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A to Z Challenge

In April I’ll be taking part in the A to Z blog challenge. It’s pretty simple: every day of the month make a blog post for each letter in sequence. So, in April, I’ll be posting 24 blog entries.

On what? Haven’t decided yet. Maybe topics from my fiction. Maybe flash-fiction stories. Maybe interesting informative subjects, maybe something else.

We’ll see.

If you’re interested in participating yourself, visit the A to Z challenge website. If you’ve got a preference about what you think I should post about, let me know in the comments below.

 

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Photo Credit: geishaboy500 via Compfight cc

Writing a killer short story

Someone on Reddit asked a question a few months ago, asking for advice on writing short stories. This was my response.

I’m a novelist, but I do write the occasional short. A short story is not a section of a novel, or a short condensed novel. They’re entirely different from the ground up, down to the base structural level.

Generally speaking, for most genres, a novel boils down to “Protagonist overcomes various difficulties to accomplish something, learning a lesson and growing as a person in the process.” Sometimes it’s “fails to learn something” or “fails to accomplish their goal” but the big story question often boils down to “do they experience the growth necessary to carry the day?”

In long form fiction this can be diagrammed out as:

  1. A sympathetic character
  2. Has a problem
  3. Goes through a try/fail cycle in an effort to overcome this problem
  4. Eventually has a crisis where everything comes together
  5. Carries the day through personal growth and revelation (or fails to)

This is not how short stories work. You don’t have time for a series of try/fail cycles, and the last part (victory or failure) is boring because there are only two options.

A short story is structured more like a joke. There’s a set-up that gives the reader the context they need to “get” the ending, and an ending that elicits an emotional response. The novel ending (success or failure, growth or stagnation) requires more set-up than the short can provide to be really satisfying.

This isn’t to say that strong conflict can’t work in a short. It can! It works great! But you need a bigger resolution than “does A overcome B or does B overcome A?”

You can write a story about the resolution of someone’s efforts if there’s another layer to it.

So. Endings that are satisfying:

  1. The ending exposes something previously hidden to the reader, like Charlton Heston escaping from his captors to discover that IT WAS EARTH ALL ALONG! The meat of the story is intended to misdirect the reader, but the surprise itself has to be logically consistent when considered after the fact. Just be careful to be fair to the reader… your revelation must make sense within the context of the set-up. Wacky random shit is unsatisfying.
  2. A character makes a difficult (and ideally unexpected) decision. Just make sure the choice isn’t an easy one. Make it a true dilemma. The surprise for the reader is what path the protagonist chooses. The meat of the story is the character working over and considering his options while outside forces attempt to sway him.
  3. A mystery or a puzzle story where the truth is worked out/revealed at the end. This is different from #1, above, because the story is about the attempt to solve the mystery itself, not a matter of misdirection. The meat of the story is the protagonist investigating, finding clues, etc, leading to an unexpected (but logical) solution.

So, for example, take a story about a man lost in the wilderness. A novel would track his internal journey as he lets go whatever holds him back and becomes someone new and capable of surviving and finding his way home.

A short story can’t set up the survival itself as a meaningful conflict (you don’t have the pages) so would use his attempts to survive to misdirect us from some truth (he is in a VR game gone wrong!), or to externalize a choice he needs to make (should he retreat from his failed relationship into hermitude or give his wife another chance?), or to give him the opportunity to figure out who stranded him and why (the butler did it!)

Every element and aspect of your story must support and advance every other part of your story. It has to be well orchestrated. Anything that doesn’t support the rest of the structure… anything that can be cut, should be cut.

That’s literally everything I know about short fiction, and it’s all opinion, and entirely subjective WHAT A TWIST!

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
whatissteampunk

So what is steampunk, anyway?

As an author of steampunk fiction, one of the most common questions I get in interviews is some variation on ‘What is steampunk?’ I’m going to give you an overview of the genre and the subculture it’s created.

Steampunk was created when cyberpunks discovered the color brown

So goes a common joke about the genre’s origins. It’s not too far from the truth.

The term itself dates back to a 1985 letter from author K.W. Jeter to Locus Magazine in which he sought a term to describe the Victorian fantasies he and fellow authors Tim Powers and James Blaylock were writing at the time.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up for a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock, and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like “steampunks” perhaps.

In modern use, Steampunk has become a full subgenre of fantasy and science fiction to describe works with the following traits:

  • Involves or invokes 19th century aesthetics
  • often set in an alternative Victorian or Edwardian era
  • often cross genre into fantasy or horror
  • incorporates retrofuturistic or anachronistic technologies

The first such work to be acknowledged as steampunk was William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s Difference Engine, but the genre reached a broader audience and media attention with films such as Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Earlier works have been retroactively christened steampunk, including HG Wells and Jules Vernes’ “Scientific Romances”, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and both the 1970 TV series Wild Wild West and the Will Smith movie of the same name.

How I discovered Steampunk

bartleby and james steampunk coverWhile I was familiar with most of the above works, I wasn’t personally really “into” steampunk until 2011 or so, when I became acquainted with Chicago’s occult Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, and the Terra Mysterium theatre troupe. My experiences inspired one of my earliest published novelettes, “And They Called Her Spider,” which grew into the novel Bartleby and James, was in turn successful enough to develop into the Galvanic Century steampunk mystery and thriller series.

Steampunk Beyond Books

Through Terra Mysterium and the Owen Society I was introduced to the DIY and Maker community aspect of steampunk, something that is itself far larger than its literary origins. There are steampunk-centric fashion lines, gadget manufacturers, and artists who take modern approaches to historical design elements, selling what they create at conventions and on etsy.

The fan community has grown around these makers, particularly at conventions like Teslacon, Steamcon, and the Steampunk World Faire.

Fine Art

There have even been several fine art exhibitions centered around the aesthetics of steampunk.

  • In 2006-2007  Kinetic Steam Works brought a working steam engine to Burning Man
  • In 2009 the Museum of History of Science at Oxford held the first major exhibition
  • In 2014 Phoenix, Arizona hosted Steampunk: The Exquisite Adventure

Commercial Exploitation of Steampunk

And of course, capitalism has made note of the movement’s success and made due effort to profit from it, with steampunk elements included in movies like Hellboy 2, Tai Chi Zero, and the recent Sherlock Holmes films, with TV shows like Warehouse 13, Tin Man, and Doctor Who, with video games from Myst and Riven to Dishonored and Bioshock.

As early as 2013, IBM’s consumer report was predicting a huge wave of consumer interest in the subgenre, and we’ve yet to see it peak.

Steampunk Controversies

One of the common criticisms levied against steampunk is that it’s almost aggressively anglo-centric in its depiction of the English upper-classes while glossing over less-romantic class struggle and colonial issues of the era. In recent years the ‘Punk’ in has seen more emphasis, with drives towards multiculturalism beyond England and Western Europe.

I’ve done what I can personally; while my first book in the Galvanic Century series, Bartleby and James, takes place entirely within London, later books take the action to the jungles of Mexico, the heart of the Ottoman Empire, the deserts of the southwestern United States, and the nascent Republic of China.

If you’re interested in checking some Steampunk out, I invite you to pick up Bartleby and James, the first book in the Galvanic Century series. If you enjoy it, you can get a free steampunk Novelette from the same series, Sky Pirates Over London, by signing up for my mailing list. Or just sign up for the list! The novelette stands well enough on its own.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Shadow Decade Kickstarter Postscript

I ran a kickstarter for Shadow Decade, my upcoming near-future science-fiction book series. Not to write it… it’s written… but to afford quality cover art.

Covers are important

Platitudes to the contrary, people judge books by their covers. That’s why covers exist… to attract readers looking for what you’ve got to offer. Buying a good cover is investing in your business.

I don’t have a lot of capital to invest — while I’ve been successful, I’m coming from nothing, so most of my income goes into basic living expenses… food, rent, bills. Whatever’s left goes right back into my books, but a good editor and quality covers can cost hundreds to thousands.

So: Kickstarter

I’ve run cover-art kickstarters twice in the past, first for Bartleby and James, then for Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. They did well, with Iron Horses funding to over 1000%. In exchange for their donations, readers can get advance copies, signed books, and other exclusives.

With Shadow Decade, I’m funding covers for the first three books in the series. How well did we do?

 

300%

We funded all the way to the first stretch goal, which is impressive considering the series doesn’t have any fans yet. Our funding level buys a commissioned cover for book 1 and stock art compositions for books 2 and 3. We’ll also be adapting the first book, Shadow Decade, for Burning Brigid Media’s Synesthesia Theatre audio drama podcast.

Thanks so much

Thanks to those who have enough faith in my writing to support my foray into a new genre. For those of you who missed the funding window but want to check out the books, you can either sign up for my mailing list and get a heads up when the books go on sale over the next few months, or donate to my Patreon to get a free copy upon release.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Photo Credit: geishaboy500 via Compfight cc

2015 in Review

As we reach the end of 2015, I can’t help but look back at the year that was, and wonder if I made the best use of my time.

Production

I released one novel this year, Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken, the sixth Galvanic Century book. I had originally planned on Of Steam and Samsara being the sixth and Iron Horses being the seventh, but various issues with Samsara led me back to Iron Horses.

Switching back and forth between books murders my productivity, so in the end Iron Horses didn’t get released until October.

Earlier in the year I’d started two other non-book projects. The first was a podcast, That Which is Known, a short weekly musing on different topics from the research I do for my books. TWIK lasted for 33 episodes until I decided that the time invested wasn’t worth the results I was seeing.

I also wrote the audio drama script Simple Harmonic Motion for the upcoming Synesthesia Theatre podcast, and the short story adaptation released on Amazon. I was happy with how this turned out.

We also adapted Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken into an audio drama, recorded it, and started on pre-production. It’ll be serialized through the podcast starting late next January or early next February.

I’ve also been writing the first three books in a new cyberpunk series, Shadow Decade. The first two have been written and revised, and the third is being written. Look for an early release for those next year, too.

Fundraising

I ran three kickstarters in 2015, two successful and one less so.

The unsuccessful kickstarter was for Burning Brigid Media’s webseries Sleep Study. We had a lot of backers and raised thousands, but it wasn’t enough to reach our goal. Web series are expensive, especially if you plan on paying everyone. Maybe after BBM has a bigger fanbase.

The Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken cover art kickstarter was far more successful, reaching 1000% of goal. We were able to afford a great cover for what I consider to be the best Galvanic Century book so far.

My third kickstarter, for the Shadow Decade series cover art, is ongoing, but we’ve already hit 150% of goal. It’s not too late to get in on that, so if you like cyberpunk, give it a look.

That was 2015

Four novels. One short. One audio-drama and the start of another.

I’m looking forward to see what I can manage in 2016.

 

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
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Shadow Decade Kickstarter

A new year is almost upon us and I have a new series in the works!

If I had to categorize myself by genre I wouldn’t call myself a steampunk author. I’ve written steampunk books, sure, but the question of “what makes a Michael Coorlim book” isn’t answered by gears and airships. Rather, I like to think that what makes one of my books explicitly mine is more a matter of rapid pacing, tight plotting, snappy dialog, and a certain set of themes.

Long-time readers will know that there are certain themes that come up frequently in my writing. Questions about the nature of reality itself. The notion of self. The psychological impact of violence upon both perpetrator and victim. And, ultimately, the fluidity and persistence of identity.

My books ask these questions because I ask these questions. Constantly. I find the subjective nature of reality to be fascinating in both concept and manifestation.

In my upcoming series Shadow Decade, due out in early 2016, I branch out into science fiction set ten years in the future. I’m tempted to call it cyberpunk due to some of the themes — trying to get by in a hostile corporate-driven world of greed and intolerance — but that pretty much describes the modern world pretty well. We even have self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses.

It’s not steampunk, but it’s written with much of the same wit and many of the same themes as my Galvanic Century books. I’m hoping that many of my current fans will be willing to give it a try.

The Big Expense: Cover Art

Writing a book is pretty cheap as long as you’re willing to put in the hours. The only big expenses are editing and cover art. While I can do my own covers without embarrassing myself too much, I vastly prefer to commission from freelancers. The results are better, my sales are better, and I get some needed work to another artist. Win win win.

My kickstarter for the Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken cover art was wildly successful, so I’ve opted to do it again… this time, for all three books in the Shadow Decade series, as I plan on releasing them only months apart. My goal is low… only the $100 it would take to acquire the stock art to composition a cover myself… but my stretch goals are all about paying someone more artistic to handle it for me.

How You Can Help

If you’re interested in the series or just want to help out, donate to the kickstarter. Donations encourage others to donate. And I think the rewards are pretty cool.

If you don’t want to or can’t afford to, that’s cool too. You can still give me a hand by sharing the kickstarter campaign to those you think would be interested. Share it in your social media networks, post it to communities you belong to, tell your friends.

I leave you with a simple question. If you’re planning to check out Shadow Decade, what appeals to you about it? Or, if you aren’t, what’s turning you away?

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Photo Credit: geishaboy500 via Compfight cc

Preliminary 2016 release schedule

The end of the year draws near, and I’m hard at work. If you follow the blog you know that I’ve got a novel I’d been working on for NaNoWriMo, but as this is my job I don’t just finish and then chill out for the rest of the year. After I finished writing the first draft, I put it aside for a month and start working on the next book.

I’m pretty ambitious in my publication schedule. As written, it assumes that I’m working a full-time 40 hour schedule, most of it writing, revising, and planning the next book. However, I acknowledge that things happen, life happens, and that there are many ways my ideal can get thrown askew.

So, while my plan is fairly meticulous, at this point I’m only revealing three potential releases in 2016. I hope to do more, and if it looks like that’s coming through I’ll mention it. As it is, here’s the minimal release schedule for next year.

Shadow Decade

 

 

 

Erica wakes up in 2025 with no memory of the past decade, only unanswered questions, mysterious skills, and sharply-honed reflexes. Her attempts to assimilate into the future with no contacts, no work history, and no resources are complicated by a series of attempts on her life.

Can she adapt to the harshness of a world with a permanent unemployed underclass and widespread environmental devastation long enough to uncover the mysteries of her own past, or will the attempts on her life succeed before she can learn the truth?

Minimum: My NaNoWriMo project is Cold Reboot, the first book in the Shadow Decade series of cyberpunk thrillers. The draft is being written this month, I’ll be editing it in December, and ideally seeing an early 2016 release.

Optimum: I’d like to release a few more books in the series this year, depending on how many unforeseen circumstances I have to wrangle and how well sales go. I spent last week plotting out book 2, Network Protocol.

Profane Apotheosis

 

Small towns can be built on big secrets. There’s a wall of silence around the car accident that put popular track star, salutatorian, and deacon’s daughter Lily Baker in a week-long coma and killed her best friend. The adults aren’t talking, her peers are whispering, and instead of memories all she has is survivor’s guilt.

When she goes looking for answers with local troublemaker and fellow adoptee Gideon Cermak, they find more than a conspiracy to keep things quiet – they find a supernatural secret that calls into question not only the trust Lily has placed in the adults in her life, but the very nature of reality itself.

I published Infernal Revelation last year as a serial. That’s not really where my strengths as a writer lie, so I wasn’t really happy with the result. I’ve unpublished it almost everywhere, though you can still buy the paperback if you go looking for it.

Minimum: I plan to rewrite and revise Infernal Revelation as a more cohesive novel to relaunch the Profane Apotheosis series, sometime in Summer 2016.

Optimum: If I’ve the time I’d like to publish Dark Exodus, the second in the series, as well.

Galvanic Century

While Alton and Aldora are off in America, James and his adopted daughter Xian visit scenic Belgium for the 1913 World Expo. Geopolitical forces conspire to make this vacation less than restful as the forces of Germany and France square off over the issue of space travel as the precursor to a conflict that will shortly envelop the globe. Can the engineer stave off World War for one more year?

Lighter than Aether will be the eighth Galvanic Century book. Look for a late 2016 release.

Other Releases

Alongside the novels, watch for the launch of the Synesthesia Theatre podcast in January, beginning with the audio drama adaptation of Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. You can learn more about that over at the Burning Brigid Media website.

Also look forward to some RPG releases over at Last Minute GM — something about the near future, and something about the ancient past.

Keep up-to-date on these and other projects of mine by signing up for my mailing list.

Which of these releases are you interested in? Which do you suppose you’ll pass on?

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo Postscript

This year I partook in National Novel Writing Month for the first time because November 1st coincided with the time I was set to start writing the first book in my new near-future sci-fi series, Cold Reboot.

It’s the story of Erica, a woman who finds herself ten years older with no memory of how she spent the last decade, no record of her activities, and no clues other than the scars she seems to have picked up along the way. Can she adapt to this cold new world in time to figure out why people keep trying to kill her?

It’s a story about poverty and desperation, about people doing the best they can, about adaptability, identity, and the persistence of memory. It’s about trauma and our sense of self. It’s about the way the world flows, and the likely future we’re facing in 2025.

That was some of the most fun, I think, researching futurist predictions of the next decade and extrapolating from that. I tried to take a middle-of-the-road approach, neither overly cynical nor blindly optimistic, in describing a future that will come to meet us if we continue along our current path.

The Process

NaNoWriMo challenges entrants to write 50,000 words in a single month. That sounds like a lot, but to someone who writes full time it really isn’t, especially for a first draft. First drafts are light, breezy, easy… it’s the revisions that are the work.

In fact, that was a bit of a trick, for me. See, I write in layers. The first layer is the story’s structure. The bones. The bare “what happens” in a lean and economical style. I get the basic of story down without concern for the quality of my prose.

The second pass is the meat. I add substance. Subplots. Fleshed out lines of conversation.

Third pass is the surface, the skin, the chrome. I make everything pretty. Tidy it up.

Point is, my manuscript grows with each revision. I trim away the excess, but I add quite a bit as well. And that means that my first drafts — what I write for NaNoWriMo — are light. For Cold Reboot, it barely reached 50,000 words. By the time I’m done with my revisions it’ll probably come in at 60-80,000 words.

But that’s later.

Now, during December, Cold Reboot is going to sit and marinate and do its thing in the back of my head while I write the sequel. Then, in January, I’ll revise the book, get it ready, and — beta-readers willing — release it.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.