Author’s Note–WarLight

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“The Demon Killer” Geoffroy Thoorens (ArtStation.com)

So this blog post is an examination of some of the inspirations, challenges, and final thoughts for my newest short story WarLight (formerly known as “Project Light.”)  This has been a hard story to complete, but it is finally finished.  I will let it “sit” for a while and will revise it based on feedback from my “Beta readers.”

  • The genesis of this story is simple: it is the “Halo-Killer” that I always wanted Sony to develop for the PlayStation.  Bungie originally intended Halo to be a multiplatform game and I followed its development with great interest.  Then Bungie’s website “went dark” and then when it came back, the game was suddenly Microsoft only.  I despised that tactic of “buying” a 3rd party game to “deny” it to your rivals and MS lost me as a customer for their game system with this philosophy.  There was always talk of Sony developing its own Halo-Killer, but Killzone, the game that was touted as the sci-fi shooter of the PlayStation, didn’t achieve the level of heights that Halo commanded.
  • Halo worked because it started with a cool sci-fi premise and then added an “everyman” character on to it.  Add in awesome vistas, cool secondary characters, a menacing enemy and a story where one man could save the world, and you had an instant sci-fi classic (the “new” Star Wars).
  • I tried very hard to start off with a cool sci-fi premise: what if your world’s sun would go not just supernova, but hyper-nova.  This would generate a shockwave of light, heat, and radiation that would all obliterate everything in its path for hundreds of millions of light years.  What if a civilization could just barely stay ahead of the wave, their technology only allowing them to “jump” up to a couple weeks ahead of the doom–a vast array of ships, collectively known as the Fleet–all jumping, emerging into real space for a week or so scavenging resources and jumping out again?
  • What if the Fleet got trapped?
  • This is the story that I try to tell in WarLight.
  •  The hero of the story was born in the weeks after my grandmother passed away, so he has a “darkness” about him that is unusual for my characters (no, he is not “morally ambiguous”–a term I hate with a passion–rather, he looks at the death and destruction and wonders what is the use of trying).
  • The actual story takes place on a planet and that is taken from a dream that I had about kids arriving on world with a long dead civilization and awakening an ancient evil.
  • The theme was originally going to be “Fight on no matter what,” with epigraphs taken from “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas.  However, he is contemporary enough that his poem is still in Copyright, so I was unable to use it without obtaining permission.
  • The story floundered for two years–I’d write the first paragraph down (sometimes more), but each time I’d be unsatisfied with the way it turned out.  It never made it past the first couple of paragraphs.
  • I was determined to write it this year and I was originally going to write it to be submitted for Visions IV.  It was the 1st story I started working on in 2016.  I then reread the guidelines and saw that stories for that anthology needed to be in space not on a planet and so I had to switch from writing WarLight to Ship of Shadows.
  • After, I had finished and edited Ship of Shadows, I thought it would be easy to finish up WarLight.  Boy, was I wrong!  I still had the same problems and issues as before, not having a way to illustrate my theme and not understanding enough about my main character (named Tyrian in early drafts).
  • Finally, in late April/early-mid May, I happened to be going through my Literature books and remembered “Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  I was able to adapt that poem to my use for epigraphs and also to refine my theme to be “find something to live for even in the face of great tragedy.”
  • I copped out on the original ending.  I needed another day to finish it, but I had literally an hour before the place where my “beta readers” worked closed, so I wrote a dreadful ending.  I wrote the “real” ending over the weekend and emailed it to the beta readers, but I don’t know which one they prefer yet–although I know which one I prefer.
  • The artwork is by the artist Geoffroy Thoorsen via ArtStation and you can find his work there and at his website (DjahaLcom).  The title of the piece is called “The Demon Killer,” and the suit is similar to what I’m hoping to convey to readers of the story.  This is another artist I would love to work with in the future.  He “gets” my type of sci-fi.
  • I plan to revise it when it is time to submit to Carrol Fix’s next Visions anthology.
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Mini-Reviews (Warcraft & Hitman: Agent 47)

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So, this post was going to be the Author’s Note for “Project Light,” but I was unhappy with the ending, so I’m in the middle of rewriting it.

I saw two video game related movies this week, so I’ll touch on that instead and revisit Project Light.

WARCRAFT (No Spoilers)

This is the first movie that I saw this week and it is a competently made movie.  My grade for it would be C+/B- if you like Fantasy (probably a full grade lower if you don’t).  It isn’t a bad movie (certainly not the travesty that the movie critics/reviewers would have you think), but it isn’t a top-tier movie.  The acting is fine and the special effects are pretty cool.  The problem (mostly) is with the story.  Many of the motivations of the characters seem pretty thin–they do things and tell the audience why they are doing those things, but many times you are wondering “why?”  For instance, the “bad guy” is bad because he couldn’t fight the “power” that was making him bad.  Well, why go looking into that power to begin with?  I’m sure that the lore of the world of Warcraft explains it all, but without context, it makes it hard for the audience to follow.  For instance, the scene with Luke Skywalker training with the probe with Ben Kenobi while Han is skeptical in Star Wars: A New Hope explains both Ben’s and Han’s world views.  To Ben, there is Force that guides and helps, if you’re willing to believe.  Han only believes in what he can see, hear, feel.  During the “trench run,” Ben’s disembodied voice reminds Luke to “Use the Force.”  Luke has to make a choice: Faith vs Technology.  Does he believe that there is a high “Force” that will guide him, or is he bound be the technology around him: his ship, his computers, what he can sense in the physical world only?  This is a very human choice and the outcome of the story rests on that choice.  Warcraft is missing those type of scenes.  The characters may say they want one thing or another, but their actions don’t convey their convictions.  Without spoiling the movie, there is a scene where someone clearly cheats and goes agains the “honor” of the people.  Yet, that person is still followed by the people.  Why?  Fear, not wanting to change, or some other reason?  The answer is not clear, but even though much is made of honor, they still chose to follow one who clearly has no honor.  There are simply too many of those to ignore.  It doesn’t ground itself in “human” choices and as such doesn’t connect as well as the top tier movies do.

hitman_agent_47-wideHitman: Agent 47

Hitman: Agent 47 suffers from a different set of problems, although lack of motivation is still central to why it also doesn’t work.  I would grade this one as a D+ (Below Average).  The main problem with Hitman is that the script/story doesn’t know who it wants to be as the protagonist.  It really wants to have two protagonists: Agent 47 and Katia (the woman featured above).  The story doesn’t have a clear view of the characters and doesn’t present them to us well in the movie.

This is one of those times when the cliche “style over substance” is appropriate.  To the movie, gunplay and stylish kills are more important than anything else in the world.  They prioritize cool gun work and fight scenes over characters and story construction.  You’ll wonder why certain characters are acting the way they are even more in this movie that in Warcraft.  There are many stories that could be told in this movie: Revenge, Redemption, Protege, etc., but because the filmmakers aren’t sure which character is the protagonist, the story that is told is very fragmented and doesn’t hold together well.

While I was watching the movie, The Mask of Zorro kept coming to mind.  This would have been an awesome “Protege” movie had the filmmakers decided that Katia was the protagonist.  The problem is that would have meant relegating 47 to the background, something that the filmmakers weren’t willing to do.  This movie could have really been a hit, but this is one time where having a license to a character really hurt a licensed movie as there was no consensus on a clear protagonist.

Writing to Music (Chronicles of Narnia Soundtrack)

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I’m in the middle of writing “Project Light.”  Literally, I’m right in the middle of the project.  It will have 5 total sections and I’ve completed two of them and I’m at the midway point of section 3.  To say that it has been an long hard journey would be an understatement.  For the reasons why, please check the blog entry before this one and it should give you some context for why this story has 1) been floating in my mind for a while and 2) why it isn’t nearly as easy to write as something like Here Be Monsters.

To make the journey easier, I’ve gone back to doing something that I’ve done for a while, but discarded–picking a movie soundtrack and writing the story based on the “feeling” that I get from the soundtrack.  When I write, I try to pick (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) the soundtrack that I own (& I buy quite a few per year) that best matches the “tone” of the story.  Now, I should probably clarify: when I say soundtrack, that refers really to the film’s score and any additional tracks that may come with it.  Actually, songs/soundtracks (music with words) aren’t really that helpful to me as the words of the songs generally get into my way when I’m actually composing/drafting my work.  I do find some songs useful sometimes as they establish the “tone” that I’m going for (light, dark, dramatic, playful), but when I’m actually writing the work, I only want to accompanying music so that I can find the right words to illustrate the “picture” that I see in my mind’s eye.

Setting the Tone

I thought for this entry I would choose 2-3 of my favorite tracks and link to them.  First, I think it is important to show what purpose they music plays in my writing and second, I’d like to show how picking the right music can help you by putting you in the right frame of my mind.

WARNING: These are YouTube videos and (usually) begin to play right away.  While they ARE appropriate (no bad language), if you have the volume all the way up or you are at work or school and could get into trouble for watching/listening to videos, you may want to turn the volume down or wait until you get home to listen to these tracks.

Winter Light by Tim Finn

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This is the first track that I start up and it establishes the “mood” of “Project Light.”  There is a melancholy timbre to the track that I think works great for the project.  The words, however, are ultimately hopeful.  That is what I hope to portray in the story–a sort of melancholy hopefulness that says, “hey, everything is pretty awful right now, but keep striving and things could be better.”

The Battle by Harry Gregson-Williams

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This is my go to piece when I’m writing a battle scene or exciting action scene.  I like the slow build-up to the thunderous music, but right in the middle after the choir finishes, there is a section that is just genius.  The music builds a second time and there is a moment when all the orchestra and choir drops out and you are left with just percussion and horns that really inspires me and pushes me deeper into the story.  Every time I hear that section, its like the picture in my mind crystalizes and I can see it perfectly and it’s just up to my fingers to find the correct words to get it down into the computer before it fades away.  (I’m listening to it as I type these very words and even after hearing the music all week, this song still gives me chills.)

Can’t Take It In by Imogen Heap

chronicles of narnia

This one I use because I simply like the music.  It has a hopefulness, that unlike Winter Light, is completely free on melancholy.  This one reminds me of the wonder of writing, or creating, of bringing something that existed only in my mind to fruition.  It also helps to remind me of the wonder of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  There is a graceful expression of the joy the genre brings to me when it is done correctly.

There are many other fine tracks on the soundtrack.  If you are interested, you can find the whole soundtrack in many places.  I just wanted to illustrate a tool that I’m using to help me finish “Project Light.”  I hope you enjoy the songs!

“Project Light”-A Science Fiction Story

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The above picture is a painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.  It is a painting of the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” made famous by the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  I am using this poem as an epigraph for my story “Project Light.”  I am also using the poem to help define the theme of the story.  I’ll do a proper Author’s Note on the story after I finish it, but I wanted to jot down my reactions on creating this story up to this point.

This is the story that I wanted to work on after Ship of Shadows (aka “Project Shadow”).  However, this story wasn’t coming together.  I knew the main character, I knew the plot, I knew how I wanted the story to end, but this story would not come together.  Here are 3 reasons why (after reflecting about it and looking at it through the lens of hindsight):

  1. It was conceived in the weeks after my grandmother died.  It was conceived as sort of an elegy to her.  A celebration of her strength and determination and of living well despite a life of unfulfilled dreams.  She often lamented that she was born “50 years too soon.”  It staggers my mind and boggles me when I think of all of the opportunities that she missed now that the world has changed.  I wanted a way to celebrate her in writing and this story came to me.  This is an emotional story to write as I want to get it right and I’ll accept nothing less than “perfection” for this particular story.
  2. As a result of number one above, it is a very personal story.  The hero has more of “me” (the author) in him than any of my other stories.  To be clear, the main character is NOT me, the author.  It just means that at any given time their are more of my thoughts and traits in him than for other protagonists that I’ve created.  In other words, I’ve made up “less” and reached into myself “more” when illustrating the things he does, where as other main characters, I’ve tried to pull out my own personal traits and thoughts and put in the traits/thoughts of others who I’ve run across.  This probably the most “autobiographical” story that I’ve done (which just means that the rejections are going to be harder to take whenever I do finish and start submitting this story)
  3. It deals with a number of topics that are (to put it bluntly) pretty harsh.  It deals with the idea of losing ones family, of continuing through on through the pain of loss, and of the nature of death.  I’ve been in a college classroom where a student unbeknownst to me committed suicide and I was asked if I knew him because I sat only a few seats from him.  I’ve been in another college classroom where a classmate died only a few weeks before the class was finished because he didn’t have medical insurance and refused to go to the doctor due to the cost.

None of these things are easy to deal with.  Add to the fact that I try to use my writing and reading to “escape” from these topics mean that this story is hard to write to say the least. My sci-fi and my fantasy are the very definition of escapism.  Yet this story demands to be written.  Like another story I have in mind (another “hard to write” one–for different reasons), it will NOT leave my mind.  I can see it just as well as I see this one and eventually I’m going to have to put it down on paper as well.

Yet, I can’t make myself to give into the “Grim Dark” movement that is currently so popular.  Will my protagonist make it out or will he succumb to darkness?  The plan is that he will come out, but will be forever changed by his experience.  And that, to Edgar Allan Poe (creator of the short story form) and to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (author of The Charge of the Light Brigade) is very purpose of fiction: to inform, to elucidate, and to illuminate the human condition.