What a difference technology makes

I’ve spent the last two days holed up in our den, which the lowest part of our split-level house and rather cavelike — therefore the coolest room we’ve got. Our thermostat caps out at 84 degrees Fahrenheit, so I can’t say for sure what temperature it’s been in our dining room, but whatever the answer is, the top floor — which holds both my office and the bedroom — was hotter. Much hotter.

I grew up in Dallas. Highs in the high 90s were a totally normal feature of my childhood summers. But that was a place where nearly everybody has air conditioning. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area? Not so much. And living in a house without A/C means that when our temperatures spike, the experience is very, very different.

The extent of that difference got hammered home to me yesterday, when I’d been at the (air-conditioned) chiropractor’s office. When I walked outside in the late afternoon, it felt . . . not nice, exactly. But familiar. And pleasant enough. Yes, it was very warm, but my subconscious said “that’s okay.” Which was very different from how I’d felt leaving my house an hour and a half earlier; then I was going from a sweltering indoors to a sweltering outdoors, barely any contrast at all, and vastly more unpleasant. I know I’ve lost soem of my heat tolerance (I used to do marching band in Texas, navy blue wool uniform and all), but a lot of it is also just the artificial environment. Give me A/C, and I still don’t mind the heat all that much. Without it, though . . .

Let’s just say I’ve learned a lot about low-tech measures against the heat, from keeping blinds closed that we normally open for light (and angling them upwards to reduce the amount of direct sunlight that enters the room), to occupying myself with books instead of heat-emitting laptops, to the dance of opening windows and turning on fans once the temperature outside drops below the temperature inside.

NEW WORLDS, YEAR TWO is now in print!

If you like having your writing references in hard copy and not just pixels, you may be glad to know that you can now buy the print edition of New Worlds, Year Two! And now is a great time to become a patron of the series — I’ll soon be sending out the next poll for what topics I should address, and of course all patrons get weekly photos. It’s patron support that is keeping New Worlds strong, and I thank all of them for it!

Lessons in people pictures

Over Memorial Day weekend I was hired to do candid and portrait photography at a three-day LARP (one my husband plays in, which I’ve played in before, but not regularly).

This was . . . an adventure.

See, my usual attitude toward people photography is “I will wait here with my camera poised until you get out of the frame.” My tastes, as you can probably tell, lean firmly toward architecture, objects, and landscapes. Sometimes I can’t avoid having people in the picture, and every so often they add a great deal to the image — the dude in the punt in Cambridge (though I wish the two up on the wall weren’t there), or the guy walking in front of the church in Basel — but people are rarely if ever the reason I’m taking the picture.

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L5R novella!

I have been sitting on this news for A YEAR AND A HALF.

Not too long after relaunching the game Legend of the Five Rings (and its associated story), Fantasy Flight Games announced that they would be doing a line of related novellas, one per clan. Since most of the stories I’ve been writing for them have been about the Dragon Clan, I leapt on that immediately, with a pitch for a story about a character I helped develop for the story in the first place.

cover art for THE ETERNAL KNOT

The monks of the Togashi Order are known for their wisdom, their strength, their mystery, and the superhuman powers they gain from their unique tattoos. For Togashi Kazue, completing her training is only the beginning—discovering the true power of her enigmatic tattoo may be the true test.

Accompanied by the experienced monk Togashi Mitsu, Kazue embarks on a journey to learn the power of the newly acquired knot design on her forehead. When Kazue discovers the danger her tattoo poses to others, she contemplates the unthinkable. But she soon learns that attempting to deny her destiny is the truly dangerous path.

For those of you not familiar with L5R, The Eternal Knot is a reasonable entry point: it doesn’t require you to know anything about the setting or the ongoing story. It does very clearly take place in a world that’s much larger and more complex than this particular narrative needs, and there are some threads left dangling at the end in a way that is obviously bait for future fiction, but the story it tells is self-contained. So if mystical tattooed monks sound like your jam, you can pre-order it here!

New Worlds Theory Post: Exposition, Pt.2

The question of how to gracefully work expository detail into a story was too large to address in a single essay, so the discussion that began in March continues today, with character, scene, and plot-level methods of integration.

If you’ve been enjoying the New Worlds Patreon, please consider becoming a patron! You’ll get weekly photos and can opt for a variety of other rewards, like ebooks, voting in the monthly topic polls, bonus behind-the-scenes content, and more. I post the essays on Book View Cafe rather than restricting them to patrons only because I like the broader range of discussion that becomes possible — which is especially key when I’m trying to give a sample of the different ways things have been done throughout history and around the world — but it’s support from my patrons that make the whole series possible. I never could have embarked on this project without that support, so I thank each and every one of them.

Spark of Life: D.B. Jackson on TIME’S DEMON

A while back, I started up a series of guest blogs called “Spark of Life,” where authors could talk about one of my favorite parts of writing: those moments you didn’t plan for, where it seems like your characters or your plot have taken on a life of their own. I got busy and fell out of arranging these posts, but I’m reviving it now — starting with a post from D.B. Jackson that resonates so hard for me. In my case it was a line earlier in the same book, rather than a previous one . . . but I seriously don’t know how I would have pulled together the final confrontation in Warrior if it weren’t for a totally unexpected line I’d written a couple of months before.

***

David says:

cover art for TIME'S DEMON by D.B. Jackson The Spark of Life moment I had with my newest book, Time’s Demon, the second volume in my Islevale Cycle, actually began with a throwaway line in book one, Time’s Children. The circumstances take some explaining, so please bear with me.

The Islevale novels are time travel/epic fantasy. They are set in an alternate world that is home to Walkers (my time travelers) and humans who wield several other sorts of magic. As the title of book II suggests, it is also home to various sorts of demons – Ancients, as they prefer to be called – including Tirribin, or time demons. Tirribin appear as children, though they live for centuries. They feed on the years of humans, and since they consume years as they spend them, they never age. They are predators – canny, dangerous, but also childlike in their capriciousness, their curiosity, and the fact that they can be distracted from the hunt with a riddle. Better make it a good one, though . . .

Walkers and Tirribin share an affinity for time, and so Walkers don’t have to fear time demons quite the way other humans do. Early in book I, when one of my heroes is still training to be a Walker, she befriends a Tirribin named Droë, and mentions this to one of her instructors. The instructor warns her of the dangers, even for a Walker, of interacting with any Ancient. “You know Tirribin can be dangerous. One is said to have killed a trainee many years ago, before I came to Windhome.”

That’s it. That was the line. I had no particular incident in mind when I wrote it, although I believe that somewhere in the depths of my hind brain I knew that I would use the thread later.

Skip forward to my work on Time’s Demon, the second book. I knew that I wanted Droë to figure prominently in this novel – hence the title. I also knew that I wanted to give some vital back story on one of my other key characters: the assassin, Quinnel Orzili. Orzili is not a Walker, but rather a Spanner, someone who uses magic to travel great distances in mere moments. Spanners, like Walkers, are trained in Windhome.

The problem was, I had too many plot threads and I wasn’t sure how they all connected. I was still following my heroes from book I, including the young woman who receives that warning from the instructor in Windhome. I had Droë’s story. And I had Orzili’s narrative threads as well – the backstory and the “present” story. All of these plot lines needed to be included in the book and I knew that for this middle volume to work, for it to feel complete and at least somewhat self-contained, all of its disparate storylines needed to cohere in some way.

As it happens, all of the Islevale books, including the third volume, Time’s Assassin, which I am completing now, have defied my attempts to outline them. I’m a plotter – I like to plan my narratives in advance. I always write with an outline. Or I did, until this series. It’s ironic in a way: Here I am writing time travel, which is incredibly complicated on its own, in a sprawling epic fantasy with multiple plot threads and point of view characters. If ever I needed to outline any set of novels, these were the ones. And I just couldn’t do it. To this day, I’m not sure why. Different novels demand different approaches, and these books demanded that I wing it.

So I was writing the early chapters of book II, in which I explore Orzili’s backstory, and Droë shows up. I hadn’t planned to write her into this part of the series, and I still don’t know what made me do it, but the moment I re-introduced her to my readers, I knew: Droë was, in fact, the Tirribin who killed a trainee, and that trainee was Orzili’s friend. The boy’s death at the hands of a time demon sets in motion the key events that lead to Orzili becoming an assassin. That event, first mentioned in a throwaway line in the first book of the series, becomes a key moment in my story arc – the nexus connecting my heroes in book one, my title character for book two, and the key villain for the entire series.

Plotting a novel, or a series for that matter, is an inexact undertaking. Even when we can outline, even when we think we know precisely what should happen, our characters have a way of surprising us. That is both the joy and the challenge of writing fiction. We want our characters to do and say the things that advance our narratives, but we also want them to act and sound and feel to our readers like real people. And often that means allowing them the agency to do and say things we don’t expect. I hadn’t known that Droë would show up when and where she did in Time’s Demon. But when she did, it breathed new life into the entire novel. It was the spark I needed to make my plot points come together.

***

From the cover copy:

Fifteen-year-old Tobias Doljan Walked back in time to prevent a war, but instead found himself trapped in an adult body, his king murdered and an infant princess to protect.

Now joined by fellow Walker and Spanner, Mara, together they much find a way to undo the timeline that orphaned the princess and destroyed their future. But arrayed against them are assassins who share their time-traveling powers, and hold dark ambitions of their own. And Droë, the Tirribin demon on a desperate quest for human love, also seeks Tobias for an entirely different reason.

As these disparate lives converge, driven by fate and time and forces beyond nature, Islevale’s future is poised on a blade’s edge.

D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of more than twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Demon, is the second volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. Time’s Children is volume one; David is working on the third book, Time’s Assassin.

As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy; the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood; a contemporary urban fantasy trilogy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson; and most recently, Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, a tie-in with the History Channel’s Knightfall series.

David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

You can find him on Twitter @DBJacksonAuthor, or on Facebook as DBJacksonAuthor or david.b.coe.

Soundtracks on Spotify!

Last weekend @hannah_scarbs asked on Twitter whether I had the soundtracks to my novels on Spotify. To which the answer was no — but now it’s yes, because that made me realize that putting them up there is an eminently sensible idea. Of course not everything is available on that service (in particular, all of the Battlestar Galactica scores are absent, and I’ve drawn heavily on those over the years), but the vast majority were there! So if you want to know what my soundtracks sound like, now you can give ’em a listen. And if you want to know what each track maps to, I’ve also linked to that information for each book.

Cats!

I had somehow missed the news that there’s going to be a film of the musical Cats this year. (Prefatory comment: if you’re one of the haters that doesn’t like it, please don’t come into my comments to say so. I imprinted on this thing around the age of six.)

I’m . . . wary, but cautiously optimistic? The cast looks excellent, even if I’m a little nonplussed by casting Idris Elba as Macavity. (The lyrics describe that character as “very tall and thin,” and while he’s got the height covered, in terms of build I’d envision someone more like Mahershala Ali.) But Gus the Theatre Cat will be played by Ian McKellan, which sounds perfect, and I love love love that they’ve cast Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy. I agree with the reservation Alyc expressed to me, which is that many of the people cast are good singers but not necessarily good dancers, but a lot depends on how they’re going to stage things; it may be that the bulk of the dancing is done by a backup corps rather than the lead characters.

A lot also depends on what they’re doing story-wise. Some of the people who dislike Cats as a musical do so because they went in expecting a full story, and instead got a series of song-and-dance numbers connected by a tenuous thread of plot. Are they going to beef that up for the film? If so . . . how? There isn’t a lot to work with, and I’m leery of any attempt to invent new material wholesale to create a bigger story. It makes me think of all the crap that got added to The Hobbit so they could stretch a very short book out to three films — I don’t want the same thing to happen here.

And I’m also crossing my fingers that they’ll make a couple of revisions to the lyrics. I may love Cats, but T.S. Eliot’s poems used a couple of unfortunate words for the Chinese characters, and there’s no need to carry those over to the film. But they’re single words and easily swapped out without breaking the scansion, so I hope they make that fix. From a different direction, I’m also wondering if they’ll do anything with the line about how Old Deuteronomy has “buried nine wives” — are we at the point as a society where we’ll just shrug and say, sure, Dench-eronomy had wives? We’ll see.

Ultimately, I just hope it doesn’t suck.