Tag Archives: guestblogging

Off My Lawn! Steven Harper vs. The Solitary Writer

SteventreeSteven Harper (Okay, Canadians, settle down–that’s Steven, not Stephen) is one of my colleagues from SF Novelists and his new novel, The Havoc Machine, is the fourth novel in the Clockwork Empire series.

He Tweets, speaks Facebook, and has a web site about the Clockwork Empire series and his other writings here.

Here’s a picture of him alone (unless you count the tree) as he very kindly joins us today on Off My Lawn! to take on the myth of The Solitary Writer.

Marcel Proust famously lined the walls of his bedroom with cork to shut out the world because the slightest noise wrecked his concentration and stopped him from producing even a word. Writers, he claimed, must work in solitude. Indeed, writing by definition is a solitude-heavy profession laden with lonely people.

Virginia Woolf agreed with him, to an extent. Woolf maintained that in order for a woman to write fiction, she needed a certain amount of wealth and a room of her own. Solitude.

Oh, if only.

I’m a single father of three sons. During the time it took me to write the above words, I had two conversations. For the first, my youngest son danced into my bedroom office room wearing nothing but a Spider-Man cap and a smile while he sang, “See my butt!” to the tune of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’s “Be Our Guest.” For the second, my middle son stormed in to complain that his little brother was singing naked in the hallway outside his room.

I wrote my steampunk novel THE HAVOC MACHINE under six months of these conditions and worse. While I was busily putting the adventures of Thad and Sofiya into words, I was interrupted for homework help, argument moderation, requests to play soccer, transportation to music lessons, and several bouts of “Hey Dad–are you busy?”

I can hear Virginia Woolf gleefully pointing out how right she was. See? All those interruptions just hurt writing! But here’s the thing:

Every other weekend, the boys go to their mom’s house, and I =do= get solitude. A whole weekend of it. You’d think I’d be rolling up my sleeves and really pounding out the words, right?

Nope. I don’t produce any more wordage when the boys are away than I do when they’re at home.

I think it’s the interruptions that allow us to write. They pull us into the world, keep us grounded in reality so we can produce proper fiction. Utter solitude might have worked for Proust in his cork-lined room, and Woolf may have yearned for a room of her own, but ultimately, it’s the writing, not the situation, that create the book.

Havoc Machine Cover2About The Havoc Machine

In a world riddled with the destruction of men and machines alike, Thaddeus Sharpe takes to the streets of St. Petersburg, geared toward the hunt of his life….

Thaddeus Sharpe’s life is dedicated to the hunting and killing of clockworkers. When a mysterious young woman named Sofiya Ekk approaches him with a proposition from a powerful employer, he cannot refuse. A man who calls himself Mr. Griffin seeks Thad’s help with mad clockwork scientist Lord Havoc, who has molded a dangerous machine. Mr. Griffin cares little if the evil Lord lives or dies; all he desires is Havoc’s invention.

Upon Thad’s arrival at Havoc’s laboratory, he is met with a chilling discovery. Havoc is not only concealing his precious machine; he has been using a young child by the name of Nikolai for cruel experiments. Locked into a clockwork web of intrigue, Thad must decipher the dangerous truth surrounding Nikolai and the chaos contraption before havoc reigns….

Latest #BuffyRewatch is Up @tordotcom. Also, Glee!

Let’s get Interlocking! In other words, I’m up to “The Harsh Light of Day.”

And if you want even more of my telethoughts, my Glee essay, “Who’s the Real LIMA Loser?,” went up this morning on Smart Pop Books, and will remain available until Monday at 12:00 AM. (After that, the link will still work but for the excerpt-only portion.) The essay’s about the S1 Puck/Finn relationship, and is quite dated now that they’ve all graduated, but it’s still fun reading. I wrote it for the above-noted book, Filled with Glee: The Unauthorized Glee Companion.

It’s all Prommy on the Buffy Rewatch

The latest Buffy rewatch is up on Tor.com; it’s called “One Last Date with an Angel.” This takes me into season four, and into episodes I’ve only seen a couple times. In terms of story, the second and third seasons of BtVS are my favorites, but the later stuff has a newness that comes of my not having memorized every single frame. And that’s delightful too.

In news that’s barely relevant because it involves Joss Whedon, you may have heard that he’s been cast as a recurring character in the second season of “Husbands.” Here’s the first episode–it’ll only take you half an hour to whip through S1 and get to Joss.

The latest #Buffyrewatch on @tordotcom is Earshot…

Yes, ,u blogging has fallen off again. There are about three things going on in my personal life that are pretty much all-consuming–which means sometimes I’m running 300% as fast as I should and the rest I’m flatline and drooling in front of Olympic Show Jumping. I hope to tell you about some of them soon. (I am at 67,000 words on the current novel, which is nice.)

In the meantime, though, life in Sunnydale marches grimly towards Graduation:

I can heeear you!


Guest Star – D.B. Jackson talks magic systems

This week’s writing post comes to you courtesy author D.B. Jackson, whose new novel Thieftaker will be out tomorrow. Wait, let me underline that, because I’m excited: TOMORROW. I asked Jackson to tell me a little about how he developed the magic system for his new series of novels, which combine some of my favorite fictional flavors: they’ve got history, crime and fantasy, all in one go! Here’s the cover.

Thieftaker by DB Jackson

Here’s the first chapter, courtesy Tor.com.

And here’s D.B. Jackson, talking about creating magic systems.

In developing the magic system for my newest book, Thieftaker, a historical urban fantasy that will be released by Tor books on July 3, I tried to find a balance between following a set of old rules and bringing an innovative approach to conjuring. The result is a form of magic that is powerful enough to make for interesting plot points, but limited enough to ensure that my protagonist will have to rely as much on his wits as on his magic.

Thieftaker tells the story of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer and thieftaker (sort of an 18th century private investigator) living in Colonial Boston in the 1760s, as the North American colonies are beginning to chafe at British rule. So my first goal in creating my magic system was to come up with something that was not only cool, but that also blended well with my colonial setting. Of course there were (as far as history can tell us) no conjurers in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. But there were witch scares, the most famous of which, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, led to the imprisonment of 150 “witches” and the execution of twenty men and women.

I wanted my hero to face the possibility of persecution for his conjuring — I thought that would add tension to the novel — and so I created a magic system that could be confused with witchcraft by people of the time. Ethan’s magic appears to the unsuspecting to come out of nowhere; he doesn’t need a magical stone or a staff or any other physical tool to conjure, although for some spells he does need to spill his own blood. But that only adds to the whole “dabbling in the black arts” feel of the magic. While in my version of 1760s Boston there is no such thing as witchcraft, conjurers are constantly being accused of being witches, and Ethan lives in fear of being hanged as a witch.

In other respects, though, my system of magic for this book is similar to those I’ve developed for other projects. I use three strict guidelines for my magic systems, no matter the world in which I’m writing.

First, my magic follows a set of rules that remains consistent throughout the book. My goal in creating a magic system is to come up with something that feels as real and natural and rooted in the world I’ve created as any natural law of our own world. In my opinion, magic should seem as ironclad and constant as the law of gravity. As soon as the rules of magic begin to shift or soften according to narrative needs, the magic ceases to be a realistic part of the worldbuilding and becomes instead a plot device, and a transparent one at that.

Second, my magic is limited in scope and power. Magic that can do anything and everything, that can’t be defeated, is destined to take over a story or series. At least that has been my experience. By placing limits on what my magic can do, I force my characters who have magic to rely as much on their intelligence and physical skills as much as they do their spells. In my opinion, that makes for more interesting characters and storytelling. So Ethan can only cast so many spells before he begins to tire and weaken. His spells can do some pretty cool stuff — among other things, he can heal wounds, he can change the shape of matter, he can move unseen among those who do not have magic — but he can’t, say, make himself fly or move through time. Magic is a tool, even a weapon at times. But it is not all-powerful.

And third, the use of magic in my world exacts some cost. As I mentioned before, the casting of spells takes a physical toll. But more than that, each spell Ethan casts has to be fueled by something. The simplest spells can be fueled by the elements — water, air, earth, fire — but more complicated magic demands blood or something else from a living organism. And the most powerful and complex spells can require the taking of a life. Finally, as Ethan learns during the course of Thieftaker, spells can carry emotional costs as well. (I won’t say more than that for fear of spoiling plot points. You’ll just have to read the book.)

After establishing the framework for my magic system with these guidelines in mind, I could then turn to the fun part of creating a magic system; you know: the cool stuff. Ethan’s conjurings consist of four elements. The first is the spell itself, which has to be spoken in Latin. The second is the “fuel” or source of the spell that I mentioned a moment ago: water, blood, a life, etc. The third is the conjurer him or herself. And the fourth, is a spirit guide who allows the conjurer to access the power that dwells between the world of the living and the realm of the dead. This spirit usually takes the form of a glowing ghost (for want of a better word) who appears whenever a spell is cast. Ethan’s ghost takes the form of a silent, dour old soldier wearing chain mail and a tabard bearing the sigil of the ancient Plantagenet kings. He reminds Ethan of his mother’s splenetic brother, Reginald, and so Ethan calls the ghost Uncle Reg, much to the shade’s annoyance. But though their relationship in the book provides some comic relief, the ghost plays a serious role in the magic system: Without him, Ethan could not conjure, because he could not access that magical realm.

Finally, there is one other written element that has been crucial to making my magic system blend with my historical setting. In the book, I never use the word “magic” to describe it. After discussing the matter with my editor, we agreed that magic would have been an anachronistic term. “Magick” was considered a dark practice and was associated strongly with witchcraft in sermons and tracts that condemned both by name. Conjurers, who sought to distinguish their spellmaking from “witchery,” would never have used the word magic to describe their abilities. And so Ethan speaks of conjuring, of casting spells, spellmaking, of his “talents.” But he never calls it magic for fear of finding himself at the wrong end of a hangman’s noose.

I hope that the magic I have created for Thieftaker will feel like a natural part of my historical setting, that it will seem consistent and “realistically” limited, and that it will entertain and occasionally elicit a “Cool!” from my readers. Those have been my goals as I have created and refined it. Because as a reader, as well as a writer, those are the things I look for in magic systems.

About our guest star…
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, will be released by Tor Books on July 3. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Pics and Praises

First, a supernice piece of feedback from @SunDriedRainbow, via Twitter: (NBD means no big deal):

I ADORE you have gay and trans characters and it’s NBD. thanks for writing what I want the world to be.

Folks, this not only swelled my ego, it darn near made me cry.

Second, I believe M.K. Hobson’s Kickstarter for THE WARLOCK’S CURSE starts today, on lucky Friday the Thirteenth.

My blogging routine has been thrown to the winds this week, naturally, by the Blue Magic release. It’ll all get back to normal soon, though with a lingering probability of “And now I’m guest blogging here!” showers.

Also because of the release, I’ve hit a stretch where it’s become obvious that, if I choose, I could spend all day every day just answering e-mails.

Here’s a thing: the faster you run on the e-mail wheel, the faster the notes come pouring back. Instead of scrambling like Alice and never getting anything real accomplished, I have made a real effort to move at a sane speed: do a couple things I need to (like, oh, my taxes?) and then clear out the inbox. Then go for a walk so I don’t become a mole person, clear it out again. Right now it all seems to be working. Or I’m deluded; we’ll see which turns out to be true.

All of which means I shot some spring flowers this week:

All Imported-4

When I first moved here, I didn’t know these were star magnolias. For a few years, we called them Daisy Trees.