Deadlines can be stressful times for writers. I'm in the final stretch of my third book with the aim of completing by may 30th. I've been banging my head against a wall for the last week on the ending.

Marathon writing is hard. Marathon writers block is hell.

There is no better time to self-medicate with alcohol. Yet, there is no worse time to get completely shit-hammered. So, using science and spreadsheets I invented a cocktail that would give me a buzz through the day and into my all-nighters but wouldn't leave me feeling like shit the next day. So far it's been a smashing success.

Since I'm being eminently pragmatic I also wanted to reduce the harm as much as humanly possible so I wanted a low cost and low calorie alternative to wine and beer.

I call it...

img_0200The Deadline

It's basically vodka and infused water. 

Ingredients

  • 8 oz 80 proof vodka
  • 60 oz water, infused

For the Infusion

  • Cucumber (around half of one)
  • A few limes (more can never hurt)
  • Some cilantro
  • (There are a ton of options here-- fruit medeleys, hot sauces, mint, powdered vitamins, etc. I feel like I'm drinking spa water)

Directions

  1. Basically chop up all the veggies in a pitcher of water and let chill overnight.
  2. Measure Vodka in a second pitcher with a seal-able lid.
  3. Strain infused water and shake. Hint: Making a large batch means you won't over-pour as the day wears on.

Benefits

Alcohol % is 4, better than most beers and wine coolers.

Materials included. I'm paying $0.58 per drink

Calories are about 90 for an 8 oz serving

It tastes healthy, like going to the spa.

Drawbacks

Tons, it's alcohol.

At some point every writer must confront this question: If my fictional characters had access to Disney animated films, which ones would they enjoy? (Believe it or not, these kinds of silly exercises do help writers with characterization-- imagining people in improbable situations and developing a response that feels true to the character)

Sword - Aladdin.

In addition to a wisecracking genie this film features a sentient carpet, who Sword would argue is the true protagonist. Aladdin and Jasmine also get pretty hot and heavy on the rug, which has a personality. Sword would point out that constitutes a three way.

Second choice: Alice in Wonderland. Sword's preferred method of killing enemies is decapitation. "Off with her head" is more than a catchphrase for Sword. Also the concept of vorpal swords was created by Lewis Carol.

Sword's playful and a sucker for romance stories.

Jessa - Frozen.

As a Stormlord, Jessa understands Elsa's burdens of being royalty with power over the elements. It also features a killer power ballad that deals with a young woman becoming her own person. "Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway"

Second choice would be Snow White for its accurate portrayal of queens and their inherent evil.

Of all the characters, Jessa is probably the best with kids and would enjoy spending time watching almost anything with children. Except Spongebob... the bottom of the sea is a dangerous vault of murder and no place for little ones.

Maddox - Fantasia.

It should also be noted that Maddox would have little patience for family entertainment, or would at least would never admit it openly. That doesn't mean he can't enjoy being critical and sarcastic. Maddox likes the sorcerer's apprentice but would loudly complain that telekinesis is much safer than the film indicates.

Second choice: Dumbo. The racist stereotypes would be lost on people from Maddox's world (where dark skin is sometimes a sign of status) but the elephant gets drunk.

Of all my characters, he has the best singing voice so he might belt out some anthems in the privacy of his chambers. He also loves to draw... so any of the Pixar movies would be basically garbage to him.

Heath -Brave.

Heath does not suffer fools and Merida is a capable protagonist. In any other setting would be a skilled assassin. Although Heath has impressive powers, he prefers to rely on skill and intelligence. He's always calm under pressure.

Second choice: Pinnochio. In a world where magic can detect lies, Heath has disciplined himself to be immune to detection by adopting a solipsistic definition of truth he can bend to his own purposes. He would take Pinnochio's curse as a personal challenge in proving the subjectivity of truth.

As an antihero, Heath would probably reject the narrative of most films. He prefers practicality to morality and would view modern entertainment as overly simplistic. He doesn't read fiction.

But third choice? Princess and the Frog. Tiana reminds Heath of his mother.

Satryn - The Little Mermaid.

But only the parts with Ursala.

Otherwise Satryn would find most Disney films too saccharine to stomach. They're simple entertainment for people who believe that being noble is better than being powerful.

It's propaganda that convinces the less ambitious to find comfort in their mediocrity.

Soren - Winnie the Pooh.

A sweet non-violent movie about a cute little bear and his friends, what could be better? Soren likes entertainment that doesn't reflect the harsh realities of life.

Second Choice: The Incredibles. Although the modern setting is a bit confusing, the cool superhuman abilities win him over.

Like Pooh, Soren borders on being both incredibly naive and remarkably well adjusted.

Lyta -Sleeping Beauty.

Lyta has always dreamed of being the one to save the beautiful princess. Plus Aurora bears a striking resemblance to her ex girlfriend. Lyta is very protective of those she cares about and and relates to the struggle to keep loved ones safe.

Second Choice: Monsters Inc. Lyta is a beautiful woman who has a hidden monstrous side. At her core she struggles with both sides of her identity. She might like Monsters Inc for its sympathetic portrayal of people who are different.

Lyta has spent most of her life pretending to be someone and something else.

Libertine - Wall-E.

Libby is from our world. She appreciates, more than anyone, the social commentary about the environment and excesses of modern society. She escaped an apocalyptic world so it's not just an allegory.

Second Choice: Spirited Away. Because it's a masterpiece, obvi.

Libby doesn't go for the cannon of Disney Princess flicks because of their problematic portrayals of women.

While it is my job to dream up thrilling escapades and battles against cosmic forces that threaten the very fabric of my reality... there's not a lot of adventure in my real life.

Today I was going to make a chicken salad from Richard Blais's cookbook, which is the fanciest thing I've attempted in a while. But the chicken, which was a mere day past it's sell by had a funny smell. Not strong... but certainly a little off. Of course I don't go around smelling chicken all the time so maybe it smells like that? Anyway it was off to the internet.

A google search of "Can you cook and eat chicken if it smells" reveals a surprising wealth of queries. In absolutely ZERO cases on nine pages of comments did anyone say this was a good idea. The internet may not be able to agree the Confederate flag is a racist symbol (which it is) but it really came together in one voice when it comes to the safe handling of poultry.

You can cook the living shit out of the meat and kill the bacteria but it's the toxic substances they create that pose the health risk. You learn something new each day.

I've had food poisoning exactly once and it was traumatic. I don't remember a time in recent memory that I felt sicker. On top of the pain and nausea there is the constant flow out of both ends. It was enough that I couldn't eat sushi for a year... and even after that I only eat sushi when someone else suggests it.

I count myself lucky that the internet was there for me, so I will pay it forward by adding my journey to the path of food safety traveled by many before me. When in doubt throw it out. The human olfactory system is one of the most advanced field tests for chemicals in existence (well... besides dogs and pretty much every other animal)

Interesting random fact-- psychopaths have a poor sense of smell. How crazy is that? I mean in addition to the crazy of psychopathy.

Smell is an oft neglected sense in writing, and the English language in general. It's partially because we don't have a lot of words for smells. We usually make them by analogy-- vinegar, sulfur etc. The whole smell test for wine uses a well-defined taxonomy. When a sommelier says they catch hints of cassis on the nose, it's a fancy way of saying it smells like cat pee. But we have no articulate way to describe what cat pee smells like.

Our noses are definitely not our keenest sense and our language reflects that. We probably have more words to describe various shades of blue than all smells put together.

So as I type this on my little laptop and smell a peppery glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, I meditate on the dangers of raw poultry and my brush with misfortune. Back to the word mines... and dreams of chicken salad.

*(In the course of writing this, spell check red lined the words: Sauvignon, cassis and sommelier. What peasant programmed this dictionary?)

 


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies , the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out October. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.

You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest . (You can also follow him on Goodreads and even Amazon)

 

 

 

Immortality is one of the things I explore in my books. I've always been fascinated with the idea of living forever.

But how do I parlay that into writing in a way that's interesting? Immortality is one of the hallmarks of a fantasy Mary Sue character. If a character literally cannot die, how do you get the reader invested in their struggle? A lot of writers avoid this, or leverage caveats, for exactly this reason.

Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood had that ability with a nice twist-- he could die, he'd just come back a little while later. It's a much more interesting, and tactile approach. He's not invulnerable and does feel pain, so there are stakes in the conflicts he faces. I take a similar approach in my book.

One thing that's helpful in writing is to imagine myself, or a relatively ordinary person I can relate to, with that ability. What if every time I died I came back to life the next day, no different than I was yesterday? What would change? How would the world react? What would I do?

If I can't truly die, a lot of pressing concerns become trivial. I certainly don't have to worry about fitness or smoking or alcohol abuse. Safety in general would be less of a concern although since I could still feel pain. That might be enough to keep me from running into burning buildings, but I'd be pretty calm during airplane turbulence.

Since, in this example, I live in a non-magic world it would be a much bigger deal if I came back from the dead publicly-- which given our legal system is almost guaranteed. Religions have started over less.

I could also end up in some government laboratory... but I truly don't believe that the government actually has that kind of laboratory. And though the military is open minded about the paranormal I doubt that anyone in those divisions has any experience dealing with it.

The laboratory I'd probably end up in would be pharmaceutical. I could fast track human trials for a boatload of prescription drugs and experimental procedures. My organs could also be harvested safely and I would just resurrect the next day perfectly intact. Suffice it to say I could make money pretty easily. Not to mention that I'm immortal, which would be advantageous to study in itself.

Which is good because... Immortality is expensive. The only reason human beings retire is because there's an end to life. I would need to think on a much longer term scale. I would technically live long enough to see every dollar I have turn into a million.

But that's assuming there's even going to be banks that far in the future. Suddenly I'm less concerned with having a sixth glass of wine with dinner and more about the continuity of Western Civilization. And that global warming? That's a problem.

There could be mass extinction and ecological collapse. I don't see all of humanity dying out. They say roaches will survive a nuclear holocaust-- so will humans in some form or another. We're too well adapted and genetically diverse to be wiped out by anything short of a global event that rendered the earth uninhabitable to any life.

As a hypothetical immortal, that's the next worry on my mind. I may only be able to live for a fraction of a second when the sun burns the Earth's atmosphere off, but for me all those seconds will be contiguous. It would be like being burned alive for all eternity. Not fun.

Some time between now and then I'd need to figure out a way to get off the planet or concoct some crazy scheme worthy of a James Bond villain-- start a religious cult to fund my private space program. Dangle the carrot of eternal life and possibly build a new race of immortals (but if they were like me could I trust them forever?) At least I'd have time to work out the details.

But the point is changing how one thing works, changes the fundamental ways a human mind could work. It alters priorities and things that sound silly, suddenly become very serious.

I think the trick in writing about things that could easily be wish fulfillment is to look at them from as many angles as possible.

Obviously the ideal case would give you an out at some point. If you could stay young and healthy for as long as you wanted, what point would you call it quits?


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies Opens in a new window, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out October. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.

You can find him on Facebook Opens in a new window, Twitter Opens in a new windowand Pinterest Opens in a new window. (You can also follow him on Goodreads Opens in a new windowand even Amazon Opens in a new window)

So when I first heard about a reality TV show set in a fantasy world I admit that it sounded completely ridiculous. I am not generally a fan of the genre to say the least.

andrew-frazer-questAt it's heart, The Quest incorporates a scripted narrative into a reality competition, with the prize being named the "One True Hero". The show is rigorously true to its formats in both its aspects as a fantasy story and a reality television competition. Anyone familiar with Survivor will quickly recognize how the game works-- immunity challenge, elimination challenge, voting and elimination.

The fantasy elements of the story are absolutely archetypal and if you had a fantasy trope bingo card, you would fill it completely by the end of the ten-episode season. There's a savior prophesy and a demonic Dark Lord wreaking mischief in the land of Everrealm. The quest is for a powerful item that can can defeat the darkness. There's a noble queen, a gruff drill sergeant who becomes friendly and an unfriendly vizer who turns out to be... Well, you can guess. There are no original or memorable ideas in this story but the performers deliver pretty well, given that a lot of their task is essentially improv/LARP.

But that's where the beauty comes into play. Because in this world of stock fantasy characters they've created you have real, actual people. At first the emphasis is on why these kind of stories appeal to the contestants-- fantasy was an escape for them, a refuge. As a creator, I know that feeling as well, but it reaffirmed to me the importance of the work we do as writers in this genre. The delight of the contestants is palpable when they arrive at a real live castle fully populated with medieval extras.

But it gets even better. There's character development in the paladins (something that all too rarely happens with fictional paladins) as they work together and compete to complete the challenges ahead of them. For the most part the challenges are a bit contrived and somewhat unsafe looking. At first the people don't know how to react to this staged world and their interactions with the actors are awkward... but as the season progresses they really, really get into it as themselves.

430.1x1The Quest is probably the best example of how real people would exist in a fantasy universe. They all want to be heroes, but they share a reflected examination of what it means. They struggle with their own flaws and work to overcome them in ways that are often moving. One woman, Laeticia, won a fighting challenge over a wrestler and an MMA fighter. As a child she always got beat by her brothers when they would roughhouse, and looked to fantasy as a place where women could finally beat men. And she fucking did it. Courage and confidence are a recurring theme for the women in the Quest.

The jock (Andrew who is hot as fuck btw) who always acted impulsively, had to use his brain and he came out ahead-- he also learned some valuable lessons about what makes a "true hero". These are real templates for character research. I could see someone like Shando, the driven competitor or Patrick, the protective father and math teacher reacting to being captured by lizard people.

It's also refreshing that the Machiavellian drama typical to these sorts of shows is quickly recognized and squashed. There are friendships but no real alliances and people are kept in the competition on merit rather than shoved off the island to level the playing field. People behave... heroically and everyone is gracious, for the most part. There's no cash prize-- just the satisfaction of defeating Valox. The budget clearly went to costumes and extras.

It's a ton of fun to watch and it's streaming on Netflix so you can waste a good part of a weekend.

 


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out September. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.

There has been some tremendous discussion about the level of rape in Game of Thrones, and to a lesser extent George R. R. Martin's books. The general consensus from the vocal critics is that the scenes are awful and unnecessary to the story. The most persuasive argument from the defenders is that it's an authentic depiction of how violence and misogyny would have existed in a male dominated, pre-democratic society. As much as I love the books, it's exactly these sorts of things that remind me Westeros would be a horrible place to live for practically anybody. Is it gratuitously depicted for the sake of setting or are the GoT rape scenes essential to the narrative?

Here's how I handled it in my book, and why.

Before my first book, there was another project titled Runaways, a nearly completed first draft of a story that was the basis for The Queen of Lies. The book opened on Jessa, running away from her newly wed husband, a brutal man who surprise, surprise... violently raped her on her wedding night. My goal was to give her a motivation and establish the villain. The character never developed, no matter how much I tried to give her an identity. The arc about her finding strength was forced.

Fortunately my better angels prevailed. I scrapped that draft completely and started from scratch-- same setting, same characters but "remixed". Jessa's character is still a survivor, but of much more insidious emotional abuse; and she occasionally serves a witty riposte to her domineering mother. I challenged myself to come up with something different for her: A young woman from a highborn family who initiates consensual sex, in spite of the scandal. It's much fresher stuff and illustrates the character's development into personal agency.

But it's not just about telling a good story or moving a plot forward.

Storytelling is about emotion, not of the characters but of the readers. People have physiological reactions to what they read. People will laugh out loud at the funny parts (hopefully they were intentional) and when scenes get steamy... well people physically react to that too. Different readers respond differently. One thing you have to be very careful with in writing is making your reader upset to a point that constitutes emotional injury.

Animal torture or harm to small children get a visceral reaction of disgust. I think it's because we're biologically/culturally wired to form quick emotional bonds with babies and domesticated animals. I don't generally rub strangers in public; but if I see a friendly dog, especially a puppy, I think nothing of going over and getting all up in its business. If you gratuitously kill a puppy in your books, people are going to hate the book, and quite possibly the author. You need to handle those topics with the care and precision you would when handling ebola bacteria.

For survivors, rape evokes that same strong reaction of horror; often much stronger than a writer without those experiences intended to create. It's easy as a male writer, crafting in a genre where a certain amount of murder and violence is expected, to equate rape with any other "bad thing" that happens, like mass murder or cannibalism. After all, from a legal standpoint those other two examples are objectively worse. But a book is about the feelings and experiences of your readers and chances are they haven't been murdered or cannibalized.

So, is rape necessary in fantasy literature?

I don't believe in shying away from controversial topics or any form of creative censorship, but it's also about risk and reward. If the reward is a positive, transformative emotional experience, then any risk is worth it. If you're giving voice to injustice, same thing. We control the worlds our readers live in and that's a big responsibility. Creating an enjoyable experience is as much about distancing the reader from all the terrible things as it is connecting them with the story.

The writers of the Game of Thrones TV show take a risk when they air those scenes. While I'm not bothered by it, I completely understand why others are. Given the spate of controversy I don't think Sansa's scene at the end of last week's episode was a wise decision. The show is starting to alienate a lot of people without making any important point about the subject other than "rape is bad".

I'm very pleased I chose not to go with the first manuscript*. Jessa may not be a Strong Female Heroine™ but she works better when she's not a victim.

 

*In Runaways Maddox was also a horrible racist, Sword had no personality, and Satryn was a minor character... so you can see already what that book would have been like.

 


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out September. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.

I wrote a short story called "Splitting Adam". Rewrote it. I workshopped it on Critters.org to a bunch of strangers, very few of them professionals. I re-rewrote it. Then... I handed it over to my journalist friend for editing. I re-wrote it again.

When I finally worked up the nerve to send it out for publication I submitted it to Clarke's World. I was out celebrating my first step with friends that evening and before I finished my first drink, I I got the email that my story was rejected. It took them six hours to say: "Interesting concept, not well told." The rejection letter from Asimov's came by SASE after only a week... it went to my neighbor who opened it by mistake so my shame was semi-public. Accounting for the time it takes to mail things, my story didn't last a day in their offices either.

Maybe the re-writes killed it. I also had to admit, I don't read much short fiction, let alone any of the markets where I shopped this story. I wrote short fiction because I thought that was the stepping stone to becoming a novelist. That's simply not true, (many authors have never published short stories) but I believed it at the time.

Below is the entire story, Splitting Adam. It's 2,300 words that took over a month to finalize. That's the length of an average chapter in my book, which takes me less than a day to write. It's a quick quirky read that I think deserves to see the light of day.

Splitting Adam

 

The six of me could not agree on anything. ...continue reading "Splitting Adam: Short Fiction and a Lesson in Rejection"

The project is under the working title of The Mirrored City. I'm 50,938 words into the first draft with a target to be done by June. Here's a taste of the prologue...

 

Isik

 

The necromancer Isik followed behind the Patrean guard. The streets and narrow alleys of Dessim were still a mystery to him. The walls were riddled with tiny alcoves, shrines to any of the thousands of gods the people of the city worshipped as part of the Host. There was actually a god of tax evasion who was currently quite popular.

 

“What is your name?” Isik had a thick Volkovian accent.

 

“Fox,” The Patrean soldier replied. They all looked alike so it was impossible to tell if he should have known the guard or not. Fox was not a familiar name.

 

Isik nodded. “In Volkov, it was easy, the Patreans wear their names on their uniforms so we can tell them apart.”

 

“It’s not often people here even bother to ask,” Fox commented.

 

“Then what do they call you?” Isik inquired.

 

Fox shrugged, “Well… ‘Hey you’ and ‘excuse me’ are pretty common. But it gets more colorful when I make arrests.”

 

Isik sighed. “It is a shame. I think that if everyone looked alike the world would have far less problems.”

 

“If the world had less violence, I’d be out of a contract,” Fox quipped.

 

“And if fewer people were murdered I may have to take up a craft,” Isik admitted. “Still I think it’s a better world where you do not constantly have to interrupt the coroner’s dinner to drag him to the scene of a murder, yes? Perhaps we could make paintings.”

 

Here's my dream casting for The Queen of Lies. If this ever got optioned as a movie the budget would be explosive... and I'd much prefer a TV series anyway... which would probably cost even more over several seasons.

Still, as a writer I take a lot of my inspiration from popular entertainment and build physical descriptions around characters. I don't generally give a lot of details about my characters' appearance (I think people imagine them better than I describe them)  so this Pinterest board is more of a fun exercise than any official cannon. Some of these actors were inspiration, others I had to think about who I would like to cast. This represents one way I see the characters in my mind, more or less, but you're free to imagine them differently.

Follow Mike's board Casting for The Queen of Lies on Pinterest.

It is one thing to spend a year laboring in secret over a manuscript. I've very diligently followed the advice of Dean Wesley Smith and not talked much about my work in progress, especially with other writers. I think that's sound advice for my process, since it tends to be a very internal experience. At times I've really wanted to share my story and I've made coy allusions to it in conversation: It's fantasy. It follows the separate stories of three characters that intersect. I share my word count when people ask how it's going.

The benefit of this is that I reveal nothing of my project to the outside world and I limit my exposure to unhelpful or speculative advice from well-meaning but under-qualified sources. ("You should write a book about...")

The dynamic changes when the manuscript is finished. Suddenly the lonely process of writing becomes an event. People are congratulating me on finishing, asking when they can read it.  People want to know what it's about and I find myself wishing I'd given myself more practice summarizing the material. "It's um... a fantasy book about three people that do a lot of stuff?"

People are clamoring for a look at the first draft. (I tell people reading a first draft is like finding out how hot dogs are made. You never want to eat one again.)

So my book is currently being looked at by my b-readers and will shortly go through line editing with my publisher. I am absolutely terrified. I have been on the reading end of a terrible debut novel and it is awkward. I do not envy the friends who've volunteered to b-read.

As the author I love my ideas, my characters, and the world I created. I know what good writing is, and I know what bad writing is-- it's derivative, the characters are flat, the premise is acrobatically contrived, and the prose has the cadence of tennis shoes in a washing machine. I am however, never sure where my writing measures up. I probably take my strengths for granted, and exaggerate my weaknesses. But I may also exaggerate my strengths while ignoring my weaknesses. It is nearly impossible to tell with something you work that closely with, especially if you're debuting. I've heard some writers put their manuscripts in a drawer before revisiting them. I also know this is a common feeling even among successful writers (in fact it might be more common for them than the bad ones).

I fear both honest and dishonest feedback. No one wants to say your baby is ugly even when it is. Even when it's clear that the child is so hideous and unholy that you should abandon any hopes of ever procreating. And some people are just not cut out to be parents. A lot of people write for the wrong reasons-- I certainly know that I did when I was a dewey eyed college freshman intent on commercial success, because it seemed like getting rich writing books was more fun than having a 9-5. It shows in the work who wants to write vs. who wants to be a writer. (Plus this shit's just hard and it takes a lot of talent and practice to do it well.)

That didn't happen this time, thank god. I did not try to please anybody with this work, aside from maybe the people I asked to b-read. Self publishing is a godsend in that arena. Whereas I would have struggled with making two out of four main characters gay back in 1994, I didn't give it a second thought in 2014.

I make good money, better than I likely ever will from writing... so it was a labor of love. I never needed it to be a success. I wrote mostly for myself, with the initial intention of publishing my book for free. I just wanted to share a story with people.

Until I finished. They say becoming a parent changes you. So does finishing a book.

I am going to take my feedback like a man, but I am not giving up this baby. I will make sure it's ready for market and it will be awesome.