Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction, and books for kids of varying ages. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series — Penguin/ACE, and the forthcoming School for Sidekicks: The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman Jr. — Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star — part of an NSF-funded science curriculum — and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited — funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly on Twitter, Facebook, G+
Go way. S’eeping.
But, have you seen what’s hanging out outside my window here at Castle Gaiman?
Not my problem. Sleeping.
Well, then what about Cerbermingo?*
Still not seeing a reason why we should stop sleeping.
What about this thing?*
Okay, now that’s kind of creepy.
And random pirate dog says “Yarr!”
*All demonic flamingos are the sole product of the demented imagination of Matt Kuchta. Management takes no responsibility for any nightmares generated by same.
You think you’re so smart!
What do you mean you’re not coming downstairs?
Surely you must be joking Mr. Feynman
You were done with this, right?
Ash, Jordon, and Isabelle doing their group rendition of “It’s about damn time you turned the radiators on!”
Leith says, “You ladies can have the radiator, I’m going for the couch in the office.”
Finally, Meg. “Boss where are we going next? Do you want to take my picture? I…I…What was I saying?”
So, someone asked me about National Novel Writing Month. I figured I might as well share that answer here.
I have mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo:
Pros: 1) I’m for anything that gets people who want to write writing. It’s a great exercise for getting an initial draft done for one fairly large category of writers. 2) It’s a great way for someone to learn that they really can crank out a lot of words on a deadline. 3) There is a large group of writers for whom the exercise of being forced to shut down the internal critic is a fantastic thing.
Cons: 1) Unless you’re talking YA, 50,000 words does not a novel make and expanding something from 50,000 to a more reasonable number is a lot of work, more in my opinion than simply writing 90,000 to start with would have been–if the goal were 50,000 words of a novel in a month instead of a 50,000 word novel, I’d be more enthusiastic. 2) A lot of writers, even a lot of pros simply can’t come close to hitting that pace—I write two novels a year on deadline and it’s very rare for me to have a 50k month. Fostering the idea that you need to be able to write that fast to get somewhere can be actively harmful to slower writers. 3) There is a small but real number of writers out there who need to be encouraged to listen to the inner editor more rather than less and NaNo may encourage them to foster bad habits.
Overall, I would recommend to most writers that they try NaNo at least once or twice, but not to get too upset if it doesn’t suit them. I’d also recommend that they move on from NaNo to Novel in 90 or some other challenge that has both a more realistic end goal and pace. Even among the pros, 50,000 words a month is very fast. I can name maybe a dozen writers who beat it regularly and no more then twenty or thirty (me included) who can hit it occasionally during parts of a book. One book a year, ~500 words a day every single weekday is both much closer to the average and much easier for most to manage.
I should note here that anyone who finds that NaNo works well for them should absolutely keep doing it as long as that’s the case. Never give up on something that genuinely works for you.
Episode one: The Cat Food Contaminant.
We’ve been trying to put some weight on Meglet, our tiny black and white cat who has kidney issues. As a part of this effort we’ve been feeding her canned food as often as she wants it (KD). The best tool to get the wet food out of the can without making too much of a mess is a butter knife. So, there’s often been a cat food knife sitting on the edge of the sink.
I generally have a wrap of some sort for breakfast. This usually includes me slicing a few pieces of cheese and throwing it into a tortilla with meat or eggs. When I do this I will often have a a few pieces of cheese on their own.
About two weeks ago, I was making breakfast and had two or three slices of cheese. As I was eating I noticed that the smoked cheddar I had just opened had an unusual spicy/tangy note to it. Quite good, actually. Since it’s a processed cheese, I just assumed that they’d changed their process slightly and thought nothing of it.
A couple of hours after that, when I was actually awake, I wandered downstairs to refresh my tea and Meglet started begging for wet food. That’s when I noticed the cheese stains on the cat food knife and figured out what the unusual spice must have been…
I staggered out of bed as soon as I woke up out of the middle of the dream and I went straight to my laptop to write it down. These are the only circumstances under which Laura will not send me back to bed when I’m as groggy as I was then—staggering into walls, etc. I really like this particular idea and I might well turn it into a book after I write the 2-5 that are higher up the list. I’m going to bold the parts that I inserted as I was writing down the dream to make things make a touch more story sense. Everything else is exactly as I dreamed it. This is both the raw product of my unconscious mind and an unedited first draft chunk just as it came out this morning when I was still so incoherent I was running into things.
Cornflakes dipped in dark chocolate and piled together into a black tower a half mile tall (Actually flat stones, very nearly round with a finish like obsidian and feel like river rock, maybe ten inches across). Huge natural-looking/unnatural looking geological structure. Half is buried below the surface of the Earth. A ruined prince and his people have taken shelter there after a usurpation (evil sorcerer). It’s on land he owned as Prince of something like Wales. As a boy he used to climb through the structure for hours and days on end. No one knows it like he does.
He and his remaining knights take shelter there, putting in a couple of gates at key points to make an impregnable fortress. Have held out for months when a night assault up from the roots takes them prisoner. Something like dwarf/troll hybrids (hated by everyone and nearly wiped out by prince’s father) hired as mercenaries by the sorcerer. Turns out they can manipulate the flake (thought to be permanent/unbreakable) by use of special something or other because their ancestors built the tower.
The sorcerer arrives and kills most of the company and the dwarves, throws the prince and a few of his followers (+ betrothed) in the dungeon. In the absolute darkness the prince receives a gift from one of the dying trolls–key to his cell.
He slips out into the depths still without light and starts making his way by the sound of the wind that always blows through the structure as he used to as a boy. The different sound of the wind on people and stuff allows him to track upwind to find his followers as well as eventually to lead his band out into the night by an entrance down at the seaside. Eventually makes deal with trolls that will restore them to some of their rightful lands lift price on their head in exchange for their help.
An after-note on my sub/un—conscious mind. I know myself well enough to see from the title I gave this and the physical structure of the tower that this is at least partially inspired by a British candy bar type (the flake stuff is very like a bar I’ve had there a few times), and, that in my dream I was literally wandering around inside the chocolate (it was a good dream). It was quite probably triggered by having a different types of chocolate (Legacy truffles) last night which, in turn, reminded me of our recent trip to Winnipeg where I had yet a third kind of chocolate (Aero) that I associate with Edinburgh and the flake stuff.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how I make this stuff up, there it is: weird dreams brought on by chocolate. Or, this story was brought on by the letters c-h-o-c…etc.
As part of Joshua Palmatier’s Plot Synopsis Project II I’m posting the proposal synopsis for CodeSpell, the third book in the WebMage series. Links to other writers’ synopses will be at the bottom of this post.
Update: For those who have read CodeSpell you may notice that while the overall sequence of events and emphasis follows the book, there are any number of minor but significant departures. That’s pretty typical and expected. Enough so that this book went straight from delivery to the copyeditor with no revisions. For comparison here’s the synopsis for WebMage written after the book was complete.
Book Proposal for WebMage III (CodeSpell)
The story begins a few days after the end of Cybermancy with Ravirn receiving an invite from Zeus. The big guy is throwing a party of divine proportions. Among the reasons for the party is the coming-out of the newest power in the pantheon, Raven, so Ravirn’s attendance is not subject to negotiation.
The party is held on Mount Olympus in a huge outdoor venue. Ravirn attends with Cerice and Melchior in tow. During the course of the afternoon he encounters Cerberus, Hades, Persephone, the Fates, Dionysus, the Furies, and his own parents. His mother snubs him, his father does not, and in the process we find out that his father is the son of one of the Muses. He also runs into Dairn (last seen being dumped unconscious into a faerie ring in WebMage).
Something is horribly wrong with Dairn, though Ravirn is unable to decide what. This becomes much more important to Ravirn in a few minutes, when Dairn tries to kill Ravirn using powers beyond anything he’s ever previously exhibited. Ravirn is able to escape the attack, but only by the skin of his teeth.
There are a number of things going on that Ravirn doesn’t know or find out about for some time:
1. In the process of falling through the faerie rings, Dairn lost big chunks of his personality and memory. As he was wandering the worlds over the next year by randomly leaving and reentering faerie rings he became merged with the goddess Nemesis. Mythologically the role of Nemesis has a lot of overlap with the Furies, though she is less constrained, because she is without any controlling authority. She is also a bodiless entity, something like a non-replicating computer virus. In merging with Dairn she’s developed a powerful hatred of Ravirn.
2. Zeus is not the buffoon that Ravirn believes him to be. The sex-addled idiot thing is a carefully cultivated and personally rewarding act he uses to help throw his enemies off and reduce his workload. He is not fond of work if it can be avoided.
3. The damage to Necessity in Cybermancy includes a number of things that pose problems for the pantheon in general and Ravirn in specific. Among those is the loosing of Nemesis. Previously she had been confined both in location and power. Also, the resource locator forks for Tartarus (the prison of the Titans) have been destroyed. This last means that Zeus can no longer maintain a tight watch and leash on them, and that they are likely to free themselves and restart the Titanomach (the ten-year war with the gods that ended with the imprisonment of the Titans). Another major result of the damage is severely restricted access to Necessity, both electronic and physical. Not even the Furies are able to access her physical location and they can only speak with her intermittently. There are many other points of damage, but these are the ones of primary interest for this story.
4a. In order to prevent the escape of the Titans Zeus needs to arrange for the repair of Necessity. He believes he could take them in battle again if he had to, but it would be better if he didn’t have to. Fortunately, he sees a perfect out that involves a minimum of effort on his part——make Ravirn fix Necessity.
4b. His method for doing this is to nudge Nemesis into an encounter with Dairn and then to provide an opportunity for the merged being to have an unsuccessful shot at Ravirn, hence the party. Thereafter, in order to get rid of Nemesis Ravirn will be forced to repair the portion of Necessity that also contains the Tartarus forks.
4c. Zeus is also concerned about the increased power of the Fates in the computerized era and would like to see them taken down a peg or two. By framing them for the creation of Nemesis/Dairn he hopes to set the Furies, who are very jealous of the role of Nemesis, against the Fates. He also hopes that in the course of fixing Necessity Ravirn will introduce an anti-Fate bias that will come into full effect once Necessity’s powers are restored.
The initial attack by Nemesis is quickly followed up by further attempts, forcing Ravirn into a running battle with Nemesis while he tries to figure out some way to stop her. Because of Zeus’s machinations Ravirn becomes convinced that the Fates in general and Clotho in particular are responsible. This puts Cerice in the position of either joining Ravirn in direct opposition to her grandmother or of recusing herself. While she is being torn about this decision, Fate intervenes, literally. Clotho acts to remove Cerice from the equation, imprisoning her. Without Shara, who is still trapped within Necessity, Cerice is unable to resist effectively and is largely removed from the scene.
This is the opportunity Tisiphone has been waiting for, and because of the opposing roles of Furies and Nemesis, she is able to act as a desperately needed ally. Nemesis is a full-fledged goddess and her powers are nearly as great as those of Eris or Hades. Only the combination of the fact that she has to work through the relatively fragile medium of Dairn’s body and the intervention of Zeus allowed Ravirn to escape the first attack in one piece.
Over the course of the next several days Ravirn and Tisiphone discover that it is the damage to Necessity that unleashed Nemesis. A significant part of this discovery process results from communications with Shara from within Necessity. These communications are only possible because of Tisiphone’s tight connection to Necessity. Shara literally has to speak through Tisiphone. We also learn here that something truly strange happened with Ahllan’s disappearance in Cybermancy.
Once this is all established, it becomes clear that Ravirn is going to have to try to repair Necessity. He’s going to need to figure out some point of access. He’s also going to need more computing power. Necessity is simply too big a job for Melchior’s current specs. It’s time for a major (i.e. risky) upgrade. Melchior’s goblin shape and personality will remain the same, but he’s getting a new case and (in line with Ravirn’s chaos powers) a new quantum computing architecture that will make him significantly less mweb dependent.
Just as Ravirn completes the upgrade and reboots Melchior, Nemesis arrives. It’s touch and go, but at the cost of a really severe beating, Tisiphone is able to buy enough time for Ravirn and Melchior to escape. Unfortunately, they are now without the link they need to reach Necessity. In a stroke of apparent coincidence that is simply too much for Ravirn to buy, Megaera show up and offers to provide the missing link. She says she’s doing it for Tisiphone’s sake, but Ravirn realizes there’s more going on here than he thought, and he makes the conceptual leap to link it all back to Zeus.
Tired of being manipulated, Ravirn heads out to confront Zeus with Melchior vociferously arguing that it’s a bad idea. The whole way. Zeus’s role is revealed in the plot, including his actual nature. Ravirn is stunned beyond words, and deeply angry with Zeus, but he admits that at this point their goals coincide and he will go through with the scheme to fix Necessity. Scene ends with an accommodation similar to the one Ravirn enjoys with Eris, affection tinged with fear and grudging respect.
When he arrives at the physical location of Necessity however, he discovers that Nemesis, using Tisiphone as a link, has preceded him. A pitched battle takes place, one that Ravirn is able to win with the aid of Tisiphone, Melchior, and Shara-who can act directly for him in the House of Necessity. The fight is won with the death of Dairn and the apparent destruction of Nemesis through the physical destruction of portion of some of Necessity’s hardware.
Then Melchior and Ravirn proceed to repairing Necessity. Unfortunately, complete repair is far beyond their limited resources at the time. They are able to tie up Tartarus, but the Nemesis portion of the system is totally inoperable and the Furies are going to need do considerable hardware repair over the course of the next several years in order to get Necessity back into a state where Ravirn can take a true crack at the software problems.
The book ends on the first day of spring when Shara is ejected from Necessity. Ravirn is triumphant, but a number of loose ends leave him with a great deal of work to do and food for thought. Necessity is still controlling the mweb, but only portions of the destinies of the gods. Cerice and Ravirn parted under very stressful circumstances and Ravirn has developed further feelings for Tisiphone over the course of their conflict with Nemesis. This is further complicated by Tisiphone’s anger and grief over the damage done to Necessity’s physical form in the battle. She feels personal responsibility for that and her fellow Furies also blame her, but she also holds Ravirn partially to blame. And, where is Ahllan? All of which will lead into WebMage IV, MythOS.
Alma Alexander (Will post on the 20th instead.)