The Veil War

"and then I was like, 'Holy crap, goblins!'"

Month: November, 2011

Makin’ copyedits

Just fyi, I’ve updated the text of parts one and two.  Most of the changes are very minor.  The only thing that approaches significance is in part one, where I added a little bit explaining how the Marines came to call the enemy goblins.

Part Two is up

Our second weekly installment is up, check it out here.

A little taste:

“Captain, we’ve got movement to the South.”

Lewis jumped up on a humvee. “Show me.”

He grabbed his binoculars and looked out to the South. He saw a cloud of dust. He hated clouds of dust. Chen pointed behind and to the right of the cloud of dust. The setting sun painted the dust in roses and pinks. The fading sunlight glinted off the edges of swords. “How the hell did they get up so far? They’re on foot, for chrissakes!” he muttered. He turned to his sergeant. “Break out the night vision, sergeant. I think someone’s going to be uncomfortable this evening.”

A plan so cunning, you could brush your teeth with it

So I took some time off from writing the story to lay the groundwork for some marketing. I have brought into being:

The more alert among you may notice that the name attached to these accounts is not my normal nom du net, nor is it in fact my actual name. While I haven’t, and don’t really intend to go to fanatical lengths to conceal my actual identity I have decided to go with a pseudonym for this project.

That name is Stephen Gustav. So there.

I would like to ask everyone who has taken a peek at my story so far (next installment tomorrow!) to do a couple small things.

  1. If you are a user of Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ or any other relevant social media framework, please make the effort to like, +1 or tweet as appropriate this website. Mention it to your friends if you have a blog.  Share the love.
  2. And, apropos of my last blog post, leave a comment, subscribe to the rss feed or email me and let me know who you are. I promise not to try to sell you viagra.

There will be rewards for early adopters. And hey, look what happened to that Reddit Marine unit back to the Roman Empire guy.

As time goes by, this cunning plan will hopefully become even more cunning. Any suggestions you have for spreading the word are of course welcome.

Since we had a comment…

We might as well have a comment policy.  Our policy is simple: we like comments.  We encourage you to make them.  We suggest you don’t use the royal ‘we’ because its kinda pretentious.

Comments are welcome both on blog posts and on the story installments.  I’d like to hear what you think I’m doing right, and especially what I’m doing wrong.

Aside from the usual admonitions to be nice, that’s about it.  Let me know what you think.

That whole social media thing

A couple updates on the social networking front:

I am in the process of setting up a Facebook page for the Veil War – named, cleverly, The Veil War.  I am having some difficulty getting posts to go from here to there automatically, but still the page is there, and shortly it will have stuff on it.

Also, there is now a twitter feed, @veilwar.  That will also shortly be populated with stuff.  Tell your friends!

Good to know

I’ve happened across a lot of writing advice over the years.  Aside from the exhortation to “always write” most of the advice was about as helpful as some not very helpful thing.  But as I sat down to really, honest-to-god this time, with serious purpose now, actually write a story and bull through to the end – two bits of helpful advice fell into my lap.

The first is Six Days to Save the World, a distillation of fantasy author Michael Moorcock on writing from Michael Moorcock: Death is No Obstacle.   I can’t say that I actually followed this exactly.  For one, I’d be done already.  Time constraints – work, family, the random UFO abduction, pretty much ensure that I don’t have six days in which to save the world, or anything at all.  (I am going to attempt this, though, right before Thanksgiving when a benevolent and loving HR department has decreed that I should have two weeks time off.)  Regardless of my failures to follow the complete program, there is some powerful good help here.

The cool thing about the advice here (beyond its utility) is that it is usefully vague.  For example, there’s this:

[I prepared] A complete structure. Not a plot, exactly, but a structure where the demands were clear. I knew what narrative problems I had to solve at every point. I then wrote them at white heat; and a lot of it was inspiration: the image I needed would come immediately [when] I needed it. Really, it’s just looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects and turning them into what you need. A mirror: a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned.

Now, rather than telling you to either a) wing it and depend on your muse to make it all work out, or b) laboriously outline and plot every last jot and tittle of your story before daring to commence writing – this is simple and to the point. Have a clear idea of what you need to do, then start winging it. This is comfort inducing. You don’t need to know everything. Things will come to you. But on the other hand, you are not wandering off into the great unknown with no map and no compass.

And this:

Very often it’s something like: attack of the bandits — defeat of the bandits — nothing particularly complex, but it’s another way you can achieve recognition: by making the structure of a chapter a miniature of the overall structure of the book, so everything feels coherent. The more you’re dealing with incoherence, with chaos, the more you need to underpin everything with simple logic and basic forms that will keep everything tight. Otherwise the thing just starts to spread out into muddle and abstraction.

So you don’t have any encounter without information coming out of it. In the simplest form, Elric has a fight and kills somebody, but as they die they tell him who kidnapped his wife. Again, it’s a question of economy. Everything has to have a narrative function.

Action, reaction, resolution. Rinse, repeat. Do this, and you will get into the flow of things, and ripping out long chunks of prose becomes quite a manageable process. I have certainly not achieved 60000 words in three days. But I have done 8000 in a day, including the 2000 you’ve hopefully just read, or are just about to read.

The next set of useful advices is A simple four-item formula for turning story into fiction, by Teresa Nielsen-Hayden. Where Moorcock’s advice is rather procedural – how to go about writing – this is more rules of thumb to observe while writing:

  1. Move and keep moving.
  2. Make it consequential.
  3. Recycle your characters.
  4. See if you already have one.

Sounds rather banal, doesn’t it?  But this is a wonderful set of rules to have in your head.  For example, #4:

4. See if you already have one.   Whenever you need something new — prop, plot thread, setting, minor character — go back through the parts of the story you’ve already written and see whether you can find it there. It’s surprising how often the exact thing you need is already sitting there in plain sight.

Don’t waste time re-reinventing the wheel.  You should only have to reinvent the wheel once.  If you’re just chugging along, you’re dropping in many things you are only barely conscious of.  Often, these things are exactly what you’ll need later.  And using them makes the whole thing feel connected, tight, coherent.  I know I see that in the writing I love best, and I hope that I’m managing to achieve that in my own.

Read both links if you are at all interested in writing the fiction. I’ve never seen better advice, and the two together are even more powerful than either by itself.

What’s going on here, anyway?

Having read the first installment, you are no doubt saying to yourself, “I am simply beside myself with anticipation for the next steaming chunk of awesome prose. When, oh dear God when will the next bit appear and briefly, all too briefly, assuage my thirst for ripping adventure.”

Well, here’s the deal. I’m planning on posting approximately 2000 words or so, every Thursday. So you can come back every week and expect to find more Veil War. What you’re reading now is one storyline of a larger novel. If you imagine the typical 20 pound Tom Clancy novel, one of the good ones before he started having his trained monkeys write them, this would be like going through with scissors and cutting out all the bits with John Clark and reading them in order while ignoring all the dull bits with Jack Ryan. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I can do that for you, and if my book ends up being called Bear and Dragon, you can be assured that there will by God be a real dragon in it. Bears, too.

I’ll occasionally be posting short discussion pieces on the background and perhaps some of my thinking about how the story got to how It is. There may also be the occasional link to stuff that has some relevance, however tenuous, to the matter at hand.

That’s my side of the deal.

But don’t think you get off easy. Here we are, less than a day into the public existence of this story, and there is already discussion in some of the more obscure corners of teh internets. That’s great. But obviously, being the greedy sort that I am, I want more. And that’s where you will come in. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends. And there will be marketing. Oh yes, there will be marketing.

But only the good kind, mind you.

I have in mind that there will be contests, the prizes for which may include such diverse treasures as redshirt opportunities, actual physical devices, cash money, and my undying gratitude. Or whatever else we can come up with in case I run out of undying gratitude. The broader the audience, the better. And you, dear reader, will be able to say to your grandchildren, “I was there first, and am almost entirely responsible for his success.”

The Set Up

The actual writing of the novel has been surprisingly pain free, given that I’d been putting it off for almost a quarter century. Once I started typing, it came out at nearly a 1000 words an hour, which is a pretty respectable rate. What has bothered me though, is the lack of decent writing tools that actually do what I want them to do.

As of late last night I seem to have solved at least one aspect of my problem – the need to be able to seamlessly switch devices without having to worry about whether I’m working on the most current version. I downloaded iA Writer for both the iPad and Mac, which uses Dropbox for sync.  Dropbox, btw, totally rocks.

I’d been aiming for a stripped down writing interface – I don’t want to deal with formatting. I don’t want to deal with most things aside from typing. I didn’t want to use a full-featured word processor. As a technical writer, I fully appreciate the capabilities offered by this sort of tool, but have become increasingly disenchanted with them except for the very final stages of creating a finished document. I find that I do most of my actual writing for work with WordPad. So OpenOffice, Word, Pages – all out. There’s too much in there that distracts from actual writing.

Happily, there have been many apps released since the advent of the iPad that purport to be the perfect tool in this space. Unhappily, most of them are wrong in this assertion. The closest was Byword, which has an elegant, non-eye-straining page for typing. It does the full screen, block-out-all-distractions thing. It does typewriter focus, so your cursor doesn’t always end up at the bottom of the screen.

Yet – it used three different formats for saving files, each with different capabilities. When you fired up the app, if you hadn’t closed your documents from the last session, it opened them in new, untitled files. So if you started typing, Bam! you’ve got a new version whether you wanted one or not. And it didn’t have a companion iPad app, so syncing presented issues.

iA Writer was going for a buck on the iPad, so I had a what the hell moment and bought it. I quickly discovered that it is the best text editor I have yet used on the pad, and I’ve used a lot of them. Advantages: extra bar on the virtual keyboard with left and right arrow, left and right word (jump a word instead of a space) and common punctuation like quotes, dashes and parentheses. Clean typography – it’s very easy to read. (I only wish I could make the text a little smaller, so a little more could fit on the screen.) Word counts. Dropbox sync. Email as body or attachment. Very nice, I thought.

So, I sprung for the $10 Mac App. It doesn’t look as good as Byword, but doesn’t behave oddly. Syncs perfectly with the iPad app. The big type doesn’t look as bad on a 24″ monitor. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

I can now write on the computer, get up and grab the iPad and keep going.  I find it amusing that after 30 years of software evolution; and enhancements in infrastructure, networking and computer power; the very best writing app that I’ve found mimics almost perfectly the functions and behavior of a typewriter from 1950.

So that’s part of the problem fixed. The other part is organization of background material. For my novel, I have tons of background notes to keep everything straight. Lists of characters major and minor, notes on the locations, notes on the various entities and their capabilities, notes on things that the characters don’t and likely won’t ever know but which certainly effect how the story goes. Putting all this in, say, one long word file would work in the sense that all the information would be stored on my computer.

But it wouldn’t be easy to access. If I were careful, and did everything up with headings, I could use the document map sidebar to be able to easily see any one part of it. But often, I want to look at more than one part of my notes. I always want the cast of characters visible, so I can reference that, and usually one or more other things that are relevant to what I’m typing. Word falls down there unless I want more than one document, which kind of defeats the purpose.

And I haven’t found anything significantly better. Right now I’m using Ulysses, which basically organizes text files into bundles, with a navigator at the side. I got it cheap, and it works, but there is no good way to really organize the files. I’d almost be better having small text files in a folder hierarchy – but only almost. Its saving grace is that I can view two (and no more than two) of the individual files. So I can have my cast of characters and one other thing visible.

I’ve tried Scrivener, which is a little better, but not much, and I don’t want to pony up $50 just to see if it works a little better than Ulysses.  (Though they just upgraded to version 2.1…)  I’m tempted to see if I can make Yojimbo work – which I’ve used to keep track of clippings and receipts and the like. If I did make individual text files and dropped them into Yojimbo collections, that might conceivably work. And, as a bonus, all the textual material would not be in proprietary formats.

Aside from that gaping wound in my workflow, other bits have fallen into place.Sigil is a nice little app that creates ePubs pretty easily – and allows you to edit them if you discover some last second thing that needs changing. TextWrangler is a nice power editing tool useful for taking .txt files and making bulk changes and has a good search function. Finally, Pages makes nice pdfs if you’re into that sort of thing.

So, notes get dumped into Ulysses, and sorted as best the application permits.  That sits in the background while I compose in Writer, either in a window or full screen depending on my mood.  Once a chunk is finished, save a new copy, and create pdfs and ePubs with Pages and Sigil.  Rinse and repeat.

If anyone has suggestions for tools, I’d be pleased to hear them.

Part One

The very first installment has been added. And you can read it! In fact, I highly recommend that you do. It’s right here. But I’ll give you a teaser:

“Okay. You’re right. We’re fucked.”

Captain Lewis spat on the dusty floor. He looked up from the map, and out the window. Outside, the company was looking to the North, at a cloud of dust. The dust cloud got closer every time he looked. Off to the right, around the corner, was another dust cloud. He couldn’t see it, but one of the last predator drones still up had tracked it for the last couple hours. It got closer, too.

Sgt. Pethoukis looked up from his tablet. “Captain, lost the predator feed.” His lean face had a grimmer than average cast. “I saw fire right before it cut out.”

“Dragon?” the captain asked.

“Most like.”

“Shit.”

A hundred miles south of Ramadi, he thought. Three times we’ve tried to turn east, and each time we’ve been blocked.

Welcome to the middle of the show

Welcome.   Things are a bit bare-bones around here at the moment, but that will change as the future sneaks up behind us.  As you may have surmised from the title of the blog – or even known before you even got here - this blog is about the Veil War.  So, there you are.

Oh, wait, you ask.  What is this Veil War thing?  Well, let me tell you.  The Veil War is a series of stories about just what happens when a very large door between worlds opens up here on Earth, and nasty violent things come pouring out of it.

You can read the first part of the story by clicking the “Start Here” page link.  In time, clicking the About page will actually serve some purpose.

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