Psychic powers

My last post was pretty heavy. So, to balance things out, this one’s going to be more pow-pow-bang-bang-explode. Sort of. It’s about coolness. And while magic is cool to fantasy readers, it’s not cool to sci fi purists who can’t stand fantasy’s stigma. So I thought I’d talk about my thought-and-design process for Jess’ psychic powers.

Thus far, the only one I could really nail down into place was that she could read minds. In a setting where people can shoot lightning and shape the very ground and fling fireballs and fly, reading minds is a bit tame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool power. But I don’t want her having just that one power.

Now, the big thing about designing stories wherein characters have super powers, is how to ramp the tension up. You can make them all-powerful, but then you have to challenge the character in other ways. Personal conflict is one method, and there’s probably other ways. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is designing powers, be they magic or radiation-given or whatever. Think comic book stuff. But a bit more literary (just not so much “Literary” though).

The powers I’ve (finally) settled on her having are mind reading, telekinesis, invisibility and teleportation. What I have to do is define how she gets them all (it’s a bug in her head (spoiler aleart)) and figure out what they can and can’t do, along with how they grow in power and the consequences of having them, having them grow, and what their cost is.

For mind reading, it’s always active, and she has to focus to keep thoughts out of her head. It’s like Professor Xavier in Days of Future Past – he stays in an abandoned school because it means he doesn’t have to hear all the thoughts. He takes a drug that suppresses that power; if he stops taking it, it makes him go crazy from stress. Somehow it gives him his legs back, even though it was a bullet to the spine that took those away, at least in the previous movie. But that’s getting into semantics. Jess can read minds, first one at a time then many. It’s like a muscle – they’re all like a muscle – in that it requires either repetition or drugs to ‘bulk up’. Difference is she doesn’t need a drug to shut it off. The power is in her all along, like some kind of message fiction. Or maybe she could need drugs to turn it off. When it gets more powerful, that could certainly be a plot point. In fact, I like that. It would be a suppressant and it wouldn’t heal injuries, but it’s an idea. See, Catalyst, the bug in her head that gives her powers, could take over more and more as her powers grow. I’m thinking it will, actually. Like a character in Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding.

Two requirements could be that she has to touch someone to read their mind, or it’s invasive, or both.

Invisibility as one of her powers solves another problem – that of an invisibility ring. Not a problem in and of itself, but with LOTR having one of these babies….

She can do it for short periods, it’s mind-affecting (because eyes being invisible would, apparently, not pick up light and therefore be blind); as for drawbacks, I was thinking that it’d be just her body – her clothes and gear would take extra effort. She could later turn those invisible as well. Then other people, but not their clothes. At maximum power it’d be herself, her gear, other people and their gear, and those effected would grow in number. That’s my current thinking.

Telekinesis would start out being small, light objects and she could later manipulate heavier and bigger objects.

Teleportation would take up ALL of her mana, so she’d have to rest for like half an hour, an hour to cool down. The same early problems with invisibility would be relevant, but since it takes all her power to do this, it will take longer to overcome the limitations and cost.

So I should make the abilities weak at first, get stronger with use, and not increase too fast. Or they improve too fast. That’s another idea. A ‘I can do anything’ high at the cost of Catalyst taking over her. Just a thought.

For more on laws of powers, check out Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Magic (it has links to discussion of said rules). I highly recommend it, because I feel he seriously knows his stuff.

It’s a little heartbreaking when…

…an aspiring writer never becomes a Writer. Never goes from aspiring to write something to actually having officially written something (in the sense of having a completed manuscript that’s ready to send out).

Everyone who likes reading (and even people who don’t) probably wants to have written a book, published it, gotten famous, have a hot partner because of it, and retire young to an island where it’s sunsets and pina coladas and lovely beaches and all that jazz.

Most people probably have personal experience with some of how hard it is to write a book – they’ve been gripped by fear, uncertainty, anxiety and nervousness related to writing a book. And they give up. They might have written a couple short stories, a few chapters of a novel, a few poems. Everyone has A book in them, easily. But for many, nothing ever comes of that. They don’t put in the hours, they don’t buckle down and write the damn thing. They give up, because for them it isn’t their dream, or if it is, they’re too scared to follow it.

I know when I got my first email from a publisher who wanted to see a whole book, I was gripped by this insecurity unlike anything I’d ever had before. I rushed toward a finish line, I changed tracks on a whim, I had a nervous breakdown. My confidence and self esteem were pitiful that particular year. And it was like the Wall that athletes run into. I know all too well the Wall.

And that’s where it usually ends for most people, most aspiring writers. They hit the wall and give up. Back to a shitty job that barely pays the bills, that soul-crushing hell with florescent lighting. Maybe you have a better job than that, a job you like, maybe it even pays your mortgage. That’s cool. Least you’ve got that.

But most people probably don’t have the drive to finish a book, submit it to an editor, probably get it rejected, feel like their soul has been crushed because this was their baby they’ve been working on for ten years. It takes guts to put your art out there. It takes even more guts to keep doing it, to persist in the face of failure, to make it better and send it out again. It takes guts to edit it when you get it back, too. I’m going through that right now, with a certain piece. I’ve been through it every time, and it’s still hard to come to grips with. But you have to, in order to achieve success. Success isn’t easy unless you were born into it. I wouldn’t call that success though – I’d call that having rich parents. YOU did nothing to earn that kind of money.

Most people who aspire to be writers and authors and wordsmiths, come in a few varieties. There’s those who are born to succeed; it’s not a matter of if, but when. There’s the type who buckled down and hack it out and get their shit done despite all the insecurity. They have grit, if nothing else. They’re persistent and determined and brave.

The heartbreaking thing is the other kind of writer. The kind who toils away at their one great novel for their entire life. People who never publish a novel, a short story maybe, a poem maybe, but certainly not a novel. They might even get awards named after them, like my grandmother. They probably have the next great novel in them. Problem is, they’ll die before they publish it. For all their big talk, they’re filled with fear, fear that causes you to hesitate, to never publish anything. And that, I feel, is the biggest disappointment in regards to writers. Because the worst novel ever published is still going to be leagues ahead of the best novel never published. Because if you rewrite something a billion times, trying to produce the perfect novel, you’ll never get there – simply because “perfect” is a moving target and you simply can’t achieve that. You can get pretty damn close though. But only if you write a pretty good novel.

Which is still better than the greatest novel never finished.

New Alien movie?

So, this is pretty cool. I’ve read in entertainment news that Neill Blomkamp – the director of District 9, Elysium, and an upcoming movie about a robot called Chappie – did some sketches for a new Alien movie. And he’s talked to Sigourney Weaver about it, and they’re both keen to do it. So, I’m sure that would rock if it ever happened.

Blomkamp was originally supposed to do a Halo movie, but that fell through and they said “here’s the money, do what you like with it” so he made District 9 instead. I reckon he’d make a great Alien movie. It’d be a hell of a lot better than Prometheus…

Writing retreat write-up

Writing retreat

This weekend just gone, I went on a holiday to Stradbroke Island, as celebration of my writing group publishing our first book (it was delayed because we had to save up a bit).

I won’t tell you everything that was said, because some things were said in confidence and it would be bad of me to tell the world. Well, that small proportion reading this, anyway.

But man, we had a lot of fun talking about things on this trip. Many of us went to the beach, obviously, though I wasn’t really interested – it’s not something I’m into, honestly. I know, I know, I’m surrounded by beach. It’s an Asperger’s thing.

We told a lot of jokes and stories, a recurring one regarding Party House, a house across the road from us who were loud, drunk, young and dumb. Party House will be an in-joke for the whole of the year, I imagine. In one story of this legendary butt-of-our-jokes place, I disappeared over there for a few hours and came back in my underwear. Yeah.

We brought laptops but I was the only one who brought a power pack, which was something everyone else apparently didn’t count on needing (couldn’t find an extension cord though). Me, I’ve been to plenty of Write-ins at the Coffee Club with my other writing group (much less formal, very loud, chaotic, hard to control) where you just bring those things. I should have had the foresight to remind everyone that they were bringing laptops to an unfamiliar location and that maybe someone else than just me should bring extension cords and flat packs to plug into. I went out the day after and bought some new ones.

We ate things I’d never heard of before, which were actually awesome, and things that I thought I hated but also turned out awesome instead. I thought the prices of everything would be way out of proportion, but I needn’t have worried as the only things I did buy turned out to not be THAT much marked up after all. Still marked up, because this was a resort type island, but still not as expensive as I would have thought. I got discounted Crown Lagers and while at the pub, beers that were actually cheaper than what I’d get them for at the pub down the road. Of course this came with drunk, obnoxious young guys who will pretend to grind one another and try to get me into that. Sad part is that’s not even new to me. Drunk, 18 year old males these days! In my day they only grinded against women. My how things change.

I tried liquors I haven’t had before, one was great the rest were horrible.

One joke I learnt went like this: How do you drown a hipster? In the mainstream.

I hooked up my phone for some internet Saturday night, which was nice but will probably come back to bite me in my phone bill, for obvious reasons. Mostly we didn’t have it, save for that. It was hell not being able to go online but it was good for us. Made us focus on our writing, which is what we spent most of the day doing on the Saturday. I managed a measly 1000 words but I did get an award for closest to target goal, in the category of those who didn’t reach their actual goal (it was 1500; 3000 as a stretch goal). Our awards were arbitrary and didn’t come with prizes, though we intended to. We just ended up doing a book giveaway, of which I came home with 5 more of. Two look good, the other three might be alright.

I had a late night talk about military matters, as they would apply in my work. It confirmed what I already figured, which was that my characters being ex-military would work best, and that they’d have resources for guns and ammo both military and black market. Brisbane would be left to fend for itself if we were attacked from the north, which is pretty depressing. But Australia has a reputation as the country no one else wants, so we’ve got that on our side, and the fact that so much in our country will straight up kill you. Rumour would be welcome as a pseudo-news source; any word, no matter how false, of the rest of the country or world would be welcome. I also learned that there’s such thing as a .44 Magnum rifle. If you don’t know what that is, well, the Magnum is a very powerful handgun, and the kick is a bitch of a thing to handle, which is why you always see videos of amateurs get hit in the face by the gun’s backlash. My friend has a friend who hunts boar; they use a rifle for one shot, then they drop it and pull the .44 Magnum to finish it when it charges closer. Interesting. Makes sense, too, if it’s the kind of rifle that you have to reload between shots. Hunting rifles, the least restricted ones, are the fiddly kind and you don’t want to be fiddling with reloading when a wild pig with horns is charging at you, so a Magnum for closer is a good idea. Of course if you don’t brace yourself you’ll get smacked in the face by a heavy metal gun. If you don’t put the rifle butt in just the right place, you’ll dislocate your shoulder. I knew you had to put it in the right place, but not that it could dislocate shoulders, so that’s a good thing to know. I guess I’m pretty well versed in writing about guns, but there’s always things I don’t know – things I know that I don’t know, and things I don’t know that I don’t know. I’ve been reading up on guns for years, so I know a few things, but not everything.

So that’s the main thrust of what our retreat was like. It was a nice weekend away, and not as expensive as I thought. I even learnt some new things. All in all, I’d call that a win.

Self publishing?

I’m not 100% certain yet, and I’ll have to do some research (got a book on choices) but I’m thinking I might self-publish COF. I’m like 90% sure. It’s easy, although you’re responsible for everything unless you pay others for things like the cover, the editing etc. You control everything. On Amazon if you price it between 99c and $9.99 you get 70%. There’s pros and cons of Amazon, so I don’t know if I’ll go there, I’ve heard some nasty things about it, which isn’t surprising as it’s evil world domination realised, but it’s also powerful. There are other options though – 18 is on no less than 4 other sites: Inkterra, Nook, Kobo and Scribd, if I recall correctly – plus straight from the site. Apple now has ibooks. ebook is definitely the way of the future, and there’s ways to get the word out there.

One of the reasons I’m considering this is because EVERYONE is on my back about it. They don’t really understand that great art takes time, and many tries. This version may not be great, but it’s as good as it’ll ever get, I feel. Any more attempts will just be control-freaking and work against me. On the other hand, when editing, you need to leave the work alone for a good while and come back to it with a fresh head. That way you’ll better see what the reader will see.

I would like to have it published by my 30th birthday, 31st at the latest. Target goal then would be Nov 24, though Dec 31 is good too. (Dec 24 or 25 might be a good idea, *definitely* would need to do a promotion though). I’d just be happy if it happened before 2017. It wasn’t going to happen by October 8, 2012 – the date the whole mess with the apocalypse started.

Uni wasn’t that comprehensive about self-publishing, but they did go into it a bit. It was still a new thing back then, though – it’s been the rage ever since it started (well, since Amazon started Kindle) but it’s been around now for a while, in that form. It used to be a joke, an unfunny one, the kind of thing scary or creepy or loser-like people did, at least that’s the way people perceived self-pubbers. Now it’s all the rage, thanks to Kindle. So there’s reasons to go that way, strong reasons, though I won’t limit myself to Amazon, not permanently, so I’ll investigate whether I can go exclusive with them for a time and then opt out.

So that’s my musing on that subject.