A Handful of Announcements

Life is rife with novel deadlines and other projects, but today, I have some exciting announcements to share with you readers!

First off, an upcoming publication! “Warp Gate Concerto,” that space fantasy novella I wrote for NineStar Press’s LOST collection, has officially been accepted! That’s right: the polyamorous, alien space pirates will soon be here for everyone to read about. I hope you all have as much fun reading it as I did writing it~

Second: In a week and a half, I shall be in Spokane, Washington for SpoCon! Not only will I have copies of Bones and Bourbon with me to sell and sign, but I’ll also be speaking on panels, ranging on every topic from weird creatures to running tabletop RPGs. Check out the full itinerary here!

Finally, there are some upcoming changes in regards to this blog. I’ve been thinking about restructuring it for some time, so after some thought (and a twitter poll), I have plans to turn this blog into a new project: a webcomic about writing!

Worry not: there will still be announcements on new projects, rambles about worldbuilding, and even some more advice on writing in general. There will just also be an artistic component, in the style of a newspaper strip where I, my various fictional characters, and even a few non-fictional people and cats, explore the trials of tribulations of writing.

Having attempted webcomics before, I know better than to start posting comics as soon as I finish drawing them, however. I’m going to build up a backlog first, which should also give me time to settle on a format and style. (And maybe even some actual punchlines.) Between that and trying to hit the tentative deadline for the current draft of “Corpses and Cognac,” the sequel to Bones and Bourbon, this blog may be sparsely updated for awhile. But when it begins again, it shall be stronger! Artsier! Maybe even updated multiple times a week with new comics! We’ll see how it all turns out.

In the meantime, keep busy and creative, dear readers.

~Dorian

To First Drafts and Beyond!

First, a victory announcement: I just finished the first draft of my novella for NineStar Press’ “Lost” collection! It has polyamorous alien space pirates versus mad scientists and totally-not-dinosaurs! During at least the last five thousand words of the book, I listened to nothing but Meat Loaf’s discography, and everything is glorious!

The novella also ended up clocking in at almost 35,000 words; the collection requires between 30k and 120k, but I erred on the shorter side so I’ll have plenty of time to edit before the April 30th deadline. This was a new challenge for me, since I usually either write novels that are over a hundred thousand words, or short stories that tend to be under ten thousand. Thus, today I’m going to discuss the process of creating this novella, and how it differed from my usual methods (and what tended to be par for the course.)

First, I had to settle on an idea and an overarching plot in the first place. Other than the length, the only requirements were that characters were somehow lost, and that LGBTQIA+ romance be incorporated into the story. As I mentioned in the Valentine’s blog post, I’m not as inclined toward writing romance outside of pre-established relationships, so I bounced around a couple different ideas; a superhero and supervillain who get lost together and team up to escape while falling for each other, a demon trying to help a failed cultist after a ritual goes wrong, etc. But the idea I kept coming back to was an old sci-fi staple; getting lost on an alien planet. I already had a story in mind for a space fantasy setting, but with a long plot and an entire spaceship crew’s worth of characters, I figured it’d be too bloated to cram into a novella.

What I COULD do, however, was write a prequel in the same universe. And I already had a relationship set up to explore; one protagonist’s parents, a polyamourous quartet of space sirens (the Psyrens discussed over here) who were feared and revered pirates before being scattered across the galaxy. Of course I could have these pirates crash onto a bizarre alien planet, and what could be more romantic than four alien pirates who are all in love with each other? I busied myself with plans for what alien planets would be most interesting for these pirates to get lost in—and how to make sure my plots didn’t replicate pre-existing Star Trek episodes (thanks Mom!)

Next came the outline, a process I rigidly cling to even though I always deviate from the outline halfway through like a swiftly-derailing train. I’d already settled on having two protagonists, separating the pirates so they had to find each other and a way to escape, so I had to create two storylines that would meet at the beginning and end, and figure out how to have them mirror each other. It sounds like a complicated juggling act, but thankfully writing the “Deadly Drinks” series, which alternates between the Gallows brothers’ POVs, prepared me for doing it on a smaller scale. The main difference between outlining the two was that I didn’t mark when I would switch protagonists; I rigidly stick to chapter length and alternating in “Deadly Drinks,” but I elected to be looser about scene length and when POV switches happen in this piece.

Then comes perhaps the most necessary part of my process: writing and deleting a series of false starts. I’m not the sort who can actually write scenes out of order, and it often takes me a bit to set my train of plot on the outline track, so to speak. For this novella, the false starts led to an entirely new outline; where I’d originally planned to touch on the quartet early in their pirate days, I decided to go earlier and strengthen the romance aspect by having the story be about how three of the pirates find the fourth member of their spacefaring quartet. All I had to do was answer all the questions this brought up—why wasn’t their fourth member on their alien homeworld, how do the pirates reunite, how can they escape afterwards—and the plot practically wrote itself from there.

I had also originally planned to maroon my dear pirates on a frozen planet with a blood red sun (requiring characters to snuggle for warmth, which is the height of romance in the elements, right?) and hidden underground tunnels where most of the fauna actually survived to avoid all the snow. But between images of classic sci-fi art and a few hours of wandering through “No Man’s Sky,” I decided I wanted to explore the terrors of an alien jungle instead. I decided to keep the expansive network of underground tunnels, but what would the tunnel-dwellers be hiding from? Giant, hungry megafauna, of course. (Perhaps I’ve been playing too much Magic the Gathering, with the recent cards involving Pirates versus Dinosaurs…) And then what if there was intelligent life hiding in those tunnels, unnoticed by spacefarers overhead because the signals were blocked by being underground? That means a chance to introduce *more weird aliens!*

See, that’s perhaps the most important part of writing: there has to be something enjoyable about it. We authors joke about how much writing and editing equals suffering, but if you don’t enjoy the story or its purpose, then what’s the point? Even if they don’t all make it into the final draft, I always make sure I have a few key concepts or scenes in my stories that I want to explore, like a cool fight or examining the details of a magic system. Or, in this case, designing weird aliens who are relatable and “human”, even if they grow mouths instead of scar tissue and can control others with their singing. Yes folks, Psyrens are bizarre, even when they aren’t pirates.

While I had challenges writing my first novella, figuring out issues like pacing and how much information to include or discard, it was also a lot of fun. More room than a short story to add plots, sub-plots, and extra character development, but without the time investment needed for a full novel. Plus, I’m literally writing a classic sci-fi adventure and all the ridiculous twists that entails, but with polyamorous alien pirates. What’s not to love?

I’m taking a few days off from it to celebrate its completion (returning to a for-fun project instead to keep my writing chops up), and then I’ll go back into editing with a clear head. Should all go well, it’ll be ready by the April 30th deadline, and will hopefully release with the rest of the “Lost” collection. We’ll see soon enough~

~Dorian

Hallo Spaceboy (What’s In A Name)

I’ve spent most of today working on a novella, which amongst other things is an introduction to a space fantasy setting I’ve been building for some time. (I would call it science fiction, except that I’m forgoing most sensible science so I can make weird aliens with musical-mind-control powers and cute tentacled bunny-creatures that can be incinerated to fuel FTL travel. Thus, space fantasy ala Star Wars or James D. MacDonald and Debra Doyle’s Mageworld series.) It’s an enjoyable break from my usual work, though now that I’m finally writing bits of it down, it’s come time to define certain elements of this universe. Amongst those elements are the names.

I don’t mean renaming things from our own world, ala the “call a rabbit a smeerp” trope; I’m taking Isaac Asimov’s stance on that (mentioned in his opening for Nightfall) and not bogging down the story with funny words. However, I do need to name the various characters and the alien races they belong to, plus this setting has the extra added challenge of having no humans (though plenty of humanoids), which means no human names. Also trying to avoid human words in the end-results of names, because Star Wars does a good enough job of mangling random words into names all on its own. (I’m looking at you, Savage Oppress. Looking long and bitterly.)

So how does one make up names that readers can quickly connect to, instead of just smashing letters together into something even H.P. Lovecraft would have a hard time pronouncing? Instead of creating a name convention to cover all of the galaxy I’m working with, I decided to differentiate it between each alien race. Here’s what I came up with and why:

Psyrens

The first race I needed to name, because the protagonists of my novella are all of this race. They’re a humanoid race who operate like the sirens of myth, their songs able to affect the minds of those who hear them. They have a couple twists involved too—their wounds don’t scar, instead becoming new mouths with which to sing with, and they mate in large groups of others they harmonize with, which is something their military takes advantage of when making combat squads. I jokingly describe them as “militarized barbershop quartets,” even though the protagonists are escapees of said military.

The name of the race came easily enough; I mushed the words “psychic” and “siren” together and fiddled with the spelling. Makes it easy for readers to understand and remember what they are. But the novella has four psyrens in it, so I needed to actually come up with a naming scheme. Thanks to an earlier bit of worldbuilding, I’d decided that their primary religion is based around scripture set into song, and nearly every psyren’s name is a word from that song. Thus, I came up with names featuring soft sounds that could easily be strung together if part of a long chant; Ashua, Nulani, and Silna. The exception to this is Kozrin, whose name has sharper and stranger tones that imply a stark refusal of tradition.

Skraks

Sharp noises automatically implies danger. Think of the Krogan of Mass Effect, Klingons in Star Trek, or even crocodiles in our own world. (Then there’s kangaroos, which are…still pretty dangerous if I think about it.) I wanted to work with this mental tendency to work with how the Skraks look; they’re built like chitin-covered centaurs with extra limbs and scythes for hands. They look dangerous because of their diet; they have no mouths to eat matter with, but instead feed of the pain of others. Sharp bits generally lead to painful bits.

However, I also wanted the names of the Skraks and their people to reflect their language. See, by having no mouth, they have no voice either; they communicate entirely through tapping and scraping their scythes across their chitinous bodies, a mix of sign language and morse code. Thus, their written names double as the sound effects they make, with names like Tk-skrit and Darch.

Rav’Melsh

Borrowing from “The Origin of Love,” the Rav’Melsh are actually two aliens in one. The Rav half is a powerful, multi-armed and thick-skinned race with an alarming tendency to be born without a number of vital limbs and organs. The Melsh consists of symbiotic, sentient fungus that link minds with their Rav host and take form of the missing pieces, creating a being with one body and two minds.

This example actually borrows from both of those above. Like the Skrak, Rav uses sharper sounds to imply power, this time like the roar of a bellowing beast about to charge. Meanwhile, the Melsh comes from me smushing the words “meld” and “mushroom” together, like I did with the components for Psyrens. The combined name of Rav’Melsh implies a whole but can still be taken apart to discuss the components, and the same goes for citizens like Lap’Parn and Tal’Soona.

This by no means include all my fun alien creations, currently operating under codenames such as “Sunshine” and “Rock Elves,” or concepts such as cultural interplay, like how the aforementioned elves have picked up the Skrak’s tapping-speak so their elders who have turned almost entirely to stone can keep communicating with others. If nothing else, it’s at least a fun worldbuilding exercise to think on both the hows and the whys of any given fantastical setting.

Hopefully, it gave you dear readers some ideas too.

~Dorian