Monday, October 29, 2012

Djinn World Building

Before I started writing my newest novel "Hero of Fire", I took a few weeks to build a world where Djinn live. I first researched all the classical sources on Djinn including: Arabian Nights, the Talmud, and the Koran. Piers Anthony did a great piece called "Hasan" that I also re-read. I mixed in several non-ficition pieces about the modern day Middle East. There were several odd, unexplained passages in several of the prime source materials that I decided to leverage in with my world.

I decide to predicate everything on one wild theory: Djinn are crystaline-based intelligences, rather than organic carbon. This makes them almost immortal as long as their core-stone isn't accidentally shattered. It also explains why a Sahir with a ruby or fire-opal ring controls the Djinn servant--if he possesses the core, he can threaten to destroy the Djinn.

Then I take this assumption to natural extensions and fit it into the known lore.
+ They must keep bargains because they are written into the information in their core. Any Djinn children would have a copy of this information, making covenants and grudges generational.
+ There can be Djinn analogues to almost every form of life: bacteria, plants, insects, fish, birds, mammals, etc.
+ They generally have more inborn information/languages/historical knowledge than humans but don't bother with reading or school.

Let's start with one Djinn tribe and show how we can rewrite the rules behind the scenes using this secret key. I begin with the most shunned and "evil" tribe--the Ghul (or ghouls). The legends say they don't change forms, but appear as human males. Ghul lurk/dig in graveyards or ambush lone travelers for a snack. Other Djinn disdain them.

The angle: remember the crystal lump from Harry Potter that could cure any poison: the Persian bezoar? Goats and even prehistoric animals had them riding inside. What if the bezoar were the Ghul? What if it takes over the bodies of recently the dead? If someone dying of poison took one, the bezoar could miraculously "heal" him by having him possessed. If their host is too damaged, they need to dig up or "find" a new corpse to inhabit. This technique for interacting would explain the animosity most tribes feel for the Ghul. Those with religious objections or insufficient skill could take over animals. This subtribe is known as the Hinn and would explain why Solomon could speak to birds and use them as spies. It also explains odd passages in the Talmud where a bird or snake touching an unusual diamond becomes intelligent and carries it away.

Does history fit? Add in fears of being buried alive, zombie tales, vampire stories, and Elvis sightings and we have a consistent framework. The health craze in the 1800s of grinding bezoars to dust would have driven them to near extinction. Guns were a horrible invention because they could decimate a host and possibly shatter the stone by accident. Plagues were a good business for the Ghul. I could see Napoleon's return from Elba being a Ghul--he was poisoned a lot. Their culture probably had to adopt rules about taking over famous people and leaving evidence.

Then I pick a concrete Ghul character and tell history from his point of view. My female lead became the former spy Mata Hari. Researching the woman, her life changes radically from a Java military  housewife to a stripper with a made up past--shortly after her family was poisoned by a rival of her husband. In the 1950s, her head disappeared from the museum--because it was medical evidence. Reborn in that era, she would have taken over someone with the face of a starlet; however, she'd still have the same French accent and her eyes would seem similar in photographs.

I can easily spend 30 chapters viewing the world through this skewed lens and challenging my male main character.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Going to the Library

Well, I've been a "professional" writer for six weeks now. How's it going?

Since I started last April, I've sold over 6700 books on Amazon and given away over 12000. 7000 of those were from one promotion of "Dreams of the Fallen". The Traveler epic series has waned over the year and now Jezebel has heated up to become my bread and butter. So why aren't I working on the third book in that series to cash in? I only have three pages of notes for "Sanctuary" because something else lit my fire this month--Djinn. I've had enormous fun detailing the rules, variations, and propaganda surrounding them. I just hit chapter 20 in "Hero of Fire" and the hero is about to strike back. Writing is a great job. I get to study reams of literature and try to recast it in a way that has a life of its own--much more fun than listening to presidential debates.

My most exciting news this week is that the local library has stocked one of each of my paperback books! The first one checked out was the first to become popular, "Doors to Eternity." The librarians there know my family by name. Nancy, the head librarian, asked me to join a local authors event in November and offered a chance to sell some of my books. Great opportunity... but authors seldom know what sells or how much it will sell. I put Doors out at 99 cents initially because none of my friends or Eos wanted to be bothered, and then it hit the top twenty. I'm still scratching my head. So I've decided to bring about 10 copies of Doors because it's a crowd pleaser, 10 of Jez because its hot right now, and 5 of Foundation because it's my favorite. I don't care about the quantity sold because it's really an excuse to talk about writing. Anything I don't sell I can donate to other libraries or give away on a friend's blog.

Renee (the Cover Counts) was already slated to cook up some cards for me at the same time she does the cover for "Hero of Fire". This way, whenever someone is interested at a party, the post office, or on vacations, I can hand them one. This is starting to feel real.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New Release -- Empress of Dreams

Book 3 in the Temple of the Traveler series has been posted -- Empress of Dreams.
Originally written in 1996-2001, the first "book" was written to be standalone; however, it was far too long for one volume. When people liked my other books, I polished this work, added 150 pages, and split the living child in two. The first volume, "Doors to Eternity", reached number 16 on the epic fantasy list by accident when I gave the second volume away as part of a promotion. This even changed my life. I put in for early retirement as a programmer soon after.

This third volume was spurred by two lines in the second book: Queen of the Pirates, and "being a king is like digging a latrine for the whole country." I decided to examine what their happily ever after would be like for the survivors of "Dreams." Originally called "Queen of the Pirates", there wasn't quite enough pirate and the tale ended up being more about Pagaose's trials. A certain minor character hijacked the entire middle of the book. During her first scene, you'll know who I mean. As research, I read such diverse books as "the Bad Popes" and "the Joy of Sex". Try to combine those in your spare time. This book went into edit the week I transitioned to writing full time. I've been told it's the smoothest and raciest so far--adult and humorous without being too explicit.

Priest, eunuch, and history teacher, Pagaose is rewarded by the gods for his good deeds at the conclusion of the epic fantasy “Dreams of the Fallen.” Reshaped into the perfect image of an emperor, Pagaose is dropped from the sky and given three miracles to guide mankind through the three generations with no contact from the gods. While the College of Wizards plots to discredit or kill him, Pagaose must rally the aristocrats by picking a suitable Empress candidate from each country. Each woman offers him alliances as well as enticements that disturb his dreams—each woman, that is, except the one he wants. Meanwhile, the ruler of the north plans to invade the island of Center, and a nightmarish dragon terrorizes the Inner Sea. After the first few days, this doesn’t feel like a reward anymore.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to Tell the Temp without a Thermometer

Real Minnesotans don’t need a thermometer to tell the temperature outside.

60 – people are sunbathing
40 – kids are still playing football and Frisbee in their shorts
35 – there’s salt on the bridge and the rain isn’t draining away, the previous snow on the roof melts
30 – when the sun comes out, the snow on your sidewalk goes away and you don’t have to shovel.  You need a long sleeve shirt to get the firewood, and long pants. The pond is mostly frozen with little holes for the deer in ducks to drink. Snow is perfect for snowballs. We’re expecting another 4 inches tonight.
20 – the kids still take off their pajama tops when you turn the fireplace on.  The dog still goes on 30 minute adventures outside. Deer start nosing the feeder.  You have to scrape ice off the outside of your car.
10 – you need a coat if you’re getting more than an armload of wood.  The kids actually zip their coats while waiting for the bus.
0 – the pond is frozen solid. You’re not going to see that fireplace stone that the neighbor kid tossed in till spring. The snow squeaks like Styrofoam.
-5 – your nose hairs freeze.  The garage feels a little chilly. You need to warm up your car if it is parked outside. Let the deer find their own food.
-10 – you reread Jack London’s “to build a fire” after getting the mail.  The dog only stays out for two minutes at a time and barks ahead so the door is open before he gets there.  The front door ices up when you open it to let the kids out. If you park outside, your breath freezes to the inside of the window. You have to scrape inside the car, and when the blower kicks in, it looks like a snow globe. The cat no longer tries to sneak out the door when you open it.
-15 – your hand sticks to the front door handle when you open it from the inside.  The dog climbs in your warm bed while you are freeing yourself.  Your car won’t warm up even on the ride to Walmart for more sidewalk salt.
-20 – you need two pair of pants to walk out to the mail box.  You miss the 12 inches of snow because those were the warm times.  School is delayed 2 hours, but work isn’t. The car tires get flat spots on them parking outside and you feel like Fred Flintstone going down the road.
-25 – all birds have disappeared.  You suspect the deer may have eaten them. The Florida vacation commercials are running every hour. Your car’s suspension feels like a clapboard buggy. Drive by shootings and bank robberies stop altogether in the Twin cities.  The cashiers at Walmart wear gloves inside. The cats can’t see out the bathroom window any more and are really bored.  They play with the gloves you have drying on the vents.
-30 – Half the cars outside won’t start, the other half has to jump them. Starting motor rods on cars involved in any accident at any time during the year pick this moment to shatter. You ask yourself if this  is what space feels like.  You time how long it takes for spit to freeze. Your dog won’t go outside unless you carry him, and once inside, he starts reading Jack London.
-35 – lawyers keep their hands in their own pockets

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Day in the Life

People ask me how full-time writing is going. GREAT! Since my daughter is in sports and religious education, my days as a writer look something like this:
  • Up before 7, make lunches and help the kids onto the bus.
  • Nap till 9 when Tammy has her first client. Expect at least one phone call or text.
  • Let the dog out. Spray the cats for attacking the dog.
  • Answer email and check Facebook. NO MORE THAN ONE HOUR.
  • Edit yesterday's pages and type notes till about 11:30.
  • Eat while petting the cat. The eating part is optional.
  • Pick three chores I don't want to do. Complete one of them now.
  • Write a new chapter half till 2:00. Print and back up.
  • Get the mail. Race the dog to the box, but let the dog win.
  • Complete another task I don't want to do.
  • Run to the kids school and then to a sports field an hour away. If they've been good, we can get a milkshake once a week.
  • Grade math homework during the game. For home games, I get to do this in the public library.
  • Carry the chairs, coats, blankets, food, water, and entertainment center to our side of the field.
  • Try to type on the computer while Emily is not playing if I can find someplace with no glare.
  • Find something for dinner. When did we have pizza last?
  • Drive an hour home, stopping at least once for something we need: gas, milk, books, Pokemon games.
  • Coerce children into doing homework that magically appears near bedtime.
  • Get children ready for bed. Order child to perform each step because it's different than yesterday. Yes, the teeth, too. All of them. With toothpaste.
  • Check email.
  • Break up fight between children while brushing teeth.
  • Oh yeah, that third task I delayed from lunch.
  • Put girl child back in bed.
  • Write the other half of the chapter until Tammy gets done typing her notes.
  • Put four items on my TODO list for tomorrow.
  • Watch a show on Tivo or Netflix until she's too tired to keep her eyes open.
  • Frantically scribble notes in the dark about things I should change about latest chapter and next few.
Repeat until Saturday. Where we replace school with:
  • mow lawn using lawn tractor with dog on lap
  • force children to clean room
  • force children to do at least one task which scars them for life, preferably outside
  • type notes while watching Scooby
  • wife picks one task for me to do from her list