Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Merlin's Heir Series --- My Original World

I'm going to talk a bit about writing in your own universe. In this case, it's writing in the world of Merlin's Heir.

Up to now, most of my writing has been either in fanfiction (Anime series), or in a shared universe (Battletech). Both are universes created by someone else, and everything is laid out --- the main characters, locations, situations, even the technology/magical level, all established and need only the story and original characters (main or supporting). In fanfiction, I'm a great believer in staying within the universe created by the anime series, so my stories are clearly in the universe set out by the creators. With Battletech, most of the universe is set in stone, and even my fanfiction based in that universe is with the confines set by those markers. My profession Battletech writing is even more closely settled in the universe.

On the other hand, original stories are harder to write, because everything in an original story has to come from the author. “Well, d’oh,” you might be saying, “that’s what an original story is.”

True, but until you sit down and begin thinking it through, you may not realize how much stuff a story needs. There’s the obvious things: characters, plot, and locations. But original stories need so much more.

In the Merlin Heir series, magic is a large part of the books’ theme, but I need to create the magical rules system that the hero must operate under. And since magic is not a set of laws I can go ahead and look up when I need to, I need to create them and establish what the hero can and can't do with magic. I have to create a system so not only do I understand it, but so does the reader.

For some reason I cannot understand, I set the Merlin’s Legacy in a small town in Maine. Yes, Maine. (I guess my subconsciousness likes Murder, She Wrote when it came to the planning phase if things, as I've never read Steven King.) Somehow, setting the novel here in Florida doesn't feel right, while Maine does. What hurts is I've never been to Maine, cannot afford to travel to Maine , and I don’t have any friends up there to ask for background on Maine. I have to research Maine and get enough details for a convincing background (travel guide, Wikipedia, and websites.) On the plus side, Merlin’s Legacy and Merlin’s Staff are set in that part of Maine. On the minus side, Merlin’s Trial is mostly set in San Francisco, while Merlin’s Courtship is primarily set in Boston. So, two more cities I've never visited need to be researched.

(If anyone living in Maine, San Francisco, or Boston want to share their experiences or local knowledge of these areas, I will not say no.)

Then there is the small stuff. My main character uses Latin to call up his spells, while the main villain uses German. Another character uses the Fae language (Gaelic that I've slightly altered) for her spells. I also have Arthurian elements that I need to blend into the story. The right characters need to be snarky at the right time.

If this sounds like i'm complaining, I'm not. In some ways, it's liberating. It's the difference between riding a bicycle with training wheels and without. And while I'm not ready to leave Battletech anytime soon, being able to do something that is all mine is a good feeling.

I’ll go into some more detail into each Merlin's Heir novel in future posts.


Monday, January 27, 2014

My Original Writing update

I mentioned in my first post of the year that I had goals involving completing novels. I've talked about my Battletech writing in my other blog (, so I won't repeat it here. This is about my original writing.

I have three of them partially written, all three are urban fantasy, all three part of the same series and I need to finish all three of them! They are a part of a series I’m calling “Merlin’s Heir,” and the three are called Merlin’s Legacy, Merlin’s Trial, and Merlin’s Courtship. I have an idea for a fourth novel, one what would slide in between Legacy and Trial, called Merlin’s Staff, but that is in the future....

So, what does this mean?

It means that my goal is to finish first drafts of both Legacy and Trial before the end of this year, and keep anyone reading this blog up to date on my progress. That includes posting scenes from the novels and comments on the scene.As for the current status, Legacy stand at about 60,000 words, after several false starts, while Trial stands at about 30,000 words. Courtship is over 50,000 words, but I'm putting that on the back burner for now to concentrate on Legacy and Trial. 

Legacy is first up. It's fifteen chapters so far, of a projected thirty-two, but I think the number of chapters will be more like forty or more. I already see things I need to go back and fix, so I have to resist the urge to go back and start revising. It's hard, but I must continue forward.

I’m new at this, so if I don’t post as promised, it’s because I haven’t written the blog. I know I’m setting myself up for a hard year, but I need to do something to get my (mostly) fat ass in gear....


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Useful websites for writers (January).

As I said in my last two posts, I'm a packrat. But I do have a few places I visit on a regular basis, to check out what other people are saying. I will be sharing these sites on a regular basis (I hope!).

I am more drawn toward self publishing, as today's technology is making it easier for anyone with a story to publish it. Most of the websites I find and follow are self-publishing (Or independent authors is a term that is gaining ground among the people involved.)

I recommend the following four websites for the business end of writing right off the bat. I find these people's advice worth considering, and mostly are reachable, usually through the blog's comments section. They are (in no particular order):

Kristine Kathryn Rusch ( – Author/editor/publisher. She knows the business like few others and every Thursday, her blog, “The Business Rusch,” covers topics in the publishing business that are extensive and well written. I recommend her posts on publishing contracts, agents (and why you must think very carefully about employing one) and the ways the pushing business is handling the sudden changes (Hint: not very well) as must reads. She looks mostly at the business end of writing, and how today’s author can take advantage of it.

Dean Wesley Smith ( – Kristine’s husband and an author in his own right. I recommend both the “Think like a Publisher” and “Killing the Scared Cows of Publishing” series. As a bonus, he's blogging every day about his daily activities and about the amount of writing he’s doing, as an exercise to prove you don’t have to write eight hours a day to make progress.

Joel Friedlander ( — Writing is only half the job. Joel’s website helps with the other half — most on promotion, formatting and book covers. Every month, he has a self-publishing book cover competition where author send in the cover of their book, and Joel comments on the best and worse of the entries. and every weekend, he has a list of links to blog posts his readers find interesting, and a mega list at the end of each month. Highly educational.

Joana Penn ( In addition to her highly informative blog, Joanna has a regular podcast, in which her and a guest will discuss some aspect of the writing life and profession. I have a couple of dozen of her podcasts on my computer (She has over a hundred and fifty of them!) and listen to them when I can.

There are other sites, and I will post a few more at a later time. I am learning things at an incredible rate, and it's hard to keep up with them all. But I will try....


Monday, January 20, 2014

I’m A Packrat (Part II)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a packrat. I am a packrat for information of all types, free if possible, because my budget for books is almost nonexistent these days.

Lately, my collection efforts have been focused on the new world of Self-Publishing.

I’m going into this blind: I have no idea about this new world, so as I’m writing, I’m also collecting information on all aspects of the this new world. Everything from writing to publicity, to book covers, pricing and how-tos. All of it is useful to me, and from these pieces of thread, I hope to create my own tapestry. I have websites of all types that I try to check on a regular basis, but I find that I rely on both Facebook and Twitter for leads.

I follow a number of authors on Twitter and Facebook, and nearly every time they tweet a link to a webpage, I go look at it. If I think I can use the information, I save it to a thumb drive that I use exclusively for that sort of data. Now the the thumb drive (2GB) is nearly full, now is the time to start reading and making notes on the webpages’ contents and start creating my own instruction course in self-publishing . If I can gather enough useful stuff on a subject, I’ll post it here.

It's constructing a 10,000-piece puzzle, with only a hazy idea about how it's going to look. It isn't going to be quick or simple, but I am to be doing this for the long-term.

Done enough 'Net surfing today, back to writing!


Thursday, January 16, 2014

I’m A Packrat (Part 1)

Well, two weeks' posts down......

I admit it, I’m a packrat. I'm not quite a hoarder (Though other people may argue that point), but I do need to clean out the piles every so often.

What does this mean as a writer? It means I have books that I read for pleasure, and a large number of books I use for reference. Books on magic, weapons, martial arts, chess, history, quotes, writing, and science. Books on writing, editing, marketing and the like. I also have a number of Ebooks that expand on those physical books, so I have many reference sources I can get without hopping onto the Internet and getting sidetracked.

I like checking out the discount tables at the local bookstore or supercenters, looking for books on subjects I might need for my future writing. The Internet is fine as a resource, but I prefer using my collection of books as my primary source. They're accessible at any time, and it's a good way to take a break without takng a break.

But there are times I need to go to the ’Net, When I find the page I want, I save it off and put it onto a thumb drive. Then I can read through the article at my leisure, or when I need to refer to it. Looking over my stack of stuff, I see saved webpages like “The Ten Rules of Surveillance Dystopia,” “Chinese Numerals,” “The Geopolitical Powderkegs Most Likely to Start the Next Major War,” and “1,700-year-old Tablet Reveals Ancient Magical Curses.” I have wikipedia entries on a number of subjects, either for stories I have written, for future stories, or because I think I can use it for a story idea.

More on my packrat nature in my next post.


(Edit: I just saved off this webpage: What kind of armor did Medieval women really wear? This is the type of stuff I save off, in case I need it)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Writing for Battletech

Wow, start of the second week, and I'm still on track, blog-wise.....

Anyhow, I thought I'd talk a little bit about writing in someone else's universe.

Writing in someone else’s universe has some advantages and disadvantages. I’ve found it to be a middle step between Fanfiction and original writing, and allows me to create a story without having to worry about background details.

World-building takes a large chunk of an author's pre-writing time. Even in a modern tale with nothing fantastic in it, the author still to needs to do some world building. In fantasy and science fiction, the world-building is even more extreme. The Dresden Files, even thought its set in Modern Chicago, has a lot of world-building in it. The Lord of the Rings is another example of author world-building, as is any high fantasy novel involving far away lands and fantastic creatures. Science Fiction such as Ringworld, Honor Harrington, or the Foundation series are all examples of (mostly) one or two people's creative thought.

But there are universes that already have the world-building done. Star Trek and Star Wars are well-known examples of world-building (Actually, universe-building, but it's the same thing on a large scale). These are usually owned by a company, who allow authors to write stories based in these universes. There's no need to create the background, just create the story and use either established characters, use new ones, or have a mix of both.

The use of Fiction in gaming is a well established one. It's a gateway to draw in new players, as well as a way for players to enjoy the universe without ever picking up a die. Dungeon and Dragons is an example of a gaming universe that uses fiction, as does Warhammer 40,000. Battletech has over a hundred novels published and hundreds of short stories in it's nearly thirty years existence.

As I said, the biggest plus to writing in someone elses’ universe is the background and groundwork is already been done, and I, as the writer, have to just take advantage of it. There are literally a hundred sourcebooks (both in print and electronic form) ranging from complete backgrounds on the major states, their military (uniforms, rank, units, command structure), maps showing the borders, planetary details (for most major worlds), vehicles and technology. I don’t have to think out how the equipment works, or how a character gets from Planet A to Planet B. All I need to do is supply the characters and the story. It’s not as simple as that, but a large chunk of the background is already there.

The characters are almost all my creation. Unlike fanfiction in which most writers take the established characters from the fandom they writing about, Battletech doesn't need to use established characters. After all, there are over a dozen faction (Or more, depending on when the story is set), two thousand named worlds, and billions of people in this universe. As I’m writing short stories, I don’t need to use major figures in the Battletech Universe. They’re for major events and novels for the most part (Though a few BC authors have used established characters, usually to add events and details to the character’s background.)

In all the stories I've had published, I've only used one established character and only as a cameo near the end of the story. I've written characters from all the major factions and a couple of the minor ones. Most have been soldiers, but I've also written about intelligence agents, police officers, native guides, farmers, singers, and priests.

As for the stories, conflict is part of this universe, as the factions fight for power, either among themselves or with the neighboring states. Sometimes, these conflict are front and center in the story, while others are part of the background. Some stories are set on the battlefield, while others are set in the shadows and backwaters of any of a hundred worlds.

All of these characters interact easily with the world around them, because I know how they should act. I know what they can drink, how they address a superior officer, what sort of weapons they use, what customs they are use to, and even what lingo they use. I know the history of the time the story is set in, the events going on, and what effect they might have on the story. I know what sort of story will work, and which one won't, and where I can get away with something unusual without breaking the continuity of the universe.

So, what’s the down side?

What I write stories for the game, I am working under what is called, “Work for Hire.” That means that the company owns the rights to the story, characters, and anything else connected to the story. I am paid, and that’s the end of my control of the story. The company decides when and how they publish it, and at what price. I can’t publish nor sell the stories myself. My characters can be used by another author (though I hope I will be contacted and asked about it first as a courtesy). It is to do with as the company pleases, though the company, Catalyst Games Labs, and Battlecorps Fiction Editor, Jason Schmitzer, has been fair and easy to work with.

Also, because of the depth of background, there are some limits to what I can do as a writer in this universe. No aliens, no super weapons or super technology, no fantasy elements like magic or mythical creatures, and no changing of the established history or events. I can have a ghost of a character's sister talk to him only because I establish that the character is recovering from a mental breakdown when circumstances force him to fight an invader. I'm not allowed to write scenes of explicit sex, graphic violence, or extreme language (keeping in mind that children and teenagers will likely be reading the story) and must follow the established style guidelines. All that is fine, as I know that coming in.

But writing for Battletech has allowed me to become a better writer, by forcing me to work at it. Despite all the stories I have published, any story I submit can easily be rejected by Jason, Battlecorps' fiction editor, if he doesn't like the story. And I have had stories rejected -- not as many as I've had accepted, but enough to remind me I can’t coast just because Jason knows I can write. I must prove myself every single time I submit a story. I have learned to revise, to take criticism, write tighter, and write to a deadline. All are things that I wouldn't have experienced if I wasn't writing for the company.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Writing Background: Battletech

I am using this blog entry and the next one to talk about where most of my professional writing has been the last couple of years – Battletech fiction. I have a separate blog that deals with Battletech, but I thought a little bit of background would help understand me a bit better. For those who want to see it, my Battletech Blog is here:

For those of you unfamiliar with Battletech, it is a tabletop game first produced in 1985. Played on a hex map, the game involves battles between walking weapons of war, (called BattleMechs or ’Mechs for short) Supported by armor, infantry, and spacecraft, the ’Mechs are the main instruments of a nearly never-ending series of wars between interstellar states.

But what make Battletech unique is the detail that goes into the universe. Over nearly thirty years, a detailed universe has arisen, tracing the expansion of humanity, the creation of interstellar states, and the rise of a central authority and the “Golden Era” of a Star League. A golden era that was shattered when the ruler of the Star League was assassinated and an usurper takes his place, After a blood civil war, the Star League is shattered into it’s components states: five major interstellar states, known collectively as the Great Houses, and the smaller Periphery states.

The amount of detail that has been created over the last thirty years is staggering: a detailed timeline from 2010 to 3145, deep background on the empires – history, economy, military forces, religious groups, and politics. Each state has it’s own identity, each has it’s heroes and villains and each has triumphs and tragedies.

A key part of the games success is based on the fiction that supports it. Over a hundred novels, and four to five times as many short stories covering several hundred years of that history have been written. Characters are born, grow up, love, and die.

What does this have to do with me? I’ve written twenty short stories that have been e-published on the Battlecorps website, a subscription-based website, and is the only place to get canon fiction based on the Battletech Universe.  I currently have over 160,000 words that have been published on the website, and one of my stories, “My Father’s Sword,” is in the Battlecorps Anthology, Onslaught (

It'll be five years in March since the first story was published, and my success has lead me into other areas of the gaming line where I can contribute. I have written parts of the Battletech sourcebooks over the last couple of years: Total Chaos, Field Manual: SLDF, and IP3: Interstellar Expeditions. Also, I’ve written several scenarios, some unit backgrounds, and 3145 Technical Readout entries. I was the main writer for the pdf-only product, Field Report 2765: Draconis Combine, and have contributed to several other products in a non-writing capacity.

That has been the sum of my “professional” writing to this point, but I want to expand beyond that. But make no mistake, Battletech will continue to be a part of my writing for the foreseeable future.

In the next part, I’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantage of writing in someone else’s universe.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Looking ahead at 2014 — Writing Resolutions

Well, 2013 could have gone better.....

On the plus side, I did complete the NaWriNoMo for the second year in a row. But everything else....

My writing goals for 2013 fell apart around the beginning to middle of April. It was about then that I realized that my goals were unrealistic. So, let’s rethink this....

Instead of concentrating on the word count, I’m going to concentrate on real results: the number of stories I actually write. My goals for this year, 2014 are:

  • Six stories based in the Battletech Universe, for the Battlecorps website.
  • Six original short stories.
  • Complete the first draft of two novels.

It sounds ambitious, but looking at the number of half completed short stories and novels, it’s not a matter of starting stores, it’s a matter of finishing them. I have in excess of twenty-five short stories that haven’t been finished, and three novels that each have more than 50,000 words written. I have to start finishing these stories, and see if anyone will read them.

In addition, I need to keep blogging, because I sucked last year in keeping this or my other blog updated. I actually have two blogs, this one and The Battletech State (TBS). This is for my original writing, while TBS will be about the Battletech universe and my writing in it. I want to post two entries on each blog a week, Monday and Thursdays for this blog, and Tuesdays and Fridays for TBS. That means I have to do a lot of writing about both subjects.

Isn’t this fun?