Taking his ship.

Oh, I’m going to kill you. You’ll hang, or I’ll shoot you personally,” he muttered. “Give me an excuse. I. Will. Shoot. You. Personally. You bitch.”

The ground loomed; it was almost completely dark. Around him, the other bridge crew were landing. They, and the civilian crews, would have to find their own way back; the rest of the squadron, and the rest of the convoy, would go on to Chicago. He’d meet them there, or at Hugoton or Denver.

Practical considerations had to take priority.

The ground hit him, hard, and he rolled instinctively, began to disengage from the `chute. Flat grass; a cattle herd had been through here not long ago, from how it was cropped. Nearby, Martindale was cutting his parachute loose. Someone – Kent, it turned out – helped Perry up.

4-106 to us!” somebody shouted. “4-106!”

Not far away – maybe half a mile – a group of pirates were shoving hydrogen into a downed ship, a makeshift airbag.

If we can go after them, get that ship back, re-board 4-106 and take it back…

No. The pirates there would have rifles, and they did have a completely clean field of fire. It would be suicide, even with darkness to cover most of their approach.

As he watched, the captured ship lifted anyhow, discarding boxes of cargo to get off the ground.

4-106? Captain, that you?” came a man. Four missileers; in the darkness, Perry recognized Rafferty as one of them. “4-106!”

That’s us, Specialist Third.”

4-106 to us!”

A freighter, a huge one, came over their heads, fifty or sixty feet up. The same that had lifted half a mile away. Someone threw a couple more boxes down; a hissing sound was coming from it, more hydrogen inflation.

Martindale went to one of the boxes, opened it up. Slabs of beef, packed in somewhat-melted ice.

Well, we’ve got food,” the first officer said.

4-106? You 4-106?” came a voice from a couple of hundred yards away. Someone with a speaking cone.

Bring them back, Kent,” Perry ordered.

That group – with two dozen civilians – was larger, the engine and rear-gunnery crews, under Vescard. Senior Warrant Halvorsen was the man with the speaking cone.

Where were our Marines?” the old warrant muttered. “Vice, why the hell did St. John’s give us a ship without basic force protection?”

Their responsibility,” Perry growled. “But our problem and the pirates’ fault. They stole my ship, and Every. Last. One. Of. Those. Bastards. Will. Hang.”

Hey, you 4-106?” asked a civilian coming up. “Some bags for you, strung to a parachute. Marked your number.”


Yeah, personal shit or something. `bout a mile that way.”

I’ll take care of it,” Martindale said. “Holt, Lieberman, Jeppesen, and you two, come along.”

The indicated crew followed Martindale in the direction the civilian had pointed.

Any other injuries? Vescard, do a count. We missing anyone?”

What’s the plan, captain?” someone asked.

We gather all our crew, and any civilians who want to come. Swarovski, do you have our location?”

The weapons officer shook his head. “No, sir. Somewhere in north Kansas?”

Try Nebraska,” said Perry. “About three and a half miles south of us is the Platte River. The nearest town is a place called Kearney, eighteen or twenty miles to the east.”

Everyone’s here, sir,” said Vescard. “Allowing for the XO and the party he took.”

We’ll rest if needed, then march to Kearney. With any luck we’ll be able to get transportation from there.”

Martindale and his group came back, four of them dragging a parachute that turned out to be full of duffel bags.

Our shit. They threw down our shit,” said Vescard. “What the fuck?”

That patronizing bitch,” said Perry. “She’s returning our personal effects. Because they’re not good enough, no doubt. To rub it in further.”

There was a pause, as people went for their bags. Swarovski grinned as he loaded a magazine into a semi-automatic carbine.

More civilians were trickling in, gathering around the Air Service crew.

The town of Kearney, Nebraska is about eighteen to twenty miles to the east,” said Perry. “We’re going to go there, and get transport from that point. Civilians are welcome to come, under the protection of myself and my crew.”

What good’s that?” somebody sneered. “Couldn’t even protect your own selves, let alone my ship!”

Speak to the Vice with respect, mate,” said one of Perry’s men.

I am not going to punch that man. I am not going to shoot that man. Because it would be inappropriate to, and illegal. He is upset that he lost his ship.

God damn it.

You may feel free to not come along, if so desired,” Perry said coldly. “My crew and I are going.”

And when we get back to Chicago, or Hugoton, I am going to find that pirate, and I am going to see her hang.

He’d never been so humiliated in his life. He’d never been this mad.

That bitch is going to pay.

I will track you down, recover 4-106 and put you on the gallows.



Reviews and Stuff

First off, Cedar Sanderson has a review up for the Fallen Race right here.

Second, I’m midway through my YA SF novel, roughly 40,ooo words.  It’s coming more slowly than I’d like, with the main issue being I only really have had time to write for it on it on my lunch break during the work day.  Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to work on it a bit this weekend and then again Memorial weekend.  The secondary issue is that I’m editing my epic fantasy novel, Echo of the High Kings and preparing to write the sequel to The Fallen Race, The Shattered Empire.  Ideally, I’ll have all three books finished by July and, with editing, will have them coming out late August to mid September.  Granted, I’ll also have a newborn in the house at that point, so my writing/editing time might be more constrained than would otherwise be ideal…


Independent Author’s Toolbag: Economics of Writing

This is going to be one of those boring articles where I go into one of the important professional aspects of writing. This is both from my personal perspective as well as from talking with other authors and going through some internet research. There’s lots of information out there on the subject, because it’s near and dear to any author who isn’t a trust fund baby, retiree with a good pension, or someone who is idly rich.

The question at hand: Should you take that leap to quitting the day job and writing full time? More, how do I write full time and still do those fun things like eating and having a roof over my head? It’s an important question, because without being able to pay the utilities, it becomes rather difficult to power up the old computer and write. Sure, you can emulate the writers of yore and click away at your typewriter, but seeing as most agents, publishers, and even indie platforms require digital submission, you’re going to have issues.

There’s a variety of metrics to consider. A single person with aesthetic tastes can live off considerably less than a married writer with several kids. For the importance of renting versus owning versus a mortgage, the author may have a fixed chunk of money that has to go out. Then there are the unexpected expenses: car repairs, medical expenses, etc. How can you judge whether you can afford to write full time?

It’s an economic decision. Part of it is dependent upon your method of publishing. If you’re traditional publishing, how much of an advance will you get, do you have a contract, how much of a cut does your agent get (if you have one)? Then you have to track your royalties, project your sales trends and decide for yourself if this would pay for itself. For most of us, it can be a fairly easy decision: I have a contract to do Y books, each with an advance of X dollars. X times Y equals Z, and my expenses are A. Z minus A is negative, well, then I need to keep my day job. Z minus A is slightly positive, I might want to keep my day job. Z minus A leaves me lots of money, well, get writing.

It can be a lot more difficult as an independent author. You’ve got to study your sales trends, make sense of what you’re seeing, and really make some hard decisions about expenses and savings. There are no advances to judge your initial income. You’ll be a couple months (or more) into sales before you really start to see any kind of trends… and even then, sales can change overnight.

At its roots, it’s the same perspective with either method of publishing. The important thing to remember is that your book sales and your royalties are your income. That cut of income is the deciding factor between working a day job and writing full time. For independent authors, we get a bigger cut of the royalties (as much as 70% dependent upon the platform), but we reach a smaller pool of readers than many who go the traditional publishing route. Depending upon your audience, that can be the difference between working and not needing to.

My own personal experience is rather mixed. I’ve had very good initial sales with the release of The Fallen Race. Assuming I see a similar spike with the release of it’s sequel, The Shattered Empire, I should continue the trend. However, my novella series sells moderately, with most sales driven by people who read The Fallen Race and want to read more of my stuff. The issue, there, is that my novellas sell for less and also give me a smaller royalty cut. Why is that important? Well, the novellas, all told, are somewhere over 200,000 words, which is a hefty writing challenge. Because I priced them at $0.99 I get only 35% royalties with Amazon, so if a reader buys all five, I get: $1.75. If a reader buys my novel The Fallen Race, I get 70% of the royalties, or around $3.50. So I’d need to sell twice as many of the novellas as I do novels to make as much off of them.

The issue there: people like novels more than novellas. This is a sales trend I’d heard, but I didn’t really understand it until I saw it in action. It becomes all the more important when I’ve got expenses like a mortgage and such. Writing full time will require publishing novels, more than that, publishing series of novels. The reason publishers and authors like selling series is that it builds a fan base and is a good way to maintain interest and grow additional readers. In action, as readers become attached to the characters, they tell others about the book series. Since it’s not just one book, but several, it means a higher overall income off of the ideas presented. Why does that matter? Well, authors like Robert Jordan, David Weber, and George R.R. Martin show that there is a good money in writing a long series, one which can continue to capture fans and make money over not just years, but decades.

Making money as an author is made more perilous by taxes. Authors, whether independent or traditional, are considered self employed. Which doesn’t seem too bad, right? You make your own hours, work from home, and can set your dress as casual or formal as you want. The issue is, more money comes out of your earnings at the end of the year than if you had an employer. You’ve got to pay the self-employment tax. Also, your royalties don’t automatically have deductions. So you’ve got to work through your taxes yourself and set aside enough money to account for your earnings. If you’re earning enough to quit the day job, you’re probably earning enough to bump yourself into a higher tax bracket (unless writing is a step down for you). This can be especially difficult in your transition from working a day job to writing full time. If you find yourself successful while still working that day job, then you might just find yourself giving lots more of your hard earned money to the tax man than you expected.

As with most things, having a plan and keeping track of how things are going is a vital part. You may be one of those self motivating types who can write all day without any deadline pressures, but even so, you’ll need to monitor your finances. For those of you who are procrastinators like me, deadlines (and bills) can go a long way into ensuring you write hard for your supper. And though you may find initial success, you have to be ready to dig in and do what you don’t want to do: go back to working a day job. It sucks, especially with that first taste of freedom, but it’s far better to suffer a little and still maintain yourself and your family than it is to end up out in the streets. While the starving artist is a trope, it can be painfully accurate if you aren’t careful. Remember, lots of those starving artists die young, miserable, and alone. Don’t be like them. Make a plan, map out your route to success, and look before you leap.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Editing

If you’re an independent author like me, when you get to the point where you’ve finished your manuscript, you need to start editing. This really gives you three options: self editing, getting someone to help, or hiring a professional. Each of these has some positive and negative aspects, and I’ll do a rundown of my own experiences therein. I cannot overstate the importance of editing, both for formatting and for appearance. Nothing turns off readers faster than poor grammar and misspellings.

First off, self editing. Self Editing is just what it sounds like, going through your manuscript and doing a line edit for grammar, punctuation, and flow. Most of this is simple stuff, but sometimes, you may have to stop and look up specifics on how the mechanisms work and to make sure you’re using things correctly. There are a couple major issues with self editing. The first one is that you, as the author, are probably not the best person to do this. A tendency for most people is to see what they expect to see. What that means is when you look at something you wrote, you know what you wrote and therefore might miss a typo or will understand something that will be confusing for someone else. The second issue with self editing, especially if this is your only method of editing, is that without outside influence, issues with the flow or structure of your work will not receive outside attention. It is difficult to improve these kinds of problems when you may not even realize that they are there. In the positive, self editing allows you to improve your writing through discovering issues with word use and other bad habits. In addition, self editing is cheap. For those looking to save money, this is one place where that can serve as a trade-off. However, you may find you’ll have to do multiple series of edits to make sure you clean up your manuscript. There are a few tools to mitigate some of the issues and maximize the positives. The first is reading your text aloud as you go through. This will often allow you to notice issues with grammar and word choice. Why this works is complicated, but basically you use a different part of your brain when reading aloud. It’s also a great method to see if your dialog is wooden. Another method is, oddly enough, reading sections of your book in reverse order. Note, I don’t say read the sentence backwards, but start at the end and read paragraphs out of order. This disjoints the experience and allows your brain to focus on the individual sections rather than putting the whole into a story.

The second method is getting a friend or someone else to help out. Note, if your ‘someone’ is a professional editor, that’s a different can of worms which I’ll address later. This method is great if you have a friend or family member (or even a fan) who has a mind for nitpicking details. This method is good for a few reasons. First off, a fresh set of eyes may catch details that you would miss. Also, if the person finds some section confusing, then you probably need to go do some edits. It is also a great method for seeing if the story flows well and if it hooks the reader. If your friend can’t put it down and finishes it quickly, that’s a great sign. On the downsides this method is rarely foolproof. No matter how helpful the person might feel, this will probably not be their priority. You may have to wait weeks or even months for them to finish their review. Also, depending on their background, your friend may miss certain issues, especially the kind of things such a pacing and scene tones which can change a good book into a great book. Lastly, sometimes these kinds of arrangements can go sour or can strain a friendship. There are a couple of methods to improve your results in this style of editing your manuscript. The first is to take a step back and realize that any criticisms are not attacks on you… they’re attempts to help you improve your story. Unless of course, they are attacks on you, in which case you should politely tell your editor that their assistance is no longer required. The next method, is to be sure you find the right kind of help. Writing groups are good places for authors to network, and some authors are more than willing to exchange manuscripts. Editing someone else’s manuscript is also a great way to learn about your own writing issues and can give you a different perspective on the editing process.

The last method is to hire a professional editor. This is often a task that can seem daunting, but can have the biggest payoff. There are a number of freelance copyeditors and editors who will look your manuscript over for reasonable rates. The first issue here is cost. If you don’t have the money to pay an editor, then this probably won’t work out for you. However, I view this as an investment. Find a good editor and they are professionally inclined to clean up the issues… because it’s not just your work at that point… they put their professional name behind it as well. The other issue here is making certain you find the right editor. Talk with other independent authors. Many times they have experiences with various editors and can give you info on the ones they liked to work with.

Hopefully this helps you in editing your manuscript. Remember, editing is an investment (of time or money) to make your story better and more palatable to readers.

Starfest Denver 2014

Boba Fett and Han Solo discuss their plans for Starfest.
Boba Fett and Han Solo discuss their plans for Starfest.



I had the opportunity to attend Starfest last weekend as an author and participant.  It was a great time, all in all, with the highlight being the Combat in Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.  We had a great turnout for that panel (almost standing room only) and excellent audience participation.  Sunday was May the 4th, which is Star Wars Day.  So there was a huge turnout of Star Wars fans as well.

A Star Wars Rebel Steampunk Pilot
A Star Wars Rebel Steampunk Pilot

It was a great opportunity for me to meet folks, both writers, editors, and readers.  I had some great conversations with people and really enjoyed myself.

The highlight for me, as I said, was being on several panels, especially the Combat in SF & F one that I organized.  We talked about a number of things, to include pet peeves as readers and viewers, awesome scenes in the genre, as well as writing tips and techniques for doing a combat scene.  The other two panels were pretty awesome as well, and I really had a great time overall.

Fortunately there were first responders on hand in case of any health issues or zombie breakouts.
Fortunately there were first responders on hand in case of any health issues or zombie breakouts.

Human Wave, Pushing the Boundaries, and Themes of Hope

Human Wave Science Fiction is an interesting group. I remember reading the original post by Sarah Hoyt (here) and going, well, duh. Some part of me wondered what other kinds of books were out there… I mean, I knew that people wrote wretched books and short stories designed to torment kids in English class, but I didn’t think anyone actually wrote those anymore.

Well, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, there’s been a lot of ruckus between the Hugos, the SFWA, and various other esoteric items in regards to the Science Fiction Community. Me, up until a few years ago, I hadn’t realized that there was such a thing as a “Science Fiction Community” I just read the books and authors I liked and looked for more. Occasionally I’d find one with a fancy award strapped to the cover, glance at the back, wonder why someone gave it an award and put it back.

I remember reading older books that had awards. Ender’s Game and a few Heinlein books for example. I thought they were pretty good. I didn’t really remember any newer books that were the same, but I didn’t really think much about it. What I knew was that I like books that were fun, exciting, that gave me a glimpse at a future that was, well, if not bright and shiny, at least full of possibilities.

That’s what Science Fiction is about, right? The endless possibilities? Exploring space, pushing the boundaries of human understanding in a way that science is supposed to do, just in a story format that leads the reader along and adventure while exploring the possibilities. The books I read growing up were all about the possibilities… where as now, I see a lot of books which are the opposite. Hope is dead… dystopian futures where war, plague, zombies, the internet, environmental disasters, evil corporations, evil governments, evil unicorn aliens, and all the rest have destroyed all that is good and happy in the universe, leaving the characters to struggle to survive. Victory, in many of these stories, is not about actually winning. Seldom do the heroes craft a better world or even better circumstances. Often these stories end in morally ambiguous conclusions where the reader is left to scramble at straws.

Where I see this the worst is in young adult books. The trend is a dark, depressing outlook on a world without a future, where the struggle to survival is littered with morally ambigious characters who teach us to lie, murder, and above all, don’t stand out, don’t attract attention, and most of all, that no one can change the course of history. Where comes this darkness that has so infested literature? I mean, I know there were books like these, but again, I thought it was all just some sort of sick joke played by English teachers, not that anyone actually wanted to read these sorts of things.

I can see why there is that trend in YA literature, especially. There’s some attraction to the dark, nihilistic tendencies, especially with kids going through those angsty years of ‘no one understands me.’ The thing is… maybe we shouldn’t encourage that. Growing out of that stage, coming to see that there is hope, that we can make something of ourselves, is part of growing up. Reading books that inspire and tell fun, exciting stories are part of that, in my opinion. If we allow our society to drown in the echoes of apocalypses without showing any light at the end of the tunnel, we basically tell them to stop looking up, that there is no hope… that all we build is for naught.

I’m of the opposite opinion. One of my favorite quotes is from Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” What we build, now, is what the generations that follow can further build upon. There is hope for the future, that every year grows brighter and with more possibilities. We truly live in an age of wonders… and we need to tell stories that encourage that wonder. Not stories about crumbling empires and dystopian, tyranical futures. Stories where the characters face challenges, yes, but stories where the characters build and work towards a brighter future as well. Hope seems to be gone from a vast swath of fiction… we, as authors, need to bring that back.