I'm going to move all the news on my books, comics and games over to my web site, mainly because I can't be arsed to maintain a separate blog (as you've probably noticed) but I know many of you have a blog feed set up and so get your info from here rather than www.karentraviss.com
Anyway, the fifth Gears of War novel is called THE SLAB and it'll be out in May 2012.
So click on the main web site link. There's news there about HaloFest and the cast of GLASSLANDS too. Go on, do it now.
For those of you in the UK with a radio, I'll be on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour tomorrow morning. (May 25, sometime after 1000 BST.) That's assuming things go to schedule, as they frequently don't with live broadcasts, but if they don't the petrol won't be wasted because I have shopping to do at Lakeland and Waitrose, which aren't a million miles from the studio.
I swear I won't turn it into a pimpfest for the books, comics, and a certain game I have out this year. Well, only discreetly. Honest.
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I'm not sure if this delights me or not. And I don't want to see any American actors in the key roles. No offence, but this is another UK show that will just never, ever translate, just as Law & Order UK is a pathetic shadow of the US original.
The Professionals was 24-carat, hairy-arsed, totally un-PC joy: real TV from an era when men were men and women were women and angry Scottish blokes were... Gordon Jackson. I still watch the re-runs on ITV4 with a nostalgic tear in my eye. But there can only be one Bodie and Doyle. (Although I'm sort of intrigued by calls for Peter Capaldi to play Cowley in place of the late Gordon J.)
Still... better a half-decent remake of The Professionals than the usual angsty-maverick-loner-cop-with-drink-or-family-problems-and-one-signature-gimmick shite that the BBC and others crank out these days. I'm relieved to see Waking The Dead being taken behind the shed and put out of its misery at last. I used to like it, but - like Silent Witness - it got increasingly silly. This is the last series and I want to see a Blakes 7 style slaughter of all the characters at the end. Please.
Believe it or not, it's perfectly possible to write a good cop show without having the cast involved personally in the crimes every week. I'm sure I've watched quite a few.
I sometimes think Britain has already split into two distinct species - our armed forces, and our whiny trivia-obsessed general population. (Yes, the Mash always nails it.) I know which gene pool we should be breeding from.
DATE: 03/24/2011 12:02:38 AM ----- BODY: I keep promising readers some more of my original fiction "soon" and I can now make good on that promise. I realise it's taken a long time, but I've been a bit swamped over the last couple of years. Once the current franchise task is off my desk in about a month, my priority switches to my own novels for a year or so. I'll be announcing the first new series shortly. It'll be the same character driven military-political action you've come to expect from me, but in a different setting. Expect to see the first book out next year. More on that later.
I'll still be doing franchise work in different media this year, of course, because I love it. But there's always a balance to be struck; and most of it is about economic considerations, not creative ones. Put crudely, books make me more money for the time and effort expended than other media, and my creator-owned stuff earns me more in the long term than the work I do for other IPs. It's all about royalties and rights. You need to keep putting products out there to generate a long term income stream.
Like I keep saying, if you think being a professional writer is just about the craft, think again. Making a good living out of it is a totally different box of gerbils. Writing is the easy bit.
( * That's yer actual Latin, that is. Words to live by.)
A few years ago, when Labour were still in power and nobody had given much serious thought to a new Tory leader called David Cameron, some Conservatives talked about continuing "Blair's legacy" in positive terms. (Astounding, but true.) I was on a US book tour when I read the headlines on their site, but - being a loyal Tory at the time - I mailed Conservative HQ from my hotel room to say that they could now ram their party up their collective jacksie because I didn't think that emulating a lying, corrupt war criminal was much of a political aspiration. I got a fulsome reply from one of Cameron's minions pointing to all the ways he wasn't like Blair, but - if memory serves - that was the day I let my Conservative Party membership lapse.
Well, at least they didn't lie. Cameron has morphed fully into Blair, except he's not inventing outright lies about the security threats to justify sticking his nose in. He's much too smart for that. Yesterday he promised us "not another Iraq" in Libya and I suspect that's not technically a lie either - it's more like another Afghanistan. It's another area where we don't actually give a toss about the inhabitants and aren't really under threat from them, whatever the official line says, but we do care about the country's strategic and economic value. (Afghan gas pipelines. Do a search on that one.) Won't somebody think of the oil and gas companies children?
God help me, I even found myself agreeing with George Galloway today. I never thought the day would come.
We can't even front up with an aircraft carrier for this latest fiasco - we don't have any operational now due to the budget cuts. And does anyone really know who we might be trying to put into power in Libya? We were kissing Gaddafi's arse until very recently indeed, knowing his terror habits and what a piece of work he was (a personal friend of Blair as well, according to Gaddafi's son) so you have to wonder what he finally did to piss us off after years of our tolerating Libya doing what it liked, including shooting a British policewoman outside the Libyan embassy in London. But like Saddam Hussein, he might even look like the lesser of two evils in years to come. Talk about not learning the bloody lessons.
Now, those unlucky buggers in Darfur didn't have oil fields. Neither did the unfortunate people of Zimbabwe; it's tough trying to get the west to help when all that's at stake is the supply of air-freighted baby vegetables for Sainsburys. So we were oddly inactive on their behalf, just as we're oddly inactive about Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. My personal view is that we don't have a right, let alone a duty, to impose our Waitrose-demographic Guardianista ideas of democracy on other countries, and that we should mind our own business until and unless they're about to head our way with a full payload (which we probably sold them anyway). It's not worth the blood of a single British soldier. So I'm not advocating intervention anywhere, but hypocritical and cynical inconsistencies can't be ignored.
Anyway, the UK TV news seems happy that it has a new circus. It's getting bored with Japan. I was dismayed by how fast they lost interest in the scale of the humanitarian tragedy - a much bigger story than the Fukushima reactors - and concentrated on displaying their utter ignorance of basic science instead. I've watched nuclear safety experts explaining patiently about the real nature of radiation risks and what different reactors do, but for the most part it looked, to use a phrase beloved of my buddy Jim, like trying to teach a dog to do card tricks. This has not been a good week to showcase the quality of British TV journalism.
Just to put the hysteria in context, many hundreds of people in the UK die from the health effects of radiation every year, and not because they live near reactors. It's because they live in places like Cornwall, which have a lot of natural radon - in some places, the dose is twice that of the maximum allowed for a nuclear industry worker. And then there's the radon component in lung cancer among smokers. The main threat to our lives in the UK isn't Krazee Abdul from Kabul or a reactor meltdown or even Cornwall, but the nature of the lives we live and the crap we willingly ingest. Oh, and the loony driver tailgating you on the A303. He's bloody dangerous too.
And if you're unlucky enough to be in some areas of Japan right now, starving or dying of hypothermia are probably higher on your risk agenda than exposure to radiation.
And at the same time as our front-line troops are losing their jobs and more defence cuts are emerging each day, Cameron's immediate knee-jerk response to the Libyan situation is to rush to get us involved in another shooting war over oil interests. (Oh, come on, you don't think we suddenly give a toss about the Libyan people after forty years of turning a blind eye, do you?) I suspect he has no idea what a no-fly zone entails in terms of military action, but if he has, I don't know which is more nauseating - crass ignorance or a callous disregard for men's lives.
For God's sake, what's happening to this country?
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What little free time I have is usually spent on running unavoidable domestic errands that I can't hire someone else to do, but I'm now making time for the best TV series I've seen in years. Everything stops now - and I mean I stop even if I'm on a critical chapter and a deadline is looming - forForbrydelson (The Killing) on BBC 4 on Saturday nights. It's Danish, it's subtitled, it's got more layers than a saucy Byzantine croissant wearing a crinoline, and it's brilliant. I'm grinding my teeth by the end of the show because I can't wait a week for the next episode but I won't weaken and buy the DVD because it'd spoil the anticipation. The ritual of stopping to watch a TV show on TX rather than time-shifting is a vanishing pleasure in its own right.
We've forgotten the joy of a serial. That's right, a long series (Forbrydelson is 20 episodes) where you get fed gradual and tantalising revelation each week, the story is developed, the characters are fleshed out, and you don't find out whodunnit until the end. We live in a world of trite, shallow crap like CSI and all the other solved-in-45-minutes "dramas" that have lost the art of building tension and foster a kind of cultural ADHD where the viewer expects everything sorted in one session and thinks there's something wrong with a story that's spread over a more than one episode. Yes, I know I usually never get judgmental about other people's entertainment choices, but when I see a series like Forbrydelson, I realise what we've lost and how frigging dumb and thin most drama is these days.
Storytelling. That's what it's all about. Pacing. Immersion. Not so many years ago, long and meaty series (Edge of Darkness, or even Twin Peaks before it started vanishing up its own orifice) were joyous things to be anticipated, savoured and discussed. They were proper three-course meals rather than microwaved pop tarts. You didn't want to cut to the chase; you didn't want them to end. But they still exist, and the Scandiwegians seem to do them best. I'm a sucker for police dramas (not SF - my personal viewing preferences don't bear much resemblance to the work I do) and I prefer Wallander in Swedish for some reason, but even that isn't a patch on this series.
I don't speak Danish or Swedish. But these shows are better for being kept in their original language and not dubbed or (as in the case of Wallander) remade in English with an English cast. It's all part of geting a glimpse into a real world that isn't like your own life or even like your own culture. And I'm picking up Danish cuss words, which is bound to come in handy one day.
They're not just good at sandwiches, bacon, and fairy tales, these Danish chappies. They make damn good TV, too.
I like gadgets a lot, but I never usually want to marry them and have their babies.
I've developed deeply meaningful personal relationships with beloved laptops that have served me like loyal dogs (RIP Ghez) but I do tend to buy gadgets in the hope that they'll make my life easier, find they're not quite as great as I'd hoped (like all those bloody netbooks piling up in my cupboard, keeping the discarded phones and laptops company) and go back to the market in search of the Holy Grail for a writer who travels a lot - the Unified Gizmo Theory.
But now I have one. It's as near to the swiss in City of Pearl as I have ever seen. If I shoved a few Stanley knife blades in its slip cover, it would be weaponised enough to pass muster.
It's a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Yes, I swallowed all my profound loathing of Google and bought a filthy Android device. It was that or succumbing to the vile smug Apple, and the iPad just doesn't do half the things I need anyway, quite apart from imposing a Jobsian serfdom on its owner and making you look a bit attention-seeking in public. I waited and waited and waited for a decent 7-inch tablet running Windows (10" was too big for my needs, oo0-err missus) but none appeared, so... I got the Tab.
I'm limited in its use because I won't use location-based apps (mind your own business, Google) and I won't trust my card number to the app store because of my intense Googlenoia, so I have to buy from Handango's more limited inventory. But that's given me more than enough to do what I want because the relevant business apps are generally free. The Tab has now replaced my bagful of gizmos from my netbook to my dictaphone/ transcription system.
If I hadn't sworn off games, it's even a good gaming platform. I ignored my own do-not-go-there rule and lost too many hours playing Nova on it, which is huge fun with the inertia setting if you happen to discover it while you're sitting in your swivelling office chair.
I just wanted something ultra-portable so I could view game walkthroughs when writing scripts and proofread PDF galleys without being stuck at the same desk in the same position for 12 - 16 painful hours a day. (Or balancing a netbook on my rapidly-cooking knees.) . I had no idea just how much the Tab could do, or how well it multitasked. I really didn't think it was going to change the way I work. But it has.
No, I haven't given it a name. That would be just too pervy.
Yes, I've been quiet again lately. Yes, I've been working, obviously. The treadmill stretches to infinity. Plus I've been in for surgery but I'm on the mend now. A weird few weeks in both good and odd ways, so here's a round-up of the highlights:
1. The BBC's main man in Cairo at the moment is one of my former students. God, you have no idea how old the news makes me feel now. Okay, he was a post-grad and I wasn't much older, but... it still stings. Time to break out the Dr. Perricone, methinks. Industrial strength. Just hose me with it.
2. A good friend serving in Afghanistan mailed me to say he'd run into an Afghan army unit ... who wore a mythosaur patch and used words like "kandosii." They thought it was "ancient American." I knew there were US personnel who'd taught Iraqis some Mando'a, but that's a first for Afghanistan. Whoever was responsible for their training, thank you. It's good to know when your work's appreciated.
4. I'm now the proud owner of an original inked page by Colin Wilson, from the Gears of War comic we did together. He's such a terrific guy to work with, and a kind and generous person too. (In case you're curious - I opted for the final page of issue #15. The character studies of exhausted troops are some of the most moving I've seen.) The more I look at the detail - the power, precision, and humanity in every line - the more I can appreciate why he's one of the greats of the comics industry.
Okay, I'm scuttling back to my bunker now. Halo to do, more Gears work, my next original novel, comics, scripts, all kinds of stuff piling up. So much for my plan to take it easier in 2011.
(* For all the physicists among you who also cook. Well, it made me laugh...)
The first of my Gears of War comics for DC is out in a few days on the 29th, but as I said in my last entry, it's not the one you're expecting. You'll be getting a few Pendulum Wars tales before we start on the six DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS stories, because the third Gears of War game will now be on sale later than originally planned (as the world and his dog knows by now) and DLS is Spoiler Central for that. So we juggled stuff around in the schedule... and found we had a few slots we could fill in the meantime. The Pendulum Wars was the natural choice of subject matter.
It's no secret that I love comics, of course, but I love 'em even more when I get to work with comics royalty. The first comic - THEY ALSO SERVE, issue 15 - has been pencilled and inked by the legendary Colin Wilson. (Cover by Philip Tan.) Working with Colin has been a fabulous experience. I got excited seeing the pages come in each day, and as you know, I'm a jaded old journo who doesn't get excited about very much these days unless I can deposit it in my bank account or eat it. But...I mean.... Colin Wilson. Just magical. He's got that deft gritty-but-human touch that's perfect for military fiction like this. And he's a thoroughly nice bloke, a real pleasure to work with.
Yes, please feel free to point out that I'm the learner driver who always seems to get the keys to the Rolls Royce. As a friend said: "You don't believe in working your way up from the bottom, do you?" I've been spoiled rotten throughout my publishing career, I know. But the rest of my existence is a smoking wasteland, so cut me some slack for getting a break like that. It's not the first comic I've written (I'd turned in two DLS scripts before we had to change the schedule, and those really were my first) but it's my debut on the shelves, so that matters to me. Some of my writer friends find it odd that I set such store by comics given my career, but I just do.
The next few issues are standalone stories set during the Pendulum Wars between the COG and the UIR, territory you'll be familiar with from the flashbacks in the novels, but they also give you more insight into the events that shape Gears 3. In THEY ALSO SERVE, you'll meet Adam Fenix as a young officer grappling with two conflicting duties, and you'll meet Helena Stroud (Anya's mum) again.
Repetition time; as the game release date has moved, the next novel (COALITION'S END) has moved by a few months as well because the story leads straight into Gears 3, and the DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS comics will have extra revelations that you won't find in the game or the books. You can enjoy each element of Gears on its own, but if you really want to piece together all the complex drama and get a few surprises, you need to experience the lot - games, books, and comics.
I've worked with a lot of different visual professionals over the years in various media - photographers, cameramen, illustrators, designers - and it's always a real treat. It's more than just getting to see how incredibly talented people work; it's also raised my game in every job I've done, because it makes me think differently even though I'm a "visual" writer. That extra angle, seeing how artists intrepret direction and kicking ideas around with them, flexes a writer's creative muscles. I've become a better writer with each artist I've worked with. And comics are probably the most intense injection of visual stimuli you can get.
Looking at the line-up of artists we've got in the pipeline for these Gears comics, all I can say is - you're going to see some of the best (and most diverse) talents out there. I'm bouncing off the walls about issue #16 at the moment, because the artist (a rising star this time) is doing some stunning stuff that's unlike anything I've seen before and yet it's still 100% Gears and captures the characters beautifully.
If you get ten per cent of the pleasure out of this series that I'm having writing it, you'll be very happy indeed.
Okay, some of you who keep an eye on the DC Comics web site appear to have spotted that my Gears of War comics (which start with #15 on the 29th of this month) will kick off with some different issues to the ones you were expecting. There's a very simple reason for that. I can't give you details until the official announcement is made, but remember that the third Gears of War game has moved to a later release date, and my Dirty Little Secrets series is chock full of spoilers for it. (And for the fourth novel, too.)
And spoilers really do spoil a story. That's why they're called spoilers. If they enhanced your reading/ gaming experience, they'd be called "sweeteners" or "rum truffles" or something. Fret not; I can promise you something equally luscious is heading your way on December 29. It's been a treat working on #15, and a privilege to work with the artist.
Damn it, I do so love comics*. I knew I did, obviously, but I hadn't realised I'd enjoy writing them even more than reading them. They're my favourite medium both as a consumer and a writer. I'm having an indecent amount of pleasure working on them. Just thought you ought to know that.
When the new release date for the game was announced, fans mailed to ask if that meant the book schedules were affected too. Yes, they are. When you're writing a story across three separate media - game, novels, comics - the complexity of the spoilers looks like a car's wiring loom. Who knew what and said what to whom and when? (And where and why? You get the idea.) I ended up with a spreadsheet of dates and plot points laid out on my desk to work out where things could be safely revealed. So that's why the next novel (COALITION'S END) has moved by a few months, because the story leads into Gears 3. Remember that Gears is a thriller. You'll enjoy it more if you don't know whodunnit (or even what was done) until the end.
And it wasn't the butler. That much I can reveal.
(*But I still hate novels. Sorry. Just accept that I like writing them and that if I liked reading them, I'd never write them.)
This isn't a writing workshop - it's all about the business of being a writer, i.e. how to do it for a living and not get eaten alive. It's the only course I know that tackles the commercial and economic side of writing. And that's the bit that's going to make or break you. It's no use being able to turn out dazzling prose that makes muses weep if you haven't got a clue how to look after yourself in a tough industry. Because if you don't do it for yourself, nobody else will - not even your agent.
It'sa pretty intensive three days, so this is for people who are serious about writing for a living. The line-up of instructors speaks for itself; Kevin is joined by Brandon Sanderson, Dave Wolverton , Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and special guest instructor Sherrilyn Kenyon. These people sell millions of books. I'm sure you can do the maths.
You can read the topic details on the web site, but it's worth the ticket price for "How to Read and Understand a Royalty Statement" alone. If you're wondering whether to spend your hard-earned dosh on a writing workshop or Kevin's seminar, my advice is go for this one. It'll do your career a lot more good.
(Kevin's also doing a series of blogs at the moment on writing productivity - worth checking out at http://kjablog.com/.)
I'd mark Remembrance Day on this blog anyway, but he's a reader who wrote to ask me to make sure that I did. His message was personal, so it would be discourteous to share it with you, but suffice to say that he's in his late teens and about to go to college. And his message heartened me, because he wrote eloquently and movingly about what November 11 meant to him, and why he regards it as his personal duty not to forget the men and women who've been killed and maimed in the service of their country.
So today's thoughts are about people who are not like John.
John heartened me because he was a youngster who defied the stereotype of the self-absorbed teenager interested only in where his next Xbox was coming from. He gave a damn. He wanted to understand what our service personnel go through, and have gone through pretty well daily somewhere in the world for - well, too bloody long.
God knows we need to remember them now more than ever. I shouldn't need to tell you why. And we need to remember them every day, not just once a year when we drop coins in a British Legion collecting tin and congratulate ourselves for supporting our troops because we've donated for a poppy. It's not enough. And here's an example of why it isn't.
When John asked me to mark the day, I wasn't sure what angle I was going to take. It's a journo thing. When you return to the same subject regularly, you find yourself looking for a new angle, trying to examine the a recurring event in a way that sheds new light. Even now that I don't have a news editor to answer to, I still seek it out of habit.
But, in the way these things sometimes pan out, I didn't have to look too hard. Fate handed me the angle right on cue. Something yesterday made me seethe.
While (mostly) working-class lads were fighting and dying in Afghanistan, middle-class brats the same age as them were busy wrecking London. They were protesting over student fees. I'll try to summarise it in very broad brush strokes, and I'm not pretending to have covered all the arguments here. Long complex story short; some university graduates will have to repay more for their education when they finally get a job. (Which won't come as a shock to any American reading this.) It's not an up-front fee. They pay it back a student loan when they get a job. If they earn enough, they pay their loan back. If they're not paid a lot, then they pay less, or maybe not at all. And, the way it appears to be laid out, science and maths degrees probably won't get hit, but the arts / humanities and Mickey Mouse degrees side of things will. (Yes, Mickey Mouse is a value judgment. I interviewed too many job candidates with useless media studies degrees. ) So... the taxpayer isn't subsidising graduates forever if the degree they funded leads to a well-paid job. I think that's a pretty reasonable deal. It doesn't discriminate against poor kids; in fact, some graduates will end up paying less in the long run. It actually appears to be hitting the most privileged.
It's not just the violent element of the demonstration that pisses me off. It's the massive sense of entitlement, largely among the articulate and comfortably-off, that the state should fund them regardless of their ability to reimburse society for it during their well-paid working lives. I also feel a wave of nausea when I watch the media obsession with anything that squeezes the higher-paid, which includes them. (And me.)
Every sector of British society is facing cuts. It's the real world. Times are hard. Even the armed forces face spending cuts while we're still fighting a war. So excuse me if I'm not shedding tears because some precious snowflake now has to repay his tuition fees one day when he's all grown up and working in management.
You might think it's a false equivalency to draw links between government spending on our troops' welfare, and government spending on helping Tarquin and Saffy from Islington get their media studies degrees. But when I hear some student spokesbrat puffing with indignation on the news about how unfair the cuts are and how they'll fight them all the way, all I can think of is an 18 year old squaddie in the arse-end of Afghanistan fighting for his life and those of his mates - really fighting, not smashing a few windows and thinking he's Che Guevara - on a pitiful wage, and, if he's lucky, coming home in one piece and ending up in a low-paid job in civvie street. Our army is still very much made up of the sons and daughters of the least privileged.
And this is why I say that giving a few coins - or even a few banknotes - for your poppy and observing two minutes silence once a year is not enough.The connections run deeper than charity and showing respect.
If students (and their parents, or any other lobby group) get their way, then someone else in society has to pay for that by getting less. Forget the sophistry of different budgets and ring-fencing funds. Those are excuses for keeping privileges. If you have it all, the trickle-down means that sooner or later someone else has to put up with less. Some people's needs - I believe - come before those of the optional desires of students. And arts funding. And a whole raft of stuff that's icing on the cake in an economic crisis.
So, spoilt whiners: shut up, at least for today, when we should all be focused on our armed forces, our fallen, our vets, and their families. The world doesn't owe you a cushy living. You, however, owe a debt of gratitude to the lad who's serving on the front line right now. Because he and his mates continue to volunteer, you won't ever get drafted. (No, Tarquin, it doesn't matter how many protest marches you go on - governments won't stop getting embroiled in wars and requiring young men to fight them.) His service bought you the privilege of wallowing in trivial concerns. He might be struggling with life as an amputee or battling PTSD ten years from now. You'll be sulking about paying a relatively small part of your future salary for a privilege his taxes partly provided.
It doesn't matter why he signed up; poor job prospects, adventure, to be with his mates, patriotism, curiosity, a sense of belonging, tradition, whatever. It doesn't matter what brought the soldier to the front line. The point is that he knew he might get killed or disabled, but he did it anyway, and he did it time after time.
I'm deluding myself if I think venting my spleen will change the attitude of the Tarquins of this world. But for everyone else - think of our service community and our vets every day. Be a good neighbour to the military families in your town. Do something positive for the homeless and rough-sleepers, whose ranks contain a high proportion of former soldiers. Judge politicians by how they treat our troops and cast your vote accordingly. Think outside your comfortable civilian box about how your lifestyle influences the conduct of the wars we civilians indirectly ask our troops to fight. Stop that growing disconnection between the average citizen and the shrinking numbers of men and women who do our democratic bidding. And don't rush to judge them harshly and in hindsight, because they see and endure things that you probably can't even imagine.
Because it really isn't a bloody video game.
Do it now. Do it every day. Don't forget all about them when you take that poppy off your lapel for another year.
Never let it be said that I don't enjoy a bit of irony.
I'm always berating people for not reading the instructions in front of them before embarking on something and then griping about some shortcoming resulting from it. My response to this ranges from a kindly "You haven't actually read this, have you?" if they're polite to a much more acid "RTFM" if they aren't.
So... today, I missed an important word on some packaging: the word DRY before the word ICE. Yeah, that's crucial information.
To be fair, I do have the excuse that some of the dry ice in this shipment of Scottish steaks had actually fallen out of its packaging, and I encountered its lethal, ice-hot, irresistible whiteness before I got to the layer with the warning message about handling it with gloves and stuff, but even so it was a salutary lesson. Being from Portsmouth, and 'ence well 'ard, contact left me with no discernible damage, but I'll be a bit more careful next time.
I then spent some time playing with the dry ice (gloved) and watching the vapour roll off it when I should have been working on a script, but I wrote it off as hands-on experimental time. And the steak was delicious.
Lesson learned, job done, petard made safe.
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DATE: 10/12/2010 04:13:32 PM ----- BODY:
Pen porn moment for the Real Pen Folk out there. Move along if you don't do fountain pens. Nothing to see here.
If you're wondering whether it's worth buying a $35 bottle of ink, yes, it so is. The Pilot Iroshizuku inks are as fabulous as everyone says. I'm working my way through the colours (imported, because nobody in the UK seems to be stocking them yet) and they're somehow both vivid and subtly shaded at the same time, and very free-flowing. I'm a dark blue/ blue-black/ grey ink kind of gal, and it takes a lot to wrench me away from Aurora Blue or MB Blue Black, but the Fuyu-Gaki colour (persimmon - a rich red-orange) has my full attention at the moment. Me and orange ink. Who'd have thought it? Somehow it has the weight of a blue ink, and even if I wouldn't sign a contract with it, it's not as garish as it sounds. Gorgeous bottles, too - desk-worthy.
The Iroshizuku grey inks are equally lovely, and I'm now ordering some greens and browns. The only green ink I like (so far) is Herbin's lovely, subtle, Stilton-mould-coloured Vert Empire, so maybe this will convert me.
While Aurora Blue remains unavailable in the UK for the time being, I've switched to The Writing Desk's own brand ink in Imperial Blue, which is a pretty good substitute if you like royal blue ink with violet undertones.
No joy on scoring any Pelikan Edelstein inks yet, so if anyone's tried them, feel free to tell me what the Sapphire, Topaz, and Jade are like. And maybe the Mandarin. Yeah, I can handle orange now...
A few years ago, this would have been an unthinkable statement.
I get so little real news from the BBC that I've had to start watching Russia Today.
Yes, you read that right. Time was when Russians tuned to the BBC Russian language radio service for news. The BBC has gone so far down the toilet - and Sky, while a little better, seems to be teetering on the edge of the seat preparing to dive down the u-bend after it - that I was driven to look for an alternative. I like to have a news channel on in the background while I'm working, as you know, but I reached the point where I couldn't stand BBC24 or Sky any longer; same old stories covered the same old way, so much so that if I switched between the two every minute or so I couldn't tell where I was if I didn't recognise the presenter or look for the station ident. So I did some channel hopping.
Russia Today came as a genuine surprise, and not only because I didn't even realise it existed. At last, I could see coverage of places that the BBC doesn't appear to have found yet on Wikipedia, and alternative angles on stories that the mainstream UK media seem to cover in some kind of unquestioning lockstep. And, ironically, RT is full of British journalists.
I don't watch news or read a paper to find things I agree with. I want news. In other words, I want to be told things I don't know and hear opinions (labelled as opinion, please, not undisciplined emotional polemic masquerading as impartial reporting) that I don't share. That's what news is. New stuff. Not reinforcement. Not mindless fluff to distract you. Russia Today makes me uncomfortable much of the time, often for reasons I have yet to pin down, and that's what journalism should do.
Even if it didn't, though, it would still offer me a haven. No mindless drivel about Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor or Cheryl bloody Cole. In fact, no Z-list celebs at all, or even A-list ones, come to that. No cringe-making attempts by the anchors to be chummy and amusing. Just stories. Things that you want to stop and watch, or argue with, or rush off and find out more from other sources.
In the days of the Cold War, an ex-pat Czech friend said to me; "The trouble with you and the US is that you think you have a free press and so you believe everything you're told. We knew we hadn't, so we learned to read between the lines. Including yours. "
Well, I hope he's watching these days. I'd love to know what he makes of RT.
DATE: 10/02/2010 08:40:59 PM ----- BODY: Writing is a business, as I think I've saved a few thousand times before, and it's an increasingly pitiless one. So if you're serious about succeeding as a professional writer‚Äì in other words, someone who gets paid a realistic amount on a regular basis for what they do ‚Äì then you need to arm yourself with a bit of commercial know-how. You can do that the hard way by bitter experience, or you can save yourself a few bruises and avail yourself of the excellent advice available from my good buddy Kevin Anderson,who's running another Superstars Writing Seminar , this time at the Red Lion Hotel in Salt Lake City, January 13-15, 2011.
I don't need to tell you how successful Kevin is, so you know you'll be getting excellent advice from a guy who sells books by the warehouse-load, not some theorist with a couple of frightfully well-regarded small press tomes. You'll also have the combined wisdom of Rebecca Moesta, Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland), Brandon Sanderson, Eric Flint, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. If you've got the right commercial attitude, then you'll probably be calculating the net financial worth of that line-up right now. Yes, these are people who definitely know how to make a living at it.
I know some of you signed up for the seminar last time I pimped it and reported back to me that it was well worth the fee. As far as I know, there's no other writers' program that tackles the business side of writing, but it's the one thing that will make or break you, no matter how talented you are.
Nobody can teach you to write; you can either tell a story or you can't, and the most that any creative writing course can do is polish what you already have. But you can be taught the economic and marketing nuts and bolts of the publishing business, and who better to learn from them people who consistently sell a hell of a lot of books?
There are actually no secrets to being a successful writer. It's like giving up smoking or going on a diet; someone can tell you how to do it in fine detail, but then you've got to put that into practice and actually do it. Humans being what they are, most people will never bother because it's hard and it requires daily effort . But if you're the sort of person who really will knuckle down and work, you'll get a lot out of this seminar.
And remember: as in any trade, nobody is going to do it for you. Not even your agent. Nobody will ever take care of your interests quite as carefully as you will, so you need to understand the reality of the industry you're getting into. Writing is the easy bit.
I've finally surfaced from three converging deadlines, the last of which was finishing Coalition's End yesterday. So now I'm picking up the pieces ‚Äì literally ‚Äì around the office, which looks like the aftermath of a mortar attack on a branch of Staples, and wondering why I can't feel my hands properly any more.
Such is the poor state of repair of my wrists and neck after these marathon keyboard sessions that I've temporarily resorted to speech recognition software . It seems to have improved enormously since the last time I used it, and the current application (Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11) managed 99% recognition straight out of the box, which is something of an achievement given the bizarre nature of my vocabulary and my Portsmouth accent.
Anyway, while I've had my head down working, amusing things have happened. One of the Miliband children is now in charge of the Labour Party. Just before the election, I wrote in this blog that I wanted to know what I had to do to stop Miliband (David) becoming prime minister during my lifetime. What I didn't realise was that it would mean seeing his Dave Spart of a younger brother - Ed - made Labour leader instead. Immediately, a Miliband has become a unit of measurement on my personal scale of political awfulness, which my buddy Alistair has christened the Traviss Scale. My sensitive political seismograph has registered Ed at a full 10 Milibands, bringing down entire buildings somewhere.
I'm not going to waste my expensive bandwidth telling you what I think is wrong with Miliband, D. or E. I just invite you to imagine Ed Miliband sitting at the negotiating table with Putin or Ahmadinejad, or even the president of the Women's Institute. That should do the trick for you. If it doesn't, then read what the Mash had to say. This pretty well sums it up.
Anyway, enough of politics. Let me tell you about something important: my new vacuum cleaner. It's one endless round of dizzy excitement here. I finally threw out my much despised Dyson and replaced it with one of Numatic's no-nonsense machines. You know, the ones with faces that every cleaning company seems to use. Which, frankly, should have given me a clue as to which vacuum actually does the job best.
Not only is it a solid, efficient machine, it's also made entirely in the UK (unlike Dyson) and the company is amazingly helpful. I had to call them today to ask a technical question - because I got the all-singing all-dancing wet and dry model, naturally ‚Äì and they were an absolute model of customer service.
I realise it shocks people to discover that a Goddamn Literary Tyrannosaurus* like me actually vacuums their own carpets, but I do. And I really, really hate Dysons. I bought mine because it was 100 quid off at the Currys down the road and I needed a replacement vacuum there and then, so it wasn't exactly a reasoned purchase.
The Dyson turned out to be both pretentious and mediocre at the same time, a strangely hideous combination. Its performance wasn't anywhere near as good as it was hyped up to be, but the most infuriating thing was how poorly designed some parts of it were. Getting the dust bowl to slot back together after emptying was one of the fiddliest jobs I've had to do. So every time I see the Dyson bloke on the TV ads going on about his wonderful innovative design, I reach for a brick. Dysons are the Apple of the cleaning world; all fur coat and no knickers. Style at the expense of substance. You get the idea.
(* Okay, so I love Predator, and that was a great line.)
(And yes, Dragon NaturallySpeaking did recognise Ahmadinejad without any prompting and spell it right. Which is more than most human beings can manage. But it does prove that I can at least pronounce it. )
Over the last 30 years, Imber's fate has seeped into my Wiltshire-ized consciousness. In the way of coincidences, it's also too close to something I'm writing at the moment, so this struck a nerve particularly hard.
Imber is, of course, not the only rural community where this kind of thing happened. It just happens to be local to me and has been better documented (and has attracted more organised commemoration) than the others.
I'm not bemoaning the MoD's hold on Salisbury Plain. I want the armed forces to have the best facilities for the job they have to do, and thank God that the MOD does control this area; if they didn't, we'd have nothing but housing and business parks concreting the place over, instead of a haven for some very rare wildlife. It's just a sad story, that's all.
----- EXTENDED BODY:
----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Can you see what it is yet?* STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: can-you-see-what-it-is-yet
DATE: 08/10/2010 11:04:16 AM ----- BODY:
* Warning: this won't make sense to Americans. Brits - and possibly Aussies, but I won't make assumptions - only.
Okay, so I'm utter rubbish at making the fern pattern in the foam of a flat white, but by golly, I can do Rolf Harris in mid-stroke:
Either that, or it's a miracle. Anyway, he persisted to the bottom of the cup.
(Actually, isn't Rolf Harris generally an amazing bloke? He seems to have been around since I was a small kid but he doesn't look any older as the years pass. He's multi-talented beyond showbiz. And he radiates sincere niceness and humility. No wonder he's become a national treasure. Isn't that more worthy of celebrity than Z-list slappers whose greatest achievement is getting in the headlines for booze, drugs, or whatever equally unappealing life-form they trampolined last night? I like to think so.)
----- EXTENDED BODY:
----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: You can buy it. For sure. STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: you-can-buy-it-for-sure
DATE: 08/06/2010 12:43:28 PM ----- BODY:
You can buy happiness. Really. You can. Anyone who says you can't clearly hasn't been spending enough.
Mine arrived a few hours ago by courier. It transformed me instantly (but possibly temporarily) from the Utter Bastard Unfunny Gene Hunt Mode that has possessed me for the last three or four months to a reasonable woman who you could tap for a loan. (A small one, mind. Don't take the piss.) It had clocked up a few air miles in a silk pouch inside an exquisitely simple wooden box, and unwrapping it was like every birthday you'd ever had rolled into one.
It's a customised Nakaya from Classic Fountain Pens, home of the Nib God, John Mottishaw. It's jade celluloid. The nib is a meltingly flexible fine oblique, the flex maxed out to Spencerian levels by John's extraordinary metal-working skills. And I'm utterly in love with it.
It actually didn't cost much compared to the rest of my pen collection. You get a lot of pen for your bucks from Nakaya. I may well be back for even more exotic ones and equally wonderful custom nibs.
So if you've got any shit or unreasonable requests to dump on me, do it now before the post-pen euphoria wears off.
* Because it's 1973, almost dinner time. I'm 'avin' Hoops.
It was terrific to meet all you Gearheads at the Xbox Gears poster signing at Comic Con yesterday. Sorry that it was such a high speed industrial process without time for chats - as I said to exec producer Rod Fergusson while he signed frantically next to me, it was just like our good old days at the herring processing factory. But everyone got their signed swag, so - job done. I was also able to hand out early copies of ANVIL GATE to a select few fans so they could read it more than a month early.
The downside of early copies is that they are uncorrected proofs, complete with truly bizarre typos magicked into existence by the mysteries of modern typesetting (in fifteen years of writing and editing electronic publications I've never really worked out how they add errors in signed-off versions) and a curious quantum process that I'll just refer to as "copyediting." One gem the few readers with the beta version of ANVIL GATE might find is the glorious new word "naunked" that appeared at one stage of the proofs. It should have read "haunted," if memory serves.
Anyway, I had dinner with Mike and Jerry (Penny Arcade) last night and we talked of an era when a man could naunk freely without fear of interference. I believe we should all support the right to naunk.
UPDATE: publishers can be cool, too. God bless you, Tor! I nearly had a heart attack last night when I found my pen case wasn't in my bag. You'll understand why if I tell you that the pens inside were actually Mont Blancs and custom Namikis, i.e. a few thousand dollars' worth of writing equipment. The good folks at Tor found it on the booth post-signing and hung on to it until my return. Serious gratitude, folks.
FURTHER UPDATE: writers can get all fannish as well, you know. My (Sun)day was made just before doing the Halo panel, when I got to squee all over the fine folk who create the utterly wonderful Red versus Blue. RvB is arguably the high spot of my entertainment week.
As many of you seem to have heard already, Halo asked me to write some books for them, and because I have the breaking strain of a warm Mars Bar when it comes to top game IPs and nice cheques, I said yes.
Believe it or not, I really have found the backbone to turn down other series featuring heavily armoured, unfeasibly cannoned-up chaps struggling to find their place in an unfriendly world. I'm not a soft touch for any old bloke with a codpiece, people. But this is Halo. There's an awkward and upsetting moral dilemma at the heart of the story, and if there's something I can't resist more than money, it's exploring moral dilemmas. (With big weapons, naturally.) You haven't spotted it? Pay attention at the back, there. There is a story.
For those of you who have already mailed me - good grief, Haloheads, what time do you get up? - this is a new storyline. It isn't a sequel to Ghosts of Onyx in the sense that you mean a sequel, i.e. a continuation of the same story with the same cast- these novels are just set after it and follow the events of Halo 3. There'll be new characters and new storylines. And you'll get a Traviss saga of the kind you've come to expect - because that's why they signed me, for a Traviss take on the Haloverse.
I will, of course, still be doing all my other stuff, because a girl can hang out with Spartans as well as Gears without a stain on her virtue. Don't ask me to pick a favourite. But just remember that everything a Gear has is his own, baby; no implants, enhancements, or cyborg bits. Marcus is 100% Fenix, or so Anya tells me. I can't imagine what she means.
This is the first of my new projects that I said would be announced over the course of the next year or so. More will follow. Remember never to ask me what I do in my spare time.
I'll end with a cryptic message to Fil (you know who you are): "Blarg!" It's largely your fault.
Just a public information message... the Comic Con schedule is up on my web site if you haven't spotted it yet. It's not complete, because if I mention a certain panel in advance, then it blows an announcement that's going to happen at the con. On the other hand, I'll probably have another announcement for you before the con. So keep an eye on the site.
I'm asking you to set fiction aside for a few hours. Put down the books and comics and the games, and take a look at what real people do in real wars.
Today is the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk. I'm guessing that if you're under thirty or if you learned your history in another country, you won't have a clue what that means. Basically, it was the rescue of 338,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of France in WWII. An extraction on that scale is pretty amazing anyway, but when you consider that much of it was done by civilian volunteers - fishermen, yachtsmen, freighter skippers, weekend sailors with very little experience, anyone who had a vessel that could sail and had room for a few passengers - then it's nothing short of breathtaking. And humbling. Without this evacuation*, the entire war would have turned out very differently. And many French troops stayed behind to hold off the German army while the rescue was completed. Another stereotype bites the dust, I hope.
I just want you to ask yourself if you could have done it. You don't need to tell anyone the answer. I just want you to have a quiet moment and be honest with yourself. If you had a small boat, and thousands of troops were trapped with their backs to the wall, would you have dropped everything to go to their aid and sailed unarmed into a heavily mined sea, under fire, not once but repeatedly?
If you ever catch yourself talking tough in an online game with an imaginary rifle, or playing the armchair general when you're watching news coverage of our current wars - please remember the answer that you gave yourself. It's fine to enjoy military fiction, and I believe it has a socially purposeful role provided it's created with respect. I wouldn't write it if I felt it didn't. But don't lose sight of how different that book or comic or game would feel if it was happening to you for real.
The majority of us who write this kind of fiction do so on the backs of courageous people - service personnel and civilians - whose reality far outstrips the stories we create. There's not a moment in my working day that I let myself forget that. When you're consuming the by-products of their service, please think about them, and remember that whatever you see in fiction, it's a pale shadow of the real sacrifice that men and women have made, and continue to make.
(*And a little while after this, it happened again. Another 160,000 troops were rescued from another part of the French coast. But that story rarely gets told.)
Oh, to be in England. Which I am, for a change. I've had to cancel my US flight and rely on comms technology to get the work done this time, partly due to the volcano. But on the plus side it's handy to be able to get essentials done at home for a change. The logistics of being on the road play havoc with the necessities of domestic life. And the tasks don't go away; they just sit there waiting patiently for your return.
The most problematic when you're not physically on the turf? Moving bank accounts. The logistics have taken me a couple of months. The end is finally in sight.
And I bet you thought I had people for that stuff. No. I don't delegate well.
Would someone do me a favour and pop round to the BBC (and Sky) to point out that we have a new non-Labour government? I'm a bit busy, but I think someone should do it. Because all I seem to see on the news now is endless toss about Labour's latest leadership dickfest. Both Sky and BBC gave lavish live coverage to David Miliband's speech this morning, so much so that whatever channel I switched to, I got this irrelevant drivel instead of what I wanted to know - what's happening with the new government, which has rather a lot of on its plate that's of far more relevance to the average tax payer than the theories of whichever non-entity the Labour party is trying to tell itself is the Messiah at the moment.
The media don't seem to have realised that Labour lost and that nobody outside the party machine cares much about who's leading them. By the time we have another election, Labour will have had another civil war and the leadership will have changed again. But I suppose you can't blame the media when Labour didn't seem to have accepted that they'd lost either.
It all smacks of years of lazy journalism. Maybe the broadcast media are so used to existing on semi-digested fishheads regurgigated daily into their squawking maws by the Labour spin machine that they've forgotten how to report on the other parties. Maybe they just didn't bother to cultivate their Lib Dem and Tory contacts quite as well as they did the Labour ones. Or maybe the new coalition isn't spoon-feeding them quite as generously as Labour did and they don't know how to fill the 24/7 stomach of rolling news anymore.
Whatever the reason - please, just pack it in, okay? I'm pretty fixated on politics, but even I couldn't care less about the Labour leadership at the moment.
Let me start with a caveat: I am old and bitter, and I have seen many governments at various levels and at very close quarters, and I am cynical even by journalist standards. I have no party loyalties. But I did feel oddly optimistic when I woke up this morning to recall that I was now in a Labour-free country. That's not a joke. I really did feel different for knowing those bastards were out of power.
When I started picking over the fall-out from yesterday's coalition deal, there was much that delighted me. With thanks to Sean T-B for sending me this neat summary of the early stuff the Tories and Lib Dems have agreed on:
A defence review. Fixed term parliaments. The end to that bizarre and pointless surveyors' job creation scheme known as HIPs. And repeal of all the Stasi-Labour erosions of citizens' rights. The list is yet young, but there's enough in there already to cheer me up.
I'm not exactly fond of politicians (you noticed, I assume) but three names did hearten me, and that was Vince Cable, Liam Fox, and William Hague. Theresa May raised my expectations, too. It's been decades since I liked the look of a cabinet, but - bugger it, I do feel rather hopeful about this bunch. Oddly, we may well have the nearest we'll ever get to the strange spectacle of a libertarian caring green government.
I hope I'm not blogging in a year's time that it all went to rat shit very fast. If this election proves to be the one that changed British politics, then remember we'll have Heather Brooke, the Daily Telegraph, and a bunch of disillusioned squaddies to thank for it. Without the MPs' expenses scandal being exposed, then I doubt the British voter would have been galvanised to care about this election.
I thought they'd never leave. Goodbye, thieves and liars. Goodbye, war criminals. Goodbye, incompetent cretins. I'm really, really delighted to see you forced to go. And I'm especially delighted that I don't get the child Miliband as another unelected Prime Minister. Sadly, I never got to see Bliar dragged screaming from Downing Street by the mob and lynched from the nearest lamppost in Whitehall, but you can't have everything.
If you're wondering why I haven't been blogging about this disgraceful farce for the last few days, knowing how much I loathed and despised this Labour administration, it's simply because I had too much to say about it, and most of the words began with F. (And C.) I couldn't actually articulate my disgust. And that's saying something for a writer.
Watching Labour effectively refusing to hand over power after losing the election made me almost physically sick. It's Mugabe-esque. It shows what politicians - including the Lib Dems, sadly - think of the electorate. The Lib Dems have done electoral reform a hell of a lot of damage by showing the average voter just how small parties can hijack the process. That surprised me and it shouldn't have. Clegg was out of his depth with the power thrust into his hands, and I felt betrayed by him, but I didn't expect him to be quite so smug and two-faced about it. At heart, alas, the Lib Dems still seem to be just the Waitrose customer demographic within Labour. They're not actually a third party. And they forgot about the war pretty fast when the prospect of a little bit of power was wafted in front of them. I won't forget that.
The British public didn't vote for a hung Parliament. We just voted for different parties in very similar numbers, and all that means is that we're a divided society, not that we're a coherent mass demanding power sharing. We didn't actively want this outcome; there's no way we could have planned or achieved it. I supported proportional representation until the last few days, when the Lib Dems showed me just how undemocratic it 'll be, handing excessive control to small random parties. We were on the brink of having Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and their ilk having the casting vote. And that can't possibly be what most people thought they would get when they voted last week.
In case you think I'm being harsh, I've worked for all colours of administrations at local level - Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, and Lib Dem-Labour coalitions. The Lib Dem-Labour coalitions were soul-destroying. And I'm not even talking about policy differences; I'm talking about how staff got treated and the kinds of machinations that went on. I'm really not looking forward now to watching a Conservative-Lib Dem hydra (and I mean hydra, not chimera) running this country.
But it's still better than letting Zanu New Labour carry on wrecking this nation. So I'll celebrate cautiously this evening.
Update; looks like we're going to have fixed term parliaments now. Thank God for that. No electorate should be kept in the dark about the date of the next election on the whim of the ruling party.
There's nothing that makes a mother* more proud than to see her boy succeed.
I'm delighted to be able to say that Jim Gilmer's first book is out in March 2011. He's joined the noble ranks of the tie-in writer community, and will be bringing his unique take on life to the Warhammer universe. I expect you to buy DAWN OF WAR 2: RETRIBUTION. That's an order.
I'm ferociously proud of Jim. He's busted his arse for years to become a professional novelist - and now he's done it. You have no idea how good it feels to be able to say that. Go Jim!
He has more books coming up, too. I'll expect you to buy those as well.
Conan... what is best in life?
(*We've tormented many people with this joke, and some really do believe Jim is the fruit of my loins. He's not. But it's good for a laugh. It dates back to our Clarion days.)
My mail box content has now shifted to questions predominantly about Gears. One recurring theme is this; confusion about South Islanders and what that means. I've covered this before, but it was last year, so it bears repeating and maybe expanding.
Think of the South Islanders as being a diverse collection of cultures scattered across islands and larger land masses, much like the western Pacific. You've got Micronesia and Polynesia and New Zealand and even Australia. So... for South Islander, read a general south-west Pacific vibe. It's not one country or one culture. A lot of the cultures have much in common, but they're all different.
The South Islander cultures are not the same as the Earth equivalent - I haven't borrowed Maori culture for the story, because I've started from scratch, as usual. Any similarities are those created by being an island population. The geography makes for certain characteristics. But it might help you to think of the characters in Earth terms so you get some idea of the broader context of how the South Islanders relate to each other. I tend to see Tai Kaliso as Samoan. So when it came to creating Bernie Mataki, I thought in terms of an island with a large Caucasian migrant population, like New Zealand. You can think of her as half Maori, half Caucasian. (She's of mixed race.)
Padrick Salton is from another island, but you can still think of him as a New Zealander. He's from wholly Caucasian settler stock, hence the ginger hair, but he's embraced some indigenous customs like facial tattoos. (More of that in ANVIL GATE.) If you look at NZ, you'll see it includes a number of smaller islands with some different ethnic groups from the two "mainland" islands. So if you then look more widely and think Pacific when you read "South Islander" you can see the huge scope for variety as well as common themes that would extend to all Islander societies - the nature of island existence, the arrival of the COG, and so on.
The fact that Bernie and Pad speak Commonwealth English does not mean they're British. I've not written in any Brits. Australia, anglophone South Africa, and New Zealand are not all "Britain" just because the slang sounds similarly foreign to American ears. Just as it's bad form to lump Canadians and Americans together, it's equally bad form to assume the (former) Commonwealth is one culture with one language. I know I'm going to get a lot more questions about nationalities when ANVIL GATE comes out, so I'll say in advance that I do blend elements from wholly unrelated Earth societies to build characters when the environment leads that way; the key thing is to look at the geography, work out what kind of culture would arise from living there, and then extrapolate accordingly to build the individuals.
That doesn't mean the map of Sera looks like Earth, either. It doesn't. I'm just giving you a guide to what shapes my thinking when I build characters, and why those characters build the story, not the other way around. I'm all about the basic building blocks of psychology, biology, geography, and - in prudently small doses - history. That's why I end up with three-dimensional characters who drive the narrative while I just hang around and write down what they do and think. It's actually very simple. It just requires keeping a completely open mind and having the ability to strip everything down to basic concepts.
DATE: 05/04/2010 12:59:01 AM ----- BODY: One of my best friends is a sniper, so I take a particular interest in the extraordinary skills these guys have. I remain amazed by them. But this is jaw-dropping marksmanship:
I used to be a pretty serious cook, but those days are long gone. I actually have to dust my cooker. (Literally.) But today I had a relapse on the way back from doing the grocery run and bought a kitchen gadget I'd put off buying for years because its potential utility didn't seem to justify the space it would take up on the counter.
It's an ice-cream machine. The sort with its own freezer unit and the displacement of a small frigate. I don't even like ice-cream much. But whatever the psychological aberration that made me buy this brute, I'm now throughly converted to home-made gelato. I made an experimental batch of nothing in particular to test the thing, and it was a revelation.
Recipes are for girls. I never follow a recipe for anything, which is odd given my obsessive precision in other areas, so I have no idea how it turned out so well. But just flinging in what happened to be on hand - a tub of Greek yoghurt, a tub of quark, vanilla, grated lemon zest, and a load of Splenda - produced a lemon cheesecake ice-cream that was glorious. If I ever reproduce that, it'll be a miracle.
No idea how long this enthusiasm will last. But I do eat a lot of plain yoghurt, so this might be more than a passing whim like the bread machine.
And while I'm 0n the topic - believe what it says on the Ziploc steamer bag leaflet. Those things can make a great microwave omelette. There's only so much hotel and restaurant food a gal can take when she's on the road, and the triad of Ziplocs, a dozen eggs from the local Target, and the office microwave was a life-saver this last month or so.
I finally got back to the UK today. Won't be home for long, but it's nice to have a strong cup of tea again. I'll pack more industrial-strength tea bags for the next trip.
On a sober note, the flight back to LHR was repatriating a fallen USMC officer. It's impossible to use a carelessly positive word in such tragic circumstances, but it was heartening to see airline passengers showing care and respect for a man they didn't know. And, though he wasn't UK armed forces and so not technically "our boys", it felt a privilege to able to accompany him for part of his journey home, however incidentally.
I don't read novels. You know that by now. I don't like reading. But even if I did like reading books, writing them for a living would have killed that stone dead for me. I've said this a hundred times in interviews and at con panels, and I'm not sure if people get it, but it's the way my brain is wired and I have no control over it. If I ever needed a reminder that I can't mix the working me and the real me, I had a painful one last night.
I switched on the TV on a random channel. Behold: a cartoon series I loved. Never missed an episode. Bought all the DVDs. But within minutes, I realised I wasn't enjoying it. I wasn't transported by it. What had changed? Me. Why? I'd started working with some of the voice actors since I last watched it. My beloved cartoon had now moved into the big folder marked The Work World. While I still appreciated its brilliance - more so, maybe, because I understood its components so much better - I saw it as a construct, something to be crafted and made. It lost its power to enthrall me on a personal level. Instead, I savoured something wholly different and all about the job, the thing outside of me that isn't me.
When I made the shift from writing fiction for fun to writing it as a business, the transition took seconds. It really was that immediate; it was that conversation with a consultant who changed my life in a single sentence, the moment when he said, "Look, if you write fiction for a hobby, and you're already a professional writer, why don't you write fiction professionally?" I felt something change in my head. It was like a switch being thrown. At that moment, I felt a private hobby vanish and something else take its place, with different rules and different emotions. The hobby bit never came back, and I knew at the time that it wouldn't.
I still enjoy writing, but in a very different way. For me to function, things have to stay on their own side of the wall. I can't write stuff I already love as entertainment. I can't be entertained by the things I already write. The characters I build or develop have to be complete and utter strangers nothing like me or the people I know. If the elements cross that wall, they're destroyed and I never get them back.
So I don't read books or play games. And I've already accepted that writing comics will kill the medium for me as personal entertainment. I'm left with just movies and TV drama for diversion, and both have already been dented a bit by working in TV news/ features. Maybe it's a more extreme version of not being able to surprise yourself with a present or tickle yourself. I'm not sure how it works, only that it happens, and it's irrevocable.
Still not repatriated. Still working. Took time to update the web site, so there are new FAQs based on the mail requests I get, which I hope will give some of you what you've been asking for.
I'll be back in time to vote in the election, though. Which leaves me with a new quandary; which dickhead should I vote for to stop David Miliband from becoming PM in my lifetime?
Seriously, have you seen this idiot? Have you listened to him? He's like the well-scrubbed head prefect of a posh but "progressive" school who joined the debating society to drone on about world peace and ending hunger like some parody of a Miss World interview. He really shouldn't be let out on his own.
If you want to nail the lie that the Labour party represents the working class and has a grip on the issues that affect ordinary people, just take a look at him and - if you can bear it - Mandelson.
I really wish I could feel passionate about a manfesto and want to support a party. All I'm left with is deciding whether to write BOLLOCKS on my ballot paper, or pick the least repellent specimen from a list of utter gits bent on shoring up a corrupt self-serving system in which all three main parties are complicit.
Will I ever see Blighty again? Allegedly. First flight out that I can get is next week. I'm not exactly sleeping on an airport floor and living on handouts - I've just extended a comfortable stay a bit longer. But I'm running low on extra-strong Marks & Spencer tea-bags, which I already regard as emergency rations compared to loose leaf, and so I may be forced to drink the local stuff.
America, I love you dearly. You've given me far more than Britain ever has; you've treated me like your own. But your hot tea* is gnat's piss.
(*Your Southern sweet tea, on the other hand, is very nice.)
This is a point that my former colleague Richard Jones would agree on. (If you're out there, Jonesy... )
Journos have a knack for getting stranded the wrong side of a border of any kind, often by design, sometimes by world events they can't possibly have caused even if they've tried very hard to do so on a slow news day. And if you're going to get stranded, you might as well invoke the God of News and make sure it's somewhere with a decent hotel that still has a power supply and amenities. My journo luck has held. I'm not in the deep dwang of airport limbo that many other travellers find themselves at this moment, but there will come a time when this unplanned exile ceases to be funny. On the other hand, I have plenty of work to keep me busy, far too much to eat, and I don't have to stare at Gordon Brown's vile face on every news bulletin. There's always a silver lining.
I'm consistently unlucky with air travel. Regular readers will recall the various book tour transport debacles that have made me unwilling to take flights with stopovers. But as a friend pointed out: "Bad luck with air travel is when you don't land with the rest of your anatomy." All things being equal, I'm going to count my blessings.
In other news - judging by the mail I'm getting about Gears 3 and the books, a few folks seem to be confused about what's happening when, and where everything fits. Let me summarise.
There are three Gears of War games and five Gears of War books, either out or in the pipeline somewhere.
The first game came out in 2006, the second in 2008, and the third will be out in April 2011. There are two books out so far, a third due in August, and two more to follow that.
The books cover the storyline between the games. They include flashbacks, but the present day storyline locks into the game timeline. Aspho Fields fits between Gears 1 and Gears 2. Jacinto's Remnant, Anvil Gate (out in August) and a fourth book (title and pub date TBA) cover events between Gears 2 and Gears 3. There's nothing I can tell you about the fifth book yet.
So... it's out. For the past nine months or so, I’ve been writing the third Gears of War game. I’ve been doing other things, too, both Gears-related and Other Stuff, but the game is occupying most of my time at the moment.
Learning any new skill is immensely satisfying. I love novelty. I'm also what the RN would call an "adqual gannet" - I like to collect new competencies. And when that adqual is a blockbuster property with a team you know and like, then you can imagine that it's pretty damn nice.
I'll also be writing more Gears books after Anvil Gate, this time with a new publisher - the good folks at Simon & Schuster. The fourth book will lead straight into the third game. My new editor, Ed, is a major Gearhead. You can see that this is all very tidy.
My buddy Jim Gilmer - who has his own spectacularly good news to announce soon on the novel front - mailed me with the cryptic comment: "Conan, tell me what is best in life!" Usually, he sends me the actual movie clip by way of congrats. But the line alone has become a semaphore flag for a Bravo Zulu*. (Or a Sierra Hotel, if you're a Crab.) It also makes me laugh my arse off.
If you’re going to start writing games, I suppose you might as well cut your teeth on a really big bugger and have done with it like Horatius at the bridge**. I’m too old to start at the bottom and work my way up. Epic, being a generous bunch of chaps, handed this learner driver the keys to the metaphorical Lamborghini, and¬† when someone puts that much faith in your skills, you worry about getting that Lambo back to the garage without a scratch. For a few months I had a note on my fridge door saying "YES, IT'S HAPPENING ‚Äì GAME ON" because not only did the scale of it not quite sink in, I’d also semi-erased the news from my brain because of the need for commercial confidentiality. (I can do that ‚Äì old journo/spindoc mind-trick to avoid accidentally blurting stuff out.) So, until I fired up the laptop each day, I’d frequently forget I was writing for a seriously major game.
One great thing about writing ‚Äì a book, a show, a game, a comic, whatever ‚Äì is that you have a tangible object at the end of the day that you can clutch to your chest in some format and say, “I did that!”¬† In some previous jobs, my success has been measured by doing invisible things, by making trouble go away without being seen to be doing it. But the clutchable object isn’t actually the bit that makes storytelling a pleasure for me. It's the daily process of discovery by writing, a line at a time. When I write, I'm exploring new places and situations through characters' minds wholly unlike my own. The whole point of giving up the day job to be self-employed and write full-time was so that I could choose gigs that made the working day enjoyable for its own sake. Life is just too short to take crap on a daily basis on the off-chance that the outcome might give you amnesia about how awful it was to get there. I was up for that when I was young, but not now.
It’s been good to be back in a studio again, too. I hadn’t realised just how much I missed that from the old TV days ‚Äî¬† not just the technical satisfaction of putting a production together, but also the control room camaraderie and belly laughs with a great crew.
Anyway, back to the infomercial.¬† The game is out in April next year, and there’ll be more Gears books to follow Anvil Gate (which is out in August) with the new publishers, Simon & Schuster. The dates will follow, but the fourth Gears novel, which will set the scene for the third game, runs straight on from the events of Anvil Gate. Which, of course, you haven't seen yet, but AG is a Baird-rich environment, as you can tell from the cover.
I'll have more projects to announce over the course of the next six months, including at least one new novel series, but I'll let you digest all the Gears stuff first.
At last. I'm not the only writer who believes that (a) news journalism is a great (I say the best) foundation for writing fiction, especially for the screen, and (b) that truth in fiction is what we should be aiming for.
If you still don't believe me after I've been hammering away about it for the past few years, then at least listen to Jane Espenson. (Thanks to my buddy Dawn for the link.)
I don't know any other way to write, being an old journo, and even after training journalists, I still don't know exactly how and why we're like that; it's just part of the fabric of who I am now. I'm not suggesting you all drop out of your MFA programmes - although they won't make a storyteller out of you - to join a newspaper, but you could do a lot worse.
Reporting doesn't just give you technical skills and a way of approaching the world. It's about a way of seeing people - and fiction is all about the detail of people, human or otherwise. The best training for writing is life, and you get a spectacular amount of that in the news game. Note that I say news. While features and consumer mags and all those things are valid, it's not going to take you to the regular daily extremes like a hairy-arsed hard news job. There's an argument that the people whose minds are wired to be insatiably curious about everyone around them and to study them in both dispassionate and empathetic detail are those who gravitate towards journalism, rather than those skills being created by the job, but either way - the two go hand in hand.
And even if you don't make it in fiction - it's not exactly a wasted effort. God knows we need real don't-take-no-for-an-answer reporters more than ever these days, given the number of toothless and obedient poodles masquerading as journalists at the moment.
In other news; this will be a busy week. Expect some blog entries over the next few days after a very long radio silence.
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I am, to paraphrase some guy with a chip in his head, a very technical girl.
I rely heavily on office and utility software - couldn't stay in business without it, in fact, even if some of my colleagues do still produce hand-written manuscripts and swear by it. I need to work across various media and produce a lot of stuff in a short time, so I'm wholly dependent on IT. And like anyone trained in the arts of emergency management, I believe in a robust disaster recovery plan, so back-ups and back-ups of back-ups are essential.
Of course, I also enjoy my technology. I am Queen Geek. So when I find something that does a job well, I try to spread the word. Especially in software, because what I spend on software far exceeds my hardware spend, and that's quite a lot of dosh.
I've lost count of the different back-up and sync apps that I've trialled and bought over the last few years. Now I've stumbled on one that works the way I want it to; SyncBackPro. It's from 2BrightSparks, and I liked it so much that I bought the rest of their utility suite without trialling it. All their software appears to offer options that can accommodate any level of expertise and complexity, and can walk you through the most complex stuff in plain English. Good stuff, runs like a dream, and - vague as this sounds - I like the cut of the company's jib. Just my gut reaction to the way they present themselves.
I wish I could say the same of Windows 7 and Office Whatever-Bloody-Year-It-Is. I bought yet another netbook, and it came with Windows 7 pre-loaded. But it was the starter version - which is primitive for anyone coming from Vista - so the first thing I had to do to stop myself flinging the new toy out the hotel window was to download the pro version of W7. (Not one of my better decisions; I still think W7 sucks even now I'm used to where everything is.) But I was a long way from home and my installation discs, so it was the best I could do. Being marooned in a hotel also prompted me to download the beta of Office 2010, too, but at least I didn't have to pay for that.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not some Mac-worshipping fashion victim - or, God help us, some frothing Linux evangelist - with a down on Microsoft. I've had a painless time over the years with Win 95, 2000, XP, and then Vista. Not a single problem. Honest. And I'm religiously loyal to Office 2003. But I tried to love Office 2007, and failed, and I don't think I'll ever learn to love 2010, either. So as soon as I get home it's uninstall time. It's the small stuff that pisses me off. The tabbed tool bar just can't be customised the way my brain is wired.
If Atlantis ever get around to making an e-mail client that's as good as their word processor, then it's entirely possible that I'll finally let go of Office 2003 entirely. Atlantis is actually better than Word for my needs - and there's pretty well no word processing app for PC or Mac that I haven't tried - so if they can come up with an Outlook substitute, then I shall be their bitch, even if they don't add a spreadsheet app. I was underwhelmed by OpenOffice, but their Excel wannabe gave me what I needed.
And I bet you thought writing was all about ideas and the expression of your muse. Actually, it's mostly about systems and process. For me, at least.
I don't blog much now for a lot of reasons: general disinterest in the "Look at me!" culture of the internet, time pressures, the fact that the CMS software I use frequently breaks, and... well, the nature of this business, in that whatever I work on, even my creator-owned stuff, is almost always under wraps until a key date and so can't be discussed until much later.
So if I talk about my job - and it is a job, remember, heir to all the joys and ills of any trade - then it often has to be in vague generality. Take my word for it that my job these days is made of all kinds of pure awesome. It so is. My brain hurts regularly from learning new stuff and I often laugh until I cough my guts up. Now, neither of those things may sound particularly enjoyable to you, but I fucking love it like that. You're a long time dead, as my old buddy Lee used to say; he also used to say that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth, and that's one to live by. Come to think of it, most of his maxims have stayed with me over the years and proved to be God's own truth
Anyway, the point of all that is - I took a chance on an opportunity or two last year that hadn't been in my Soviet-style five year business plan, on the basis that the unknown is always a more interesting place to go. The unknown didn't let me down. It's even started breeding, in that more unexpected opportunities have emerged because of it.
To have a job that you can't wait to get on with the moment you wake up is probably as good as it gets. It's not luck. It's stuff you can make happen to you. I'm not saying everyone can have everything they want if only they work hard enough, because if you want a job exactly like mine and you don't have certain unlearnable abilities, then you're never going to be able to do it. But anyone can learn to get the maximum out of their own life and do things they never thought possible.
Trust me on that. Take a chance on something today and see where it takes you.
Writing is business - show business, in fact. Trouble is, most writing courses try to teach you how to write (which I think is a forlorn hope - you can either tell a story or you can't) but tell you nothing about the business side. And that's one thing that absolutely can be taught. It's also the stuff that will make you or break you. All the talent in the world counts for sweet FA if you don't know how the publishing economy runs and how you can use it to your advantage.
My good buddy Kevin Anderson is running a three-day seminar on that very topic.It's going to be held at the Pasadena Convention Center from March 19-21, and you'll get the benefit of the considerable combined wisdom of Kevin, Eric Flint, Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland), Brandon Sanderson, and Rebecca Moesta.
Folks, you are absolute sweethearts. You always have been, right from the first book; no writer could wish for better, kinder readers. But I think you give me too much credit for something. I don't like to be seen as something I'm not. Like Cromwell*, I prefer to be painted "warts and all."
It's clear from the mail I'm getting after yesterday's entry that many of you think this is some noble act of creative martyrdom. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it just isn't. I tried to walk you through a complicated industry stage by stage, but I've failed with many of you, I think. If you read yesterday's blog slowly and carefully, I do spell it out. It's nothing to do with what I think of actual storylines - it's part technical, part business. It's nothing to do with liking or not liking changes. It's about whether I can make something work or not.
Business side - you don't need to know the details. But I'm a business, just like your local baker, plumber, supermarket, or car dealership. It's a job like any other. I make the same kinds of decisions for the same kinds of reasons. (By the way, I don't work for LFL - novelists almost always work for publishers, not directly for franchises. I know it's complicated, but then reality generally is. )
Technical side - it's about nuts and bolts of making a story. I tried to think of a really clear example, and the best I can come up with is World War II.
Imagine that World War II is just fiction, totally made up, and a small part of a bigger storyline. (I don't want you getting bogged down in arguments about real history - please.) You're making a TV series called SAVING PRIVATE SMITH, about a bunch of soldiers against the background of a war started by some guy in a country called Germany. You're quite a long way through the series when someone else on the team says, "We've had to change a few things. That Hitler guy - he never happened. Someone shoots him on the Reichstag steps just before he takes office."
So you raise your hand and say, "Er... yeah, but what happens to the war, then, if Hitler isn't around? If the war doesn't happen... what are the troops doing there? How can they ever be fighting in France or Germany if the war never started?" And then everyone's got to decide if any of that war stuff works anymore. It doesn't. A story has to stand in its own right, and suddenly removing the Third Reich and Hitler - however good a storyline that is or isn't - makes the rest of the story make no sense to the viewer if it stays the same. Remember the Ballard short story about the time traveller and the butterfly he steps on? It's like that. The present day is altered.
And that's story causality. That's all it is. It's sequential logic. And franchises deal with that every day, because if they stop changing, they fossilize, and they lose customers. Sometimes changes work painlessly, and sometimes they don't. So you go with the information you have on the day, and make a choice.
Back to SW. Because you as readers love it, you automatically think in terms of the writer loving it, and being invested in the things that you're invested in. You think that what upsets you also upsets writers. But I'm not you, although I know pretty well what my customers will like and not like. I can't speak for any other writer, because we're all different, but I'm not invested emotionally in stories or characters - not even in my own Wess'har series. It's very temporary for me. I'm engaged emotionally as the character for the time that I'm writing in their point-of-view, but then I step out of it, and switch characters for the next scene, and even the next franchise. When the book is done, I go back to being me. I couldn't handle the job otherwise - it's the way I learned to focus on the story as a journalist and not get too involved to do the job rationally and disapassionately.
And I do it to earn a living. That's all there is to it. I don't mind or even care what choices franchises make in creative terms, as long as they're not into offensive stereotypes, because we all know when we go in the door that it's their call. But if I can't make a jigsaw puzzle fit, or Hitler was shot before he could start the war, then I don't have the nuts and bolts to carry on with what I was doing.
It's not a matter of like or not like . It's a matter of can or can't.
During my time in SW, in all the books, I picked the backwaters of the franchise as far as I was able, and characters that nobody else seemed to be interested in writing about. I kept well clear of other folks' territory and characters wherever possible, because that's the safest thing to do when you're the new kid and you don't want to upset anyone or risk continuity clashes. Usually, sticking to a small pond is enough to avoid inevitable continuity issues. In this case, it happened that it wasn't, and that's just tough luck. So you just dust yourself off. And if there are wider issues beyond the technical ones, then you evaluate your business's future and make a decision.
So please don't ascribe nobler motives to me than I actually have. I told you my reasons in as detailed a way as I was able. And it's mostly stuff I've already told you before. I'm a pragmatist - data-rational, not emotional.
But I still appreciate and value your kindness. I just prefer you to have no illusions about me.
(*Come back, Oliver. Your country needs you. I'd love to see how you'd have dealt with MPs fiddling their expenses.)
AMENDMENT, 11/12/09: Chris Billett tells me the butterfly story is Bradbury. When I've said Bradbury in the past (I've not read it - you had to ask?) others have insisted it's Ballard. As neither story is likely to have pictures in it or lend itself to being coloured in with crayons, I'll never find out for myself. I shall take Chris's counsel instead.
I'm an old journo, as you almost certainly know by now, and like any good journo (there are such animals, honest) I prefer to be proactive, not reactive.
But today I'm reacting, because somebody blurted out something on a forum, and the rumours started. Yes, for once a rumour is actually true; I've withdrawn from the sequel to Imperial Commando 501st, which was going to be my final Star Wars novel. I had issues over contractual matters and working practices that still showed no signs of being resolvable after a couple of years, so I told the publisher that I would not be doing the book.
A quick detour from the main item on the agenda: I realise many of you may not actually know what "contractual" means for a writer, so here's a one-minute guide to the writing industry in plain English. By contractual, I mean all the stuff that's not related to what's in the books themselves. It's convenient shorthand for the business side - your day-to-day working relationship with the publisher. That includes the contract itself (which titles, how many, when they're due, how much money, when you get paid and so on) to working practices, which are rarely written into the contract and tend to be the things you have to work out informally. Those vary from publisher to publisher and editor to editor. They're the nuts and bolts of how the job gets done and how you're treated, and cover a wide range of things from being kept fully in the loop about your project, to being given the chance to check the galleys before the book's printed, to whether you deliver the manuscript electronically or as hard copy, and even which colour of pencil the production people prefer you to use if you're marking up a paper manuscript. ¬†One thing that often doesn't appear in the contract is the format of the books (hardcover, paperback) even though that usually makes a big difference to how much you get paid. Publishing isn't quite like any other business model I know.
So if you have ambitions to be a professional writer in any medium - novels, comics, movies, games, TV, even non-fiction - ¬†remember that the only assets and resources your business has is you. One-man companies are the most vulnerable in the business world because you're the smallest plankton in the corporate food chain. Things that would probably only put a dent in a bigger company - long delays, projects that fall into indefinite limbo along with your cheque, late payment, non-payment, last-minute total makeovers, contracts that never materialise, mail that never gets answered, editors and producers who move and leave your show/ book/ movie a sudden orphan, and pestilence, flood, and network cancellations - can be catastrophic for a very small one. Those are the things that present the daily survival challenges that can put your business in jeopardy, and they're usually totally beyond your control. This is why you have to spread your risks. Writing is the easy bit. Few would-be writers are aware of the daily reality, but then most writers never give up the day job, and the world's a harsher place if you're a full-time pro. You can find yourself out of work on an unknown someone's whim without any warning or explanation on any day, no matter how successful you are, so you always need to have not only a Plan B ready for instant action, but a C and D as well. (Personally, I plan all the way to Z. But then I've been writing for a living - for paper and screen - nearly all my working life, and I don't believe in luck.)
But I digress. ¬†Back to the studio, as they say. I realise from the tsunami of mail I've had since my announcement in August that quite a few of you aren't up to speed with the general situation and have missed some of the salient points. Fair enough: here's a recap. I'm answering only the most frequent questions you've been sending me, to save you the trouble of mailing me again or relying on fifth-hand misquotes from fan sites. ¬†
1. Yes, the Boba Fett novel was cancelled by the publisher because of potential canon clashes with the upcoming TV series, as you have already heard from other sources. No, I really don't have a clue what those clashes might be. Sorry.
2. No, I wasn't ever going to be able to deal with Sev's fate, because he was off limits. I've been saying that for four years, and there's even an FAQ on my web site explaining the situation.
3. No, I can't reconsider. It's sweet of you to keep asking, but I had to make my decision nearly a year ago. When I was finishing 501st in January this year, I was told about a significant continuity change coming up in the Clone Wars cartoon. (As was mentioned and shown in a couple of books that came out in the summer - this is not confidential information of any kind now.) I was told that the Mandalorians were being revamped as long-standing pacifists who'd given up fighting centuries ago and that Mandalore was now a post-apocalyptic wasteland devastated by war. I was told not to refer to (recent) Mandalorian history because of that, as it was obviously at odds with the old continuity in my novels. That's fairly common procedure for any franchise - but unfortunately it wasn't that simple in practice. The two Commando series - and quite a few older books and comics, come to that -were based entirely on that original history, and basic logic meant that the fundamental plot of the series could never have existed if this had been a pacifist society. Neither could any of the characters or their motives have existed, because they were wholly based on a global warrior culture living on a non-nuked Mandalore. I had some discussion in January with the editor about possible ways around the problem, but after that, I heard nothing to indicate that the position would change, so the plan went ahead to wind up my existing storyline in the two books that were already in the pipeline. It was too late for me to rewrite 501st even if the changes hadn't made that pretty well impossible.
4. No, it doesn't make any difference if that canon changes again in the future. To answer the what-if question put by many of you, if that new canon is ever modified (and no, I've been given no indication whatsoever that it would be, so please don't get excited... ) then it was already too late for me ten or eleven months ago. That was when I had to make my decision. No writer can put the rest of their work on hold to see what might happen at an unspecified date in the future on the off-chance of being given an occasional paperback to write. That's the reality of work-for-hire, and writing in general; you have to cast your net wide, and across all media. As much as I've enjoyed writing for all you Star Wars fans, and you've been terrific to me, it wasn't my whole career and neither could it have been, even if I'd wanted it to be. As a freelance studio director from my TV days used to say: "I can't sit around waiting for the next series of Sooty*." The canon changes were the key deciding issue in a single series that I was hanging around to finish, but the contractual/ working practice side of things was the main influence on my longer-term decision.
Some of you have already asked what's going to happen to the book, but I just don't know - and I actually don't know any more than I did in January. All I can tell you is what I would have written had I gone ahead with IC#2, and - summarizing loosely - the main characters would have escaped the Empire in the ba'slan shev'la you already know about from Legacy of the Force. (But you knew all that from Revelation anyway.) I would have left the story in a state where the powers that be could either put it on ice forever, or resurrect it with another writer and a new direction. I don't write scorched-earth roadblock endings that make it impossible for other authors to continue stories, because that's pointless and unprofessional, and the only person who suffers is the reader.
So there you have it. I've rescheduled, I have a lot of new work to do, existing work to finish, and several new cell phones. (Don't ask... ) And I'm having an indecent amount of fun using skills I haven't exercised in a very long time as well as learning new ones I didn't know I had in me.
But that's another story - one for next year.
(* Sooty & Sweep. You'll have to run a search on it. Unless you're a certain age.)
I have, as they say in submarine circles, gone deep. Even friends I usually manage to stay in contact with are asking if I've been forced to skip the country to escape some unfortunate business misunderstanding with the Pirhana Brothers.
While that would be a stunningly good story, it's more a case of chop-chop-busy-busy-work-work-bang-bang*. The Job has branched off on one of those forks in the road that lead you to unexpected oases, and I'm at the immersive, caffeine-fuelled, can't-get-enough-of-it stage where the rest of the world -- the diurnal cycle, the news agenda, even meal-times -- ceases to exist. When a job can do that to you, it's almost a religious experience. Getting paid for it as well seems almost like satisfaction overkill.
It's five years almost to the day since I quit the day job to write full time. It feels like a lifetime ago. Some of the unutterably cool things that have happened to me in that time were already targets in my five-year business plan, but others have been events and opportunities that came out of the blue and just couldn't have featured in my -- well, I was going to say wildest dreams, but I'm too boring to have those. Let's settle for saying they're things that didn't even feature in my most ambitious planning. And that's a real tonic. I used to think that leaving nothing to chance (that's me, that is) ruled out surprises, but in fact it just leaves you better able to get the most out of the unexpected.
So I'm going to be mostly off the radar for the rest of this year and a good chunk of 2010 too.
And it'll be worth it.
*(One of those TV ads from way back that people recall and even incorporate into their speech, but as to remembering the product... I totally forgot it was British Telecom. Product recall doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with memorable ad campaigns.)
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Dear liberals: where have you been this last 12 years? STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: dear-liberals-where-have-you-been-this-last-12-years
DATE: 10/23/2009 09:11:42 AM ----- BODY:
A question for the liberals and anti-racists who are baying for blood and bans after Nick "even less charismatic than Hitler" Griffin was allowed to appear on the BBC's question time last night: where have you been living since Labour came to power? Mars? Because that's the only explanation I can come up with for your handing the government yet another excuse to further regulate what we can see, do, and think.
You've been the first - rightly - to object to NuLabour bringing in laws to "protect" us from extremism and bogey-mullahs under the bed because those laws have ended up being used almost entirely to spy upon and limit the rights of the citizens of this country, not crazed jihadists. But somehow, you forgot that proven tendency of the government to subvert laws for its own party ends. It seldom uses regulation to deal only with the people it says it's designed to deal with.
But here's what a system that would stop the BBC having him on the programme would actually mean in real terms.
Whatever the BBC's motive for having him on the panel - ratings, idiocy, genuine journalistic neutrality - their justification is valid and important; the BBC does not, and should not, have the power to decide which party the public gets to hear or not hear. It should also not be forced to censor behind the scenes by the government of the day.
The BNP isn't a banned organisation in law. (Although that's another dumb backfiring idea. See: Northern Ireland.) So the BBC has no grounds to block a party with democratically elected representatives in the European Parliament - it's actually part of the democratic process to be allowed to hear all political parties so we can make up our own minds about just how obnoxious they are. If you well-meaning folks think one of the parties should be silenced, then this is the Pandora's box of shit you're opening up - the slippery slope to silencing any other partyor opinion the government of the day doesn't like. The ability to ban makes a very broad brush.
If the BBC - which, ironically, was castrated and made to kneel before Labour when it humiliated Blair on Iraq - is forced to ban one party, it opens the door to banning another. And another. And before long, that net is cast wider. Eventually, you might not be allowed to hear anything but the government of the day.
If you use the excuse that the BNP holds deeply offensive views and so should be shut up - what about all the other nutters and tossers with offensive views? Offence is highly subjective. Muzzle the BNP, and you enshrine the right to muzzle anyone - anything from critical opinion of religion to, dare I say it, objecting to the BNP itself.
So, well-meaning protestors, if you succeed in getting the BBC spanked severely and give the government an excuse to lean on the media to stop us seeing and hearing nasty things - you've just given them a ticket to shut everyone up a slice at a time. Well done. Thanks a bunch.
Democracy means you have to let everyone have their say, even if it makes you puke. (And there is little that makes me want to chuck up more than seeing Griffin hijacking the sacrifice of our armed forces for his own PR.) It's the price on the tag.
Griffin only becomes a dangerous man when people vote for him. If nobody does, then he's no more than the sad little dick in the pub who keeps ranting about foreigners running all the corner shops. Ban the BNP, and all you do is glamourise them; silence them, and you just make them more creative and more martyred. Look what the media bans on the IRA and Sinn Fein achieved - sweet FA, unless you were a voice actor who could do a Belfast accent, in which case you made a nice living for a while.
The UK has had its own brand of far-right party for decades under various labels. They've never attracted many votes. They've always been seen as the nutters they are, except by other nutters who like dressing up and fantasizing. Many people who vote BNP now, though, will not be weirdos playing Nazi dress-up - they'll be ordinary people so pissed off with Labour and so mistrustful of the Conservatives to deliver anything different that they'll cast a protest vote just to see some change, any change. And all the time we have such a shabby bunch of expense-fiddling, lying, whining, corrupt tossers infesting the House of Commons (not all of them in the Labour party, alas) then the likes of the BNP will gain ground. It has nothing to do with Griffin's voice being heard or not heard.
Remember - its about votes. About actions. Ugly ideas are just ideas - words. It's acting on them that's the threat.
If you really think that hearing Griffin's predictable views will make people vote BNP when they didn't before, then you're patronising. You think the ordinary people of this country are impressionable sheep who need to be protected from hearing bad things because they'll automatically want to do them. At the same time, you charge blindly into the abattoir yourselves - "Ban more things, please! We know you'll never misuse that power or seek to expand it for your own political gain! We're sure you'll never use that power against us!"
The most effective protest against the BNP is simple. Ignore them. And never vote for them. Let them fade away. Stop being their PR agency.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Life in a blue suit STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: life-in-a-blue-suit
DATE: 10/09/2009 11:27:53 AM ----- BODY:
This story made my day. I don't watch soaps or teen dramas (you had to ask?) and I had no idea who this woman was, but now I do know what's she made of. Bless her. Let's give her the Royal Navy's traditional toast for a Friday: "A willing soul and sea room."
Every time we lose one of our boys in Afghanistan, many of us - most, I'd hope - feel personally affected. Our latest British casualty, though, hit a bit harder because I remembered the name from a couple of years ago: Sergeant Michael Lockett.
Take a look at the dedication page of ASPHO FIELDS, and you'll see that I dedicated the book to the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment. Sometimes I dedicate books to people I know personally, and sometimes to people I don't know at all but who I believe deserve a public act of respect from me - because that's pretty well all a writer can do, to draw attention to special people so that readers might want to find out more about them. Remembrance matters.
The dedication to 2 Mercian came about because of a battle in Garmsir in 2007 when a platoon from A Company was ambushed by the Taliban. Some men were awarded medals for their courage in saving comrades, and one of them was Sergeant Lockett. He received the Military Cross. I defy anyone to watch the accounts those lads gave of that terrible night and not be moved by it.
Sadly, Sergeant Lockett was killed yesterday by an IED. It was his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he was the 217th British serviceman to die there since 2001. So next time you refer to a vastly overpaid sportsman or some trivial pop star as a "hero", stop and think what that means and what a real hero actually is. Please don't cheapen the word. Keep it for men like Sergeant Lockett, and the many others who we'll probably never hear about but who go out and do it every day, year on year, for a pittance and little if any thanks.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: The Mash nails it STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: the-mash-nails-it
DATE: 09/16/2009 11:15:39 AM ----- BODY:
The Daily Mash spoofs are almost always more incisive reporting than the real news stories they pillory, but today the Mash boys have surpassed themselves:
I particularly loved the comment on what novels should be: "Novels should be a series of stilted conversations and semi-internalised dream sequences that reveal a series of interwoven themes about the need to rebalance globalisation in favour of the developing world."
Glorious. It's always hard to pick a fave Mash story, but they just keep getting better.
This has got to be the niftiest bargain gadget ever for those of us who didn't get a tablet laptop the first time around. I loved it so much that I bought two, one for the desk and one for the netbook.
It's also half the price of its competitors, as far as I can tell. (I got mine from Expansys.) Now, I really do have a specific business use for a digital ink; I need to sign documents, annotate images, and mark up PDFs to look identical to hard-copy reviews. But the various graphics tablets I bought gave very poor results for basic handwriting, however carefully I set the things up. I wanted something that gave me as good an experience as the ink function in Evernote, which is so spiffy that it can even mimic my real-ink italic nibs, but the Siso Tablo does the the job pretty well and works fine as a mouse too. Now I find I'm generating sketches and other rough graphics stuff I'd normally have confined to paper, as well as all the other scraps of information that never seemed worth typing into a new document.
Yes, you heard right. The Real Pen woman finds digital ink not only acceptable but actually a bit of a boon. But that's because this particular pen works so well in tablet mode.
As an old journo, I have no sympathy whatsoever for this dickhead.
He was warned he was going into a particularly dangerous area. He gets kidnapped - again. (He'd already been kidnapped before, in Iraq.) Now a good man - a special forces soldier - is dead as a result, plus the interpreter and a couple of other civvies. I hope this hack thinks his poxy little story - which will be forgotten the next day, like all news - was worth their lives. If it had been me, I wouldn't have expected troops to put their lives on the line to save my sorry arse. I certainly wouldn't have been able to live with myself if anyone else had been killed or maimed because of my recklessness.
If you want to play big boys' games, you take big boys' risks. Next time this guy is kidnapped, leave him to enjoy the hospitality of his captors or let his paper pay a ransom. Don't throw away any more of our lads' lives. They've got enough on their plate without playing nursemaid to tourists.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Congratulations are in order STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: congratulations-are-in-order
DATE: 09/04/2009 08:07:34 PM ----- BODY:
I like to see friends achieve stuff, and I get a particular buzz when they make their way in the wacky world of publishing, which, as you all know, takes no prisoners in this harsh economic climate. So I'm well chuffed to be able to pimp the excellent Sean O'Connor - thinker, writer, and source of many an interesting debate on military and ethical matters. (I do believe he features in one of my novel acknowledgments, come to think of it. We've had some really interesting discussions.) He's got some RPG books coming up:
He's on the treadmill with another book now, and discovering the joys of nights spent editing and proofing when all the sensible folk are getting some Zs in. Welcome to the world of sleep-deprived authors, Sean!
Okay, this is pen talk, so if you're not into vintage and collectors' fountain pens, move along. Nothing to see here.
I bought a very unusual 1950s pen from the excellent David Nishimura, unusual in the fact that not only had I never heard of the manufacturer, but also that the pen looked like one thing yet behaved like another. Well, that was why I bought it, after all; the pen promised something I wasn't used to in a conical nib - flex. I love flex nibs - the flexier the better, with the wet noodle Spencerian-friendly type my ultimate must-have - and one thing that the average conical nib rarely does is flex. It'll open pet food cans and double as a weapon (you really don't want one of those babies rammed into your soft tissues, believe me...) but the capacity for a lovely variable line is not one of its qualities. That's because most conical nibs were manufactured by Sheaffer, who made almost all of them as you-can't-bend-it come-and-'ave-a-go-if-you-think-you're-'ard-enough pieces of serious engineering. The Triumph nib dates from 1948 and was effectively Sheaffer's answer to the market challenge of that other design icon, the Parker 51 with its hooded nib. (And you guessed it - yes, I have a nice collection of 51s, too... )
The pen I received today from David Nishimura is a Pen-Co 53C, an Italian piston-filler, and was made in 1955. The odd thing about it is that its nib looks almost exactly like the conical Sheaffer Triumph familiar to anyone who's used a Snorkel or a Touchdown. That wraparound integral look has survived (aesthetically, anyway, if not in actual construction) in some modern Sheaffers. These Triumph nibs are beautiful pieces of metalwork, whether in gold or palladium-silver alloy, but also well 'ard; they really are very rigid nibs, designed in an era when people had to make multiple carbon copies. You can write easily with the back of the nib, too, giving a finer line, which is a trick that Parker made much of in its 180 series some decades later. A tiny number of flex Triumphs were produced back in the day, but you'd have to chainsaw your way through a frenzied crowd of fellow collectors to get one. (I'm still looking for one, by the way, so if anyone reading this has a production flex Triumph on anything and wants to sell, but preferably on a Snork.... mail me via the contact link on my web site. )
Pic #1: Pen-Co fine semi-flex on the top left, Sheaffer Touchdown fine rigid stub on the lower right.
Pic #2: Sheaffer fine rigid on the top, Pen-Co semi-flex on the bottom.
The Pen-Co 53C, as shown in pic #1, has a conical nib that might pass as a Triumph on first glance if you didn't have a Sheaffer handy for comparison. But it's semi-flexible, arguably almost full flex in my hands because I can make it go from fine to a lovely shaded broad without much pressure, as shown in pic #2. (That's using the same ink, too.) I can't tell you how weird it feels to see rigid conical and feel open flex nib - it's like red peas or blue carrots. Your brain says: "Hang on... it's not supposed to be like that."
The 53C is also very light, and longer than the Touchdown I use most days. Again, my brain shied away from that fence too. Some associations are burned into my neural pathways, and take some time to overcome. I do enjoy that kind of novelty. Read all about Sheaffer Triumph nibs here. And if you don't know what I mean by flex, read this.
Please do check out David Nishimura's catalogue, on the understanding that if you yoink all the really good stuff before I get there, my conical nib will be the next thing you feel. And it won't be the flex one.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Anvil update: it really was a woman... STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: anvil-update-it-really-was-a-woman
DATE: 08/23/2009 04:18:52 PM ----- BODY:
Belay that whoopee-it's-solved over the anvil question a few days ago. I have another answer, and - as I recalled - the incident was a woman speaking, and it was medieval central Europe. I'm indebted to a fellow tie-in author, the excellent Jim Swallow - creator of a long list of Who, Warhammer, Trek, and other novels - for this answer, which was exactly the incident I meant.
It was Caterina Sforza, wife of Girolamo Riario. Jim had read the account in Niccolo's Smile, a biography of Machiavelli by Dr. Maurizio Viroli.
In brief - it happened at Forli castle in 1488. The castle was under siege, and Riario's wife (Caterina) and kids were being held hostage. Caterina conned her captors into letting her go into the keep to talk her husband's men into surrendering. When she got inside, though, she went up onto the battlements, told the besieging troops exactly where they could shove their terms for surrender, and defied their threats to her kids - she lifted her skirts, showed the enemy her private parts, and said she had the equipment to make plenty more children.
What a gal! And from her biographical details, it seems she was clearly not a woman to mess with. Good for her.
That's the event I meant, and this has enabled me to find other sources. (And the TV history series did get it right after all.) Thanks, Jim!
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: You'll never get me up in one of those things STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: youll-never-get-me-up-in-one-of-those-things
DATE: 08/20/2009 05:19:35 PM ----- BODY:
Remember the Once-Only suit in my novel CROSSING THE LINE, a personal landing capsule used by the Royal Marines for a covert planetary insertion? That was based on the real technology of NASA's never-used-in-earnest-thank-God MOOSE suit of the 1960s, designed to get astronauts back to Earth minus a spaceship if the brown stuff really hit the fan. Now, according to The Reg, there's an improved version:
" The inflatable bladder held up well," a NASA white-coat said.
Well, I don't think my bladder would have held out for long under those circumstances, but maybe with ten pints of Scruttock's Old Berserker inside me I might be persuaded to give the damn thing a try one day. And if things all went pear-shaped - well, it'd be one hell of a way to go.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Ask, and ye shall be answered... STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: ask-and-ye-shall-be-answered
DATE: 08/19/2009 12:31:36 PM ----- BODY:
I am indebted to Mike Bennighof of Avalanche Press for sorting the "anvil" question from yesterday. Thanks also to all the folks who drafted him into the quest for clarity.
It wasn't the woman's words at all, but her old man while...umm... demonstrating her...er...parts to make a point. Which goes to prove that TV history shows aren't an unimpeachable source. Or, perhaps, there are multiple sources and theirs had a different or flawed version; I won't castigate them without knowing. One thing journos know only too well is the elusive nature of definitive accounts...
The source: Myra Weatherly, "William Marshall: Medieval England's Greatest Knight."
The quote: "I possess the hammer and anvil to forge many sons," is from his father, John Marshall, in defiance of King Stephen.
Thanks again, everyone. Distributed brain power is an awe-inspiring thing. You're the SETI of fact-crunching.
Okay, a plea for an assist. This one's driving me nuts. For months, I've been trying to name an obscure historical figure - a noblewoman leading an army - who said this: "On this anvil I can forge many more sons."
I'm not going to give you the context, because it's quite...umm...graphic, but if you know the incident that caused her to say this, then you won't need me to draw you a picture anyway. Searches for every variation on that phrase have drawn a complete blank. If you can positively ID the woman - central Europe, if memory serves, medieval period - then please mail me via the link on my web site. I shall be in your debt.
And I'm not ungrateful for helpful suggestions, but for this one, please don't send me guesses. I only want a concrete ID with a source quoted. This is one for historians, and even my professional historian buddies don't know the answer.
I was expecting a few e-mails after yesterday, but not this many. I'm way behind with replies. But in the meantime, I hope you won't mind a general cut'n'paste from a reply I sent someone earlier: and I hope the guy who I sent this reply to won't mind me recycling it. My fingertips are frayed by now.
I've had a good innings and it was time to step aside and let someone else have some fun. Like I've said to quite a few fans who've mailed me today, I'm just a tie-in writer -¬† I'm¬†not an employee and I don't own the copyright. I was just hired to write a few books¬†within a much bigger story from time to time, that's all. Star Wars was running for nearly 30 years before I showed up there, and it'll probably still be being going 30 years after I'm dead. I'm replaceable and I'm not special. There are a hundred who could take my place tomorrow.¬†I'm genuinely amazed and taken aback by the volume of e-mails I've had and¬†the lovely things fans have said in them. I really didn't know people felt that strongly about me, and it's been¬†genuinely¬†moving to find out that they do. ¬† SW fans are good people. My life is far richer for knowing you all. ¬†
Well, that's it, in a nutshell. It takes plenty to stun a hardened old hack like me, but you managed it. Thanks. And I really mean it.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: End of one era, start of another... STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: end-of-one-era-start-of-another
DATE: 08/08/2009 07:32:20 PM ----- BODY:
It's been a hectic year so far here at the Traviss word factory, but you've probably already worked that out from my very infrequent blogs. Sorry about that. I do, however, have a good excuse; I've been working on lots of new stuff.
That sounds cryptic, I know, but the nature of this business is that you can't always say what you're working on for commercial confidentiality reasons. For example, it'll be nearly a year before one of my current gigs goes public. Until then, I'll just have to jump up and down on my seat in stifled glee. I break a lot of office chairs that way.
Anyway, let me get to the point of this blog. I've been receiving mail from Star Wars fans who have bought the new visual guide to the second season of the Clone Wars TV cartoon, and have been perplexed by detail in it. They've noticed changes in canon. They're mailing me to ask what's going on because it appears to affect areas that my novels deal with. I admit I didn't know there was a guide coming out this early, let alone what would be revealed in it. But now that it has, and you're asking me what's happened, it would be naive to stall you when you have the book in front in you, and pretty rude to ignore you.¬†
I can't discuss the canon issues because of the standard non-disclosure agreement that all writers sign. I'm not even going to discuss the ones that are public now, and I know little of the full detail anyway. So please don't ask me. All I can say is that I was given enough of the detail in January to realise that changes in continuity were such that I wouldn't be able to carry on as originally planned with the storylines you were expecting to see continued in my books. It would have required a lot more than routine retcon.
The only solution I could think of that could accommodate the changes was a complete reboot, and I seriously considered doing that. But starting over, when I had so many other books on my plate? The knock-on effect on my other work was a problem, because most of my income doesn't come from Star Wars. And then there was the risk of alienating readers. Pulling the rug from under them after so many books - that wouldn't go down well, and "I was only following orders" doesn't appease anybody these days.
The canon is beyond my control, because that's the very nature of tie-in work. But that still left me with some personal choices I had to make. I could try to make the retcons. Or I could switch to different SW books that weren't affected by these changes. Or I could decide to call it a day - I had a great run, but I had an increasing amount of non-SW work to get on with that was more important to my business.
In the end, the only rational decision I could take was to make Imperial Commando #2 my last book for Star Wars. I'm sorry I had to do that, and it wasn't a decision I took lightly or even quickly, so bear with me while I explain.
Obviously, in business, there are always multiple reasons behind any decision. Some of my influencing factors were business ones about contractual matters, but that's dull and of no interest to the customer. Let's stick to what concerns you, which is the story.
Rather than switch to vastly altered storylines in which many of the characters whose lives you've been following for the last five years wouldn't exist, or move across to other SW areas, I decided this was a natural point at which to make the break. I've never given up on anything easily, and I knew it would disappoint my readers, so you can rest assured that I spent a lot of time trying to find ways to make the canon work in the longer term. But it's a circle I can't square. Maybe someone else can, but I can't. My specialty - what companies hire me for - is to create substantial military/political series with long character arcs in an increasingly detailed world. That kind of product doesn't lend itself to quick fixes or radical changes mid-stream.
My business needs to be planned several years ahead, and I allow for a degree of unexpected change. When I'm offered a project, I have to ask myself not only if it excites and inspires me, and if the team is solid, but also whether it makes economic sense, and what impact it'll have on the rest of my work portfolio. It has to tick all the boxes. I work for a number of publishers on different franchises, as well as on my creator-owned fiction, so there's a limit to how much uncertainty and change my schedule can accommodate before other projects start to suffer from the knock-on effect.
So I'm now concentrating my focus on my work for other franchises and my own new military series. Many of you already realise that I'm heavily committed to Gears of War (why yes, I am the Chainsaw Queen, thank you for noticing...) and I'm also working on other games tie-ins. And then I have at least two original series that have slipped behind in my schedule and need attention pretty fast. And then there's....well, you get the idea. You'll guess that I'm not planning any vacations for the next few years.
Some changes we choose. But some happen to us and have to be faced head-on. Tie-in work is, by its very nature, subject to a lot more unexpected change than other writing - it's someone else's copyright, and the writer has to live with that. It goes with the territory. That's why professional tie-in writers don't get emotionally attached to what they're working on. It's not that I take the task casually; but it's not my property, and the stewardship of it is always temporary. A pro has to be able to shrug, move on, and say: "Okay, nobody died, and the cheque didn't bounce - result! Next?"
But as a writer, I have a moral deal with you, the reader - if I hook you with a story, my part of the deal is to follow through and give you a satisfying outcome. If changes beyond my control mean I can't give you that, then I won't do a half a job. You deserve better than that. And in five, ten, twenty years time, nobody picking up the books will know that the stories suddenly changed direction because the canon changed in the middle of it. They'll just see books that went off-course for no visible reason and didn't deliver what they promised at the start.
You've been generous and loyal readers, and made my books best sellers, and I'm truly grateful for your support. The wonderful mail you send me is always appreciated, frequently funny, and often very moving, sometimes painfully so. That kindness and candour has meant a great deal to me. Many of you have become my good personal friends, too. Obviously you'll still see plenty of me in bookstores (and other fine retail establishments...) in the months and years ahead, but it'll be other Traviss tales.
So stick with me on my continuing journey in other universes, both tie-in and creator-owned, and I can guarantee you an action-packed ride with plenty of characters to get absorbed in.
I'm going to get straight to the point. Instructions always work best when there's no room for misunderstanding.
GEARS OF WAR: JACINTO'S REMNANT is out now. So you will do your duty as a Gearhead and buy it.
1. US and Canadian readers: sometime this week - preferably tomorrow, when the book is officially on sale - get to your nearest quality bookstore and buy a copy. It's not cheap, being a trade paperback (the fancy big softcovers) but my novels are much longer than the average, so you get a lot more reading for your cash in more ways than one.
2. UK readers; wait until next week, because the book is published by Orbit on August 6 in normal mass market paperback format, and then do the same. Buy it. Fly the flag. Support a Brit who's defending Blighty's literary honour in the former colonies.
And if you buy so many that the stores run out, then more will be printed. So nobody has an excuse for remaining bookless.
I understand the book has been on sale early for a week or so in the frozen wastes of Canada, as titles very often are. Don't know why. Canucks have had some of my books three weeks early before now. It might have something to do with the presence of moose and rugged scenery, according to my Canadian friends. They say you need to plan a lot further ahead.
JACINTO'S REMNANT is the second book in the series, and it picks up the story from the end of the second game - you know, the final scene where Jacinto is being flushed down the drains. So you'll find out stuff you never knew before. That's right. This is opening up unknown territory in the Gearsiverse. Unlike ASPHO FIELDS, which was a prequel, you won't know where this ends or what happens next. And I'm working on the third novel right now.
Get out there and shop, people. Colonel Hoffman will be coming round later this week to inspect the contents of your bookshelf. That is all. Dismissed.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: The right kind of cog in the machine STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: the-right-kind-of-cog-in-the-machine
DATE: 06/15/2009 12:22:57 PM ----- BODY:
Starting a book you've been looking forward to writing is like opening a box of Godiva chocolates. Actually, that's not a good anology in my case, seeing as I'd rather have a nice challenging bag of pork scratchings. And I mean the well 'ard British variety, which rate a 10 on the Mohs scale, not the softer US pork rinds. But I digress. The point is that you embark on a voyage of delicious discovery. Okay, you might lose a dental filling along the way, but the overall effect is one of diverse taste sensations and something truly satisfying to crunch down on.
As some of you might have gathered from the Gears of War forums, I spent last week at Epic HQ, so that's set me up to get on with book three of the Gears saga. There is, I can assure you, no substitute for sitting down with a team of solid-gold creative folk and kicking around ideas. Especially game pros. But you've already heard me do my spiel on why games are the ultimate storytelling, and why Epic is the pinnacle of that, so I won't bore you again.
Suffice to say that it's the most fun I've had with other people without being arrested or released on bail pending police enquiries. You'll be able to tell just just how much fun when a video interview with me appears on the Gears and Xbox sites. You know the kind of interview where the cameraman locks off the camera and wanders off to attend to something, leaving it running, and when he gets back, you're still yakking away? Yeah, that much fun. It is, as you young 'uns say, teh awesomeness.
You don't have to like the people you work with to do a good job. You don't have to admire or respect each other. You don't have to think that their product is the best invention since the Nespresso machine* and the domestic electricity supply**. But, to quote my buddy Moose, you sure do shine white-hot when you do. I could now power a city with the energy I generate from my Gears-fuelled reactor.
Gears has turned out to be that rare conjunction of planets for me that just makes my working day pure bliss. Obviously I love my job or else I wouldn't do it, but some parts of it are soul-destroyingly joyless, and some parts of it are glorious. You can work out which category Gears fits in. It even beats doing my own-copyright fiction (okay, okay, I do have more original*** books coming, be patient...) because of the Perfect Team factor. There's absolutely nothing like being in a group of like-minded and equally driven people to magnify the creative experience and the pleasure you get from it.
Anyway, book three (title to be announced) is the sequel to JACINTO'S REMNANT, which is out on July 28. That's the second book. Buy it. If you get half as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did from writing it, then you'll be...well, very happy indeed. Like me.
(*It so is. I love my Nespresso machine. Pry it from my cold dead hands.)
(** Okay, there's no caffeine in it, but it's still kind of pivotal, because without it there would be no Nespresso.)
(*** You know I hate that frigging stupid distinction and the lit-snob implications of the word "original", don't you? All my books are original, by the dictionary definition. I just don't own the copyright on some of them. It's only a difference in my profit margin.)
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Tossers of the Week Award STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: tossers-of-the-week-award
DATE: 06/01/2009 12:10:21 PM ----- BODY:
It's been pretty hard for ordinary wankers vying for my Shithouse of the Week Award to oust expenses-fiddling Members of Parliament from the shortlist over the last few weeks, but the UK cell phone provider O2 has managed to claw its way to the top of the list of shame. And that takes some doing.
It boggles my mind to imagine what kind of individual pea-brained jobsworth takes this stance in the first place. But what kind of company then stands its ground when the situation escalates? An apology issued only when the prospect of bad PR raises its head is always empty, and that's putting it kindly. In a more just world, I would send the pathetic little pen-pushers who put Mrs Binnie through this extra pain to do some real work on the front line in Afghanistan.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Not a word more, not a word less STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: not-a-word-more-not-a-word-less
DATE: 05/26/2009 11:51:25 AM ----- BODY:
I received the audio book of GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS today, the unabridged version. Being a writer who usually works at between 150,000 - 190,000 words per book (with the CW novels being an exception) that means an awful lot of CDs - ten for ASPHO FIELDS, in fact.
I've had to put the audio book to one side and resist the urge to listen to it for the time being. The single narrator isn't, of course, the full cast of voice artists who did the game. And while I'm writing Gears books, I have to keep those voices untouched in my mind to hit the dialogue right. If I hear another voice when I should be hearing John DiMaggio, then I'm stuffed. It's just the way I work. So David Colacci's interpretation of the Gears will be a treat for a future date when I can no longer be distracted.
One thing is certain, though - an unabridged ASPHO FIELDS will be the full experience of the novel. Nothing has been cut. If you splash out on this full version - and I accept that it costs a lot more than the abridged one - then you won't be missing anything from the book.
I admit I have mixed feelings about the value of audio books simply because of abridgement. Some books are abridged for audio and some aren't, and it's all about length. A number of readers have asked me about the audio versions of my Star Wars books, and I feel honour-bound to put a few caveats on my response because I don't want to mislead customers.
Put bluntly, abridged audio books are not the full book experience. Don't get me wrong; they're very cleverly done, and they have to be cut for a sound business reason, but they just can't be the same thing as the full book they're based on. What you lose will depend on the writer and their individual style, but on content alone, you'll see that a 160,000 word novel boiled down to about 90,000 - 100,000 words so that it fits on five discs in standard packaging and hits a certain price point will not yield the result that the author originally intended. It's almost cut in half.
Abridging for audio book (or radio, come to that) is a demanding skill, and it's impressive to see it done well. Working on BLOODLINES was an education; I was given the abridged manuscript and I compared it with the full version to see what had been changed. Nothing had been added. It had simply been filleted. It was so cleanly done that the plot remained intact and none of the basic detail essential to following the plot had been lost. That takes some doing.
What had been lost, though, was the depth of characterisation and worldbuilding. I don't pad books, and every line is there for a reason - primarily characterisation, to immerse the reader in what it really feels like to be the point-of-view character. A lot of Fett's motivation didn't make it into the audio version, for example, and while the audio book was still a coherent story and it had the bonus of excellent narration, it lost some of the essential flavour of the novel. It simply wasn't what I wrote any longer. It was more like a translation, despite the fact that nothing had been actively changed or added. The detail that had been removed out of necessity had changed the work into something else. That should be obvious, I suppose, but most readers won't realise what they're not getting if all they do is listen to abridgements.
Discussing the dilemma of abridgement with a lit critic, something struck me; the two incarnations of BLOODLINES make an excellent teaching tool for would-be writers. By comparing the two, you can learn a lot about the nuts and bolts of characterisation. You can see and hear exactly, word by word, what makes the difference between an okay and entertaining story, and one that reduces a reader to tears. That's a quote from a reader, by the way. The novel made them weep; the audio book didn't. The novel built a cumulative effect of watching Fett come to terms with his wretchedly empty life. There were elements that were lost in the other plot lines,too, but that one that stuck in my mind because a reader explained to me in detail how she felt about it.
So if you rely wholly on abridged audio books, you will never actually experience an author. You'll be getting a taster of what the author does, and you'll be hearing the talent of an editor and a voice artist. But you won't be experiencing the book any more than a faithful movie adaptation (and note that I say faithful) will replace the novel it's based upon.
Many novels aren't abridged for audio, and so you lose nothing. It's still a different experience on a very subtle level, if only because the narrator's voice will steer your mind in a slightly different way from where it might have gone had you done the reading for yourself. But nothing the author intended has been removed.
So - if you buy an audio book, check which version you're getting. If it's abridged, it won't be the same as the book, and in the case of some of my books - it might only be the half of it.
" Dr Rowan Williams said the daily revelations risked making it impossible for people to regain their confidence in the democratic system..."Many will now be wondering whether the point has not been adequately made." ... the continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy."
Welcome to the department of Missing the Point. It's not the coverage of the MPs' greedfest scandal that's undermining democracy. It's what the MPs have actually done. They have lied. They have lied to grab even more money from a system they created to maximise their income. They have pushed the system to the limit and beyond. They have been - mix and match from these terms accordingly - greedy, fraudulent, arrogant, stupid, contemptuous of the public, and immoral.
Had the Telegraph saved the story for one huge bad news day, I guarantee that this would have been buried. It would have been too much for most folks to take in. By spreading it over two weeks and maybe longer, the Telegraph has given it time to sink in to even the most disinterested brain, and also given the story the space it deserves. It's not a witch-hunt. It's appropriate.
Our MPs tried to stop us finding out what they do with our taxes, at a time when they demand to intrude more and more into our private lives. I call the Telegraph's revelations poetic justice.
Our institutions are, as I've said before, our fault. They aren't peopled by aliens. They're us. We are the society that caused these creatures to erupt like a plague. We get the governance we deserve, and it's fascinating that we've finally decided things are bad because the likes of Gerald Kaufman treats himself to an ¬£8,000 telly on our tab, not because we have a government that would do Stalin proud. It's our fault.
But don't shoot the messenger who exposes this vile behaviour. And don't blame the public for being angry. Put the blame where it squarely belongs; with the people who have wronged this country. They're the ones who have made us a society that no longer trusts or respects government, the police, the church, or anyone else in authority roles.
Transparency is our right. Telling us to shut up about exposed secrets because terrible things will happen if we don't is the tactic of bullies and exploiters throughout history. We even have MPs whining now about how upset they are by the revelations - aww, poor loves - and warning us that some may even commit suicide. As if we needed any more proof that they really don't grasp how us common folk feel about this; I can see crowds gathering in Whitehall (before the police batter and arrest them, of course) to yell "Jump! Jump!" at any MP teetering on a ledge on the House of Commons.
Sadly, this "blame the victim, protect the sinner " attitude infests public life in the UK, the notion that the wrong-doer is not the fraud or dodgy bastard who does something wrong, but the person who reveals it or discusses it. I've witnessed it first hand - senior council managers expressing outrage that councillors had been caught accessing nauseating porn on computers paid for by the taxpayer. They didn't blame the elected perverts for doing this in the first place. Their anger was focused on the fact that the councillors got caught and the scandal became public, thereby bringing the council into disrepute. They also wanted to keep things quiet because of the impact of the wrong-doers and their families. The link between the wrongdoing and councillor, and whether such a person should be in public office, was somehow lost in this warped value system of probity.
Is all this really so hard to grasp?
I suppose it is for any part of the establishment. They - and by they I include the Church of England, the Catholic church, Parliament, local government, any powerful group that Knows Best and feels entitled to tell us how to live and behave - feel the real threat is the loss of respect for what they are. They're so cemented into their own world-view that they Do Good that dissenters or whistleblowers must by definition be the ones who are wrong and bad. So a few eggs get broken in making the omelette. So what? Aren't they entitled to that?
Er, no. An omelette contaminated by some rotten eggs, if I may continue the Hell's Kitchen analogy, still stinks.
The Church of England is a massively wealthy organisation and major landowner that once had huge political power. It obviously wishes it still had. I've yet to see any church abandon its roof refurbishment fund to divert the money raised to the poor. Like most organised religion, it's all about perpetuating itself and its influence. It really doesn't get what the real sins are in this world.
It's not just the C of E that's at fault, of course; the Church of Scotland is currently getting its sporran in a bunch about a queer minister, and my first thought was to wonder how many folks who signed the petition against him devoted as much fervour to signing petitions about the long list of other sins available in the bible. There's a hell of a lot to choose from. Some of them actually involve causing pain and suffering, which you might think would exercise the consciences of the faithful a bit more than what a gay rev does in his spare time, but no - like most who parade their faith like a designer brand, it comes down to sex. Sex, sex, sex. The only sin they really get worked up about is sex and what results from it. Can prurient god-botherers not find some time to protest about famine, violence, institutional child abuse, or...government corruption for a change?
A fairly good benchmark of "wrong" is this; if you do something you don't want anyone else to know about - and you're not a member of MI5,of course - the chances are it's wrong, and you know it. MPs knew. That's why they didn't want us to know about their property portfolios, vast TVs, vibrating chairs, unpaid tax, moat-cleaning, and other scams. And those are just the ones who were naive enough to list the real detail on their forms. How many have charged hookers and coke to the taxpayer and just listed it as unreceipted food allowance? Or - as in the Lords - made their extra earnings from taking cash from companies to influence legislation?
So spare us the sob story, all you politicians who got caught. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime, as we little people say. You're the ones who've undermined democracy. All we did was sit on our arses watching reality TV, and let you get on with it.
All that it requires for evil to succeed, etc etc etc.
Yes, I know. I know I said I wouldn't let this turn into a political blog. But it's a case of rant it out here or suppress it with beta blockers, and I prefer to avoid medications.
The Human Rights Act has actually achieved something worthwhile at last. The law lords have ruled that British troops have the same human rights as civilians even on the battlefield. The MoD was appealing against an earlier ruling (and squandering more of the defence budget on lawyers) to overturn the decision that a right to life meant a right to decent kit. We've lost too many of our people through cheese-paring MoD bean-counters and shit-house defence ministers sending them into battle poorly equipped.
EU legislation has its uses, it seems, and this landmark ruling is long overdue. Of course, this government's track record on obeying the law is poor, and it'll probably ignore the underpinning obligation of the ruling like it ignores so many. No doubt it will spend even more of our taxes taking this sickening argument to the House of Lords. But at least families now have some hope of being able to sue.
As you can see from Kaufman's reaction to the Sky News reporter, he obviously didn't claim for a course at Miss Manners Academy of Humility and Courtesy.
It's hard to pick out just one aneurysm-inducing detail of the massive MPs' expenses fiddle as being especially emetic, and that one is probably small change compared to the other scams some of them are working. But an ¬£8,000 TV has to win some sort of prize. Not only did most people not know any TV could cost that much, but those of us with a calculator and some idea of the cost of army equipment have worked out how much life-saving kit that money could have bought for an honest squaddie.
I'd rather save the life and health of one British soldier than a thousand politicians. It saddens me that I've seen almost no debate on what the budget diverted to MPs' puke-making tax-free expenses fiddles would have been better spent on - just bitching about how it's one rule for MPs and another for us. Yes, that's worthy of our indignant anger, but nowhere near as much anger as is warranted by the thought of Kaufman and his obnoxious colleagues lounging in front of ¬£8,000 TVs while a soldier dies for want of a working radio or body armour.
There - really good basic PR advice, for free. And I know that every spinweasel worth his salt tells his political masters that. God knows I used to. But some just don't get the idea that if you can't say something nice - or in this case, humbly apologetic - don't say nuffin' at all.
The thin veneer of contrition has now begun flaking away from MPs caught fleecing the taxpayer. Damn - and they were almost starting to look like they were at least sorry for getting caught, even if they weren't actually sorry for doing it. Yesterday, the MPs whose turn it was in the stocks managed to look faintly ashamed of their creative bloodsucking, and some even said the S word; but then two of them forgot the script and let slip what they really think of us.
He's not ashamed, he says. He can sleep at night. He claimed a home cinema system on the taxpayer and got us to pay his court summons for failing to pay his council tax, all at a time when British troops can't even get the basic kit they need, but he's not ashamed. And he can't even be arsed to pretend he's ashamed. He couldn't be bothered to be ashamed while yet another British serviceman was dying in Afghanistan. So the chances of him being ashamed just because he's milking the system he and his mates set up to keep them in the manner to which MPs feel entitled, while everyone else is struggling to pay the rent - not high, I'd guess.
A hint, Shahid, if I might be so familiar: arrogance really doesn't play well to an angry electorate. And another free PR tip - at next year's election, the voters might not remember exactly what you said, but they'll certainly remember how you made them feel.
An update: I note the trickle of e-mails to the BBC and Sky - allegedly from ordinary members of the public, as if anyone is fooled by that - decrying the media for conducting a witch-hunt and undermining Parliament. No, you party shills, the media aren't undermining Parliament; MPs and Lords lining their pockets are the ones doing that. And a witch-hunt by the media is exactly what a democracy needs, because Parliament proved time after time that it would do anything to stop this news getting out, including trying to change the law. Respect for and faith in politicians has been low for at least ten years and this latest disappointment in our elected masters is just one more nail in a very nail-rich coffin.
An even upper update - ** former justice minister. Malik just stood down. A few hours really is a long time in politics.
...we get. Fellow Brits, just spare me the moral high-horsemanship, okay?
For those of you who've been busy on Mars this last few months, Britain is in outrage meltdown over the revelations of just how much MPs have been taking the piss out of the taxpayer. Nobody has been strung up from the nearest lampost yet, but then there was some good stuff on TV this week so we obviously had more important things to do.
We knew few MPs ever left Parliament poorer than they entered it, but the detail they fought through the courts to conceal from us has just underlined what a rotten, corrupt country this is.
This vast expenses scandal is, though, just decoy chaff. The sums that MPs have been pocketing are huge to most people struggling in the recession, but this is nothing compared to what many of them make out of directorships, jobs for the boys, freebies, lobbying, and even bungs. Cash for questions. Some members of the House of Lords take money from big business to shape the law of this land, so don't think it's just the Commons. While you're frothing over a few thousand fiddled for mortgages that don't exist, you'll be nicely distracted from the really big money that many politicians make behind the scenes.
The summary so far - a catalogue of what would result in prosecution for benefit fraud if a common oik did it.
They've milked the system. They've bent the rules so far - rules they made by themselves for themselves - that even journalists (no strangers to submitting creative "exes") are stunned by it. It's across all parties, but Labour, the party that pledged to clean up Tory sleaze in 1997, got down in the trough with the rest of them the moment Bliar oozed his way under the door of Number Ten, and outdid their predecessors. They've been mired in sleaze from day one.
If you have low blood pressure, I recommend listening to some of these disgusting bastards' whining excuses to hike it up a bit higher. Reading the following self-pitying and arrogant garbage should get you to a healthier 120/65 at least.
"I did nothing wrong." (Maybe not on paper, but you have the moral awareness of a dog turd.)
"I'll pay it back." (Yes, if I pay back damages for a burglary I commit, the police will forgive and forget.)
"I'm very upset. It's hurtful to think my constituents don't trust me, so I'm going to pay it all back." (Aw! You poor poppet! Thank you so much for handing back the cash you fiddled from us.)
"I was told to claim by the Fees Office." (So, you came into Parliament with no moral framework whatsoever, and only knew something was self-serving and corrupt when a newspaper pointed it out on its front page?)
We'd have known none of this - just nursed our natural cynical suspicions that all politicians are in it for themselves - if it hadn't been for two factors.
One is a heroic woman called Heather Brooke, who fought to get the expenses made public by using the Freedom of Information Act. It's funny to watch MPs - especially Labour MPs - getting upset about the public prying into their affairs when they've made us the most-spied upon population in the so-called free world.
The other is the Daily Telegraph, which got hold of an unredacted copy of the expenses that were due to be published in the summer after the courts forced the Commons to come clean. Had MPs had their way, all addresses would have removed from the report, and we'd never have known how many homes these parasites were claiming for - four in some cases.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, an embarrassment to the Parliamentary system in his own right, was under a cloud about his own fascinating expenses, but he led the MPs' bid to block publication, spending ¬£200,000 of our taxes to try to stop us finding out what Scots and Welsh taxpayers are told as a matter of course by their own assemblies.
So we have a corrupt House of Commons. And we should now stop frothing about it. Because we, the voters, deserve the MPs and Lords we get.
British society is rotten, and so we generate putrescent representatives. We have no moral validity. We walk by on the other side. We take no responsibility for our actions. Students say they see nothing wrong with cheating - they don't even feel guilty. Workers think it's okay to steal from their employer. Bankers gamble with our money, bankrupt our country, and laugh about it.
And the British electorate voted three times for a Labour government that, arguably by the second general election and definitely by the third, had been exposed as a lying, pocket-lining, morally bankrupt sack of shits that plunged us into a vile and illegal war.
That was fine by most of us, apparently. We saved our real outrage for the moment it was proven beyond any doubt that they had their snouts deeper in a better trough than we did. We're making up our minds to vote out these tossers mainly out of resentment, not because of their complete absence of recognisable ethics and competence.
So serves us bloody well right. Our politicians won't get any cleaner or cleverer until we become better citizens.
I'm indebted to Greg Frost for that link, and of course to Thomas Christensen for telling it like it is.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Gears of War - book two STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: gears-of-war---book-two
DATE: 03/18/2009 05:25:54 PM ----- BODY: My next Gears of War novel - GEARS OF WAR: JACINTO'S REMNANT - will be out on July 28 from Del Rey in the US, and August 6 from Orbit in the UK. That's book two in the series. ( See, I can count, too.) No cover art to show you yet, but I can guarantee it'll be fabulous and worth the wait. I don't get excited about much in this business, but Gears artwork is always a treat I look forward to
Now, I don't have details for you on Gears book three yet. (I'm not very informative today, I admit. Sorry.) But all will be unveiled in in the fullness of time.
For the folks who worked out that I was a tad extra-busy and asked what's been occupying me - well, you can see that much of my time has been spent wisely with chainsaws.
I'd like to say that the rest of my diary was filled with the pursuit of loose men and absinthe, but it just went on writing more books in other universes.
No, I admit it. Fair do. You've got me bang to rights. I've not been very good about keeping the blog going, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. And the reason I'm explaining whyI'm so remiss is because I'm getting reader mail asking me why I haven't updated my blog. (Or web site, come to that, but that's another matter.)
Some have also asked if I plan to Twitter. Not while I have my strength, as Blackadder would say.
Okay, the problem is this. While my political apoplexy is as froth-flecked as it ever was (more so, in fact) and there's a lot happening on the books front, I find I have no urge to blog about it.
The whole world seems to be set on transmit-only and doesn't seem to know where the receive button is. We not only have a blogosphere so crammed full of opinion that it's simply become a hum of white noise, but also - in the time I've been blogging - the emergence of the staggeringly pointless habit of Twitter (other microblogging time-wasting channels are also available etc etc etc) which I can only see as Twatter, on account of the fact that it seems to me the height of twattery. Seriously - whose life is really important enough to the planet for their every fart, purchase, and thought to be of vital interest to the masses minute-by-minute? Not mine, for a start.
I discussed this "I want to tell the world about ME!" obsession in society with a good buddy in the IT industry, and he said that it's the consequence of parenting styles of the 70s, 80s and 90s - that every child is a precious can-do-no-wrong snowflake to be indulged at all costs. He says it breeds a sense of self-importance and entitlement, a mindset that the whole world should find that person's minutest activity of riveting interest and value. My theory is the 180-degree opposite; that people know deep-down that they don't matter a rat's arse, and neither does their opinion, so they reassure themselves that they exist at all by posting crap into the ether in some kind of subconscious bid not for immortality but just to be noticed at all. I don't know who's right, maybe both or neither, but whatever the answer is I can do without reading/ hearing/ seeing this stuff, and the world can do without mine.
My buddy also thinks that Twatter and its kind, and social networking, will eventually go the way of CB radio. That's an interesting thought, although nobody will write an amusing song about it. What I find funny - in every sense - is that the same people who (rightly) fear the intrusion of our spying, lying government into our private lives are often the same ones who keep up a running commentary in public - be that on their cell phones, blogs, Facebooks or Twatter - about their every thought, movement, and action. Yes, it's by choice rather than surveillance, and we can assume informed consent for a given value of informed, but even so - it creases me.
I started blogging for a single specific reason; marketing. A good friend in the industry advised me to start a blog to build profile among readers, and as she knows what she's talking about, I took her advice. It was easy to churn out, it bridged the gap when I left the day job and no longer had helpless minions to expose to my daily tsunami of ire about the news of the day, and it worked. I was even offered gigs by editors who'd stumbled across the blog.
I wasn't getting paid for it, of course, which is a does-not-compute for a self-employed writer, but I was prepared to test it for cost-benefits. I'm still not sure it was worth it in strict business terms, although, as I said, I did get offered work directly from it. But I honestly don't know now what a blog can do for me and my customers that a web site can't do just as well. (One that I get around to updating, of course, but more on that below.)
And, like I say, the world and his dog is set on transmit-only these days. Some reflex in my brain makes me feel that anything I add is like spewing out greenhouse gases; just because my emissions are a small drop in the ocean, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't reduce them. I do more than enough transmitting in bookstores across the world, and that should be ample for anyone in this life.
So that's why I can't be arsed to blog lately. And I can't help thinking that if we did less blogging, Twattering, and opining - a word I will ban when I become Global Overlord, by the way - and more getting out, doing real stuff, and seeing life and lives for ourselves, then we'd be a saner species. In fact, I could have saved this whole page of effort by simply using the splendidly descriptive word coined by the excellent Register for the internet's outpouring of verbiage; Web2.0rhea.
As for the web site - I simply haven't updated it a lot because most of what I'm working on isn't public yet, and between the workload and family stuff, I'm snowed under. There's more Gears of War, Commando, and other material coming up, and it doesn't write itself. Well, not in that sense of the phrase, anyway.
What peeves me at the moment is that there is no point my ranting about politics any longer. I'm a great believer in not doing something when someone else is already doing it so much better than I can, and I now have two purveyors of on-the-nail comment who beat me hands down. They're my first web port of call each day.
(Neither are suitable for work-based browsing or for younger folk, so don't click the links if you don't like strong language.)
One is The Daily Mash, of course, which says the same thing that I always want to say, only funnier. But that makes it no less true. Our Labour government is the most sorry bunch of incompetent and corrupt impacted colons that ever drew breath, not that colons do that, but you get the idea. It's the double-whammy of reasons for sticking them up against the wall and putting an end to the country's misery, but let the Mash tell the story better than I ever could:
Then there's Bryan Lambert at You Are Dumb, who I find...well, transcendently wonderful. He should have an op-ed column on a major newspaper, except I don't know any section of the mainstream media that would have the testicular substance to run his stuff. He combines crisp perspective (even when I disagree with his view) with a style and fluency that I can only envy.
When news satirists become more relevant than the so-called bona fide media, then you know we need to make some changes in society.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Back from the mountain STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: back-from-the-mountain
DATE: 01/25/2009 01:34:25 PM ----- BODY:
Wow, it's been a long time.
Stumbling down from my isolated cave on the mountainside, I thought of catching up with the weeks I've missed, and then thought - ahhh, bugger it. Why bother? You were getting on fine without me, and if you wanted to know what I was ranting about on any given day, you could have clicked through to The Daily Mash, which appears to mind-meld with me most days. Add in some weird moments - like today, when I swapped to a new purse (wallet, US folks) and found my old one contained a Roman coin, some silver threepenny pieces, and a credit card I never realized I had - and you're pretty much experiencing Being Traviss. Except for spending every waking hour at the keyboard, of course, which I assume you're too sensible to do.
Anyway, apart from writing one novel that has given me much satisfaction and professional pleasure, and nearly finishing another that hasn't, I've done little since the start of December except keep the economy going singlehanded. (God bless internet shopping and the proximity of Somerfield.) The fact that I had only put the key in the car's ignition once in two months told me that I'd been in some sort of purdah beyond the usual level required to get the current book-in-progress done. Whatever fermented over that time in the compost bin that makes up my subconscious is something I'm still unpicking, but last night it manifested itself with clarity, and I ended up making decisions about a stack of stuff that I should have either called endex on or started a long time ago.
I'm observationally challenged when it comes to spotting rigor mortis and even decomposition in dead horses - I come from a work-ethic no-quitting culture that believes all equine stiffs are just faking it and will respond eventually to hard work, a scrubbing brush, and persistence. Then, as you perform CPR on the carcass for the umpteenth time, yelling into its maggot-ridden ear that it's quite capable of running the Derby and you're not going to stop until it gets up again, some real live un-maggoty horses canter by and you finally accept how much breath and sweat you were wasting, not to mention getting a faceful of maggots. You knew it all along, but you didn't want anyone to think you'd let poor old Dobbin slip away without slapping the paddles on his chest and shocking the shit out of him until he started to smoulder. There's a fine line between tenacity and stupidity.
So I've taken on some new projects and cleared some time to do others that just can't wait any longer. As long as I stick to my guns, I should have a far saner time of it in 2009 than last year.
Now, you can see why I'd find that even more satisfyingly funny.
I'm indebted to Chris Billett for pointing out this gem, too.
And in manlier, more hairy-arsed news: a real Lancer. Not as aesthetically lovely as the original, but really rather good. And am I a bad person for enjoying a crossover idea involving Lancers and Ewoks? Hell, no.
Okay, it's just Play.com's pre-order chart, but it's not lonly SF/F titles or even just fiction, so it made me smile. The UK edition of GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS is #2 in pre-orders. (Yeah, the title's not quite right, but you can't have everything.) And your patience has been rewarded, fellow Brits; the book is out on Thursday.
The cockles of my shrivelled black heart have also been warmed slightly by the sudden dawning of realisation in the media that the arrest of an MP really is very bad shit indeed.
Jack Straw, may these words come back and sink their teeth in your scrawny arse before too long:
But he added: "We don't have a police state here, despite many of the ridiculous newspaper headlines. A police state would be where ministers were directing an investigation."
That term would not apply, of course, where a government has created a police force that is politicised and devotes more enthusiasm to arresting women chefs who read the names of Iraq war dead at war memorials and harrassing amateur photographers than it does to nicking criminals. Nor would it apply to a government that wants to collect and track the phone and e-mail traffic of every UK citizen under the guise of protecting us against terror, a piece of Himmleresque record-keeping whose capacity to be misused routinely just begs the question of what they might really want this for. Because your average crazed jihadist is just going to avoid phones and e-mail.
The broad brush of a Stasi state is very visible when you consider that anti-terror legislation has now been used for every non-intended purpose from councils spying on residents over school catchment areas to freezing Iceland's UK assets to get it to repay money to UK investors.
The UK edition of GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS is now a real and solid thing. Some copies arrived from the publisher today, so, roughly a month late, it'll be on the shelves in Blighty on December 4.
The UK edition is a mass market paperback - in other words, a normal paperback size, not the larger trade edition published in the USA. Apart from the usual branding differences on the cover - a different font for the author name and strapline - it's pretty well identical to its big brother. It actually looks very good, and if that doesn't make sense, bear in mind that some minor cropping has to take place to fit the original cover on an MMPB, and we're talking about Gears art here. It's graphic perfection. You can't just chop it around like any old cover art. Every line and shadow counts.
Overall - nice job, Orbit.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: The day to be afraid STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: the-day-to-be-afraid
DATE: 11/28/2008 08:27:18 PM ----- BODY:
This is for readers of voting age in the UK. A datum line to put what follows in context; I'm not a liberal lefty, and I'm no longer a Conservative member. I'm right of centre and hate all political parties equally. The only axe I have to grind is wanting my country back, because I don't recognise the landscape any longer.
Extraordinarily, this news has hardly been covered today, given the scale of its ramifications:
If that hasn't scared the living shit out of you, then you either don't understand the implications, or you don't care - in which case, you will get the governance you deserve.
See November 27 for what it is. This is the day that an opposition MP was arrested by anti-terrorism officers for releasing information that embarrassed the government. This is the kind of thing that happens in banana republics, dodgy places in Eastern Europe, and lavishly be-medalled tin-pot African dictatorships. Britain has changed. It's been changing for a long time, changing for the worse, and you've been warned about the slide towards an authoritarian state for some years now. At the moment, Mr Green won't disappear into custody indefinitely or find himself wearing electrodes in interesting places, but after Gitmo I now have no confidence that it could never happen here. It happens a slice at a time.
If you think that's an extreme comment, bear this in mind; leaking of information that governments want to bury is part and parcel of the way that the UK party system runs. (And, of course, governments leak their own information for their own purposes.) It's been that way for as long as I can remember. Nobody is ever arrested over it. Until now. This is not the leaking of nuclear secrets to an enemy in a war. This is a a pretty ordinary MP making public some facts that show the Brown government to be both incompetent and morally bankrupt. (Again.) That's not even breaking news.
But he was arrested. I smell a certain tit-for-tat after Labour minions were arrested in the cash-for-honours scandal. And to all those Labour apparatchiks who deny they knew it about it beforehand; what contempt you hold us in, and no doubt we've earned it for letting you keep power. In the event that you're telling the truth, though - yes, I grapple with that oxymoron, but just in case - then the police are now overstepping their remit.
We've lost basic freedoms one at a time. It all happened on your watch, British voters; but you still voted for Labour a third time. If you vote for this government yet again, after they buy your favours with a few temporary tax cuts and some other tinsel-laden shit to distract your limited and superficial reality-TV attention, then you really need to understand where this will all end. One day, they'll come for you too.
WARNING: contains very minor spoilers for GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS.
(Look away now.)
A reader has asked me about the background of some of the Gears described as South Islanders.
The islands are referred to in the book as not being one single entity - in other words, this is a collection of different states and cultures, some of which have a lot in common, and some not. (For all I know, the islands may cover a wide geographical area, too. First rule of tie-ins; never fill in gaps that you don't need to.) For the purposes of ASPHO FIELDS, you see Tai Kaliso, Bernie Mataki, Padrick and Baz.
I had New Zealand in mind when I created Bernie, Padrick and Baz, because when I first saw Epic's Tai Kaliso concept, I thought "Maori." (Tai is a game character, and so if you've played Gears 2, you know what he sounds like. ) Bernie, Padrick and Baz are basically the white migrant population - or maybe mixed ancestry, I didn't decide - of some of the islands; their accents are a sort of NZ or Aussie accent, which is why they use British/ Commonwealth slang. From the perspective of what goes on in my head, there'll be some accent similarities on certain words between Tai and the others, even if they come from different islands, rather like Aussies and Kiwis have accent similarities. (Note that I don't say "the same accent" because I don't want to mess with any angry Commonwealth cousins.)
Padrick's tribal tattoos arose out of something I once saw on board a Royal New Zealand Navy ship. The ship's company performed the haka for a visiting dignitary (Princess Anne, I think) and they were all in Maori costume, and some were Maoris, and some were European. I will never forget the sight of a very pale, very ginger-haired guy in full Maori rig. It was a powerful image.
So when you think of Bernie, Padrick and Baz - it's a very, very loose kind of New Zealander vibe. (I reckon...)
I don't read novels. Can't stand them. I'm very poorly read - ask my buddy Farah, who can gauge these things because SF novels are her professional area - and I get my entertainment from movies, comics, and TV. If you don't know that by now - and I've been pretty public about it - then pause a moment to read this FAQ from my website before you catch up with this blog.
I mention this fact because I'm getting mail from Gearheads ( noble tribe!) about being turned on to reading by ASPHO FIELDS. I get very similar mail from a section of my SW readers too, who are more into games or movies or whatever, but pick up the Republic Commando books and suddenly decide that reading can be enjoyable, not a set task of misery. If there was a template for this kind of response, it would read as follows: "I hate reading and I've never finished a book before, but I enjoyed reading your novel, and now I want to read all kinds of stuff."
This is the kind of mail that editors love. We all want more customers. And it's great for my personal rep, because the writer who can get at the non-reading demographic (and younger male audience) is good for business. But it's also seen as some kind of much nobler grail - the ability to turn folks on the Holy Written Word.
If reading my books opens a door for someone and helps them find a wider medium they enjoy more than they thought they could, that's fantastic. I'm in the entertainment industry. And I love happy customers.
But remember something; I'm a writer who doesn't read novels, and not just because of time, or fear of ideas contamination, but because I just don't like doing it. And I resonate with readers who don't otherwise read, as well as the book-devourers who get through a library a week. I pondered that, and I'm going to vent some heretical steam.
If you become a born-again reader because you've enjoyed one of my books, that's genuinely wonderful. But if you don't - it doesn't matter a damn. Because books are not sacred.
Yep, you heard right. There's nothing special about novels, or reading them. Provided you've mastered literacy skills - you can read, in other words - then books don't matter half as much as we're told they do. They matter to me, of course, because I earn my living mainly from novel-length fiction. But they're not the benchmark of civilization.
Books have huge emotional impact. The image of a pile of burning books from the Nazi era sums up the end of human decency. Parents wish that their kids would sit down with a good novel instead of watching movies or TV. A book is culturally iconic, conjuring up all that fuzzy, vague, feelgood stuff about quality and intellectualism and wisdom.
But it's all underpinned by the quasi-Victorian ethic of improving yourself - because the middle classes read novels, and the oiks don't. They could lift themselves a little above their station (not too far, mind) by aping their social superiors. We're talking about reading novels here, by the way. Not newspapers or text books; this is not about literacy skills. This is about the worship of the novel as the purest and holiest form of fiction. And I can't think of a single reason why novels deserve that crown, other than the fact that the middle classes made the cultural rules that we still live by and that are still reinforced by the western education system.
Look, pulping a few trees and smearing ink on them has no inherent value. Marks & Spencer rose-pattern toilet rolls fit that broad description too. Worshipping the novel and sneering at comics or games is as devoid of reason as arguing that a mouse is better than a keyboard for inputting. Writing and the written word is an input device that creates something in your head - just like sounds or images do - and it's the experience in your brain that counts. Writing is just another medium. People forget what "medium" actually means - and, to plunder the homily chest, the medium is not the message.
Books are just a different way of getting your fiction. They aren't any better. Just different. You can get the same pleasure and have your brain stimulated equally by playing a great game with fabulous, emotionally resonant cinematics and discussing it wth your buddies as you can by reading a book related to it.
I'm actually disturbed by the idea that tie-ins are valuable gateways to reading, a view expressed as some sort of validation by some of my colleagues, because it implies that the Other Stuff is more worthy. The dummies will read like civilized folk if we can get them to look past the bookshop door, by tempting them in with shiny stuff they already recognize. Then, glory be, they shall be converted to Real Books.
Bullshit. Sorry, but I don't accept that.
Franchises become franchises because they strike a chord in people and create a following, not the other way around. Many have tried to manufacture blockbuster franchises, and failed completely because the core of it just didn't fly. There are franchise customers who want to explore their universe in various media, because they get a range different experiences that enhance their enjoyment. (Yes, the S word - synergy.) Some don't, though, for a huge range of reasons from cognitive variations - maybe they respond better to images or sound - to being turned off reading by bad teachers. It's not about "quality."
We're trying to connect things that aren't connected. Reading novels per se is not some pinnacle of brain activity that you have to climb towards from the pit of games through comics to movies to reach enlightenment. It's not a vertical ladder. It's a horizontal shopfront. Take your pick.
So next time you decide you're happy reading my Gears of War or Star Wars work but don't want to try my other books, let alone tackle Atlas Shrugged and the Booker prize list - it's okay. My motive for trying to get you to read more is to make money. It's not because I think you're now ready for bigger words and cleverer ideas. (Actually, my Wess'har books are written exactly the same way as my tie-in stuff. ) And it's not because I think reading generally will improve your mind or any patronising crap like that.
If you play Gears of War and can't face reading the book, because you just don't like books - that's okay too, although it would make me happy if you just tried a few pages. I'm a big fan of a certain TV series, and I'll mourn when it's over, but I've never picked up its licensed novels, and I never will. Not because I think they won't be of the same standard - and I know the guys who write them - but because I just don't respond to reading fiction or enjoy it. I'm a person who needs visual and aural input. And I like venting what aural and visual inputs create in my head in the form of writing novels.
It could just as easily be in the form of a comic or a game or a poem.
Me writer. You reader. Or not, as the case may be. Books are not compulsory.
I attended the annual memorial service for HMS Dunedin with my father today. The warship was sunk by a U-boat 67 years ago in the South Atlantic, and my uncle, Albert Traviss, was one of those who died; my father never knew exactly what happened to Albert until recent years, when I contacted the HMS Dunedin Society, and we began attending the memorial events. As the living links to WWII become scarcer each year, this day has become an increasingly important act of remembrance for us.
Albert was killed long before I was born; I never knew him, but I think I know what made him tick. If you've got a copy of TRIPLE ZERO, then take a look at the dedication; you'll see that Albert was 17, and served at sea as a NAAFI assistant. He desperately wanted to join the Royal Navy as a seaman, but when he was rejected as medically unfit, he chose to serve in this civilian support capacity instead. Like so many of his NAAFI comrades, he died with the ship's company that he served.
I'm not a religious person - I fall into the very small category of those who aren't curious about the existence or non-existence of god/s - and I normally make a point of staying away from religion or referring to it in public. Like many Brits, I tend to think that religion should remain a private thing, and the only public manifestation of it should be in the way you treat others. (Hint: that means being a good neighbour and citizen, not chasing alleged heretics down the road with pitchforks.) I also avoid the R word because it prompts folks to mail me to explain that (insert deity of your choice ) wants me for a sunbeam.
So, having something of a downer on gratuitous and showy God-bothering (as opposed to quietly living a belief through practical compassion and consideration for others, which is okay by me) I'm surprised that I find significance in public acts of worship. I suspect it's the nature of communal affirmation, combined with wanting to work out what individual people derive from it. Sometimes I even come away from my peripheral involvement with these things having learned something; and that happened today.
The HMS Dunedin memorial service was conducted by a Royal Navy chaplain who I found oddly impressive - I say oddly because clerics of any faith don't tend to make an impression on me, but this gentleman was crisply navy, not just a vicar in a blue suit. And he shed some light on something I'd absorbed unquestioningly many years ago. It was the actual meaning of, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Like most people, I suspect, I took the meaning to be purely sacrificial, that dying for someone else was the ultimate act of devotion. The chaplain said that "lay down" in this case actually meant being willing to put your life on the line for others; not necessarily dying - although we've seen too many service personnel recently doing just that, sacrificing their lives to save their mates - but being willing to front up, and die if necessary.
It's a tiny semantic or linguistic difference for most people, I suppose, and I expect that it defeats the object for many Christians - the parallel is Christ dying for man's sins, as I understand it, nothing less. But for me it changed the whole context into something I could actually understand and relate to, something assertive rather than martyrdom. I'm still processing the reasons, and how that plays out in my understanding of human beings and myself, but it did change something in my perception of the world.
And that seems so much more relevant and uplifting to me than fisticuffs over who stands where in a church, spitting venom over the ordination of women and gays, stoning rape victims to death because your god wants that kind of thing, or any of the other bizarre and perverse ritualistic garbage that has drowned out the basic premise of faith - that it's actually about how you treat the bloke standing next to you.
So, back to the point; rest in peace, Albert. I wish I'd known you. But I think I do.
I'm indebted to my friend Wade for these uplifting clips.
Instead of revising the Star Wars OT movies so that Han shoots first, might I suggest this change as one that might be more satsifying for many fans? And for me, of course. If this kind of thing is wrong, I don't want to be right. This is my kind of Fett...
I'd never seen the National Space Centre before yesterday, but it reminded me that some Millennium Commission projects actually did happen and are now really rather excellent. The best part of a decade in the very-late-running and strife-ridden shadow of the Spinnaker Tower convinced me that any MC endeavour was a money pit marked with the Taint of Doom (a title no doubt coming to a screen near you soon) but the NSC is a lovely thing to behold. Well worth a visit.
Anyway, about yesterday. A round of thanks; thanks to Malika Andress and the staff at the NSC for laying on such a great event (not just a Star Wars weekend, a movie weekend) and to the fabulous UK Garrison of the 501st Legion for looking divine and being such good sports. Their Delta Squad was most impressive. And, heretical as this sounds, I was very taken (unexpectedly) with the Stargate costuming; the guy in the Serpent Guard costume - sorry, didn't get your name, mate - was amazing. If you think you can't see much in a stormie bucket, trooper comrades, try the cobra helmet. Insane. But spectacular. His chain mail was stunning and very, very clever.
Thank you, too, to the fans who donated to the Combat Stress collecting tin (okay, paper container...) at my signing - I've matched your contributions to double the take, and that means another veteran with PTSD will get the evaluation he or she needs. This is about people with names and lives, not anonymous statistics; individual servicemen and women who've had to endure things most civilians can't possibly imagine, and the families who have to cope with their loved one going through hell. I know too many people suffering from PTSD to walk by on the other side, and it's good to know that many of you feel the same way.
Another good thing about signings (and this is only the second I've done in the UK, being more of a migratory writer) is that you get to meet great people and have great conversations. Plus the UK events are so much smaller that you have a decent time to talk, instead of trying to get through a huge line of fans while maintaining a balance between chatting and not pissing off the folks at the end of the queue. US events and bookstore signings are a totally different scale of operation - when people have waited in line for hours, you're very conscious that you can't spend the time you want to have a natter about this and that.
The high spot of the day, though - apart from meeting an absolutely lovely little lad called Travis, and his wonderful family - was seeing some old friends from way, way back. Liz and Ann used to work for the same deeply unrewarding public sector organisation that I did, and we had major laughs despite the daily grind of idiots and idiocy. Then we went our separate ways and lost touch. (I've lost touch with just about everyone I knew in my previous life, in fact.)
But Liz and Ann showed up yesterday out of the blue, and it was like the last few years never happened; we were back to where we left off, except Liz now finds murder victims in her recycling depot, and Ann detains drug dealers with the power of her no-nonsense voice alone. Long story short, I haven't laughed so much in ages, and it was just fantastic to see them again. It even made up for the shock of realising that Liz's "little boy" - as I remembered him - is now a grown man, and that we really hadn't been in touch for a very long time. I'll be making an effort to stay in touch now, even if that means scheduling contact in my diary in a mechanistic way.
Moral of the story; use it or lose it. If you ever think, "I wonder what happened to so-and-so....?" then pick up the phone or mail them, say hi, share some of the good times again. Tomorrow may be too late.
Oh, and one last thing - a big thankyou to the Gearheads and the other reader demographic ( Traviss readers who have seen the light and come to recognise the glory that is Gears of War) for buying GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS and putting it on the New York Times bestsellers' list. That's my fourth NYT bestseller this year, which ain't bad going for anyone, let alone a Pompey girl like me. And I admit it was extra-special to see the very first Gears book make it, because...well, I just love that game, and it's very satisfying to deliver that result for the Epic team.
I was reading The Register today (book mark it if you value good technical news coverage) and I happened to notice this advert at the bottom of the page.
It's funny on so many levels that I don't think I need walk you through it.
But if the guy who answers the phone is called Jaing, and he offers to give you a handy free app to improve the security of your finance systems, just remember what happened to the Republic banks and Palpatine's IT security officer. When Nulls talk about hardening targets...
It's not that Gears 2 actually needs my vocal support, but...I've spent an awful lot of time going through the cinematics over the last few days, frame by frame, as is my wont when I get a serious dose of pursuit of perfection.
It never ceases to amaze me just how many nuances there are in the game that strike me anew, even though I've been working in the Gearsiverse for the best part of a year now, and dissected every line with the folks who actually made it. It's just so exquisitely done. It's completely polished, but it hasn't lost an ounce of its emotional punch. No spoilers yet, because I know lots of you are still playing it through, but there's a scene with Marcus walking away from Dom (if you've got that far, you'll know which scene I mean) where the subtle change of expression on his face is as perfect an example of unspoken communication as any flesh-and-blood actor will ever achieve. There's a whole history in those few seconds.
I'm not playing the game yet. Don't ask me to pitch in to the debates on overpowering and underpowering and multiplayer and all that, because I'm too crappy a player to notice. But don't tell me you still can't see the depth of story in Gears. Just don't. I might have to come round and test your eyesight and hearing the Portsmouth way.
You can hear an interview with me about working in the Gears of War world on WNJC-1360 AM Philadelphia's science fiction show Fictional Frontiers on Sunday. The show airs at 1100 EST November 16, so bookmark the links now:
----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: The night before Gearsmas STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: the-night-before-gearsmas
DATE: 11/06/2008 10:08:01 PM ----- BODY:
Okay, let me just get it out of my system; Gears 2 is out tomorrow, and the UK edition of Aspho Fields came out today from Orbit, so you know what you have to do. Get to it, people.
I received very good news late last night that I'll talk about in a few days, and I lost most of today in non-writing activity. A lovely big box of Gears swag arrived from Epic (those guys treat me good) and I had a long-overdue chat with my excellent buddy Farah Mendlesohn. (Yes, the SF critic and academic. I can talk to critics without ripping limbss off, honest.) She's a historian by background, and so her analyses of literature within social context have educated me more than any number of lit profs ever could. I love it when my brain is upended by new ideas and things I hadn't considered before. Farah can do that. Our conversations are high value stuff.
Then I spent a pleasant hour browsing through the Gears of War concept art book. Hog heaven. I know exactly how games are created, and this isn't the first game project I've worked with, but it still leaves me a bit open-mouthed to be reminded how much work goes into making something look and play that deliciously good.
Someone's asked me what kind of working environment I operate in, the kind of space a writer needs to churn out books at the rate I do. I think my blog about the netbook and my need to change the wall I stare at while I work prompted the question - that, and maybe the doccos that are doing the rounds at the moment about crime writers in their natural habitat. Well, these are snaps I took today; this is where the books get written. (You can see the Advent to the left of the main laptop. The six-cell battery is settling at seven hours on full screen brightness with wifi on. Brilliant piece of kit.)
Yes, that's how my desk always looks. None of the creative chaos, shelves full of books, and stacks of paper that you might associate with the job. I work in something of a minimalist desert. Is the desk a reflection of its owner's mind? I must be pretty boring, or a complete control freak, or in a state of zen. I don't know; possibly all three. It didn't strike me until I studied the picture just how obsessively tidy it is for a workspace. I always feel my desk is a mess, but it actually looks pretty sterile and orderly when I see it from the outside.
And yes, those are two of the Neca Gears figures. Nice. You have to give me a couple of flaky-writer-points for having a slightly unkempt stationery rack. Figure detail:
Ah well, back to work; two more books to start and finish before the end of the year. The next few weeks will be a blissful immersion in something I've been looking forward to. It's nice when that happens.
I bought myself another netbook, because I'm worth it. (And if that ad isn't running in the US, then my intro has fallen flat.) My dalliance with the Asus Eee 701 was brief; I finally got pissed off by the screen resolution and the slightly-too-small keys, and relegated it to the status of off-site disaster recovery standby machine.
My new netbook is an Advent 4211, the badged version of the MSI Wind. And it's superb - fast, light, loads of features, and a sturdy build. I really could work on it all day if I had to. The keyboard is almost full laptop size, but it still fits into my bag easily. Even with my broadband dongle, mouse and other impedimenta, it's something I can haul around all day.
I loved it so much that I splashed out on two high capacity batteries for it, too - a six cell and a nine cell - which should extend my working time to perhaps seven hours and ten hours respectively. These post-fit batteries are chunky, and I know some Wind fans hate the angle at which they tilt the machine, but for me it's perfect - I always set my laptop at an angle anyway, and this saves me sticking on risers. If I take all the batteries with me, I can stay working on a translatlantic flight (I never seem to get a carrier with power sockets) and then some. It'll take a few charging cycles to work out the capacity of the batteries, but on this first charge the six cell is currently showing between 6 and 8.26 hours' life with the machine running XP on the Max Battery power setting with wifi on.
Okay, I don't need eight or nine computers in various sizes. Four plus all my backups and servers would meet the needs of my disaster recovery plan, but mine all have their uses, and they're pretty well my only indulgence now that I've bought all the bling I want, and I have no more space for pens. (Well, maybe a few more pens...)
Besides, computers are the core of my business, so they have to be right for the job. It's not just about hauling a machine around with me on tours and stuff; it's also about being able to write somewhere other than my own office, because there's definitely something about changing the visual environment that triggers new activity in my brain. I can spend a day trying to outline a new book or series at my own desk, but if I nip out for a coffee in town, I can get a whole series down on paper in minutes. Seriously. The effect is that extreme. All animals, including the arctic Traviss, need a change of scenery and new toys on a regular basis to stimulate the brain.
GEARS stuff of the day; I had interesting mail from a Gearhead this morning. His question reminded me that I need to say something to all my new readers who's come via ASPHO FIELDS. This was the fascinating question; in what I'll call the "chicken scene with Bernie" (I won't expand, because it's way too soon for spoilers) he wondered if it was about animal rights. No, it wasn't and it never crossed my mind: it's actually real, a genuine part of UK commando training. But - and here's the important bit if you've never read a Traviss book before - the full extra layer of meaning in that scene won't be fully clear until you finish playing Gears 2. Then...if you go back and read ASPHO FIELDS again, it'll all look very different. There'll be new meaning in it. If you're not a gamer, and you're just reading the book, then you won't lose anything - you'll know as much as the characters do at that point - but, as the story unfolds later, it'll make even more sense. I try to knit various media together so that the experience is multiplied - yes, synergy, ghastly word, but true - even if some readers will never play the game. But if you don't play, you'll want to know how the storyline develops in it, because it's...major. This is a very story-based, character-driven game.
Okay, even if you never play the game - meet me halfway and check out the cinematics, or watch someone play it. Watch GEARS 1 and 2 cutscenes like movies. You won't be disappointed. And I'm not capable of faking enthusiasm this loudly and for this long, so if you think I'm going a bit When-Harry-Met-Sally over Gears, then it's genuine. This game, this universe, is extraordinary.
It's more than 30 years too late for me to get excited about seeing my name on a front page or (in these latter years) on a bookstore display, but I have to say I got a massive kick from seeing the game promos for Gears 2 all around town today.
I doubt you need reminding, but Gears 2 is out this week. Well, sod it, I'm going to remind you anyway. The sequel game is out on November 7. It's glorious. You will buy it. You will also buy the book and the comic. You will do this because it will bring you joy. Okay?
Anyway, I rarely feel that kind of "OMG!" buzz, and I really did have the urge to grab the nearest passer-by and say, "Gears is AWESOME! Fall in love with it!" But I didn't, because this is a small town, and folks around here tend to look at you funny.
Anyway, for those of you who are reading ASPHO FIELDS, some kind manufacturer has had the foresight to market...Bernie boot liners!
Har har har....sorry, Fil, and Smokey. My mother says cat tastes like rabbit, not chicken. She has never explained that statement, and I hope she never does, but I can guess from what I know of civilian habits in WWII.
In sadder news, I regret to announce the end of Ghez, my beloved Toshiba satellite laptop. He retired a few months ago, and had been languishing in a cupboard because I couldn't bear to junk him. I wrote HARD CONTACT and at least half a dozen other novels on him, and he gave me sterling service. But today he went to the recycling centre for disposal, and I really did feel sad to part with him. May his components (not the RAM or HDD, obviously, I'm not that sentimental...) be recycled into something worthy of him.
I finally plucked up courage to see my mother for the first time since Harry Redknapp left Pompey to manage Spurs.
This was, as readers of this tragedy will recall, an act of abandonment conducted with indecent haste; Redknapp announced he was quitting Fratton Park late last Saturday night and then took over at Spurs the next morning. The last time Redknapp left Pompey - no, I can't bring myself to call him 'Arry now - he defected to Southampton, Pompey's bitterest rivals. My mother disgraced the family name by transferring her allegiance to the Scummers, such was her devotion to Redknapp. My father stood firm and declared him a traitor.
Then Redknapp came back to Pompey, and all was forgiven. So...I expected Mum to be wearing Spurs colours now. She believes in managers.
Well, when I walked in, I found my father reading the sports pages, muttering curses, and my mother announced that she had ripped up all her Redknapp memorabilia from the FA Cup final. His name will now never be mentioned in my parents' home without a prefix beginning with F.
I feel a bit better now. And when I see Redknapp and family doing the Wii advert on UK TV, I now hiss bad words at the TV. The planet is back in its normal orbit again.
Talking of TV ads, if the Gears 2 TV spot (The Last Day) doesn't move you, then I despair for your soul. The game is out next week. It will be a thing of awesome beauty, believe me.
And, Gearheads, thank you for your very kind mail about GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS. You're a nice bunch. A chainsaw society is evidently a polite society.
No, not the fact that Ed Balls's name is hilarious and highly descriptive given that he's so fond of talking bollocks, although I see your point.
It's his innocent belief that kids eat only at lunchtime. I think it's time some parent told him that kids do indeed eat at other times of the day, such as when they leave school and head home. Unless Balls is thinking of confining them to school premises 24/7 until they're 18. Or stapling their mouths shut. (Well, I can see the up-side to that.) And bad luck if you happen to live anywhere near a school, because the Nu Labour Nazis want to stop shops opening near schools (define "near") if they sell unhealthy food.
Just define unhealthy for me, too. You can eat anything to excess and become obese. Even health food. What the fuck is wrong with these people? In my day, just before the Jurassic Period, we were confined to school premises during the lunch hour, and we snacked on the way home at 4pm. Deep fried mammoth was very popular in those days, if memory serves.
Now, if you think using the word Nazi and Nu Labour in one sentence breaks all the internet rules, just ponder this enlightened proposal to change the nature of medical consent:
And - opals on Mars! Rejoice! As my name is sitting on the surface of Mars on a DVD sent there by the Planetary Society on the Red Rover mission, I hereby claim the first 50-carat lump of black or semi-black bling they find.
And finally - today marks Karen Independence Day. Four years since I quit the day job to write full time. Go have a beer for me.
GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS is out today. And if you haven't already rushed to order it, or wandered into the bookstore with your cash in your hand, then... I find your lack of faith disturbing. (Unless you're under 18, in which case you really shouldn't be reading it yet. This ain't Star Wars, kids. No holds are barred.)
Seriously, though, if you like the Republic Commando books, then you'll love Gears. Remember, this is the universe whose ad trailers are so good that they grab non-gamers. Even if you don't give a damn about chainsawing Locust, then I defy you not to want to know everything you can about the characters.
This fits a number of observations, including one made by my buddy Moose some time ago. We were discussing why some people seem completely incapable of understanding subjectivity - point of view - and insist there must be a finite reality, a right answer and a wrong answer, to everything in fiction. He took the view - and it's borne out by these findings, it seems - that it was due to education now being shaped by the demands of business, the need to turn out people who can work in industries that require a rapid, simple reaction to situations; yes-no, binary thinking, and - at best - rather circumscribed multiple choice decisions. And I do believe he's got a point. Because students aren't challenged to think in the grey areas, we have perhaps two generations now that tend to believe everything can be seen in terms of either-or. They have less concept of shades of meaning, of more than two options, or any of that subtle analytical stuff. It's even visible in ever more polarised politics, and the adversarial nature of most discussion - you have to be in one camp or the other.
No, you don't. You really don't.
To me - and many of my generation, I suspect - everything in life is much more complicated than that, dependent on a huge number of variables. It's rather like a table top emergency planning exercise; you're evacuating an imaginary area in the path of a contamination plume, and then the directing staff throw in a wobbly on a piece of paper - the wind direction has just changed, and the motorway is at a standstill from people self-evacuating. Thousands of people are trapped in a danger area. You then have to factor that into your next course of action. It can go any number of ways; you have to play what-if, based on all the things people will do when they panic, and make allowances for that wide range of behaviours in your handling of the emergency.
To me, that kind of wargaming is a natural way of thinking. It breeds and feeds upon possibility. I even use it to write fiction, because it's how my brain is wired - analysis, variables, extrapolation. So I just don't have a lot of patience with people who seem able to think only in binary fashion, and I get frustrated trying to explain complexity - or even how to deconstruct a problem and strip it down to basic principles. It really does seem that if you don't learn to use your brain a certain way when you're young, then your ability to do so later in life is compromised.
You might recall that when Redknapp moved to Southampton, my mother transferred her allegiance to the Scummers, such is her loyalty to 'Arry. (If you don't know the degree of animosity between Southampton and Pompey, then...well, it's bad. Really, really bad.) He came back to Pompey, and all was forgiven, but...
Now I face the prospect of my mother becoming a Spurs supporter, which is too much for me to take at my time of life.
Pompey have a home game against Fulham today, so the reaction frm the Fratton End will be interesting.
DATE: 10/18/2008 11:27:01 AM ----- BODY: Some days, I get mail that indicates to me that the education systems of the USA and UK just teach kids to believe what they're told - what to think, not how to think. This has obviously been going on for some time, because the messages I get are mainly from adults under 40.
I'd blame endemic poor teaching exclusively for this, if I didn't think that an enquiring mind needs to be formed in the home long before kids go to school.
So this little news item cheered me up enormously:
Of course, as soon as the government of the day works out how risky this is - that it might be producing a generation of adults who ask awkward questions and don't buy the knee-jerk sloganism spun to them by politicians and other professional liars - then it'll probably be banned under some clause of some anti-terror act. (If there isn't a clause to cover it, just give Jaqui Hausfrau a few minutes, and she'll knit one for you.) But while it survives, let us rejoice.
If they made history compulsory in schools too, then I might even get excited about the future of citizenship.
I come across an awful lot of adults who just don't know how to think. I'm not talking about visible morons here; I'm talking about otherwise normal people who don't seem to understand the nature of reality in philosophical terms - what's factually established, and what is opinion or perspective. That's not as intellectual as it sounds. It's pretty basic stuff, kid stuff, even baby stuff.
Babies sort out reality fairly early. They learn that when Mum hides the ball behind her back and then pulls it out again, the ball is not destroyed and magically recreated. It's just been somewhere else where they can't see it. That's a really fundamental way of thinking that we need to handle from an early age; what are we actually seeing when we look at something? What else do we need to factor in to work out what's real?
The philosophy classes in the news item show that seven year olds can understand pretty sophisticated perspective. They can learn that if two people have different views of what happened, it doesn't mean that one is wrong and the other is right. Opinions - and experiences of a single event - vary; they shape perspective. At ten, kids can understand that facts and values are not the same - again, perspective.
There is no single universal truth in history. (And there certainly isn't one in fiction. ) Ask any historian. A series of events is interpreted in any number of ways by those analysing it years later. Even at the time of the event, those involved in it see things very different ways; the example I usually give is accounts of slavery, where slave owners had a very different view from their slaves, but were describing exactly the same events. It's not a case of who's wrong and who's right. It's simply that events look different - and in fact are different - depending on which end of the toilet brush you're holding. I would hope that's bleedin' obvious to anyone with a functioning brain, but I'm stunned how many adults just don't get it. They don't understand perspective. They don't understand point of view. I'm always tempted to ask them where they think the ball has gone. I don't even want to ask how they reach decisions when they vote. They think there is - always - a "right answer," and the idea that there are many answers, and several or even all of those answers might be "right" is more than they can process.
I incline towards the view that somewhere in the system of feeding students endless facts and received opinions to be parroted* to get them through tick-box exams, the fundamentally analyical parts of the brain atrophy and drain out via the sinuses or something. I have faith in the brain's ability to form new pathways well into old age, but the apparent impossibility of explaining to ostensibly educated adults that perceived reality is pretty malleable depending on who's relating it to you, has made me despair. I've long given up on explaining that if history is this elusive, which has happened and leaves a certain amount of measurable evidence, then there's no point even trying to find the "real version" of fiction. And yet I come across adults who believe that, too.
I admit I have no idea why this concept of unreliability and absence of absolutes doesn't appear to be teachable in later life. I might just be crap at teaching it, despite spending a working lifetime making complex concepts easy to digest. But if there are any cognition experts out there (as in professionals) who can tell me whether the ability to define fixed reality has to be developed in childhood, I'd be grateful for any information.
(*Yes, I know parrots are much smarter than that when it comes to language and conceptual thinking. It's just a handy word.)
I wish I could explain my week's absence from the blogosphere by pretending that I'd been busy bailing out some dodgy bank or other. Alas, I haven't, because my solution to the financial meltdown would have been to shove the greedy incompetent bastards up against the nearest wall and shoot them before seizing all their assets.
Nor have I bought Iceland, because nobody needs ten million cod portions that badly, and I remain perplexed as to why lending Iceland money to pay back the money it owes us anyway is a good idea. Maybe I missed the lecture in economics class that explained why giving your own money away twice to someone who can't pay you back and has no assets beyond a bit of geothermal energy and Bjork is sound financial practice.
But I digress. There has been good news. The government has been told where to shove its 42 day detention plans, which looks like an odd measure it to die in a ditch over when you consider that we already have laws that enable us to hold terror suspects for much longer than that - the Civil Contingencies Act. Probably something to do with scrutiny, I imagine. They don't like scrutiny. I bet Bliar Bliar wishes he'd never introduced the Freedom of Information Act, given that it's bitten him in the arse again, although BLAIR LIES is not exactly breaking news.
If you want to understand what's happening in the UK today, I recommend The Daily Mash. (NSFW and definitely not suitable for kiddies.) Like all profoundly funny things, it happens to be true. Its financial analysis is second to none.
In even happier news, may I suggest you pay special attention to Penny Arcade tomorrow. Not that you wouldn't anyway, of course.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: Characters, and where they come from STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: characters-and-where-they-come-from
DATE: 10/07/2008 03:49:54 PM ----- BODY: This essay may be familiar to some of you, because a version of it first appeared on my LJ a couple of years ago. I'm still struggling to work out how to import all the archived entries I've downloaded from my old blogs, so as that moment of Pauline revelation still seems to be some way off, I managed to find one that needed re-running and load it manually.
This is about how I create characters, and it's one of the top five questions I get asked. Read on.
Do I base characters on real people? No, no and thrice no. Some real people may seem fascinating, but they just don't have what it takes to become fiction characters. A buddy of mine who writes police procedurals doesn't agree with this, and peoples his very successful thrillers with men and women who are not only real, but are also often individuals who I know personally. They just have their serial numbers filed off: but they're described in the smallest and - frequently - most baffling detail.
But if you're not one of the dozen people who know this is what he does, does it matter? In my opinion - for whatever that's worth - yes, i think it does. Nicking real dialogue and speech patterns from the living (and sometimes the dead - I know no shame) is one thing; you have control over separate elements, just as you can cherry pick from real events and make them work.
Nicking complete personality profiles isn't so easy. Real people in their entirety are almost never sufficiently interesting, three dimensional or stylised¬† in their behaviour to survive in fiction, certainly not as a main character whose actions will drive the plot. If you mirror real behaviour patterns too faithfully, it starts to feel as if there are thin patches and inconsistencies; chunks of it might work, but the whole messy package doesn't. If you borrow from life, you have to be selective.
Fiction is a distillation process. Just as you cut out most of the "er...um...ah" and sentence fragments of real speech in dialogue, the ers and ums and fillers of the personality also need a good trim. (And if you don't know what I mean about dialogue, compare your favourite example of realistic dialogue with a genuine transcript of a conversation. A very useful exercise indeed.) More recently, I've taken the example of asking a young child to draw an elephant as seen from the air. More often than not, they'll meticulously draw all four legs at full extension, the tail in its entirety, ears spread flat, trunk fully extended...but that's not what an elephant looks like from an aerial view. It looks more like a distorted egg timer with maybe a bit of tail, but the legs? No. Full ears? No. Trunk? Varies. There's nothing in thekid's drawing that's not elephant, but that's just not how the animal looks from that angle. The kid hasn't learned perspective yet.
A writer needs that same perspective to know what to leave out of a character.
Maybe I take this too seriously because I write by constructing characters, personality disorders and all, and then putting them in an environment, where they run like a computer model by interacting with other characters created the same way. I fit the character to the world they're in; I ask, "What kind of person would volunteer for a one-way space mission?" or some key niche marker like that, then work out who would fill it. Even with a character that I inherit in a shared universe, I can still develop (and deconstruct) them further by applying the same techniques of sociobiology and psychological profiling. And I think I've learned how to make characters really work every time. The books I write are completely character driven. Plot, as far as I'm concerned, is what characters do, not a maze that you put characters in and then force them to navigate through it.
This is what I mean when I say that the characters run the plot: if they're solid enough, you know what they will and won't do, and even what they'd buy if you let them loose in a supermarket.
I stay away from real life, or else I use it sparingly - such as rewriting battles from history - because real life doesn't have to make sense. Fiction does. And I know that's a worn-out warning, but I've had it proven to me time and time again. The very best scandal and real life soap opera I ever experienced would simply not make a novel, nor would the main people involved in it be believable characters, even though it left us speechless every day for a period of nine years. It was a must-see, but there was no internal logic in either events or characters that would stand the fiction test. It was too dumb, too repetitive, and too illogical.
My police procedural buddy, of course, goes in exactly the opposite direction on real people, and he's not exactly starving. I happen to prefer to explore the world through someone else's mind and eyes, and I happen to be able to do it - it is, an actor tells me, exactly like method acting. It's becoming a different person for the duration of the performance, motivated by their motivations and thinking their thoughts. At the end, you step out of it; and you might be changed by that character, but they're not changed by you. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to know what it was like to be someone else, whether the world would look or smell or taste the same way that I experienced it; now I get those answers as best I can through "method writing." In a way, it's a controlled and voluntary excursion into a state that's similar - I believe - to dissociative identity disorder. Except people who suffer from that can't or don't choose when they manifest a separate personality, but I can switch it on and off at the keyboard, rather like the difference between lucid dreaming and the regular involuntary kind.
I can lucid-dream too. Maybe the same brain wiring enables me to do both.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: A word about Sev STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: a-word-about-sev
DATE: 10/06/2008 02:11:20 PM ----- BODY: ¬†
Now that ORDER 66 is out in the wild, and Kleenex sales are probably doing well as a result, I have to answer a few questions for readers. ¬†
Don't worry - no spoilers yet, because it's way too soon for all those folks in the UK who can't get the book yet, let alone everyone who's still reading it in the US. But I'm getting a lot of mail from those who have finished it, and many of them want to know something. ¬†
What happens to Sev when the saga continues as IMPERIAL COMMANDO?
Actually, this isn't a new question, and I've been answering it since 2005 in interviews and on con panels. It bears repeating now. ¬†Sorry, but I can't take Sev beyond the end of his story arc in the RepCom game. His fate won't feature in IMPERIAL COMMANDO: 501st or any other book for the foreseeable future. I don't want anyone building up expectations and then having them dashed after waiting until August next year find out. I've been up front about this from the start.
Sev is LucasArts' character, and - very sensibly - they want to leave their options open for the future, in case they ever do another game featuring Delta Squad. No, I have no idea if that'll ever happen, so please don't bug LucasArts about it. This is just normal industry common sense about not shutting any doors that you don't have to. Every games company would do - should do - exactly the same thing.
So I can't take Sev's story beyond the end of the game, where he's still MIA. That's all there is to it. I've gone as far as I can with him, and I'll miss him, just like you will. But this is the reality of working in a shared universe, with products that have very different timetables and needs. Games are huge multi-million dollar investments, and it would be plain daft to paint yourself into a corner by letting key characters go off on a separate tangent in another medium that might stymie you if you ever decide you want to return to that world.
It's not as if you'll be short of characters to worry about in 501st, after all. There'll be more than enough psychotic snipers to go around in the new galactic order...
I finished the latest manuscript last night after a few weeks of purdah and emerged blinking into the daylight this morning. This, I hope, explains the recent sporadic nature of this blog and my delay in answering e-mails.
There's still a massive stack of mail to respond to (sorry, folks, I get there in the end) but I'd recovered enough by mid-morning to buy an entrenching tool at the army surplus place in Devizes market. As you do. If your weekly shopping list doesn't read like mine - Assam tea, leeks, small tactical nuclear device, toilet rolls - and your junk mail doesn't include both House of Bath and Oligarch & Dictator catalogues, then you really don't know how to shop right.
I'm taking a week off writing actual books to do some more outlines, catch up on comics work, and clear the backlog of admin. Then it's back to the books again. Two more to turn in before the end of the year.
I may post a small treat for you later. Treat, as in something that was also a treat for me because I didn't write it.
An extraordinary man died a few weeks ago, and I'd like all of you who spend a lot of time reading about fictional heroes to pause for a moment and look at the real deal.
I couldn't invent a character like David Paton. And there are an awful lot of David Patons all around us, unseen and largely ignored. There were hundreds of them who took part in the absolutely extraordinary WWII raid on St Nazaire, a real operation so staggeringly impossible that I actually wasn't able to use even half of it as a basis for events in a novel. I'm a WWII buff, as many of you know, and I like to pay homage to the servicemen and women of that era by echoing some of their sacrifices in the combat scenarios I use in my books. War tends to repeat itself, of course, and there is nothing in WWII or my books - except the technologies, of course - that the average Roman soldier wouldn't recognise. Combat has its own repeating patterns, because humans haven't changed since we picked up the first rock and hit our neighbour with it.
Having said that, though, you have to be sparing in your parallels. Especially with cases like the raid on St Nazaire. It just didn't work in fiction. It was too incredible, even scraps of it. I ended up saying to my editor: "Sorry, I had to drop that idea in the end. Nobody would have believed it in a novel."
And yet David Paton did it for real, along with a few hundred other men - not supermen or genetic wonders or any of that crap, just ordinary blokes with guts, made extraordinary by their willingness to front up and do it. They were among the very first of the modern commandos; and they were a very mixed bunch, from Oxford academics to working men. They sailed a small fleet of wooden ships to the St Nazaire naval base in occupied France, made it past the Nazi defences, rammed the dock with an explosive-laden WWI destroyer pulled out of mothballs, and effectively put the German battleship Tirpitz out of the war by denying her the dock she needed. Few of the commandos made it back. It was obvious from the plan's inception that it was going to be a one-way trip for many, and yet they still did it. Five VCs were awarded. Even one German naval commander recommended that his British adversary be awarded a medal for sheer guts and refusal to surrender even when it was clear he was finished.
And David Paton, one of the few survivors, went on to land on Sword Beach on D-Day. Like so many others, his war wasn't just one headline. They went back and did it again and again.
Operation Chariot defies belief. Even if you have a very short attention span and you think history's boring, please click on these links and read the articles, because you owe these men that much. It's not "just history"; it's why you and I are here today. They do things that put fictional heroes to shame. Don't forget them - ever.
Rest in peace, Dr. Paton. You earned it.
UPDATE: on the topic of real heroes, I'm delighted to hear that all Gurkha troops have won the right to stay in the UK. It's a decision that's taken far too long, and should shame all of us in the UK that we tolerated this particularly ugly example of colonial exploitation for so long. Anyone prepared to die for this country - and God knows the Gurkhas have - has a moral right to citizenship. How many of us have?
The Gurkhas are magnificent troops who've fought for this country for nearly 200 years, and won a stack of VCs, but by way of thanks we've treated them worse than those who come to the UK to freeload off our welfare while preaching holy war. (And we have a particularly shitty record of kicking out other overseas troops when we've had our use of them, too - Great Britain, my arse.) When Jacqui "Dreary Housewife" Smith has finished crowing about her support of the Gurkha cause, maybe she can tell us why her morally bankrupt government didn't right this wrong in 1997 when it came to power. The "compelling case" to be allowed to stay, you mediocre little creature, is that they're prepared to die for us while we sit on our fat white arses - and that includes all those troops we're still booting out when we're done with them.
I find spiders fascinating. That's not to say I'd pick one up and give it a kiss, but I let them carry on doing their thing in the house, as long as they're not too intrusive.
Intrusive as in venomous, aggressive, and frigging huge.
So, yet again, a Brazilian wandering spider has been found in a bunch of bananas in Blighty. To save you the trouble of Googling, this is a very venomous spider, as in it can kill you. It's more venomous than a black widow, although I'm not sure if being extra-dead is worse than just dead. This guaranteed-to-put-you-off-your-dinner discovery is becoming routine here, and what makes me bang my head hard on the desk with each OMG news story is this line: "We thought it was an ordinary spider."
Well, I'm from Portsmouth, and 'ence well 'ard, but even we don't think something like that is ordinary.
Maybe I take more notice of spiders than is healthy, but this bugger couldn't look more exotic if it tried. It practically has a Carmen Miranda fruit headdress and a pair of bloody maraccas. Remember the one that the medical Einsteins (and RSPCA...) let loose in the grounds of a Taunton hospital? After it bit a guy, and he ended up in said hospital, with full media frenzy, and the spider was brought in for questioning? Yep, the RSPCA, whose animal recognition skills I may have to re-evaluate, allegedly said it was a harmless British variety, so it was okay to let it go.
If you watch the video I've linked to, you can't help but notice the words "thousands of eggs" in the voice-over. Combine that with the fact that it's warm enough here now for scorpions to breed in the wild, and I'm not a comfortable girl. My humane spider-catcher just hasn't got the firepower to deal with a thing that can wrench the device from my hands and beat me over the head with it.
I know racial profiling is misleading and all that, but as far as spiders go - if I saw this one in the fruit and veg section of my supermarket, I'd be pretty sure it didn't have a UK passport.
Some things should be a certain way. Like time. Left to my own devices, I use the 24 hour clock, and have done for many years. It makes sense. It's the navy way. And it's unmabiguous.
And, at midnight, the 24 hour clock goes like this; 2358, 2359...0000.
I'm now wrestling with the disorientation of finding that the digital clock on my Neff cooker goes 2359, 2400, 0001.
I hadn't noticed this before because - quite reasonably, and unusually sensibly for me - I'm not usually cooking at the stroke of midnight. But...well, it's just weird. That's all. And if that's the biggest problem I face this week, I shall count myself lucky.
Quick reminder: you can hear Sohaib Awan interview me today about ORDER 66 for the Fictional Frontiers show on WNJC-1360 AM Philadelphia. You can listen here at 1100 EST. (Podcast here.)
UPDATE: I'm way behind on my mail, by the way, so apologies to everyone who's waiting for a reply from me. It'll be at least another couple of weeks before I get round to clearing the backlog.
Okay, that was cheating. Utterly unrelated blog title, simply because I keep finding myself saying, "...when they're not surrendering...to your granny" in my best Jeremy Clarkson voice. (And unless you saw HARRY & PAUL this week, then you won't understand why I find that so addictively funny. Remember - post-watershed humour.)
Actually, today's theme is interviews. I've been gobbing off like a good 'un to assorted media about Gears of War and Order 66, and as many of you have learned to your cost, I can rabbit for England. Stand still while I'm haranguing you...
Here's an interview for Figures.com , part of their GEARS OF WAR week. I went on for so long that it's in three parts. Sometimes you have to shoot me to stop me, and if you've not got the firepower - you get the full thoughts of Chairman Traviss. Just lie back and take it. You'll feel all the better for it.
And then there's ORDER 66. (Warning; there may be spoilers in the following interview if you haven't read the book yet.) Sohaib Awan interviewed me about the novel for the Fictional Frontiers show on WNJC-1360 AM Philadelphia, and you can listen here on September 21 at 11:00 AM EST. (Podcast here.)
A P.S.: I'm getting mail from readers of my wess'har series asking when I'll be going back to my creator-owned novels. I think it's sunk in that JUDGE is the last of the sequence - really the last, the end of the story arc - and that there's no sequel on the horizon. I may return to the wess'har universe one day, but it's not my next planned series, which will be something wholly new. And before I get to that, I have tie-ins to deliver. This is the point at where I get a little selfish.
I get mail occasionally that expresses regret that a writer like me (define...but don't share it with me) doesn't do more "original" fiction but that the reader understands I have to keep the wolf from the door. While I can see this kind of message is meant as a kind and flattering one, it's actually missing the point big-time, quite apart from rubbing me raw on my pet peeve about those who regard licensed fiction as inferior. (See my web site FAQs. This really gets on my tits something chronic, folks.) So let me explain my thoroughly selfish and - yes, maybe utterly arrogant motives.
I write tie-ins because I love doing it. And because I do it bloody well. Yeah, I said it. I bust a gut to make every book just as good as if it was my copyright. Stone me now.
I don't need the money so badly that I don't have a choice about it. I've made a few bucks, and I'm smart with finance. So I could stop work for two or three years, maybe more, without a single extra contract coming in, and just chill. Loaf around. Write all sorts of stuff. Travel. Whatever. But I don't. Because that's not much fun when you could be writing instead.
I have to write tie-ins - not because I'm contractually committed to some more, or because I promised Del Rey or any other publisher, or because I wouldn't let Epic down ( all of which are true, by the way) but because I bloody well love the daily grind of doing it. And when a "real writer" like me stands her ground and says to the critics, "Okay, dickhead, I'm good and I choose to write for a licensor, so what have you got to say to that, eh?" it makes the point to the litsnobs (like I give a toss what they think, to be honest, but some of my colleagues do) that tie-ins are real books, and well worth my effort. There are, in fact, lots of good writers with careers of their own who actively choose to do tie-ins - Karen Miller and Sean Williams in SW, for a start, and many others right across the genre spectrum - and gosh, there are even best-selling authors who happily write Bond books and HHGTTG, although I'm not sure if they'd identify themselves as tie-in authors.
They are, of course.
I don't know any writer (not personally, anyway) who knowingly writes a lit-lite dumbed-down style for tie-ins. It's our names on the cover, after all; we have our reps to consider. Anyone who reads both my creator-owned and tie-in work can see the material is the same standard in every way - apart from the fact that some franchises can't let me say "m***********" in dialogue, of course. (That's okay, I always have Mando'a for that...)
And here's the selfish bit. (The previous rant was the arrogant bit, in case it wasn't obvious.) If I don't get the buzz of working on something like Gears of War, then I've got less adrenaline in me to write my creator-owned stuff.
I need fun. I need to marvel at the talents of people who can do things I can't; artists, composers, software engineers, concept designers, video techies, audio guys, voice artists. I need to learn from them. I need to feel part of a team, and a winning team at that, at least for part of the working week. When my reservoir of enthusiasm is topped up, then it's easier to go back to sitting alone in an office and working entirely in a creative vacuum.
So, wess'har fans, I'm really grateful and flattered that you love my books. But without folks like Epic Games and the Gearsiverse, you wouldn't get many more of them. I have to do one kind of novel to keep the momentum going for doing the other. And you get a better novel for my having brushed against the inspired Gears team. Same goes for the comics and other non-novel work I'm doing. It enriches me. I do it because there are no limits to storytelling, and I need to explore until I fall off the edge of the world.
So, when the next Traviss-owned series hits the shelves, I'll be probably financially richer, because the royalties are far, far better than licensed work. But my real wealth lies in the joy I get from that collaborative world where I get to play with amazing toys that aren't originally of my imagining.
There's blood all over the kitchen today, which is not an unusual thing, but I still feel stupid for doing it.
I was opening a stubborn parcel the Portsmouth way (large knife) and it all went to rat-shit. Result: puncture wound in hand, copious amounts of the red sticky stuff, and much foul language. Thankfully, the second parcel I opened (more cautiously) was a backorder for a mug I'd taken a fancy to: most apt.
As the WWII vibe is now set for the day, I'll link to the excellent Miller and Armstrong in their personae as WWII RAF pilots, but I must warn you that - if you follow more of the links from the YouTube pages - you'll find some of their more offensive (and even funnier) material. Any under-18s and easily-offended adults who've made it this far: do not click. NSFW. The Flanders & Swan spoofs are...damn brilliant.
Okay, maybe it was 107 miles to the Jedi Temple. (Thank you for not asking why the charge on the Deece depicted on the cover of ORDER 66 reads 107. No, I mean it. ) But tomorrow, the book that Republic Commando fans have been waiting for ever since a certain Jedi developed inappropriate feelings for a certain hunky clone commando goes on sale.
I wrote the end of ORDER 66 four years ago, when I was still working on HARD CONTACT. I had no idea at the time whether there would ever be any more books beyond this one-off novel intended only to promote the game, but I needed to have an idea of where these characters would go in order to write them convincingly. The basic premise, though, was so riveting that I believed it could sustain a series in its own right; the squeaky-clean and totally unchallenged heroes of the Jedi Order were mired in the exploitation of enslaved human beings, a moral crime so compelling and full of dilemmas that I had to see where it ended. And, if you engage that fully with a story, chances are you can collect enough readers to make the journey with you.
The naive boy-soldiers left Kamino and grew up fast. They worked out what the Republic was doing to them, and that it wasn't glorious, and that it wasn't fair. A few Jedi reached the same conclusion. The dissident band grew, gathered together by a thuggish yet charismatic Mando mercenary, and by the time I got to the end of ORDER 66, the final scene - the whole ending, in fact - wrote itself in a very different way. I'd had to throw away my original road map, because, over the course of four books, the characters had developed and multiplied so much that the whole story arc had shifted.
That's what I mean by letting the characters drive.
I think it shows when a writer shoehorns characters into a plot they want to make happen. I can't work that way. My stories always flow from the personalities of the characters, and how they react and interact. And the characters flow from the kind of person most likely to fill that particular niche in the environment; Kal Skirata and the Cuy'val Dar, for example, were a necessary tweak to the basic story of Kaminoans (not exactly natural SAS material) training crack troops of another species - humans; I didn't believe the old fish-nazis could manage the job, so I asked Lucasfilm for permission to change a bit of the plot of Attack of the Clones to have a hitherto-unseen secret corps of off-world training sergeants, real hard bastards who could train elite troops. That was the only way I could write Omega as an authentic special forces squad along SAS/ SBS lines. That was all I knew, of course - the real world of defence. And, as I wasn't comfortable writing American dialogue back then, and as I also needed to differentiate the clones with varied speech patterns and accents, it enabled me to have a sergeant who used all the services slang that I was used too.
So Kal Skirata was born of necessity. And, because Jango had to pick mercs he could trust to keep the project secret, Skirata had to be Mandalorian. And you all know what happened after that.
The weaselly little bastard decided to have a life of his own, and so did the Mando culture he came from. So did Omega Squad; so did the various Jedi who worked with them, from ethical and courageous Bardan Jusik to earnest and self-doubting Etain Tur-Mukan. Walon Vau and Mird were conjured up on the spot when my buddy at LucasArts mailed me to ask if I could flesh out a sergeant for a cutscene in the Republic Commando game, which was still being finished long after the book went to press. I knocked that profile out in five minutes, and I still don't know quite where those two came from.
But they all came alive. I have no idea how some of them evolved so fast, or even where some of them came from at all, but my toolkit of psychological profiling, a kind of mental identikit of personality types, kept churning them out book after book, and I had a wonderful, scary, upsetting, funny, angry time following them and seeing the world through their eyes.
I still don't understand why more authors don't do this. Why base characters on real people, or - worse, more boring, more pointless - yourself? What could be more of an adventure and an education than taking this journey with complete strangers who never lose their capacity to surprise you?
My characters have changed the way I see the world. Their moral arguments, seen from behind their eyes, have upset and unsettled me, and forced me to rethink my own position on some fundamental ethical choices.
Yes, they really did acquire lives of their own, as all good characters should. And now, four books on, some of them have to bow out. But life and lives go on, and however harrowing the events of the final days of the Clone Wars , the motley Skirata clan will dust itself off and regroup for the next battle, this time under the Empire. The war may be over; but the real fight has only just begun.
I didn't actually want the book to end the way it did, in case you're planning to ask. I woke up for days after I finished the manuscript with a sense of disorientation and grief that disturbed me. It's just a bloody story, after all; none of it is real, nothing except the basic human truths within it. But to write vivid fiction, you have to live the lives of those characters every inch of the way. And that's why it hurts, like the aftermath of a nightmare. Your body and your hormonal systems experience it all as if it really happened. Flat-out balls-to-the-wall writing is just like that.
So, yes, I would have wanted different outcomes for the characters. But the story just didn't develop that way. The characters didn't go in that direction. If I'd interfered, and steered them, then I'd have been left with a wish-fulfilment fanfic kind of fairy-tale that would have defeated the whole object of the way I work - which is to build fully-realised and wholly original personalities, stand back, and report faithfully on what they see, think, and do.
It still hurts. And I'll still keep on doing it. Because that's where the most emotionally resonant stories are born.
I've been getting mail from UK readers having hassle trying to buy ORDER 66 in Blighty.
Living in this green and not terribly pleasant land myself, I feel your pain. I can't do anything about it, alas: I'm just a literary code monkey at the wrong end of the food chain. Authors have no control over anything past the first proofs, which means we can't control - and aren't even told - about the sale, distribution, and editions of our books. We tend to find out from readers. That's just the way the industry is. Always has been, I'm told. (Unless you're a mega-mega-seller like Brown or King. )
But let me tell you what I know, and what I don't know. I hope it helps.
First: order ORDER 66 from Play.com. FREE DELIVERY! And fast. But that's the wrong cover they're showing, and it's not their fault, because the online retailers get some kind of automated central database thing which is also a mystery to me now. Del Rey had to change the cover, remember, because it was so much like the Clone Wars one that they thought customers would get confused.
ORDER 66 comes out as a hardcover in the US on Tuesday, from Del Rey, as per usual. There will be a US paperback version some time later. There is also a paperback export edition for other English-speaking countries other than the UK. I found that out when I was sent some in error. I had no idea they existed.
To the best of my knowledge, there was never any plan to do a UK hardcover edition. Only MMPB - mass market paperback.
Random House UK publish the "mainstream" Star Wars books, but they don't seem to touch anything related to the games - not the ones I do, anyway. So Orbit, a totally separate publisher, picked up the Republic Commando books. That's why Orbit is also publishing the UK edition of Del Rey's GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS. Alas, I still have no idea why Random House UK don't publish my game-related books that their US sister company originates. I've asked. Remember that - despite the fact that I'm English and I live here - the UK is technically an overseas market for me. RH UK have no contact with me whatsoever. Orbit don't publish any other SW books apart from mine, as far as I know. (But they do try to stay in touch with me personally, send me author copies, and are nice and friendly on the few occasions that we talk.)
Do I sound confused? Disjointed? Good. Because I bloody well am.
Bookstores in the UK - well, if I actually bought and read books, I'd be even more frustrated than I am now. I seldom see SW books in shops, except in major chains in bigger towns and cities. If they do have any SW book in smaller stores, then the selection is poor. Independent book stores - just don't get me started, okay? I have no sympathy when they start griping about online retailers and supermarkets putting them out of business. Maybe they ought to look at the service they offer and wonder why. I won't bore you with my horror stories again.
I'm a very business-minded girl. The spreadsheet is my bible. But publishing generally, both its production and retail arms, is still an alien world to me even after four years of trying to get to grips with it; it behaves like no other industry that I know. And you can multiply that by a hundred when you get to the UK side of the equation.
So all I can do is apologise to all my readers in the UK who can't get my books, and have frustrating times with bookstore staff. I can do nothing except get angry with you. In the meantime, all I can advise is to vote with your wallet, and give your money to those online retailers who want to sell you stuff. If Amazon UK isn't working for you, then try Play.com. Better still - try the US online retailers like Amazon.com, who have a terrific selection, and the p&p isn't as bad as you might think.
And before you ask why I don't do UK signings - well, I offer, but UK book stores just don't want to know. Lord knows I've gone out of my way and made a lot of calls and visits to try to get some interest. Echoing silence...
Then I compare that with the mail I get from US stores asking me when I'm next going to be in the US, and I just have to shake my head in complete bafflement.
So, you get your first glimpse of GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS today. You can read the prologue here.
If you know the game, and you know my other books, then you can probably take a fair guess at what it's going to be like in terms of style and flavour. You'll be in the characters' heads. You'll know how it feels to be fighting for survival. But, more than anything, you'll get the truth.
I make no apologies for the number of times I've told interviewers how much I love Gears of War. I didn't discover Gears as a gamer; I came to love it for professional reasons- through its excellence, its emotional resonance, and my admiration of a massively complex job brilliantly executed. I also love it because - even though it's full of Locust and weird monstrous things - it's so very, very real. The Gears are fully realised and lovingly portrayed, warts and all. It's one reason that so many soldiers love this game.
Right now, my dear friend Ray is deployed in Afghanistan, and he tells me that one of his younger comrades is currently playing his copy of Gears, sent from home, and totally immersed in it. He mailed me: " I hear the carnage nightly, along with all the shouts..." And, strange as this might sound, just knowing that Ray's young buddy is enjoying Gears right now focuses me a lot; because these are the guys whose opinion I set such store by. I want all my readers to enjoy my books, but when military readers write to me to say that I've captured their experience the way it really is, I feel that I've earned my oxygen for the day.
I owe those guys. I owe them in an anonymous way, for doing the rotten necessary jobs that most of us won't or can't do, but expect others to; and I owe them personally, individually, for all the generosity, patience, wisdom, help, and sheer bloody good fun they've given me over the years. The very least I can do for them is to depict their job the way it really is.
I believe in truth in fiction. You know that by now. I feel the power of fiction to create stereotypes - for good or ill - makes it a dangerous tool to handle, and so it shouldn't be done carelessly. When I see "mil porn" fiction - and even though I don't read novels, I sometimes get to see samples of it in the course of my job - I just get angry. I think lazy, careless, insulting portrayals of our men and women in uniform is a noxious thing, and I saw some text this week that made me furious; it was clear that the author had made no effort at all to find out how military personnel feel about the terrible things they have to face.
It takes little effort to find service personnel to talk to about their experiences and feelings. I accept that not all writers can have my background and access, but if you're going to write about fighting men and women, then you should have the basic courtesy and professional discipline to at least find out about them and talk to them. They give generously of their time; and we ought to give back the reality.
Which brings me back to Gears of War. The core of the game, the essence of the Gears experience for me, is a group of guys looking out for each other in a post-apocalyptic hell - not superheroes, but regular men made heroic by their willingness to step up and do what's needed. Look past the visceral thrill of splatting Locust - no, I'm not immune to the raw enjoyment of shooting the shit out of things in games, either - and you're left with a story of incredible loyalty and sacrifice, not always easy, not always victorious, often agonising, but always a group of decent, honest squaddies looking out for their mates.
That's what speaks to me. And that's why I think that being given the ability to write military fiction is a privilege, and with it comes a duty to the real men and women whose reality I plunder to create entertainment. In this world of dwindling forces and defence cuts, where most civilians go through life never meeting someone who serves, my stories may be the closest that many readers get to that reality. So it has to be as right and as real and as honest and as fair as I can make it.
So, even on Sera, in a world of Locust and chainsaw rifles and crazy boots, the soldier's voice still has to speak the truth. That, for me, comes before anything.
Someone drew my attention today to a web page (which looks kosher, but do check all internet sources, like any good journo should) that shows how Robert Heinlein used to handle fan mail. I found it sobering, not simply because so much of it was identical to my own list of caveats and the way I respond, but because it shows a certain inevitable pattern in the relationship between author and audience.
I've never seen that document before today: I drew up my list - and modified it as time went on - based wholly on my experiences of trying to deal with fan mail. It starts as a trickle, and then it's a flood - thousands of messages a year. I still reply to almost every fan e-mail or letter I receive individually, no form responses.
I'm not saying a form response isn't a good idea. Time pressures mean that it may end up being the only option for me, too. But I haven't gone that route yet. I'm steeped in the business (and cultural) ethic of answering folk when they talk to me, customer contact, that kind of thing. I'm commercial, not artistic. It costs me a lot of time, and I'm not always sure where the break point is going to be when it gets too much.
Anyway, take a look at the two lists side by side, and you see identical trends, identical reactions. This is behavioural convergence caused by environmental pressures, a neat little example of the evolution mechanism in action.
I don't feel so bad about having a long, long list of caveats and conditions on my contact page now.
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----- -------- AUTHOR: Karen Traviss TITLE: The violence within, and bad people STATUS: Publish ALLOW COMMENTS: 0 CONVERT BREAKS: 0 ALLOW PINGS: 0 BASENAME: the-violence-within-and-bad-people
DATE: 09/08/2008 12:54:02 PM ----- BODY:
First, let me get this off my chest; World Lux are evil, evil...evil. When my uberspiffy Aurora Optima mini pencil arrived today (see earlier blog), not only did it make me want to rush back to my wallet to buy more items in the range, it also nestled seductively next to a World Lux catalogue, a publication so unashamedly, luxuriously extravagant that it makes Vogue look like a toilet roll - the hard single-sheet Izal variety, at that. In this catalogue, this volume of pure pen evil, there were magnificent pens I had never seen before.
Ponder on that. Me, lifetime pen nut and owner of a stupidly large and expensive collection of fountain pens dating from 1880 to last week, discovering not just new pens but whole ranges of pens I'd never seen before. This is like discovering a new variety of dinosaur, intact, mummified, and maybe with an unfinished diary grasped in its claws with just the words "Frigging big meteorite heading this way... " still legible. Except it's a lot more expensive, will grab no headlines, and can only end one way. I think I'd just better get my agent to pay my advances straight to World Lux in future.
And these bad, bad people, who must know I have the breaking strain of a warm Mars Bar when it comes to writing instruments, are based in Seattle. They have a shop there. I will be attending PAX in the future. That's right next door, pretty well. I think you can see where all this is heading. In my defence, World Lux prices are much better than most high-end pen retailers pen-for-pen by a long chalk, which brings them down from you-know-this-is-bankruptcy grade to just bloody expensive.
Now to violence. It's a pens and swords thing today. Chew over that idea first. My money is still on pens, in both senses.
My father, usually the most supportive of dads, told me he's concerned about the effect that violent games like Gears of War have on folks. Naturally, I leaped to the defence of the new love of my life, as any decent woman should, and cited research that says the only people who'll become violent after playing violent games are those who were going to do it anyway. After all, the vast majority of the most horrific of the world's violent acts have been committed not only without the benefit of computer games, but without any high tech at all. Humans are violent, sadistic shits when push comes to shove, a small percentage are more violent and sadistic than others as a first option, and if anything, someone's reaction to violent games is more of a diagnostic tool to spot the loonies than a device for creating monsters out of hitherto nice boys and girls. My gamer buddies have never carried out a violent act in their lives, and even those of my friends who kill for a living aren't into random acts of violence. Monkey see, monkey do, is a bit too simplistic and lazy a psychological theory for my tastes.
Having said that, though , I do worry about violence in fiction, and my role in propagating it.
But it's not chainsawing Locust that worries me. It's the violence gussied up and buried in candy floss that scares the shit out of me, the stuff we feed youngsters without a second thought.
In Gears, you damn well see what violence is. First, you're warned before you even open the box. Second, the violence (in the unfiltered content) is explicit. Third, if you look at the characters with any degree of analysis at all, you see that violence and constant war really, really mess these guys up. This isn't a paean to killing. It's actually a story about a desperate war for survival, and how human decency - yes, look again, look at the character interaction - can still surface even in hell.
No, my work for Gears doesn't keep me awake at nights at all. What does give me pause is the risks in the careless violence embedded in apparently innocuous stuff that we let our kids read, play or watch without even checking on it.
That's why I write Star Wars the way I do; where any character uses violence, I spell out the reality, even if the PG rules prevent me from going the whole anatomical hog. That's why Boba Fett reminds Jaina what really happens if you cut off someone's head with a nice, clean, cauterising lightsaber. They'd be conscious for a few minutes. It's a horrible way to die.
That's why Ben asks his father Luke the obvious moral question in Sacrifice; why was killing everyone on the Death Star okay? How did he cope with that and so many other deaths - not all of them the deaths of demonstrably evil, dangerous people - on his conscience?
I need to think that Luke Skywalker, who's supposed to be the ultimate moral hero, gives that some thought, and finds it troubling. And he does. Because if he doesn't, then I've sold kids a bad thing. Not only is it out of character for Luke to be a killer who wastes lives callously, which is plain bad writing, it's also a dangerous way of sliding poison with a candy wrapping into a reader's subconscious. You don't expect to see that kind of thing in Star Wars (or any other family-friendly fiction) and so you're not on your guard for it.
As authors, we have responsibilities, because - as I've said so many times - fiction does influence human beings. Good, emotionally-resonant fiction influences us even more - adult or child. And because it's fiction, we don't see it coming or notice what it does to us. One violent act in fiction won't make a psychiatrically normal person rush out to copycat a crime; I don't believe average, normal humans will be motivated to shoot people or steal cars simply by playing GTA. But the steady, endless, inexorable drip-drip of the idea that violence by the self-defined good guys is okay, and not the same as violence by the bad guys, fosters acceptance at a deep level of double standards, and reinforces the submission to whatever the guy in charge tells us is fine.
Do I really want youngsters absorbing a subliminal message that chopping off someone's head is a clean death? Even with a lightsaber? Because it isn't. God knows we should all be aware of that by now. Do I want kids thinking it's okay because good guys cut people down without a second thought, and don't seem troubled by it - even joke about it? No, it's never okay, and if a hero jokes about it and doesn't suffer afterwards, then we have a clinical definition for them: a psychopath. A dangerous nutter. Psychopaths don't do it out of real rage, either. So they're okay, right? They aren't motivated by the dark side.
I actually see and hear kids arguing that killing people is okay if Jedi do it, but not if Sith do. God help us, I've even seen thirty-something adults say that, although I'll accept that they're the developmentally-challenged drooling fringe. It's kids I worry about.
No, I don't want kids imbibing that implied approval without thinking. So I take personal responsibility as an author for the world I create, or my corner of someone else's world. My books are not kids' books, but I know kids - and impressionable adults - read them. I am responsible for the picture of violence - of every reality - that I draw. So I'll draw the honest picture.
If you're going to have violence or any other nasty thing in your story - bloody well tell the truth about it. It can be done in a way that kids can understand, too. The real danger of portraying violence is in sanitising it.
Ironically, that's what my father now recalls seventy years later. As a small kid, he watched movies where the comic hero booted someone up the backside when they bent over. So he did it to his buddy. It was funny and harmless, right?
No, it wasn't. He really injured his friend. He thought kicking someone hard like that had no consequences, because he never saw any injury or aftermath in the movies. He's never forgotten that lesson.
And neither should you.
Me, I sleep okay at nights when I'm working on Gears. It's the PG-13 stuff I worry about.
...I weakened. Gordon is a moron. (And why has nobody dusted off that jolly little song from the past yet? I hear it played minus lyrics on certain TV ads, and marvel at the lack of connection. Perhaps it's too cheap a shot.) Brown is down and close to out, and all that remains is for us to form an orderly queue for the fun of kicking him in the nuts.
The Banana Republic of Lesser Britain's current excuse for a government relies on public apathy to keep it in power, and one of my concerned readers (thanks, Mike S) reminded me this morning that I need to get my political panties in an angry bunch once more. Okay, I hear you, Mike, but I need to build up my stamina again. The Indie is helping me pace myself back to my former record time for covering the distance between hearing some political outrage to developing a full-on apoplectic rant. Zero to maximum frenzy in ten seconds is possible, I think...
"There was no coherent Blairite ideology because ideology was the last thing on their minds when Blair, Brown, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and the rest of that tiny cabal ‚Äì Charles hovering on the outskirts like the good little Kinnockite he was ‚Äì adroitly hijacked a political movement. "New Labour" was never more than a device to enable the winning and retention of power, purely for the joy of having power. Any individualism these professional paranoiacs believed threatened electoral success was crushed as lethally as any perceived challenge to the uniqueness of Mr Blair's popularity. "
Ooh, that feels good. Now let's wheel out the full dirt on the dodgy dossier, too, the fabrication of the massive lie that took us to war. I feel the old stick-'em-all-up-against-the-nearest-wall muscles responding to that little bit of exercise. In a week or two, I'll be back to full froth levels.
But I probably have new readers here who are bewildered by all this political stuff, and want to hear about the books. Good point. The books are fine, there are too many of them for my physical comfort, and as a result of having too many books to write, I have too much money to squander on pens. Latest acquisitions; a gold Sheaffer Signet and matching pencil (circa 1955 - been looking for a set like that for a year or so) and an Aurora Mini Optima pencil to match the fountain pen that Richard Binder customised for me. Nice.
Okay, a cheap segue there, but yes: GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS has reached the final proof-reading stage and has been sheer joy to write. The novel is out at the end of next month, with a luscious cover that has all the perfection of the game art. It it's one of those images that you can pore over for hours and keep finding new and fascinating detail. Check it out on my web site.
Cramming an entire writing career into four years leads inevitably, as I've said before, to a high level of disillusion and jadedness, probably because the human body isn't designed for that kind of time compression, but Gears - the whole experience, from dissecting the game to working with the fine folks at Epic to savouring the nuts and bolts of doing the novel - has restored the pleasure of writing for me. It's good to know such things can still happen.
One side-effect of being immersed in the Gearsiverse, of course, is that I find myself watching Gordon Brown on the news, revving up a Lancer via my mind's eye, and hearing a Gus-like voice saying: "Bring it on, baby! This is my kind of shit!"
DATE: 09/01/2008 03:26:53 PM ----- BODY: Today, I'm going to stick to stationery.
Maybe it's old age, but I find I just can't get a decent political apoplexy on since I started blogging again. I think I burned out my Mrs Angry chip, at least as far as the UK government is concerned; there's little I can add to illustrate out what a bunch of incompetent, sleazy, DUMB dicks they are, not if you've been keeping even the most casual eye on the UK media. They've lost confidential data on at least half the UK's population. (Yes, I mean half. Fifty per cent. One in two. It's that bad.) They do it a lot. The economy is so bad that the Chancellor is publicly washing his hands of it and hinting that the big Scottish boy next door hit him and made him do it. They've turned the country into a second-rate East Germany, complete with Stasi-style surveillance of ordinary citizens, with exhortations to spy on your neighbours and shop them for not using the right recycling bin.
No, I'm not making any of that up for comic effect.
You'd think that after the best part of 30 years of breathing the same air as politicians that nothing the twonks do would surprise me, but even I remain surprised by their ability to hit rock bottom and then dig deeper. But angry? They've exhausted me into a state of meh. Yes, I'd stop to string them up from the nearest lamppost if the opportunity was offered, but for the meantime - I get paid in US dollars and I cleared my mortgage years ago, so the pound can sink as much as it likes. I just live here for the while. This is no longer my country; I don't recognise what it's become.
Anyway, stationery; storyboards, to be precise. I was introduced to them way back when I began working in television, and I've been using them ever since - even for non-visual media. In the bad old days, I had to photocopy blanks, and then Filofax started making storboard inserts, thereby changing my life. I think they've discontinued them now, but I still have a stash somewhere.
Over the years, I've veered between DIY storyboards and buying them off the shelf. So here's my current tote board on how the current ones shape up.
My definition of a good storyboard template is that it should have room for text - that's partly because I'm used to having space for voice-over or dialogue, but also because even people who deal solely in visuals need to jot stuff down sometimes. and if you're using them for general brainstorming rather than planning visuals, you need that space.
LEVENGER: the stationery junkie's friend (well worth the horrific shipping costs to the UK) makes two kinds of storyboard pads, near enough A4 size, and Circa storyboard sheets in various sizes. Frames plus room for text. Probably my fave. When I first found a Levenger store (on a trip to Boston) I said I could die there quite happily, which disturbed the staff somewhat. But it's a joyous shopping experience.
MOLESKINE: I like the notebooks, however pretentious the marketing - it's just paper, people - but the storyboard version is only available in pocket size, oddly split between two frames to a page at the front of the notebook and then four to a page with space for text at the back. An enterprising person has created a template for marking up the large notebooks, but if I'm paying that much, I resent having to do the work myself. The UK prices, even from the excellent Mojo, are damned steep compared to US prices, too, which puzzles me. Caveat: Moleskine paper can be pretty crappy if you use a fountain pen. Some top-quality inks bleed on it badly and the show-through is a problem. If Smythson can make its featherweight paper completely fountain-pen friendly - and that stuff is like tissue - then I expect better from Moleskine. (The Smythson notebooks really do live up to the claims, by the way. But for that price, I bloody well expect them to. Only drawback is that they're all lined paper - no unlined option.)
If I were going to resort to penciling in frames from a template, I'd rather use Clairefontaine pads or notebooks, because the paper is perfect. Those trees didn't die in vain. There are also plenty of Moleskine alternatives that have borrowed Molie's once-USPs of elastic straps and a filing pocket, so shop around.
DIY PLANNER: a variety of printable storyboard templates for all sizes of paper and card, and of course you can customize your own. And pick your own paper stock, too. (A5 template here.) Ranks close to the Levenger approach as a Traviss fave.
There's also plenty of software for storyboarding, but I spend so much time at a keyboard that I need the break and the chance to scribble. It's therapeutic. If I were doing more comics/ TV than novels, though, I'd probably go for it. I'll investigate the options and maybe blog on that later.
If you've come across any other good off-the-shelf storyboard stationery, mail me. I'd love to know about it.
This is one of the most useful links you'll ever click on.
DIY Planner takes some time to explore, but it's a treasure trove of stuff - free stuff - for the organisationally-minded. It's also paper-based. Now, I like my techie gadgets as much as the next geek with too much disposable income; but sometimes only pen and paper will do. I first stumbled across DIYP when I was trying to find storyboard blanks for a Circa notebook in the days before Levenger did them, and while it's perfectly possible to create your own templates - as I do - it's pretty handy to find so many here prêt à utiliser.
I'm not, as many of you already know, a wildly creative, hippy-dippy free spirit of the arts. I'm an observer, analyst, and extrapolator. The only way I get to the unexpected places that I go in fiction is by a long but very rapid chain of what's-that, who-says-so, and what-if; so I'm not going to be the writer who comes up with - to borrow a phrase from the excellent Zero Punctuation - a rifle that shoots shurikens, because my brain never wants to go down that path. Hence the DIY Planner thing; I like lists. Filing stuff is fun too. Spreadsheets and RACI matrices are the stuff of comfort and reassurance for me.
I mention this because - back in the Clarion day - I thought I didn't have the artistic imagination to write successfully. I think it was that awful phrase creative writing that did it. I never had crazy out-of-left-field ideas like other folks seemed to. But then I discovered that a wild imagination wasn't what was needed, and things fell into place when I just went with my natural tendency to want to analyze the shit out of everything and everyone. So if you're stuck in some class being told that you have to be "imaginative" to write fiction, and you find you just aren't wired that way, then don't let them dismiss you or talk you out of writing.
The only thing you have to be able to imagine is what it's like to be someone else and live in their head in the small detail of life. Because that's the heart of characterisation. And you need only three skills to achieve that; patient observation, self-awareness, and the willingness to accept that the rest of the world doesn't see things the way you do. That's bloody hard for most people at the best of times, and we have the wars to prove it, but if you can manage it then you just don't need off-the-wall ideas. You don't need to be able to imagine wacky things that others can't; you need to be able to see the things they never do until it's pointed out to them.
Writing fiction is about making the invisible visible. And there are plenty of ways of reaching that point.
It must have been like this when Ug first thought of the wheel, and was stuck at the maybe-I-need-to-file-the-corners-off stage.
I've been forced to migrate blogs without technical support - not something I wanted to take on given my camel-crushing workload, so I'm having to do it a step at a time. All the material from my previous blogs has been stripped out and downloaded in importable file formats, and I now have content management via the same app that I use for the web site.
So the wheel is sort of octagonal and giving me a bumpy ride, but at least it looks more like a wheel now than a square plate. I can haul the occasional mammoth with it.
Soon, there will be a full archive, and eventually, the web site embedding will be seamless. Eventually, it'll be a Firestone steel radial. I swear.
The game plan for the blog is this; I'll update Mondays and Fridays. Content will be whatever takes my fancy - usually business, sometimes apoplexy about world affairs, sometimes complete loss of judgment on my part that simply has to vent through a fissure - but it's unlikely that I'll be opening the blog to comments for some time, if at all. I now work on the principle that if anyone really wants to have a dialogue with me, I'm easy to contact. The general tendency of comments sections across the entire internet to degenerate to the very lowest common denominator of me-too-hey-look-how-big-I-am graffiti for the benefit of onlookers rather than to have a conversation has convinced me this is a sensible move. As has the fact that I pay for bandwidth.
So...on to the next stage. And I have to crack on with the current manuscript-in-progress. It's possibly a sign that I've crammed not only a lifetime career's worth of books into the small crack between 2004 and 2008, but also the equivalent amount of oh-hell-not-that-again ennui and general piss-offedness. When I come to a job on the list that I don't relish writing, I treat it like the cauliflower I have to finish before I can dig in to the more appealing mound of carrot and swede mash. By keeping my eye on the mash, and maybe adding a lot of nutmeg and grated cheese to the cauli, I can get through it.
The blog is back after a long break. December 31st 2006, if I recall. Boy, a lot of water's rushed under the bridge since then.
I swear I'm not going to waste any blogwidth this time around telling the world what a dickhead Gordon Brown is. That would be kicking a man when he's down, and frankly there's no better time to aim for the soft and vulnerable bits, but...this is costing me money. So whatever I said about Bliar on my last blog 18 months ago can simply be repeated about Gordon and his team of losers and mediocre housewives. A pox on them all, sirrah. And this blog is about my business, which is writing fiction.
I have, at long last, started writing a comic series. No details until both I and the editor are sure that this isn't going to be a crash-and-burn mistake on my part, because I have much further to fall these days; but it's fun to have a storyboard on my desk again. I haven't storyboarded since my good old steam-driven TV days, when men were men and the BBC had balls too. I'm a visual writer anyway - for me, writing is transcribing a soundtrack and video of events I can see running in my brain - but actively thinking in stills and freeze frames exercises slightly different mental muscles even from TV-think.
There's a lot to be said for working across different media. Working with games teams - Epic and LucasArts - gave me a whole new set of storytelling tools that I carry across to the printed word. The same is true of comics. It fits comfortably into what I've always seen in my head as a three-dimensional, multi-layered thing called Story.
It'll be an interesting learning curve, if nothing else. I don't read fiction, and I've throughly analysed how I can write novels while not being remotely interested in reading, and I know exactly how I can write games-based fiction without playing games. But this is the first time I've created something in a medium in which I'm a consumer - unless you count TV, that is.