Archive for August, 2011

Surge Power!

If you were following me on Twitter last night, you probably saw me talking about writing surges.  I’m not going to claim to have invented this idea, far from it, I’ve seen similar events both on preset schedules and spur of the moment around the internet, taking several forms.  1 hour writing sprints.  15 minute surges.  People who’ll start each hour with the plan to write x words and then take the rest of the hour off.

Never tried them.  Gotta say, though…I liked them.

For my purposes the surges were 15 minutes of writing, following by 30-45 minutes of allowed not writing.  This works well for me, as it forces me to be super focused for a period, but then allows me some guilt free periods of goofing off.  In that way I did two 15 minute surges and a 10 minute surge (third surge was cut short when I ended the first draft of the story I was working on).  They produced 631, 756, and 426 words for a total of 1813.  Not bad for only 40 minutes of actual writing time.

Now, obviously they only work for stories with a known direction, but for that they ended up working damn well.  There’s also the very real fact that only 100 of these surges would result in a novel-length manuscript.  100 might seem like a lot, but fit in three a night and that’s a month.  That’s Nanowrimo.

So I’ll be doing these again in the future, and with a little more warning in hopes that people can join me.  Probably for the next short story, a concept I got from the least likely Balticon panel to result in a plot concept.

And with this post, that’s it for August.  It’s been a fast month, but a pretty good one.  Look for State of the Writer sometime tomorrow.

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Memory Eater!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that a short listed story was picked up for an anthology.  I’ve now gotten a green light to reveal more details.

The anthology is called The Memory Eater.  I can’t give any kind of release date information as the editor is still shopping the anthology to several publishers.  Though I’m sure he wouldn’t say so himself, the anthology reminds me very much of the Death Machine anthologies, in that it starts with a piece of magic tech and asks all stories to branch off from there, exploring either direct or indirect consequences.  Each story will be accompanied by a piece of original art, again keeping with the Death Machine similarities, and the full slate of selected artists can be found here.  I have some favorites, but just the fact that my story will get an illustration excites the hell out of me.

The prompt:

“Have a cheating ex you can’t stop thinking about?  How about a past failure which now defines you?  Do you wish you could forget about the time you walked in on your parents making your brother or sister?

“Yes?  Well then today’s your lucky day.  Introducing the brand new Memory Eater—an orb-like device that fits neatly around your head like a diver’s helmet with the ability to locate and destroy any memory in the human mind.

“Victims of rape no longer need to fear dating.  Drunk drivers don’t have to regret getting back on the road.  And for those who have lost loved ones, you no longer need to mourn.

“Today is a new day.  Today is your day.  Start it off by deleting the past so you can save your future.”

My story is called Home Again.

We’re just starting down the road towards publication, so it may be a few weeks or months until I can give any more details.  Right now all authors have been asked for a manuscript formatted version of their stories so the editing process can begin.  Needless to say, I’m damn excited about this anthology, I love the theme, and I love the enthusiasm that the editor is putting into it.

Details as they develop!

Edit:  I don’t have a full list of my fellow writers yet, but I’ve been able to track down two by tweeting back and forth with them after we got the green light to go public.  I’ll be maintaining a Twitter list as I find people.

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A Writer Reviews: Fright Night

Really there are three things I take away from Fright Night.  The first is rather less applicable than the other two, so let’s get it out of the way.

Lesson one: if your vampire movie has a somewhat thin plot, do everything you can to bring in both Colin Farrell and David Tennant, let them ham it up, and call it a day.  This is one of those movies that is certainly saved by the strength of the actors rather than the strength of the material, and the quality of individual scenes is directly in proportion to whether either Farrell or Tennant are in them.  It’s one of those movies that I would certainly say is fun, and I would see it again for that reason, but I would have a hard time calling good.  Unfortunately, as writers, it’s hard to get either Tennant or Farrell to pop up in the middle of our stories and do more with the material than what we’re giving them, so that’s not really applicable in terms of Writer Reviews.

So let’s focus on the other two lessons.

Lesson two: It’s okay if your character knows what’s going on.  One of the go-to tropes within horror is the character who has no idea what they’re in for.  The one that doesn’t know the rules, doesn’t know how to react, and has to learn everything as he goes along.  And that’s fine, there’s always going to be a place for those kinds of stories, especially dealing with the ever popular plotline of a group being picked off one-by-one by the evil supernatural force (though recently this has been changed from the supernatural evil to the natural evil, taking away any chance of knowing the rules, but that’s a subject for another time).  Fright Night goes the other way, and in doing so finds itself on similar footing as Zombieland.  The latter was popular almost entirely because of a main character with a very no-nonsense approach to surviving the zombie apocalypse and espousing his survival rules along the way.

Fright Night’s lead character understands how the vampire works, knows all the rules (especially the under-utilized “must be invited in” rule), and in a large part that’s where the drama of the movie comes from.  It’s not from someone accidentally doing everything wrong, it’s from someone doing everything right but it not being enough.  In doing so the movie can further emphasize just how vicious and powerful the villain is.  In a lot of horror the villain is survivable if the main characters would just stop, to put it bluntly, fucking up all the time.  To me, this kills the horror of the situation1 and replaces it with frustration felt towards the protagonists.  In extreme cases it leaves me cheering for the supernatural evil.

We, as an audience, know the rules.  We’ve seen enough of the stories, we know what to do, and we want to cheer for a character who also gets all the rules right.  They become us in the movie, our ideal of ourselves.  We’re the kids who used to dress up, who read and watched everything about vampires, and have been planning for the day when one moves in next door.  We’ll do everything right.  If it’s not enough, it’s not for lack of effort on our part.  However, there’s always that one broken rule, it’s the same one in both Fright Night and Zombieland.  Don’t get attached.  The character has to break that rule, or else they’re not human and we turn on them.  The movie does a fantastic job addressing that by having Tennant be the character who just walked away, and what that did to him.

Lesson three:  Don’t pussyfoot.  At no point did the movie ever try to pretend that Colin Farrell isn’t a blood sucking creature of the night.  And he plays the part creepily well.  There are lesser movies out there, however, that will play around with the is-he-or-isn’t-he, until finally making it the big twist at the end of Act One that SURPRISE the character who has been portrayed as a vampire in all the posters, in all the trailers, in all the television ads, and in all the Comic Con panels is…guess what…a vampire!  This isn’t a twist, this isn’t a reveal, it’s just wasting the audience’s time by treating things they already know as a surprise.

Now, it’s easier for a written story to be approached in a void that a movie cannot be.  Movies need to advertise themselves, and they need to advertise themselves unambiguously as what they are.  If you were to try to sell Fright Night as a teen coming of age drama set against a backdrop of the dying boom town that are the modern Vegas suburbs, and then have a vampire jump out a third of the way in, it doesn’t work.  It breaks your covenant with the audience.  Twist endings are fine, twist genres are not.  But that’s movies, we write books and short stories that don’t get multi-million dollar advertising blitzes (well, some people do, but they’re not reading this blog).  But there’s still going to be that potential cross-genre twist that will cause a reader to put a book down, give it two stars on Amazon, and walk away.

There are still cues when it comes to a book or story.  It’s still going to be shelved in horror.  It’s in a horror anthology.  It’s potentially specifically in a zombie or vampire anthology.  In those cases, don’t play around, don’t make me guess whether the creepy guy next door is just a little creepy or is in league with the forces of the undead.  There are times where that works, but there are other times where it just gets in the way of starting the story.  Know who your audience is, especially when going into a theme anthology, and don’t leave them guessing unless that’s an essential part of the plot.

So there it is.  Use your knowledgeable protagonist.  Let your antagonist be the evil thing he is.  Then have some fun with it, as it lets you get straight into the heart of a story and stay there longer.

1. They may still be scary, mind, but scary is things jumping out and yelling “boo,” horror is the underlying feel of dread running through the whole of the work.

Edit:  The movie ends with a song that I’m becoming rapidly infatuated with as I listen to it over and over.  It’s a cover of 99 Problems, a song I was only vaguely aware of but knew so little about that I wasn’t aware this was a cover.  Here’s the original music video, which is in no way tied to the movie, so has nothing to do with the movie, so has no spoilers:

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Hurricane Preparedness

With the east coast staring down Hurricane Irene, I thought I’d step away from my typical writing related blog and provide a public service message.  Everyone, be safe.  And make sure you’re ready for what might come as a hurricane hits ground.  I recommend everyone have the following on hand:

  • Bottled water
  • Candles
  • Matches
  • Fully charge cell phones
  • Battery or hand-cranked radio
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra cell phones
  • Kitty litter
  • Pomegranates
  • Kevlar body suits
  • A Region 2 DVD of Gremlins
  • A full tank of gas
  • Address of a local evacuation shelter
  • Tomatillos
  • Amaretto
  • Light rum
  • Dark rum
  • Orange juice
  • Pineapple juice
  • Lemon juice
  • Grenadine
  • Maraschino cherries
  • A map of Middle Earth
  • $100 in small bills
  • $100 in loose change
  • $100 in gold
  • Fully supply of all prescription medicines
  • Iodine
  • Bandages
  • Seltzer water
  • The July 1973 issue of Playboy
  • Swim trunks
  • Commemorative bobbleheads
  • Inflatable raft
  • Kumquats

With just a little preparation, you’ll be ready to bear the brunt of the storm.  Everyone stay safe, don’t be stupid, and we’ll all see each other on the far side of Irene, deal?

Hurricane Irene picture courtesy of NASA.  “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted”

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Fortnightcap: Vicious Cycle

Vicious Cycle

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

“So.  You’ve come to kill me then?”

He didn’t turn around.  He didn’t need to.  He’d heard the faint click of the gun’s hammer being pulled back, and knew there was only one person who could be holding it.

“I have to.  You know I have to.  It’s the only way.”

“You won’t be able to.”  He turned his chair around, wanting to face the person with the gun.  He knew a general identity but not a face, not even a gender.  There was no mistaking the man there.  The high cheekbones.  The gentle nose.  This could only be his grandson.  “And really, I’m disappointed in your lack of imagination here.”

“You’re not making this easy for me.”

“It’s not supposed to be easy.  In fact, it’s supposed to be impossible.  I’m sure you’ve seen the equations, the proof that the timeline is immutable, unchangeable.  And really, picking on an old man like me?”

“You’re five years younger than me.”

“Oh sure,” he rose from his chair, and walked towards his grandson.  Around him lay the bits and pieces of his failed prototypes, in a room beyond was his success.  “I suppose now I am, but don’t you know me as an old man?  Wasn’t I kind to you?  I’ve always wanted to be a grandfather.  Your grandmother says I can’t wait to be old, and I suppose she’s right.  Are we still alive?”

His grandson’s hand was shaking, more and more as he stepped closer and closer.  “Please.  Please just stop.  You know it has to be this way.”

“Why?  Just because it’s called the Grandfather Paradox?  You have another grandfather, you know.  Somewhere else out there.  You could have even tried to kill your younger self, same paradox.”

“You invented the thing.  You’re the one everyone knows.  You’re the one that proved it’s impossible.  It just…it just has to be you.  Has to be this way.”

“You can’t.”

“Could you please sit back down?”

“You can’t.”

“Stop saying that!”  He was getting flustered.  There were tears streaming down his face, and his hand shook all the more.

“What’s your name?”

“Why does that matter?”

“If you’re going to kill me, I’d like to at least know your name.”

“They…they named me after you.”

The inventor smiled.  “Charles, then.  Do they call you ‘Charlie?’  I always hated Charlie.  Why don’t you give me the gun.  There are other paradoxes, other ways of testing things.  It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It…it does.”  The resolve in his voice was slipping away.  His grip on the gun loosened.  The inventor reached out and pulled it away.

“That’s good.  Now, I’d love to hear all about your life.  My life.  That would be a paradox, too.  Let’s just put the safety on this,” the gun was slick with sweat.  It slipped in his hand.  He tried to catch it, but as he did the world exploded in noise and pain.  He looked down at the gaping hole in his own chest.

The inventor fell to his knees, looking up at his grandson’s shocked expression.  “This,” he said, each word a struggle, “wasn’t in my equations.”  Darkness closed in around him as the paradox storms swept in.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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I Feel the Earth Move…

I live and work in the DC Metro area.  So 2pm yesterday found me standing outside on an absolutely beautiful day for the simple reason that the ground couldn’t stay still.  Which, to me, has always been one of the defining characteristics of ground.

I’ve never actually experienced an earthquake before of any magnitude I could feel.  Last time there was even a minor quake here in the DC area I was, ironically enough, in California.  There was one more recently, but of a magnitude specifically defined as one that can be felt by half the people affected.  I was in the other half that time.

This time?  Really no mistaking it.  There was some initial rumbling that felt like it might be coming from the construction always going on in the area, and a few of us were joking about it being an earthquake, not actually believing it to be so.  Then the big shockwave hit, and it felt like someone body checked the entire building.  I was on the first floor, so my experience was rather mild compared to the 14th floor, or to my wife more than 20 floors up in her building.  But really, that was more than enough excitement for me.

I was helpfully informed by a sanctimonious Californian that the USGS estimates roughly 150 magnitude 6+ earthquakes happen every year around the globe, which means one more powerful than yesterday’s Virginia quake on average every 58 hours or so.  Perhaps I haven’t been hardened by a life living in the seismic zones of California where what happened yesterday is considered just a blip, but I also don’t really want to be in a situation where something like what happened yesterday is blase, something to point and laugh about the silly east coasters ducking and running out of buildings because the ground moved a little.

Look.  THE GROUND MOVED!

In the end, it was like the northerners that pointed and laughed when DC got shut down by a “mere” several feet.  It’s just stunning what people will get accustomed to, and what people will just carry on through.  I live in an area that these things aren’t supposed to happen.  We don’t get earthquakes, blizzards, hurricanes, or wild fires.  The DC area is probably one of the least natural disaster prone parts of the country.  Perhaps that makes me soft, I don’t know.  But it does say something about the resolve of humanity that these things can become common place.

And then I can only think about the scale of magnitude.  It’s logarithmic, which means that a magnitude 7 quake is ten times stronger than a magnitude 6 quake.  That’s what hit Haiti.  A magnitude 9 quake is a stunning 1000 times stronger.  That’s what hit Japan.  That terrifies me, largely because what hit yesterday left me shaken for a good three hours after the ground stood still.  I’m not going to say I now know what it likes, or say my experience was at all similar, because what I experienced and looking at how the scale works tells me that I can’t possibly know how those situations felt.  And that I don’t want to know.  And that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I suppose what it gave me more than anything else was a frame of reference.

So don’t cry for me, I’m fine, was just a little freaked out when it happened.  And next time someone out there in the world gets hit by a real quake, and not just the shudder we got here in DC, reach out.  Help.  That is all.

Earthquake map courtesy USGS, release to public domain as work of US Government.

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Lisa Needs Braces! Dental Plan!

This is somewhat how my brain was working yesterday.

Except it had nothing to do with dental care, instead my train of thought was “Seltzer oceans of Venus” “Steampunk soda fountains” “Seltzer oceans of Venus” “Steampunk soda fountains”…  Wait a damn second, those both have to do with carbonated water!  And during the early days of drinking carbonated water it came largely from natural mineral spring sources and was harvested for it’s reported medicinal qualities!  And Venus was thought to have an ocean of the stuff!

There’s a story idea in there somewhere.

Just as soon as I’m done watching that video.  Lisa needs braces!  Dental plan!  Lisa needs braces!  Dental plan!

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Steam and Soda

Odd things lead me back to writing related topics.  Last week I wrote about heading to America Eats, and as part of that talked about their retro menu of non-alcoholic drinks.  There was one off-menu drink our server told us about that we didn’t get a chance to try called a Baltimore Cream, an orange, peach, and cream beverage he described as similar to an orangecicle.  Problem with a menu as deep as America Eats was not getting to try everything, and that Baltimore Cream didn’t make the cut in favor of trying the Lactart.

So that lead to a search for Baltimore Cream recipes.  And Lactart recipes.  And Phosphate recipes.  Which all lead me to the book I’m rapidly digesting called Fix The Pumps (available on Amazon).  It’s half history and half cookbook, but the cover is what really drew me in, as there’s only one word I can use to describe that illustration.

It’s pretty Steampunk, isn’t it?

And here’s the thing, even though there wasn’t much steam involved, there’s a lot there that could work in a Steampunk novel, especially since the rise of the soda fountain happened coincident with the era that Steampunk is typically set.  And really, the seediest and most interesting era of the soda fountain was during those early few years.  Not only did many of the drinks actually contain alcohol (but much more cheaply than available at a bar due to different tax laws on alcohol and “medicine”) but also contained “butyric ether, acetic aldehyde, chloroform, amyl butyrate, glycerin, and ethanol,”1 any number of drugs including, “strychnine, cannabis, morphine, opium, heroin,” and most infamously, cocaine.

The original recipe of Coca Cola is not an urban legend.  It had cocaine in it, and that was a common ingredient in fountain drinks for several decades until the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906.

The cocaine made for an interesting daily ritual for “brain workers,” working as a feedback loop with alcohol.  The day would open with a cocaine laced drink to get the brain going better than coffee ever could.  A few more drinks during the day (up to 8 for some customers) would keep the brain going at the hyper rate that cocaine’s stimulant effects allowed.  The day would then end with the application of a depressant, alcohol, to counteract the stimulation of the cocaine.  Next morning, no worries about hangovers, as cocaine also served as an effective cure for them.

These addicts doing the cocaine-alcohol daily cycle were almost exclusively men, and even then were largely people who thought for a living.  Politicians, bankers, lawyers, and the like.

It really is a fantastic potential base for a character.  Now, soda fountains don’t belong everywhere within Steampunk.  There was some spread of the fountains to London and Paris, but they fed a lust for sugar that was almost exclusively American.  They were located within pharmacies, and were crafted with the same care as bars of the era with fine woods, the later image of a soda fountain in a diner environment was a WWII era modification.

Which means they lived in the right era, but in a location were Steampunk isn’t as frequently set: the cities of America’s East Coast.  But it’s still a fantastic use, a fantastic construct, and a part of the era that’s easy to forget.

So, I’m throwing down the gauntlet and hoping some writers might put the old soda fountain into their late 19th century stories.  Sure they don’t always fit, but it’s hard to turn down the old cocaine drinks of a bygone era before the US Government started protecting people against the things they were eating and drinking.

1. Both lists of used ingredients from pg 9 of Fix the Pumps.  The first, if you’re curious, was a recipe for pineapple syrup.


Soda jerk picture digital ID cph.3c13825 from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division. “No copyright restriction known. Staff photographer reproduction rights transferred to Library of Congress through Instrument of Gift.”  Retrieved from Wikipedia.

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Returning to Blade Runner

March 2 of this year something happened that excited me.  Warner Brothers acquired most of the rights to Blade Runner.  Included in the package?  Sequel rights, prequel rights, and rights to the world itself.  The only thing they didn’t get in the package were the remake rights.  This was cool news.  This week, the bigger news hit.  Ridley Scott is on board, and will be working to make another Blade Runner movie.

That’s the grand total of the details to this point.  There’s questions being bandied around: Will it be a sequel?  Will it be a prequel?  But these questions ignore what I think is more probable than either, and probably the most exciting in terms of potential: what if it’s neither?

There’s four things to do with a movie with such a deep and beautifully crafted world as Blade Runner.  Remake is off the table.  Prequels and sequels are limiting, the former especially.  But there’s a fantastic fourth choice: tell a new story in the same world.  Please, I beg of you Mr. Scott and Warner Brothers, take this route.

There’s an argument that can be made as to why does someone need to own the rights to Blade Runner to tell a story that isn’t explicitly tied to the original.  And it’s a valid question.  Why not make a cyberpunk dystopian movie and keep it just different enough to not be Blade Runner’s world?  Largely because the world of Blade Runner is so deep, so nuanced, is such a character in that story that anything else is going to look like a pale imitation, a pastiche.  Why make something that’s almost sort of Blade Runner while trying not to be when you can make something that is Blade Runner?

It’s such a definer of an entire sub-genre in a way that few other pieces ever have managed.  To most people, Blade Runner IS cyberpunk.  It was one of those rare notion that maybe the future doesn’t always have to be a perfectly clean place filled with enlightened people living trouble free lives.  It might, and this was a novel idea, suck.  People might continue to be people.  It’s the dramatic mirror to the dark humor satire of Brazil, and it’s what many of us fans want out of such a movie.

So.  Give us the movie!

But…here’s the problem.  CGI was invented.

So much of the amazing look and feel of the original movie comes from the film makers actually doing things.  Actually constructing city scape miniatures.  Actually filming grunge and smoke and horribleness without having a computer filling in the little bits and pieces around the edge.  It’s hard to imagine a movie doing that today, not in this post Sky Captain world.  It kills me to speak ill of a movie that I really do love.  Sky Captain is a hell of a lot of fun, but above just about everything else it was a proof of concept, the first feature length movie filmed without a single scrap of sets.  Everything was green screen.  Everything was computer animated.  And that was GREAT for the movie, it created a really unique look and feel.

Then Lucas did it with Star Wars.

And now, I’m afraid they’re going to do it was Blade Runner.

Look at the old movies, the ones where people did and people cared.  Where they had to make things, because there was no alternative.  And they have all aged so beautifully.  The Alien Queen is still terrifying because she was real, she was on screen, she was directly interacting with the actors.  So much of the original Star Wars trilogy have already aged better than the prequels, when Lucas could do whatever he wanted with a computer rather than relying on puppetry, models, and ingenuity to create the look that he wanted.

The look of Blade Runner is what it is because it was all real.  It was all on camera.  It was real, and it was dirty, and it was grimy, all in a way that CGI still can’t really do right.  That’s the part of computer animation that still hasn’t gotten all that real, hasn’t advanced beyond what film makers could do if they had to sit down and figure out HOW to do it.

So there it is.  I’m excited and I’m worried, and I’m hopeful, and I just don’t know what to expect out of another Blade Runner movie.  What I do know is that I trust Ridley Scott to go forward and make it good, because this has always been his baby.  This is the movie he’s never quite gotten right, always wanting one more shot at a director’s cut.

I trust you Ridley.

Don’t let us down.

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$49

Acceptable uses for $49.

  • 98 tries at that Angry Bird in the claw machine.
  • Nearly year supply of McChicken sandwiches.
  • 196 consecutive plays of Inna Godda Da Vida on the juke box
  • 490 Atomic Fireballs
  • Short fire to thaw your fingers on a cold night trapped outside and alone
  • 24 bottles of Two Buck Chuck…with change back!
  • 2GB iPod shuffle
  • Nearly 38 songs from the iTunes store
  • Cashed out in pennies and used as a 27 pound dumbbell
  • Cashed out in nickles and stacked to 6’3″ to prove that’s how tall I am
  • Cashed out in dollar coins to…really annoy the bank

Unacceptable uses for $49

  • Paying someone to stalk a world renowned author under the auspices that she’ll actually read your book and give you commentary on it.

I suppose what depresses me more about things like that is not that someone offered the “service” it’s that anyone might have actually paid for it.  Be smart, there’s a lot of companies out there that are more than happy to separate you from your money while selling you dreams, and that doesn’t just mean in the vanity publishing world.

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