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.

I am three chapters in to book 3. It doesn't have a title yet but it's at about 4,000 words since I started on it today. I've been procrastinating for weeks so it feels good to get the pages done. 5k is a good day for me, but it's not uncommon either. I've started entertaining the idea of working on two books at once.

Compared to many other writers I speak to, this is pretty prolific progress. The Mirrored City was finished in about three and a half months. If I keep my speed up, book 3 will be out in late 2015/early 2016.

So what's my secret? I don't know. I've always been fast at things.

Some things spring to mind though...

Trust yourself. I think self-doubt is the biggest obstacle to productivity. This is very hard, especially with a first book. Now that I've been through an editing process and gotten some feedback, I'm much more confident in what I put down on the page.

It doesn't have to be perfect. There are bad parts of even great books. (Harry Potter is a great read but Hermione's whole thing with S.P.E.W.? Yeah whatever.) People look at the whole story, remember the parts they liked and hopefully put up with the parts they don't. My goal is to be "good enough".

Give your first book permission to suck. Just write it like no one will ever read it. It's a liberating experience and you can feel free to try new things.

Write. You do not become a better writer by revising and editing. That's a whole other skill set and ideally done by someone who isn't the author of the original work. I spend the majority of my time on a book putting down new words, rather than reworking old ones.

Writers Block. This is usually a sign that I don't want to tell a story a certain way or that I've gotten off track. I may have painted myself into a corner or spent too much time on something irrelevant. Usually if I back up and delete some stuff then I find the writing flows much smoother.

Part of it helps that I have nothing else to do. When I write it's for multi hour stretches. When I don't write it's for multiple days, but I'm always thinking about the book. The Queen of Lies final draft took me six months when I had a full time job.

It's not impossible to write two or three books a year. But not everyone has the same process. There's no "right way" to write a book. This process works pretty well for me. I'm not a perfectionist to start out with and I have a talent for creating scenes in my mind.

The biggest way to not write a book is to let yourself stress out over all the little things. (That's what editors are for).


 

Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies Opens in a new windowOpens 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 themailing list for more info.

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

 

 

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.

If you're like me... you're a digital reader and probably don't think about print that much. The bottom line is that the only dimensions that matter in terms of pricing is the thickness. A book can be too big because it's conversely too small in terms of measurement. Don't go with the smallest size.

Createspace doesn't exactly tell you everything when you're choosing the physical dimensions of your book. It's a bit counter intuitive.

This is a good online tool for estimating page count: http://wordstopages.com/

Also.... follow me on Youtube. Because I may do more of these posts.