Category Archives: Production Notes

Hero Historia 5 Years On

Back in 2014 I wrote a work of fiction called Hero Historia. It was intended to be an alternate history superhero web serial spanning the course of human events from prehistory to the modern era. Each story arc was to span twelve weekly episodes, and be largely self-contained.

The first season, Jericho Rising, told the story of Clay, a young hunter from the Bear Clan as he comes of age in a world of savage warfare between Clan champions imbued with the power of their totem spirits.

The second season, Aea Watched, is set in ancient Sumer where a young girl comes to terms with the notion that she may be a god – or a demon.

There was no season 3.

Why not? Busy with other things, mostly. And Hero Historia wasn’t getting the traction I wanted. I went on to write Cold Reboot, the first book in my Shadow Decade cyberpunk series.

Anyway, point is I ran across the stories again and gave them a read. Funny the way distance makes them unfamiliar, like something someone else wrote. In a way, it was, but the other person was someone I used to be, writing with five fewer years of experience.

That said, it wasn’t bad. I’ve taken the liberty of uploading the first two as they are to a few online web serial sites – Wattpad, Royal Road – and I’m considering working up a third season.

I like writing serial fiction. I think the internet’s a great medium for it. Maybe I can get more traction with it this time.

If you’d like to read the first two seasons – Jericho Rising and Aea Watched – as ebooks, $3+ supporters on Patreon can download them as .epub or .mobi files.

Cover Reveal: Lighter than Aether

At the end of September I’ll be releasing my 7th Galvanic Century book, Lighter than Aether. Here’s the cover I’ve commissioned from French artist Edouard Noisette:

There’s still quite a bit to do before publication – a final round of manuscript edits, setting up some marketing, both for the book and for my guest appearance at the Chicago Steampunk Expo. As such, and to recoup some of the production costs, I’m running a kickstarter as I have for books in the past.

Kickstarter

The rewards are pretty simple – ebook or paperback copies of either the new book or all seven Galvanic Century titles.

  • $5 – Limited Edition Backer Ebook
  • $15 – Paperback Copy
  • $25 – All the Galvanic Century eBooks
  • $25 – Signed Paperback
  • $100 – All the Paperbacks
  • $200 – All the Paperbacks, signed

More interesting, perhaps, are some of the stretch goals:

  • $800: I commission additional interior art from the cover artist.
  • $2500: I polish up Murder By Clockwork into a professional caliber interactive fiction piece.
  • $5000: Burning Brigid Media produces Lighter than Aether as a full cast audio drama, like we did with Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. Only this time, everybody gets paid industry standard rates.

So there you have it. Want to help me finish this sucker up? Donate to the kickstarter.

Retrogaming: 1977

As I mentioned, I’ve been making videos on classic games for each platform for each year. I decided to start with 1977 as the launch year of the Atari VCS, even though it’s not really one of my own gaming memories – while I had a 2600 as a kid, these games came out the year before I was born.

Arcade Games

The first things that strikes me is the lack of color. But don’t let that fool you – with a lot of these games, the color was part of the screen overlay and not the digital display.

The games are otherwise as simple as you’d expect, mechanically speaking. There’s usually one primary control scheme that serves as the focus of each game – something admirable, really, though implementation varies quite a bit.

Depth Charge and Destroyer are the most complex games, and the ones I found the most fun.

Atari VCS

Now these games I was more familiar with. By the time I was old enough to understand even simple games, it was the mid-eighties and you could find most of these at garage sales for under a dollar… I remember the Atari 2600 – what the VCS was called after 1982 – being sold in stores for $25.

They were old even then, though – it wasn’t too long before the next generation games were coming. Air Sea Battle and Combat were the ones I recall best, though the others feel familiar enough that I’m sure I played them at least once or twice.

I find it difficult to really call any of these games a favorite, though if I had to I’d probably say “one of the games that can be played single-player.” Many of them can’t be, which is unsurprising but a consideration that doesn’t really have as much weight in 2019. Made them difficult to evaluate solo, which is the whole point of the Classic Games video series – content I can produce on my lonesome.

Plans for 2017

No plan survives contact with the enemy, but here’s what I’m currently working on, and a very rough estimate as to when they’ll be released.

Novels

Network Protocol, the second book in the cyberpunk thriller Shadow Decade series and follow-up to Cold Reboot, is at the tail end of revisions. It’s taken about a year to get this out, partially because the unexpected results of the 2016 election changed some of my predictions about the way things are going to go – one of the hazards in writing near-future science fiction. Fortunately many of the changes were merely cosmetic – Erica’s story remains a mostly personal one, but the context she finds herself in is important.

Planned Release: February 2017

Open Proxy, the third book in the Shadow Decade series, exists largely as a set of notes and chapter fragments at this point. Still, all that really remains is taking the time to actually write it down as a draft. Barring further unexpected developments it’s entirely possible to see a release this year.

Planned Release: Late Summer 2017

The seventh Galvanic Century book is also in the works, following James’s adventures while Bartleby has been across the pond during the events of 2015’s Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. All that I’ll reveal at the moment is that it involves the World Expo, the Belgian Congo, and a steampunk space race.

Expected Release: 4th Quarter 2017

Audiodrama

Synesthesia Theatre‘s second season, the adaptation of the cyberpunk novel Cold Reboot, wraps up this February. The story for season 3 is under development, and we may see some shorter works – mini-series and one-offs – from guest authors in 2017. The next full season will have to wait a bit, however, until we can afford to produce it – the podcast isn’t cheap, and doesn’t bring in any sort of direct income. If you’d like to help get it into production more quickly, I encourage you to fund Burning Brigid Media’s Patreon campaign .

Taoscordian Games

I’ve been working on a Galvanic Century setting book compatible with the Fate role-playing game, covering the setting as presented by the novels. It’s part fictional-almanac, part author’s notes, and part genre guide to playing in a world of steampunk mysteries and adventures. If you’re a gamer, it’ll give you what you need to play games set in the world of the books. If not, it’ll be a reference to the books, including some details and story elements that were not explicitly spelled out in the novels. If there’s demand, I may write a follow-up book on the pseudoscience of the setting, or drill down deeper into some of the settings and personages.

Expected Release: Mid-2017

Hexbox and Ibu: The Emerald Canopy have sold well enough to warrant continuing with other Dungeons and Dragons 5e compatible hexcrawl sandbox setting books, so I’ll try to release another one or two in that line. I may release more in-depth information on the amphibious Katak, or write up rules for establishing a colony on the jungle’s coast. There’s a list, I’ll do some focus testing, see what people find the most exciting.

Expected Release: Late 2017

Other Projects:

I plan on continuing the Twitch streams I started to do late last year, walking viewers through my creative process as I write my books, edit audio, and design games. The goal, currently, is to set a pattern of doing these streams on a regular basis three times a week. If enough people subscribe or donate, I may do it more often, and for longer periods of time. If you want to see me do what I do while explaining it, maybe check it out.

Resource Allocation Error is a cyberpunk poverty simulator set in the world of the Shadow Decade novels. In it, the players find themselves at the bottom economic rung in a world ravaged by economic disruption, rampant unemployment, and endless automation, while trying to survive by finding a job or less savory means. This is a back-burner long-term game development project that isn’t likely to see an actual release soon, but supporters of my Patreon will get playtest copies at various states of development.

And that’s it, for now:

  • 1Q 2017: Network Protocol
  • 2Q 2017: Open Proxy, Synsthesia Theatre Season 3,
  • 3Q 2017: Galvanic Century Fate Setting Book
  • 4Q 2017: Galvanic Century Book 7, Hexbox Release
  • 2018: Resource Allocation Error official release

You can get a good view of my progress on each of these projects by supporting my Patreon, copies of everything as it’s released, and pre-release versions of a lot of it. We’re currently at $46/month – once we hit $50, I’ll start doing a regular development diary/author note podcast where I talk about what I’m working on, what I’ve been researching, and just about anything else that comes to mind. So yeah. Big things.

The Heartbreak of Short Fiction Paralysis

The better I understand the structure and format of short fiction, the harder I find it to write.


I started writing not too long after I started reading. Kindergarten, maybe first grade. And, of course, I started with short fiction in the style of the stories I most liked to read, twisty “O. Henry” style works with unexpected twists at the end, usually with some element of the horrific.

I don’t remember much about what I read back in the 80s, but I do remember that my grandparents had big books of short horror stories, haunted houses, aliens, creatures from the swamp. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” I think. Along with a lot of Hardy Boys books in burlap-colored covers, but this post is about shorts so we’ll stick to that.

In my adolescence I read a lot of Stephen King. I’ve always preferred his short fiction; I think he has less room to meander and wander off the plot, so the endings are never as unsatisfying as his novels can on occasion be. I think King is one of my favorite short fiction authors, and that probably informed my early efforts more than a little.

Anyway.

I’d never written a novel, nor seriously attempted one, when I began self-publishing in 2011. Accordingly, my first few ebooks – “Apocalypse Party,” “Oh Human Child,” “And They Called Her Spider,” “Maiden Voyage of the Rio Grande,” “On the Trail of the Scissorman” under my own name and a bunch of others under pen names – were shorts in the 5-10k word range. They gradually got longer and longer until I was writing short novels with March of the Cogsmen and from that point onward, I didn’t really go back to shorts.

I’ve thought about it. I’ve read about it. And as I’ve grown more comfortable with the elbow room that a novel provides, I’ve found that I am less able to just whip off a short story. Why?

Well. If you google it, you’ll find that there are two basic camps regarding what a short story even is.

  1. A short story is basically a short novel but uses the same basic structure.
  2. No it isn’t.

The more I think about novel structure and the way I write, the more I find myself in the second camp. My current belief, sure to change given enough time, is that a short story’s format lies somewhere between a poem and a joke. There’s a set-up, there’s a punch-line, though it doesn’t have to be funny. You’re just trying to evoke something. The telling of the story, primary to the novel, becomes a servant of that something you’re trying to evoke.

In a humorous or horrifying story the something is subversion of expectation, either to delight or terrify the reader. In other stories, you’re not necessarily trying to subvert, but you still need that set up to give the punch-line its “oomph.”

So yeah. I don’t know. I find that a short can take a lot more thought, consideration, and planning to “work” to my design specifications. My standards are higher than my experience can deliver. So I sit here, working on my novels and not writing short stories, until I can figure out how.

Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken Finishes Its Audio Run

The audio drama serial anthology podcast Synesthesia Theatre has finished its run of the adaptation of my Galvanic Century novel, Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. With the release of its eleventh part, the steampunk western draws to a close.

Iron Horses Can't Be Broken has become an audio dramaWhy Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken?

Out of all of the Galvanic Century novels, Iron Horses was best suited for an adaptation for two reason. First of all, while all of the books are written to stand more or less on their own, Iron Horses is exceptionally self-contained. Secondly, most of the accents involved are American, making casting the parts from Chicago’s pool of professional indie film and theatre actors a lot simpler.

It’s been a long run, from January until now, and I hope that those who’ve listened have enjoyed it. If you haven’t been listening, you can now start with episode 1 and binge your way all the way through.

What’s Next?

ColdReboot600x900After an episode or two of cast interviews we’re going to be launching into our second season, a 9-part adaptation of the cyberpunk thriller Cold Reboot. If you’ve read the book, you know that the themes are more adult and the language is stronger, as fits the setting.

After that? Well. Depends on our funding. We give away these episodes free, don’t have any sponsors, and this podcast is expensive to produce. When you add up hosting costs, accounting fees, feeding the cast, transportation, and all the other little material costs, Synesthesia Theatre has cost us in the neighborhood of $2000. All that comes out of pocket.

We may have to take a hiatus after Cold Reboot until we can afford a third season. If you don’t want to wait, you can help by pledging a dollar or two to Synesthesia Theatre’s Patreon. Every little bit helps, and you can unlock cool exclusive bonuses ranging from early episode access to our blooper reels.

It’s not very much money – a few dollars per month – and it really helps us out.

Thanks.

Experimentation Gone Wrong

I’ve been writing novels professionally for four-and-a-half years now, and I’m constantly trying new things to improve my craft. Sometimes this means a new sort of project, like the audio drama adaptations I produce through Burning Brigid Media. Sometimes it’s a new process. Sometimes these experiments result in a smoother workflow, and sometimes… not so much.

Generally speaking I do a lot of planning before I start writing, drilling down to the scene-by-scene level, plotting out the story in minutia. I’ve never been able to write a novel by the seat of my pants. I get lost and confused, huddling into the corner until a friendly adult comes to find me.

Hypothesis

Still, I’ve often wondered if the degree of planning I had to do was a genuine part of my creative process, or a crutch that was keeping me back.

Procedure

NetworkProtocolPreviewWhen embarking on Network Protocol, sequel to the cyberpunk thriller Cold Reboot, I decided to take a slightly looser structure, planning chapter-by-chapter instead of scene-by-scene.

Now, I usually don’t even think about chapters until the last round of revisions. To me they’re less a unit of storytelling than a tool to control a reader’s pacing. Something to make it difficult for someone to put the book down. Readers don’t like to stop reading mid-chapter, so if your chapters end on a crisis point with high tension, they might talk themselves into reading just a little bit more.

However, in the interest of science, I decided to use the chapters as the smallest unit of planning, writing 2-3 chapters in my outline to describe what happened in each.

Results

No matter how I chose to envision the story while plotting, scenes still exist. I still had to write them, only I approached them without a clear idea of what I was going to write. This is, I believe, what they call “pantsing.”

It… did not go well.

fail

While there were a few moments that provided me with delightful “in the moment” sort of surprises, in general I found that I entered each scene without any tactical sense of what the characters were going to do. I had to make it up as I went along, and ended up with some irrational plans and illogical outcomes.

Or, in other words, scenes that I will have to completely re-write when I do my revisions. Easy to fix, but time consuming, extending the time it’ll take me to finish Network Protocol by 200-300%.

So. What have we learned?

Conclusion

I can’t pants. Scene-by-scene plotting is just part of the way I work, and I don’t need to worry too much about trying to evolve past this. If it happens, it happens, but what I do is effective, and I should stick to that.

For now.

How about you? What have you tried and failed, and what has it taught you? Answer in the comments below.