Month: June 2018

More Smashing!

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I left the 4th Street Fantasy panel In Consideration of Smashing Things, and What Follows ruminating over a couple of topics that felt incomplete. Listening to the remaining panels and speaking with other members provided me with insight about the writing of violence, training, and agency.

One of the questions asked was how to relay people’s thoughts and feelings in the moment of violence of the type they trained for repeatedly. My response to the question from the Smashing Things panel is that you can’t. You can’t afford to be in your head at that moment. The reason you train repetitively is so that you have muscle memory and don’t think.

In software design, people often approach with a problem and an idea of how to solve it. Phrasing the question as “How do you relay what the character is feeling in the moment of violence?” is a leading question that provides the solution. However, knowing what the character is feeling isn’t the underlying problem. The desire is a symptom of knowing something is missing from the story. The reader wants a rich, layered experience.

Max Gladstone answered how to provide the experience in the Rebuilding the Mystery: Rejecting Rules for Magic panel. One of his examples dealt with the impact of being truly named. He set up the knowledge of naming beforehand so that when the naming happened, the reader understood the weight. Explaining the dangers prior to an event gives the reader better understanding of the experience when the dangers do occur.

After setting up the violence, and enacting it, characters react to it. The immediate response should be small and not debilitate the character enough to survive the situation (as long as the goal is for them to survive the situation). I have an inbuilt delay for strong emotions. Other veterans I speak to report this as well. One to two days later, the weight of situations can hit us. If possible, we will go to a private place and break down. Seeking solitude comes from being shamed about crying or taunted to cry.

During a discussion on basic training, I boldly asserted I hadn’t read a civilian yet who adequately captured the spirit of basic training. My stated purpose of basic training was to strip soldiers down physically and mentally to rebuild them as people capable of doing their job while others are trying to kill them. I questioned the value of having the basic training sequences. Fully capturing the extent of the transformation with words could be difficult.

After the panel, I prodded people for their opinions of the value of the training sequence and received the following reasons; to set up a future danger, to show competence, character development, and to show esprit de corps.

One misconception about basic training is that it is the only training a soldier receives. There are four types of training; basic training, occupational training, on the job training after arriving at a duty station, and continual training to maintain deployment readiness.

Experiences at a duty station are the most likely place where the real understanding of the dangers will occur. There soldiers learn the job they will do after deployment. Compare what people learn in school versus what they learn after getting their first job. Even in the same force, and the same job title, different people use different weapons, vehicles, and techniques. Consider John Appel who was on the panel with me. We were both Army, but as a scout his job had him advancing. My job required me to defend a position. The variety of vehicles used by people with my former job varied from none to trucks to planes to ships. The shorter duration of those incidents or training sessions also reduces the risk of generating infodumps.

Writing training isn’t necessary to demonstrate competence. The initial assault executed in Starship Troopers displays the characters’ capability to perform military actions.

Character development could occur at any of the levels of training. Think about what specific development your character needs to determine where it happens.

The sense of being part of a team begins in basic. However, shared experiences after arriving at a duty station or being deployed cement the bonding. Except for one other soldier, I never saw or heard from anyone in basic training again. Approximately 10% of my language training class joined me at the same duty station. Infantry units exist that train together for basic and vocational training and end up at the same base. A couple of scenarios could make a similar model difficult for other unit types; units with varied jobs, and units with specialized skills. In most cases, team bonding takes place at a duty station or while deployed.

The discussed goals for training scenes can all take place at duty stations. Basic training sequences still contain the potential for fulfillment of those goals. However, depictions of basic training carry a high risk of being disbelieved by readers with a military background. Decide who your audience is and the work you want a given scene to do.

Having only an hour for panels causes some topics to remain undiscussed. Authors often give soldiers incorrect agency or they introduce a theme I call, “Praise the Private!”

In books, soldiers disobey orders with no impact. Generally, soldiers do not have the agency to willfully disobey lawful orders. Soldiers receive punishment for disobeying lawful orders. They know the risk before choosing to disobey. Books often gloss over this when the soldier did something for the benefit of everyone, and it worked out. Even if a soldier did something necessary, that soldier should still receive some level of punishment. Soldiers who disobey orders understand the cost beforehand, decide to do it anyway, and then pay the price. The Black Company by Glen Cook contains an excellent example of this kind of agency. Croaker knows he is disobeying orders, he disobeys anyway, and Cook shows Croaker receiving the punishment.

So how is it that soldiers perform illegal acts or disobey orders without consequence? These acts are possible given environmental factors; ability to act in secret, being buddies with the figure in charge, or a figure in charge that doesn’t care. Listing all of the possibilities isn’t practical. When writing a character that disobeys orders without consequence, describe the environment that facilitates this result beforehand.

Another trope from books happens when a lower level enlisted (often a private) figures out something that no one else could have possibly figured out and saves the day. The overall commanding officers (often colonel or above) visit the private at his unit and shower him with praise and a significant reward. I used the pronoun he because thus far all books I’ve read employed this trope exclusively with men main characters. A commanding officer visiting a private at the private’s unit is to praise him personally is extremely unlikely. The private is more likely to get kudos from his team, and maybe a medal.

The small nature and intimacy of 4th Street Fantasy facilitates conversation and thought. Listening to panels and having discussions with other members clarified elusive thoughts. I look forward to learning more from the discussion next year.

Thank you everyone who put the con together and everyone who let me eavesdrop and absorb.

Related: Traits of (Wo)men SoldiersWriting Military with Women

4th Street Fantasy 2018 Book List

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4th Street Fantasy panels provide a list books pertinent to the discussion.

All the Things We Do That Aren’t Smashing Things

Mary Robinette Kowal, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Chelsea Polk, Abra Staffin Wiebe, John Wiswell (M)

  • Witchmark by C. L. Polk
  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
  • The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Homer
  • Orbital Resonance by John Barnes
  • Lifelode by Jo Walton
  • Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit
  • Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
  • Sector General (series) by James White
  • Dick Francis
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Pacific edge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Maxx (comic book series) by Sam Kieth
  • Mad Max: Fury Road

In Consideration of Smashing Things, and What Follows

John Appel, Tim Boerger (M), Aimee Kuzenski, Sloane Talest, Blair Woodall

  • Schlock Mercenary (web comic) by Howard Tayler
  • Born to the Blade (series) by Marie Brennan, Cassandra Khaw, Malka Older, and Michael R. Underwood
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  • Tremontaine by Ellen Kushner
  • Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (series) by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • On Killing by Dave Grossman
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (series) by George R. R. Martin
  • The Black Company by Glen Cook
  • A Small Colonial War by Robert Frezza
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • Robert A. Heinlein
  • Marko Kloos
  • The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Stranger by Rachel Brown and Sherwood Smith
  • Cold Iron by Stina Leich
  • Ash : A Secret History by Mary Gentle
  • Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams
  • City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams
  • The Divine Cities (trilogy) by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Emberverse (series) by S. M. Stirling
  • The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  • A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Borderline by Mishell Baker
  • Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers
  • Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
  • Jerry Pournelle

Rebuilding the Mystery: Rejecting Rules for Magic

Casey Blair (M), Max Gladstone, Chelsea Polk, Caroline Stevermer, Django Wexler

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Mistborn (series) by Brandon Sanderson
  • Hercules stories by various authors
  • Superman (comic series) by various creators
  • The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Wheel of Time (series) by Robert Jordan
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Fritz Leiber
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
  • Thor myths by various authors
  • Dragon Ball Z (anime) by Akira Toriyama
  • Teller Speaks!  about the neuroscience of magic
  • Witchmark by C. L. Polk
  • The Compleat Enchanter by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp
  • Miscellaneous urban fantasy books
  • Spider-man (comic series) by Marvel Comics

The Craft of Cutting Out: Using Reductive and Restrictive Tools

John Chu, Mary Robinette Kowal (M), Arkady Martine, Caroline Stevermer

  • Clarkesworld Magazine
  • The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson
  • The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
  • “Uncleftish Beholding” by Poul Anderson
  • Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “Sometimes Writers Block is really Depression” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede
  • The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford

You Don’t Own Me: Concepts of Freedom in the Work of John M. Ford

Pamela Dean, Marissa Lingen, Elise Matthesen (M), Teresa Nielsen Hayden

  • Web of Angels
  • The Last Hot Time
  • Heat of Fusion and Other Stories
  • How Much for Just the Planet?
  • The Princes of the Air
  • The Dragon Waiting
  • Stories from the shared world of Liavek
  • Growing Up Weightless
  • The Final Reflection
  • The Scholars of Night

Complicity and Consequence in Interactive Narrative: Press ‘D’ to Feel Guilty!

Max Gladstone (M), Scott Lynch, Cat Manning, John Wiswell

  • Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
  • Dungeons & Dragons
  • Monopoly
  • Hotline Miami
  • Wing Commander 3
  • Only You Can Save Mankindby Terry Pratchett
  • Serial Cleaner
  • Tropico
  • Shrouded Isle
  • Prison Architect
  • This War of Mine
  • A Russian Valentine by empty fortress
  • Life is Strange
  • Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
  • Batman by DC Comics
  • Shadowrun: Dragonfall
  • Bioshock
  • Pathologic
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Mass Effect
  • Knights of the Old Republic
  • Fallout
  • Save One More
  • Papers Please
  • Frostpunk
  • Richard III by William Shakespeare
  • Choice of the Deathless
  • Long Live the Queen
  • “The House at the End of the Lane is Dreaming” by A. Merc Rustad
  • Harmonia by Liza Daly
  • Will Not Let Me Go
  • Sword Art Online
  • Tyranny
  • Subnautica


Talking Across Ten Thousand Years

John Appel, Elizabeth Bear, Casey Blair, Marissa Lingen (M), Patrick Nielsen Hayden


Who Put This $#@!! Balrog Lair in the Middle of a Sewer Line? (Alternate Title: Life in the Temporary Topmost Layer)

Elizabeth Bear, Ben Kinney, Arkady Martine(M), Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Vivian Shaw

  • Elizabeth Bear
    • Stone Mad
    • Ancestral Night
    • The Red-Stained Wings
  • Skies of Wonder, Skies of Danger (anthology) by John Appel and more
  • Tea Princess Chronicles by Casey Blair
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
  • Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn
  • Pern books by Anne McCaffery
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
  • Darmok : Star Trek: The Next Generation episode
  • Harlan Jay Ellison
  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  • Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
  • Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
  • Against a Dark Background by Iain Banks
  • Gateway novels by Frederik Pohl
  • “History Lesson” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
  • The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • 40,000 in Gehenna by C. J. Cherryh
  • Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh
  • Heechee Rendezvous by Frederik Pohl

The second panel potentially started here.

  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Thud! by Terry Pratchett
  • The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
  • The Doctrine of Labyrinths (series) by Sarah Monette
  • Hellblazer (comic series) by Vertigo Comics
  • Forerunner by Andre Norton
  • Gentleman Bastard (series) by Scott Lynch
  • Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear
  • The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper
  • Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd
  • Hild by Nicola Griffith
  • Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly
  • Tithe by Holly Black
  • Zero History by William Gibson

Literally Killing Figurative Characters

Stella Evans, Scott Lynch (M), Ginger Weil, Vivian Shaw

  • The Wheel of Time (series) by Robert Jordan
  • Transformers (movie)
  • The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher
    • The White Mountains
    • The City of Gold and Lead
    • The Pool of Fire
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
  • The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
  • Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
  • Misery by Stephen King
  • Rocket Man (TV series)
  • Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw
  • James Bond (series) by Ian Fleming
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • For Better or For Worse (comic strip) by Lynn Johnston
  • 87th Precinct (series) by Ed McBain
  • Bitter End by Rex Stout
  • The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Horatio Hornblower (series) by C. S. Forester
  • Lord Peter Wimsey (series) by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Jenny Casey (series) by Elizabeth Bear
    • Hammered
    • Scardown
    • Worldwired
  • Sherlock Holmes (series) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Teen Wolf (TV Series)
  • Poirot (series) by Agatha Christie
    • Ariadne Oliver (character)
  • Spenser (series) by Robert B. Parker
  • The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant by Jeffrey Ford
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • “Umney’s Last Case” by Stephen King
  • The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
  • DC Comics
  • Marvel Comics
  • Pegasus by Robin McKinley
  • Melanie Rawn
  • The Architect of Sleep by Steve Boyett
  • The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey by Patrick O’Brian
  • The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander (book vs movie)
  • Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
  • FixitFic

Grim Times, Bright Tidings

John Chu, Alex Haist (M), Jennifer Mace, Reuben Poling, Paul Weimer

  • Be the Serpent (podcast)
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Iron Council by China Miéville
  • William Shakespeare
    • King Lear
    • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Urinetown (musical) by Greg Kotis
  • Hadestown (album) by Anaïs Mitchell
  • Fallout: Equestria by Kkat
  • Steven Universe (animated series) by Cartoon Network
  • The Green Dark Sea ?
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • Star Trek
  • “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin
  • 42nd Street
  • The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey
  • The Steel Seraglio Paperback by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (series) by George R. R. Martin
  • The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
  • A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Marvel Comics
  • Mike Birbiglia (comedian)

But That’s a Different Panel: Something Lives Beyond the Last Page

  • Becky Chambers
    • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
    • A Closed and Common Orbit
  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Thomas Love Peacock
  • The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
  • The Dagger and the Coin (series) by Daniel Abraham
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Bone Universe (series) by Fran Wilde
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  • The Laundry Files (series) by Charles Stross
  • A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell
  • X-Files (TV series)

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To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name? – ESP Workshop Notes

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ESP’s June 2018 workshop focused on pen names.

What are reasons some people use a pen name?

  • Genre considerations – Working across different genres
    • Writing in science fiction, fantasy and horror with one name isn’t uncommon
      • Dan Simmons
      • Stephen King
    • Different pen names are recommended for romance erotica.
      • I have a theory, the negative impact of that may be more on the romance side than the speculative fiction because of the HEA/HFN pledge.
  • Privacy
    • The desire to keep your personal life separate from your public persona
    • Writings might impact your other job
      • You work with children and write adult content
    • Don’t want your personal opinions to be affiliated with your books
  • Common real name
    • Smith, Johnson, etc
  • Famous person already has your name
  • Infamous person already has your name
    • Imagine writing children’s literature with the name Lizzie Borden
  • You don’t like your name
    • Ordinary name
    • Unusual name
    • Often mispronounced
    • You just don’t like it
  • Gender
    • Your genre accepts a specific gender more readily
  • Ethnicity
    • Changing your name to closer match your ethnicity
      • Assuming an ethnic name of an ethnicity you are not specifically to sell to that market is considered not acceptable
  • Adopt a different personility
  • Branding
    • Match your genre better

Potential complications

  • Using the wrong name
    • Difficulties increase with multiple pen names
  • Taking on a different persona
    • Trying to keep the persona straight
  • Multiple pen names, people finding your work
  • Being discovered/discredited especially if using an ethnicity not of your own
  • Building a brand for multiple names
  • Getting paid, doing business as (endorsements)

Ways of picking a pen name

  • Baby name lists
    • Often have meanings of names
  • Random name generators
  • Put letters together and sound it out
  • Pick a noun
  • Base on another language
  • Pick from a language you created

What do to do after picking a name or list of names

  • Google it
    • Are there any meanings you don’t want to be associated with
    • Is it more common than you want
  • Read it to yourself
    • How does it read?
  • Read it aloud
    • Does it pronounce smoothly?
  • Have a friend read it to you
  • Check what domain names are available

After picking a name, register a domain name. Even if you don’t plan on building a platform immediately. Waiting to purchase a domain name gives others a chance to register it before you.





Scene – MSP Workshop Notes

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  • Each scene is a micro-story in itself containing:
    • Purpose
    • An inciting incident
    • Tension
    • Conclusion
  • Starting a scene
    • Launching a scene
      • characters
      • action
      • narrative
      • setting
    • Vary the beginning of scenes just like you vary your sentence structure.
    • Starting with dialog
      • Sacrifices grounding
        • Ground your readers as soon as possible after the dialog
      • Adds energy
      • Could be too much tension up front
        • How can you escalate tension?
  • The middle of a scene has one of three things:
    • Withhold
    • Element of danger
    • Reveal
  • Tension and plot
    • Scenes can be used to establish the status quo as a set up break the status quo.
    • The Jim Butcher model states that scenes are an action or reaction.
    • A scene exists if it in some way shape or form advances the story.
    • Use Want -> But -> Therefore for advancement of the story.
    • Scenes contain cause and effect that help advance a plot.
  • The first scene
    • is the most important scene because people who aren’t familiar with your work are going to buy or not buy your book on that scene.
    • is a promise to your reader how the end of the book is going to hack their brain.
  • The last scene
    • For novels, the last scene should end on a reaction.
    • For short stories, the last scene should end on an action.
  • General
    • Suggested one scene per chapter
    • The entrance or exit is relative to where the scene before it ends and after it begins.
    • Dwell on important stuff
      • The specific things you focus on will set the readers mindset.
    • Establish stakes or goals
      • Your character should have a goal.
  • What a scene is not
    • Infodump
      • The whole point of the scene is to reveal information
      • This is different than a “reveal” similar to “Luke I am your father!”
    • Dialog only
    • Often transportation to the scene is included when not necessary.
  • What is your favorite scene?
    • Awkward character meetings
    • Scenes that are descriptive and seminal for the character
      • Catniss going into the arena
  • Recommended books or resources