Where Babies Come From #6

As usual, spoilers ahead. 

Neither Homeward Bound nor On the Edge of Living are particularly plot-filled stories and I’ll group them under the same banner in terms of intent. Both of them are short stories focused on the small guy affected by the Event, showing how normal life has been irreparably altered by the cataclysm.

The premise of Blackout is that all of the stories happen either during or long after the Event, an apocalyptic disaster that shut off every electrical device on the planet, shutting down the global energy infrastructure and annihilating communities in a flash. With electricity disappearing, things like running water, general stores and most businesses start shutting down. Motorised transport becomes defunct, most commodities become useless or so hopelessly expensive to create that they disappear in a matter of months. Old supermarkets like the one Jack finds himself in in On the Edge of Living become free-for-all buffets provided the contents haven’t rotted away yet.

The already-great gulf between the rich and poor in Cape Town was something I decided to focus on in Homeward Bound, the situation exacerbated by the disaster. With poverty and homelessness being an ever-present in the new shattered world, it deserved some attention. The emphasis, though, was on the people struggling to survive, one of the main themes of my works of fiction being man’s determination to succeed.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #5

As usual, spoilers ahead. 

I really enjoyed writing Outed. It gave me a chance to do a quieter local story with more ‘regular’ people being the focus. Eventually I was going to have to give in to the stereotype about South African fiction and tackle discrimination so this is the story where that happens. I’m not mature enough to sensitively tackle racism and segregation, so I didn’t focus on that sort of prejudice. Instead, I wrote an allegory on coming out, hence the title. I’ve never had that sort of experience, so this particular story took a fair amount of research to pull off.

The X-Men series of comics have taken the route of comparing having to grapple with superpowers to having to come out for years. I didn’t quite do the same thing, but the more well-written comics are certainly a point of inspiration for me. Between offhand comments from other people to outright spouting of hatred, I aimed to capture the universal sort of distrust and disdain closeted people fear. I, of course, do not claim to have captured or have fully understood the feeling. I can only guess at what that feels like and I have absolutely no intention of speaking above those voices.

This story is the first in the anthology with a female protagonist. I’d experimented with writing from a woman’s perspective a couple of times before this and I found, to absolutely no one’s shock, that it’s practically identical to writing from a man’s perspective. Funny that…

The protagonist, Maddie, is the first person I really show experimenting with their telekinetic abilities and this has important ramifications on the rest of the series. Between using small sparks to light candles and bigger crackles to intimidate hecklers, Maddie trivialises telekinesis which, at this point, humanity has very little understanding about. By the climax, her abilities are well-established, making the feat of containing a house blaze much more ‘believable’. This is, of course, nothing special compared to stunts pulled off by later characters, but more on that when I get to Angel Apocalypse.

With the addition of brain-hemorrhages and nerve damage, there are faux-biological side-effects for overuse of telekinetic abilities, referred to as burning out in my internal planning. I wanted this story to follow the tone, or hardness, of science-fiction the other stories have while teasing the reader with a bit of grand telekinetic action.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #4

As usual, spoilers ahead. Also, since starting this little series of posts, sales have gone up significantly. Thanks, guys, I appreciate that a lot. 

Capacity for Atrocity represents me going to my roots as a writer: writing fast-paced, intense action scenes and trying my best to portray something cool. As I said in #1 of this series, I really like mecha and this story follows a random group of mecha pilots in Donetsk. Why Donetsk? I wanted another exotic location and I was out of ideas. I went to watch some football and I was met with a Europa League match between Manchester United and Zorya Luhansk. The commentator starting speaking about one of my favourite players, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and how he used to play for Shakhtar Donetsk. I wanted a snowy place in any case, so a large city in Ukraine worked nicely.

This story was much less of a test for my descriptive skills than many of the others, being more of an action story than the others. I wanted to make the reader feel the sort of unfamiliar intensity and power the characters would see from pre-Event weaponry. In the context of the narrative, these mech suits are almost legendary machines and are certainly much more powerful than anything else at the military’s disposal. I aimed for a melancholy feeling of a lost era as the mecha fight but with the sort of energy and intensity that justifies even hardened professionals cracking under pressure.

The desolate ruins of Donetsk are little more than a microcosm of the global situation. As a Blank Zone, it’s an abandoned area that civilians are pretty banned from entering. I allude to Blank Zones having mutagenic monsters, rogue Lordframes and dormant weapons like virus bombs and untriggered nuclear devices. I intend to set more stories in the Blank Zones, so giving the reader a taste here won’t hurt.

In the end, I wanted Capacity for Atrocity to be cool and intense, showing off both my standpoint on warfare and my technical abilities.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #3

The Bloodbringer is actually one of my older short stories, one I posted a couple of years ago on this blog. I received positive feedback on it and, with some tweaking, it was ready for the anthology.

With this story, I wanted to capture the fear of a recovering post-apocalyptic world full of new and terrifying entities and what better lens to shoot the world through than the eyes of a child? I focused on the desolation left behind by the Event and how people adapted to it. References to TV shows and series gave way to dog-eared novels. Having the story take place in the dead of night added to the sinister mood. I know I’m not the only one who was scared of shadows in the night as a child.

Gangsters are rather a large problem here in Cape Town, to put it very mildly. That made putting organised criminals in the limelight as my villains very easy. The fear factor didn’t come from them. I modeled the ghoul in the story on deep fears of mine: lurking murderers, impossibly strong monsters and silent shades. I never explained what the ghoul was and I don’t plan to. Fear of the unknown is another deep fear of mine.

The Bloodbringer was the first story that involved large chunks of descriptive text and represents an important marker for me. It was my first shot an atmospheric piece and I think I did a decent job.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #2

As usual, spoilers ahead. Get a copy of Blackout or give me a shout if you want a free copy.
We’re going into the more meaty stories now, with Panic being first. I wanted to go to a foreign location for the epicenter of the apocalypse. Doing one of the cosmopolitan European cities would have been a cheap way out and there are enough end-of-the-world stories set in the US, so I didn’t need to add any more. I thought Nigeria, being Africa’s largest economy at this point, would be interesting place in which to set my story.

Most of my stories, novel including, happen long after the Event hits, so I felt obliged to write one at the point of impact. The whole thing is described as horrific, world-ending but very distant in the main narrative, turning Panic into something more visceral and more real. It gave my descriptive skills a bit of challenge in keeping the reader’s attention with a single character, no dialogue and an entire city going to hell. No one in the subsequent stories quite knows what happened, so giving the reader something extra seemed good.

The apocalypse introducing the power of telekinesis was always on the cards, with the end of Panic showcasing my unique take on magic system in science-fiction settings. With telekinesis being a magnetism-like force, I have a somewhat scientific sounding system that’s quite fun to play with. I really enjoy the sense of scale, destruction and power that telekinesis brings to a story, so I wanted to have that as a resource in my novel and in Panic, you get to see where that comes from. Mutagens introducing superpowers are something I’ve seen in some of my favourite pieces of fiction and I took it upon myself to deal with the concept very differently.

Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Where Babies Come From #1

I like to share things with the world. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have attempted writing books and publishing them. I really do enjoy pouring my emotions onto the page/keyboard and hopefully eliciting the same sort of feelings in my readers. What does spawning literary ideas and writing fiction have to do with babies? Creative juices, my friend!

Anyway, I thought I’d start sharing the inspirations for the various things I write. I released Blackout last month, so I’ve got license to harp on about it for a little bit longer. I’m going to start with the two shortest pieces in Blackout, to ease myself into this. Fair warning, there may be spoilers ahead.

The Event
The Event is as general as general gets. It sets up the world in the mind of the reader, making a general picture before the other short stories make up wrinkles in the tapestry. The post-apocalyptic setting is one that I rather enjoy when it’s done well and done with some sort of variation. The generic ‘cataclysm that turns humanity into scavengers and vagrants’ has been done to death, so I thought I’d do something different and jump forward fifty years to see some semblance of bouncing back. Having learned about market economies in EMS in Grade 9, I found the concept interesting and decided to implement a form of it in my series.

I think PMCs are a pretty cool concept narratively. Having the protagonist tied to actual professional killers masquerading as a national military, itself mocked as a bunch of paid murderers, makes for some fun moral exploration, especially when applied to an entire society invested in the idea of war being necessary for their daily bread.

Titans of Another Time
I’m a huge nerd about certain science fiction concepts. Humanoid war machines are one such concept. Having watched such things as Gundam, Gurren Lagann, Code Geass and more recently mainstream blockbusters that feature mecha, I find the things pretty cool and decided to put my own spin on things. Because copyrights and trademarks are things that exist, I ended up having to make my own name for my humanoid tanks. I’m not the best with names but Lordframe sounded cool, so I stuck with that.

I really enjoy drawing mecha as well, so I’ve a wide variety of things to describe and fiddle with. Maybe I’ll upload those some day when I feel more confident about them. There’s a sense of grandeur and scale with humanoid war machines that I think is awesome and I couldn’t really do anything but include them in my stories.

Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

Representation in Fiction

Yesterday was the 27th of April 2017. That probably isn’t important to many of you out there but here in South Africa, it was also Freedom Day 2017, the anniversary of the first truly representative democratic election in 1994. We’ve still got a long way to go (obviously) in terms of representation, but it was a great step forward. If I wanted to use that thematically, I’m a day late, but whatever. I suppose it’s better late than never to discuss representation and how I go about dealing with it. I’ve written about the portrayal of genders already, so I’ll skip over that one this time.

1. Race. I’ve never really placed too much emphasis on race and it’s really a tired trope to do so in this day and age. It ends up being a more incidental thing than important to the core of the character for me. Race shouldn’t really define how a character acts unless the context or plot specifically call for it and then it should be dealt with very carefully. Stereotypes are a bad path to wander down, unless you want to be metaphorically mugged.

Communities are more nuanced and subtle than stereotypes allow. As always, research into different sorts of contexts and situations allows one to portray one’s characters of colour more sensitively. If you get something wrong about a community, that’s fine as long as it’s not offensive. The thought of including different kinds of communities goes a long way.

2. Sexuality. Gay is not a character trait. Unless your plot or special context calls for it, I wouldn’t place any emphasis on someone being gay/bi/pan at all. Queer romance is practically identical to heterosexual romance, with the distinction of potentially bigoted characters getting in the way. Unless your aim is to show this facet, I suggest identical treatment for all romance. Normalising things is good.

3. Religion. Please, please, please do your research on this one. No one appreciates having their beliefs, organised or otherwise, ripped apart by some fool behind a computer screen who didn’t bother to get any of the fundamental facts straight. No person’s faith is identical to another’s: atheists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus etc all have different individual details among themselves. Try not to make anyone upset if you choose to depict any given religion in a light that isn’t strictly neutral.

4. Politics. I’m not brave enough for politics nor am I brave enough to depict them. Many writers make their political leanings extremely clear when they write and this is bound to upset someone. The fact of the matter is, there’s no right answer for politics. Some people will like any political sentiment in your work of fiction, some people will absolutely hate even the faintest sniff of politics. I can’t help you with this one.

I hope the above points help at all. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Frame of Mind

Recently I finished writing My Angels, which is easily the darkest piece of fiction I’ve ever done. And I admit, I was not in a good place when I wrote it. It contains scenes of torture, child abuse and forced drug addiction. But now I’m just shilling Blackout and not writing anything informative.

1. Mood is important. Try to be happy when writing happy scenes or it’ll show in your writing. Try not to be angry while you write, or it’ll show in your writing. Try to be positive about the piece of fiction you’re trying to put forward or it’ll reduce the quality of a piece of fiction. The exception is dialogue. Feel free to be angry, or channel anger, when writing angry dialogue. This can actually sell the whole thing.

2. Don’t be scared to put something out there. Even if it’s not the best thing in the world, it’s still yours, it’s still recognisably yours. You should own every piece of fiction you put out and you should get into that sort of frame of mind when you write and advertise. Fear and self-doubt are killers that you shouldn’t succumb to. This frame of mind is similar to that in positive writing. Believe in yourself and what you’ve done and you’ll be alright, I swear.

3. Be You. I cannot overstate this. Everyone who comes to read your work is there to read your work. Not Tolkien’s, not Martin’s, not Applegate’s, yours. Be in the state of mind to make things your own. Don’t be a second-rate someone if you can be a first-rate you!

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day! Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to you all!

Writing Young

Being a young author is difficult. You’ve got to juggle school, stupid teenage stuff and get a quality product out as well as having to deal with actually get your novel off the ground. There are bits that your peers have no real grasping of when you’re in this situation and that can be hard. My 18th birthday is coming up is a few months, so at least most of this nonsense will be behind me. But until then, I have to deal with…

1. International Tax Regulations. None of the online publishing firms/services/whatevers allow you to sign-up as a legitimate taxpayer without asking you to go through some sort of gate. Invariably that gate requires you to be of 18 years or older. Be it PayPal, Payoneer, Amazon itself or the IRS in general, they’ll either require the age limit or information from the physical bank itself… which is a little difficult to obtain while one cannot drive.

2. Accessibility. This is another big one. Being a no-name person is made no less difficult by my current place in society. At the moment, my audience consists of the followers of this blog and one or two of my two hundred colleagues in the same grade as me who I dare to advertise in front of. Naturally, I’m slightly unhappy with that, but at least that can be fixed with old-fashioned hard work.

3. Stresses and Stupidity. Now, I’m not trying to say that working, adult people have no stress or stupidity (frankly, I’ve seen enough of both), but the stereotypical difficulty of being a teenager hits me full force sometimes. I’ve had more problems, funnily enough, with maths than I have with plot points or poignant scenes and I’ve spent more time awake at night thinking about girls I’ll never talk to than actually putting in time for writing. And when I do put in time for writing, I start flunking tests.

4. Self-Deprecation. Sometimes (read: all of the time), I make fun of myself to cope, most of the time in a joking tone. Sometimes I believe I’m not good enough, sometimes I know I’m not. There are all sorts of mental blocks and other rubbish strewn about in my head, but this makes me neither unique nor pitiable. It’s a barrier and every success story involves the breaking of barriers.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day!

Writing Supplements

The writing muscle is one that needs to be exercised regularly and occasionally it needs a bit of help to develop. I definitely use a few supplementary aids to help out. The ones below all relate to me but they might still work for you.

Music. For me, this is the biggest one. I, for one, certainly work much more effectively when I have scene-appropriate music filling my ears. Between the understated but powerful piano for sad scenes, upbeat, lyric-filled pop for more cheery or funny scenes and exciting, fast rock and metal for action, there is a wide variety of genres and types you can fit to each of your scenes.

Environment. I tend to write in places that have a positive or free atmosphere but I also tend to move. When I write at school, I find that sitting under the shadow of tall trees gives me some sort of boost, the oxygen giving my brain something to work with. At home there’s a workroom or study I sit in when I want to get down to business but most of my writing comes from sitting in my bedroom under a blanket or two. One’s state of mind is very important when writing.

Journals. The writing muscle is one that needs to be exercised regularly and there’s no better light exercise than journal writing. If you get the more distracting thoughts out of your head in the form of a diary entry, or even think of something good while you’re there, you’re going to end up with something of decent quality.

Breaks. I cannot overstate the importance of breaks. Much as many videogames encourage you to take a break every hour or so, I’d recommend the same for writing. Taking the time to clear your head and breathe with definitely increase the quality and clarity of your thoughts and writing, which is what you want, really. Put the pen down, make some tea and just rest for a bit.

I don’t know what works for you, but these definitely help me when I work. Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.