Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Something for Good Intentions Fans

I don't want anyone thinking that I've forgotten about my other series.

Yeah, I know, its' not a short story or anything, but haven't you always wanted to see what Molly and Onyx look like?

This one was done on commission by scarypet on DeviantArt, whose stuff is gorgeous.



At some point, I think these two really need their own book.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Writing Military Fiction: Resources

This weekend at Norwescon in Seattle turned out to be one of the most mind-blowing weekends of my life. I went to my first SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) meeting, hung out with my regular cover artist Lee Moyer and his assistant Venetia, and got to meet the incredible Cat Rambo and Hugo-winning artist Julie DillonJennifer Brozek was super gracious and offered a lot of great advice to me about being on panels. Honestly, I could go on with the shout-out-fest until it just got ridiculous (Annie Bellet! Erik Scott de Bie! See what I mean?)

This was my first time as an "attending pro." I've never had an interaction with a pro at Norwescon where I didn't feel completely welcome and appreciated, but being a fellow pro does bring a new context to it. This weekend was something I've wanted for years.

Part of that was the chance to be one of the folks up at the table of panelists. The panel on writing steamy fic (and fanfic, as if that's any different) was such a riot that my face hurt at the end. The panel that made me want to come home and share things on my blog, though, was the one on Writing About the Military. I felt privileged to be on it, and I made sure to put together a list of resources for attendees that I wanted to share here.

These are all resources I use in my writing, or books & authors whose influence I continue to feel while writing even if I don't reach for them.

The biggest influence in my writing is, of course, my prior military experience. Four years in uniform will teach you an awful lot, and everyone on that panel, male and female, was a veteran. A couple of them were combat vets, who will tell you that you really can't understand combat unless and until you've been there. Obviously, there's a lot of truth to that, but it shouldn't hold you back in your writing. A good writer should make every reasonable effort to speak with people who've been in (or at least close to) the situations they want to write about, though.

As an important aside to that: I've had a number of military vets, including combat vets, write to me privately or leave reviews to say that I have really nailed combat in my books. I've had others say that I'm on crack and that my protagonists wouldn't last two minutes in real combat. I fully believe that both of these reactions are true. Mileage always varies. Those two different reactions come from very different places, but they are both real and legitimate places deserving of respect.

At any rate: my list of links and books that will hopefully be helpful to other writers out there.

LINKS

US Navy Style GuideShort, easy reference for modern military writing grammar, mechanics, etc. Obviously I don't follow this to 100% accuracy in my books, but then, I am writing about a futuristic space navy.

Dictionary of Navy Slang: Accurate, explicit and often very amusing. It goes on, and on, and on.

Official Department of the Army Publications and Forms: It's just plain stunning how much material the US military offers for free. Manuals, tech documents...if you wonder how something works, this is a great place to start digging.

Medal of Honor Society Archive: Every medal comes with a citation explaining why it was awarded. This site collects most if not all of the citations for the Medal of Honor. If you're wondering whether or not your protagonist's battlefield heroics are over the top, check here for the real thing. Fair warning, though: some of this stuff is just as unbelievable as anything you'll see in fiction. If you want to take it that far, you need to earn it with your readers.


Victoria Cross Registers: Offers much the same benefits as the MoH link above, but with a different country's perspective -- and with fascinating scans of primary source documents. I'm a history nerd. I think this is amazing.


Basics of Shipboard Life: Honestly, I lean more on personal experience and my old Coastie's manual, but this is a good online resource for people who don't have such things handy.


US Naval Academy Because your space captain probably learned something in school, right?


This blog post by Chuck Wendig about GUNS GUNS GUNS is super useful.


Interrogations: If there's one thing I would point to about how Hollywood consistently Gets It Wrong, it's interrogations -- in cop shows, in espionage dramas, and in military fic. Yes, abuse and torture happen. They happen all too often. In addition to being morally wrong, though, it's stupid. Hurting your prisoner/suspect doesn't get him to tell you the truth. It gets him to tell you whatever you want to hear in order to stop the pain, and that's a very, very different thing from truth.
Forget about 24. The Commandant of West Point arranged a meeting with that show's producers to explain to them how they were quite literally hurting our military with their product. The show's top dog didn't even have it in him to make the meeting.

An even better resource than the article above is the US Army Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook. Again, I'm not saying violence, torture and abuse don't happen. I am, however, saying that writing that into fiction as effective and justifiable methods is inexcusably lazy and stupid. There are better techniques and experts have explained how they work. Use them. Be unique. Don't be lazy. Don't be Hollywood.


BOOKS

WAR IS A RACKET by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC (ret). This should be required reading in our high schools, or at least for anyone considering a military career. It's a product of its time, and Butler's voice is more than a little quirky, but to me that just makes it all the more engaging. Butler warns of the military-industrial complex years before Eisenhower's farewell address. This is not a book about writing on life within the military, but if you're going to write such a tale, you need this perspective.

WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR  by Karl Marlantes is just flat-out amazing. I can't think of a non-fiction work that I have read that is more painfully honest. Marlantes is a decorated former Marine officer who offers the sort of war stories that you don't expect: the failures, the missteps, the rash actions that may have been why some comrades didn't come home alive. He also talks about both the awful feelings that go with combat--fear, guilt, doubt--and, perhaps more importantly, the feelings of excitement and even joy that he experienced. As Marlantes relates, one of the greatest problems for vets is that nobody back home wants to hear about that latter half of the experience. Civilians are often eager to pat a veteran's hand sympathetically while hearing about how awful it was, but very few want to hear anything about pride or a sense of triumph if it's going to include any ugly details. There's not a lot of closure for anyone who only gets to explain half of their experiences.

If I have one caveat to offer about this book, it is that it's severely gendered. His book frequently talks about war being a masculine enterprise and only offers up childbirth as a parallel crucible for women, which grates on me. He doesn't say it with malice or disdain. I'm not calling him a sexist so much as I'm saying there's a blind spot. To be fair, the book is grounded in his experience, which was entirely concerned with his masculine viewpoint--but that blind spot is there. Only at the very end did I find any acknowledgement of American women serving in combat. If you can forgive that blind spot, it's a great book. If you can't, you may want to leave it aside...and if you're strongly of that mindset yourself, I'm not sure how you wound up following me as a writer.  :)

The Making of a Legionnaire by Bill Parris and Life in the French Foreign Legion by Evan McGorman, because you shouldn't limit yourself to just the US military. I've always been fascinated by the Legion. They're about as different as you can get while still being a modern "Western" military. They pick up recruits from all over the world. Melding different regional cultures together in the US military is enough of a trick, but what the Legion pulls off with global cultures is just amazing, and I've heard nothing but firm endorsements of the Legion's capabilities from military professionals who have worked with them.

The Combat Leader's Field Guide and The Ranger Handbook. So many straightforward nuts-and-bolts explanations and diagrams. These are extremely useful. Even when you're not writing about things "by the book," they are wonderful for helping you keep perspective.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Favorite Bad Habit: Art Commissions

As I've mentioned before, my favorite new hobby is all about commissioning artists to create illustrations of characters from my books. I love seeing what different artists will do with the information and ideas I give them. Part of it is a matter of developing some concept art, because even I'm not 100% sure what the futuristic setting of Poor Man's Fight looks like. I've been working on that, though (or, more accurately, I've had some artists working on it), and here's what I've got so far:



Russel Roehling put together this piece and delivered it for me at Emerald City Comic Con this past weekend. His stuff is gorgeous! The slight blurring effect at the bottom happened because the picture doesn't quite fit into my scanner, but you're not missing anything for it. I love how much energy Russ puts into his art. A lot of artists I talk to are happy to do relatively still portraits, but Russ is more than happy to put some action into his work. I'll be going back to him for more!




This one was done by Chuck Pires, who I found on DeviantArt. I offered him a couple of different concepts, but in the end, the thought of highlighting the "Cinderella In Space" aspect of Poor Man's Fight kinda won us both over. He offered a quick escalation of poses from "tired and miserable" to "seriously irritated" and finally the full FML treatment above, which makes me very happy.




I've shown this one before: Alicia and Janeka, as drawn by Lelia, another artist I found through DeviantArt. Feels like it should make a second appearance here with the others, y'know? This one came to me without as many step-by-step check-ins as I've had with other art, so when I saw the final product I was really thrilled.

More art is on the way. There's a piece with Casey in it that's so close to being finished I may just add it to this post as an edit. Another piece underway will be an ensemble of most of the pirates from Vengeance. That one's being done by Tadd Galusha, who recently did this glorious Ninja Turtles cover for IDW. I've also got a lady in the Philippines working on a portrait of Molly & Onyx from Good Intentions that has me really excited -- I'm almost tempted to show the preliminary rough sketch, because it's awesome enough all by itself.

Again, if by any chance you'll be at Norwescon this coming weekend, I'll be there, too! Check my previous post for details.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Conventions! Audiobooks! Exclamation Points!

Gosh, it's been a while since I updated, huh? Guess I've been a bit busy! Lots of news to relate here.

First things first: If you're in the Seattle-ish area, I'll be making my first convention appearance as a panelist at Norwescon from April 2 - 5. This year's Author Guest of Honor is kind of a big deal (George RR Martin), so it's looking to be a bigger-than-usual con. I'm told selection for panelists & such was pretty competitive this year, so I'm excited to have been chosen!
My schedule for the con has me on the following panels:

Name All the Things!
Thu 5:00pm-6:00pm - Evergreen 1&2
Dean Wells (M), Frances Pauli, Erik Scott de Bie, Brenda Carre, Elliott Kay

One-on-One Combat for Writers
Fri 10:00am-11:00am - Evergreen 3&4
GregRobin Smith (M), Norman K. Moss, Bill Gruner, A.M. Brosius, Ogre Whiteside, Michael 'Tinker' Pearce, V Whitlock, Ann Schilling, Alan Paulsen
(I'm not on the published schedule for this one, but the track lead invited me this weekend and I jumped at the chance. This is a great panel.)

Writing About the Military
Fri 4:00pm-5:00pm - Cascade 7&8
Russell Ervin (M), Bart Kemper, S. A. Bolich, Jennifer Brozek, Joseph Malik, Elliott Kay

Level Up Your Indie Skillset
Sat 6:00pm-7:00pm - Cascade 9
Matt Youngmark (M), Annie Bellet, Luna Lindsey, Elliott Kay

Beyond Insert Tab A Into Slot B
Sat 9:00pm-10:00pm - Cascade 6
18+ Only, please

Zap! Pow! Bam!
Sun 3:00pm-4:00pm - Cascade 9
Grant Riddell (M), Elliott Kay, Erik Scott de Bie, Craig English

Norwescon has been an annual event for me since I arrived in Seattle ten years ago. I've been a regular attendee, I've been a vendor('s boyfriend), I've found myself in after-hours room parties until far too late at night, and now I'm an attending pro! Hooray, progress!


But if you're on my blog here, you're probably wondering what I've been up to since my last update. I've been focused on my sci-fi books for the last couple of months. Some of my efforts have been drawn off by edits and proofreads of Poor Man's Fight and Rich Man's War in preparation for its publishing re-launch through Skyscape, but for the most part I've been hard at work writing the still-not-titled Book Three in the series. As I may have noted elsewhere, there's a lot of world-building to do for this one. Tanner is at the end of his enlistment term, with major decisions to face for his life while Archangel, the Kingdom of Hashem, the big corporations and the rest of the Union brawl their way toward a new status quo.

Additionally, I have some more good news if you're a lover of Audiobooks: Audible.com and I have reached a deal for producing audio versions of Good Intentions, Natural Consequences and Days of High Adventure! I can't offer much in the way of details there except for the fact that the papers are signed and I have received word from Audible that the process is underway. We don't have a narrator chosen or a release date yet, but I'm told it should all be a matter of just a few months.

I hope to have more news soon, and if you're at Norwescon, please come say hi!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Traditional Publishing: Achievement Unlocked! I'm Signed with Skyscape!

I’ve been holding out on my readers since about December 4th, and it’s time to come clean.
I really don’t remember much about December 4th. The calendar says it was a Thursday. I know that was a “stay at home and write” day, or at least it was intended to be. Maybe I wrote. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember.

All I remember is this email that turned up in my inbox, with the subject heading, “Hello from Amazon Publishing!”

Kindle and Amazon send out mass emails, of course. They happen. I didn’t expect this to be anything different, but when I opened it up, I found this:

Hi Elliott,

I hope you’re well! I’m writing as an editor for Skyscape, Amazon’s traditional YA/new adult publishing imprint. I encountered POOR MAN’S FIGHT while browsing the Kindle store, and was instantly drawn in by your fantastic description. I purchased the book immediately and read it over the course of one night…

Have you enjoyed your self-publishing experience? And have you ever considered traditional publishing? 

I responded, of course. I had some hopes. But I’ve also learned not to get my hopes up too high since I first started writing these books. I have been contacted by agents before, including agents from very big and reputable companies, and one time a guy in Hollywood working for a yes-for-reals television agency inquired about the rights for Poor Man’s Fight…but usually it’s just a very brief query that doesn’t go far beyond that. So I responded, I mentioned it to some friends, and my hopes perked up more when Miriam (the editor) and I arranged a phone call. But again, I didn’t let those hopes run away with me.

As it turned out, Miriam said pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear: that Skyscape wanted to take Poor Man’s Fight and Rich Man’s War under their label for traditional publishing!

The deal is signed. We’re full speed ahead. I’m actually reviewing copyedits of Poor Man’s Fight now, and I’ve just filled out the first little bits of paperwork for the audio book.

What does all this mean for Poor Man’s Fight, Rich Man’s War, and the following book(s)? Am I gonna have to Young Adult this thing up and take out all the swearing and face-stabbing? Do I have to slap on a WB-style makeover for the characters and set everything to a mopey emo soundtrack? WILL THERE BE HUGE CHANGES?

No. Well, not HUGE changes. The one big change I’m looking at is a name change, because let’s face it, I made a goof when I named Allison, Alicia and Andrea. That’s one too many A-names to track, especially given what they have in common. Allison’s now looking at a name change. Past that, we’re just looking at fixing some editorial mistakes, and I’m very grateful for the help I’m receiving.

However, the action is still there. The language is still there. Tanner is and will remain a serial interstellar blasphemer. Casey is still Casey. Janeka is still Janeka. The books will remain available on Amazon as they currently are until Skyscape re-launches them, which at the moment looks like June of this year. And I’m extremely happy about all of it.

My other books, for the record, are untouched by the deal, and will remain as they are. I don’t find that disappointing at all; I like them just fine as indie-published works. My racy, not-for-kids urban fantasy line will continue. I need to finish with Volume Three of Well, That Escalated Quickly: The Tanner Malone Story (still no projected date on that yet!), and then it will be time to assess where I go next.

The only real change I’m looking at here is the prospect of reaching many, many more readers, and what writer doesn’t want that?


THANK YOU to all my readers—to everyone who left reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, to everyone who mentioned the book to a friend and who emailed me privately to give their thoughts. This ride just keeps getting better, and I’m so truly grateful for all the support!

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's like that joke about God sending boats to the dude in the flood...except totally not.

(This may well sound grumbly, but I swear things are going well for me overall.)

Probably the first rule of becoming a writer is Don't Quit Your Day Job. If it's not, it should be.

I have a day job. I've had the same day job for ten-ish years now. I won't tell you what it is, but it's one of those socially responsible jobs that our society desperately needs to function, and yet going into said job means you often won't be treated well...by society. The job has plenty of drawbacks. You tell people this is your job and they make a face and say, "Wow, I couldn't do that," but they know it needs doing. It's also the sort of job where you need a college degree, and then you need more college after that, but good luck paying it all off on the salary you'll probably make.

For a long time, I liked the job, even though it could often be a drag. My actual time commitments were pretty malleable, though the low pay meant that I worked as often as I possibly could and still didn't really get far ahead. I tried to get more entrenched in my job, in the hopes of both professional growth and improving my economic standing (again, low pay, no benefits at all...not a lot of security). I didn't get very far. Part of that was the downturn in 2008; part of it was just the nature of my field; and, sure, sometimes I got beat out by better candidates. It happened.

I never lacked for dedication, or talent, or diligence. It just didn't get me anywhere. It certainly didn't help my wallet. The truth of the American Dream is that it still involves a lot of luck. I think my favorite quote in the last ten years is from George Monbiot: "If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire."

Writing wasn't a thing I ever planned on doing for a living. It sounds like saying you're gonna grow up to play in the NFL or be a rock star. It doesn't seem practical. I wrote for fun, and things have sort of grown from there.

I still have my day job, but I don't go in a whole lot anymore. That's a wonderful thing, too, because as the years went on and the growth never really happened, the day job became more of a drag than a calling. Good Intentions helped a lot when I went through a brief and entirely predictable bit of seasonal unemployment. Poor Man's Fight pretty much changed my life. Occasionally, a reader or a reviewer will say that Tanner is a bit too heroic, and I think, "Tanner bought me out of debt, paid for multiple book covers and my appendectomy and gave me the best summer vacation I've had in ten years. You're damn right he's a hero!"

The thing is, I'm not what you'd call rich. I'm just finally making what a college-educated guy who just hit 40 should maybe make, contrasted against a pretty modest lifestyle developed from years of not making all that much money.

Again, the rule is: Don't Quit Your Day Job. And I've more or less followed that. I've taken a lot of time off the day job to write, because I love writing and because the writing is demonstrably more profitable. But I haven't quit the day job...I just don't go in a lot anymore.

I went in this week, partly by request. I drove to work today in the car that I bought this summer, the first new car I've ever owned, the car that I could only afford because so many people have been so good to me and my writing.

...aaaaand I got rear-ended about a block away from the office. Trunk and bumper are just smashed. I'm okay, the other guy's okay. He got out of his van and passed along his insurance and he was cool, and given how common hit-and-runs seem to be in Seattle, I'll take that as a blessing. But still: I went in to work like a real person, and naturally my car took the hit.

I think the universe is trying to tell me something.

General updateness:

Tanner: Well, That Escalated Quickly (Book Three) is currently at 33,000 words, and this week I managed to get over a particularly concerning plot point, so I feel like it'll keep rolling along well. I have no projections as to when it'll be done. I desperately WANT to be done by early summer. The last time I shot for that, however, it wound up being late August, which as it turns out isn't the best time to release a book.

I've received confirmation that I'll be an attending pro at Norwescon this year (April 2-5). As the website will tell you, it's the Pacific Northwest's Premiere Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. All these years of being a regular attendee, and now I'll be a panelist!

I'm also working with a few different artists (mostly discovered at conventions or through DeviantArt) for some illustrations of Tanner, Casey & Co. that I'll share once I have them. I've wanted to get some more such pieces done for a while now. It's in the works. Hopefully we'll all like what we see.

As it's a common question, I'll just state here again that yes, I will someday write another book in the Good Intentions series. Maybe after the current book is done, maybe not. I can't say. I love those characters. I feel like there's much more to do with them. But I'm sticking to one book at a time right now.

There's other good news to relay, but I kinda need to keep it under my hat for a little longer just yet.

Couple last bits: I've finally taken to Twitter and Tumblr. Not all that much on either yet, but if you follow those outlets, I'm @ElliottKaybooks on Twitter and I'm elliottkay.tumblr.com on tumblr, obviously. Fair warning: I don't do a whole lot of advertising there. Just a little more of my regular voice getting out into the world.

Take care, everyone!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Good News, for a Change

Not exactly a serious blog post. Book Three is progressing for Tanner. Not much more to tell on that score right now.

But I feel like this should be shouted out from rooftops:

Christian Science Monitor: In a US first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

I'm sure the program will have its flaws. I have no doubt that some vets will slip through the cracks. But the fact that this effort is being made and is having genuinely good effects is wonderful.

Like pretty much anyone, I want to see homelessness ended, for everyone, period. Veterans or not. Salt Lake City is apparently doing great things in that regard. But just from the standpoint of having to start somewhere, this is a beautiful thing.

I drive past homeless people all the time in Seattle. Sometimes I give to panhandlers. Sometimes I don't. But it kills me every time. And I know that Seattle isn't exactly doing nothing, but...I'm so glad to see cities making progress. Here's hoping it spreads.