Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2017 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
Any reproduction of this material is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Vampires in the Big Easy

          Those in the New Orleans area this coming Wednesday have an opportunity to meet David Lee Summers, a well-regarded author in many genres.  He'll be signing books at...  Well, all the scuttlebutt is in his very informative post that came in this morning.  This guy has the Blimprider Seal of Approval, so don't miss it if you can!  And if you must, you can keep up with David's busy writing life at https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com

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          I am on the road this weekend. I just participated in a fabulous book signing for Straight Outta Tombstone at the Barnes and Noble in Glendale, Colorado. My next stop is New Orleans, Louisiana where I’ll be researching some of the locations in my next steampunk novel, Owl Riders. I’ll also be at Boutique du Vampyre on Wednesday, August 23 from 3 to 6pm to sign copies of my vampire novels and Straight Outta Tombstone.
           My vampire novels tell the story of the Scarlet Order, a band of vampire mercenaries who fight evil. The first novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order tells the story of the Scarlet Order’s origin during the middle ages, their role in the grail quest and their encounter with the human prince known as Vlad the Impaler. The second novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order carries their story to the present day where they must stop a top secret project to create vampire-like super soldiers.
          My story in Straight Outta Tombstone features the Scarlet Order vampires as they would be if they existed in my Clockwork Legion universe. It’s a fun, twisted crossover that celebrates one of the first vampire stories, Carmilla, and imagines an alternate explanation to the real life Albert Fountain disappearance. Who was Albert Fountain you ask? He was Billy the Kid’s defense attorney and his empty grave is behind my home in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
          Boutique du Vampyre is a terrific shop in New Orleans’ French Quarter. They have an assortment of vampire themed gifts including apparel and accessories, dolls, jewelry, and wine. They’ll even help you create a great New Orleans vampire adventure. Come hang out with us at Boutique du Vampyre this coming Wednesday, chat for a while, and find some great gifts!
The boutique is located at 709 1/2 St. Ann Street. Call 504-561-8267 for more information, or RSVP for the signing at the event’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/486214595060988/. Even if you can’t make the signing, you can get my vampire books from the Boutique by visiting https://feelthebite.com/collections/vampire-library-books-for-sale

Friday, August 18, 2017

Old Friends, New Books, and a Big Ol' Party!

          Arriving on my feed this morning was Karen Carlisle's photoblog about her book launch at the Steampunk Festival in Port Adelaide, Australia.  There are many pictures, and as I don't want to change the focus or presentation during a transfer, I'm simply going to provide the link.  Please take the time to follow it for a look into this wonderful community of enthusiasts.  You won't be sorry!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Free Books!

           Opened my feed this morning to find this just in from the very active William J. Jackson.  Not much to say here.  Go survey the field and commence your harvest!
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          Howdy. I am again taking part in a free ebook giveaway involving Instafreebie, and set up by talented indie author Dean Wilson. Looking for a grwat science fiction or fantasy read at no cost? Start here.
          I offer up a preview of my steampunk junior novel The Blossom of Hours. Give it, and many more titles, a try. Click the link and explore!  http://sffbookbonanza.com/freebooks/

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Weird Western Showdown

          Found this simmering on my feed this morning, fresh off the page from the website of David Lee Summers.  I've had the pleasure of seeing this gentleman on a panel.  He is not to be missed if you're in the area!
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          This Saturday, I’ll join bestselling authors Jim Butcher, Kevin J. Anderson, Sarah A. Hoyt, Peter J. Wacks, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Naomi Brett Rourke, Sam Knight and editor David Boop to discuss the genesis of the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, reminisce about our careers, and sign our books.
          In my story Fountains of Blood, Billy and Larissa from the Clockwork Legion series tangle with Marcella and Rosen from the Scarlet Order vampire series while caught up in the historical Albert Fountain disappearance.   I’m not the only author revisiting familiar characters.   Jim Butcher reveals the origin of one of the Dresden Files’ most popular characters in A Fistful of Warlocks.  And Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., finds himself in a showdown in High Midnight.  Plus there are stories from Larry Correia, Alan Dean Foster, Jody Lynn Nye, Michael A. Stackpole, Phil Foglio, Robert E. Vardeman and many more.  Readers in Las Cruces and Tucson might even find copies I’ve signed at their local Barnes and Noble stores.
          Lots of fun and a few surprises at this event!  Mosey on down and celebrate this amazing anthology!

Here are the details:
August 18th, 7pm
Barnes and Noble
960 S Colorado Blvd
Glendale, CO 80246
Call for more information, 303-691-2998 or
RVSP on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/251489345342065/

Sunday, August 13, 2017

FIREFLY: The Game

          "Find a crew... find a job... keep flying!"
                                   ~ Box Tagline

          Pretty much everyone alive who I know is aware of Joss Whedon's series Firefly, sabotaged by its network after one partial season.  Fewer are aware of Gale Force Nine Games' Firefly: The Game.  We played a session today, my wife, my daughter, and I, and a great time was had by all.
          The Firefly game is based directly on the short-lived series by the Master, and is as true to the source material as any follow-on media I've ever seen.  I chose to show the back of the box below, as its photograph shows the game all set up and ready to play.  It consists of the map of the area of space where Firefly takes place, multiple card decks that represent items you can buy on supply worlds such as Silverhold and Persephone, and jobs you can get from such personages as Badger, Patience, and Niska.  Up to four can play, each captain taking a Firefly class transport represented by die-cast plastic models, and cruising around space looking to hire crew, pick up jobs, and complete them for cash.  Cruising the black can be a dangerous proposition, and two decks of cards are included to produce chance encounters in Alliance Space, and out in Border Space, away from the central star.  Yet another deck controls the "misbehavin'" it is necessary to do to complete some of the riskier, but higher paying jobs.
          This is the back of the box, shown large to clearly include everything in a legible fashion.  What it doesn't show is the Blue Sun expansion that we include in our games which adds another board half the size of the one you see to the left side of the map with Meridian, Mr. Universe's station, and Miranda with its dangerous reavers and their attendant mysteries, plus more card decks to support them.  By the time you include space for discards, money, and marker tokens, this game has the largest footprint I've ever seen, with the sole exception of Avalon Hill's The Longest Day, a battalion-level simulation of the Normandy Invasion.  This ain't no joke!  To play this with enough space to be comfortable, we have to rearrange our living room.  It's worth it!  This is the expanded board:

          Shown here are a few sample character cards.  You can see how each character, and they are all people seen in the show or the Serenity movie, brings certain skills and talents to the captain who hires him or her.

          Skills can be enhanced by purchasing gear at the various spaceports one visits, and with crew in hand, and all the fine equipment you can cram into the hold, its time to go looking for work.

          You visit the various nefarious characters around the rim, and evaluate what work they have to offer.  You look to see what the job requires, and choose jobs whose requirements can be met by the skills of your crew.  Legal jobs are usually straightforward fetch-and-carry affairs, but illegal and/or immoral jobs require some "misbehavin'," usually accomplished through a series of die rolls modified by the skills you possess in order to succeed, and the consequences of failure can be grim.

          We like to play the scenario that is most like the show, the simple effort to accumulate cash.  I played Womack, the vicious renegade Fed from the episode The Message, where the old war buddy was smuggling organs inside his own body.  My ship was the Bonnie Mae, which seems fitting, as my wife is Bonnie Gay.  I started in Osiris, just inside Alliance Space, and was able to add Simon Tam to my crew.  He is very intelligent, has two "wrenches" on his card signifying mechanical expertise, and is far and away the best medic in the game.  He is also a wanted fugitive, which made me an outlaw ship and in trouble with the Alliance right off the bat.  You can avoid the Alliance by going "a little farther out," like Mal used to say, but as you leave the Alliance's area of influence, you become more likely to be targeted by reavers, and they don't care whether your papers are in order or not; they're just as happy to eat them,  too!  None of this was helped by the fact that, stopping in for resupply at another planet, I picked up Simon's sister, River.  Womack is the kind of guy who would turn them in at the drop of a hat, but both characters add so much to your skill set (although River's bonuses are randomized on each attempted use) that even a crud like Womack might keep them around.  I sure did, and they were indeed useful.
          I began by doing a couple of legal jobs while tiptoeing around the Alliance's patrol cruiser to pick up some modest but safe working capital.  I delivered three crates of rocks across the breadth of Alliance Space whose weight cost me twice the fuel consumption per burn, then when I got out there to deliver it, I picked up two tons of manure from Patience to deliver to an agricultural planet.  These trips caused me to transit the edges of Alliance Space, and I was accosted by the cruiser patrol on several occasions.  Once I ditched him by deploying the Cry Baby, but I didn't have another one, and he soon returned to his sniffing around...  Thanks, daughter!  Eventually, he discovered River in one of my smuggling bins, and they dragged her off in irons.  Surprisingly, Simon didn't freak out on me, but that's how the game works.  Once I stepped up to doing some misbehavin', I would occasionally slip up, and get a warrant issued.  This makes you even more attractive to the Alliance, and once they catch you, you have to pay your fine of $1,000 per warrant to go your way.  Bonnie got caught repeatedly with something out of order, once with two warrants, and she eventually finished the game with $600 after starting with $3,000.
          I had a run of jobs to do, but running into difficulty on my misbehavin' cost me some warrants, and thus some money, and I finished with $4,200, a modest profit.  Daughter cleaned house after a rough start.  Movement is handled as follows:  You can always move one space without drawing any chance encounter cards.  To move more, usually five, you have to burn a fuel token, which cost money to replace.  As you start moving, you draw cards, and for the first few turns, she would pay the fuel, start to move, and immediately get jumped by the patrol, which even if it doesn't harm you, brings you to a halt, and you forfeit the rest of your turn while they search you from keel to masthead.  Eventually, she was able to gather a few lucrative jobs in a localized area, and rather quickly amassed over $14,000, with $12,000 needed to win.  Luck, as you can see, plays a role, but with several hundred cards in the game, it balances out.  It was in for her this game, but in all likelihood, it will be in someone else's corner next time we play.
          The downside of this game is that there is very little interaction possible.  If I see you about to win, there is precious little I can do about it.  I can try to beat you to a location and swipe a job out from under your nose, but as a rule, I'm trying to make my own money, not interfere with yours.  If you have a "disgruntled" crew member, I can steal him from you by moving into your space and paying his hire price, but the only way I can really, seriously harm you is to move through space out on the rim hoping to draw that magic card that will set the reavers on you, but the odds of me drawing something that will harm me instead are about ten times greater than getting the one that will bite you.  What this means is that this is a great solitaire game.  You don't need other players, you can just go to various planets, hiring crew and taking jobs, until you reach the dollar figure to win, the reavers eat you, or the Alliance bankrupts you.  There are also other scenarios that are based on goals other than money, so there are many ways to approach it.
          The bottom line is that we had a great time, and if you like games, this one has a fascinating combination of mechanics that weave a convoluted tale of conflicting strategies.  If you like Firefly, the show, this game puts you in it, with all the personalities, locations, gadgets, and capers from the series, as well as many, many more that capture the flavor exquisitely.  Finally, if you are a solo gamer, this one is made with you in mind.  No matter the number of players, you'll be living on the black, misbehavin', and keeping it shiny all the day long.  Join the crew, or build your own, and get in on the action.  It's a wonderful way for your local group of Browncoats to spend an afternoon!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Spotlight on a Friend

          Veteran followers will be familiar with my good friend Sarah Zama, the Italian author who writes American alternate roaring '20s history.  Over the past couple of years, Sarah and I have discovered that we have very different views on a number of aspects of writing, but aren't those the best friends, the ones who challenge your comfortable beliefs rather than just parroting what you already think back at you?  I certainly think so.
          Her current work is a novella, Give in to the Feeling, which contains some of the characters from her larger trilogy, The Old Shelter.  I have read the novella, and was quite taken with the characters and situations.  It is a perfect appetizer to make you want to read the trilogy, which concerns shady goings-on in and around a haunted speakeasy.  I hate the phrase I can't wait, because you are going to wait, and if you don't die while you're waiting, it gives irrefutable proof that in fact you can wait.  I'll just say that I'm very much looking forward to the trilogy.  It has been in the works for a long time; I can only wish I had this woman's patience.  What I bring before you now is an interview with Sarah Zama, conducted by author C.P. Lesley.  This is one of the best interviews I've seen in a while, and is a great opportunity to get to know this most excellent writer.  Consider this your chance to get in on the ground floor, as it were.  Give in to the feeling, and discover this future star for yourself!
          http://blog.cplesley.com/2017/08/interview-with-sarah-zama.html

Friday, August 11, 2017

Vision in the Free Market

     "...to boldly go where no man has gone before."
                              ~ Gene Roddenberry

          Back in the early 1960s, a reasonably competent writer of westerns and police dramas developed and began to pitch the story of a starship and its crew visiting various planets and having adventures along the way.  This, of course, went on to become Star Trek, the queen mother of all franchises.  It ran from the fall of 1966 to the summer of 1969, and coincided almost perfectly with my time in the navy, time that I was sent to explore some of the most godawful hell-holes the planet has to offer, and all of them showing ten-year old TV, if they had TV at all.  I never saw a single episode in its first run.
          But I escaped, the show went into syndication, and it was a match made in heaven.  Star Trek was the vehicle that showed this budding author that all the space aliens didn't have to be bug-eyed monsters from Mars.  Some of them could be us!  I seized on that concept and wrote Star Trek stories for decades.  Oh, it wasn't fan fiction.  I created my own worlds, ships, and characters, but it was Star Trek, and there isn't a fan anywhere that wouldn't have recognized the inspiration.
          I've come a long way since those heady days when I was going to be the next Big Celebrity Author, and Roddenberry's influence is hardly visible in my steampunk sagas, but that show had a profound influence on me, and on society.  See, the other thing that captured my imagination was the gadgetry.  From tricorders to communicators to diagnostic hospital beds, not to mention those near-sentient talking computers, I wanted more than life itself to live in that world with all those things to make me smarter, healthier, and more effective.  I hate to admit it, but I was deeply jealous of nonexistent characters who lived in a fictional universe.
          Apparently, I wasn't alone.  Fast forward half a century to the here and now, and we live in a world with many of those things in existence around us.  Talking computers that can hold a conversation and carry out your orders, search engines that can deliver the accumulated knowledge of mankind to the comfort of your living room in a fraction of a second, and look at the fabulous tools your doctor has at his disposal.  Oh, and while we're at it, consider those hand-held computers we still nostalgically call "phones."  Would all of those things have come to pass without Star Trek?  Probably, but would they have come in our lifetimes?  That's harder to say, but Roddenberry put them on a screen in every living room, and people took notice, smart people who set about making them reality.
          But here's the thing.  Now that much of this world exists around us, I'm not interested in participating.  My grandkids think I'm a hidebound old dinosaur.  So, maybe I am, but I have long suspected that it goes deeper than that, and I had the epiphany about it just this morning.  There are two factors.
          First is the price.  Long have these electronics been priced out of my reach, and as I type that sentence, I see the fallacy of it.  I've seen, hell, I've known people who live in slums, drive old jalopies that a bum wouldn't sleep in, can't afford to fix a broken window in their house, but they'll bust out these phones at the drop of a hat, and start watching videos and texting some cousin three countries away.  They've sacrificed some things to have what's important to them.  So have I; I've sacrificed the phone.  I have a phone that looks like one of those "smart phones," I think they call them.  I can text, talk, and take pictures.  That's more than I need, as I rarely take pictures with it, but the feature exists on the phone, so I have to count it.  My "plan" costs $8 per month.  I could turn this phone into a device I would actually need if I was a personal assistant to the president, but my monthly bill would go up to an amount that would finance a late-model used car; you can just imagine the daily needling I get from my provider urging me to upgrade to a plan that no functional human being can possibly live without.  Sorry, that's their opinion, not mine.
          And then there's the other thing.  When Captain Kirk opened his communicator in 1969's Turnabout Intruder, it worked exactly the same way it had in 1966's Mantrap.  Same with Spock's tricorder, McCoy's diagnostic beds, and Scotty's engines and transporters.  And that's my other reason for staying out of it:  Compatibility and stability.  There is never any of this bullshirt about "our network doesn't support your device."  This morning, it took me 45 minutes to do a three-minute job because of this.  I was posting a book promotion on my What To Read Next page.  The text went up fine, but I couldn't post the picture of the book cover; Blogger didn't like the source material.  Don't know why, it didn't even offer me any of the computer jargon that humans can't understand by way of explanation, it just wouldn't transfer.  After several reboots that failed to correct the problem, I finally solved it by moving the picture from page to page to page until I found one that Blogger recognized, and copied it by dragging-and-dropping.  I still don't know why, but I know how to fix it...  This time!
          So maybe stability is really a third separate issue.  Let's say for a moment that it's important to me to have the latest cutting-edge phone, laptop, tablet, modem, wifi, router, integrated talking television with satellite feed, a security system to watch my house while I'm away (like I could afford to go anywhere after I buy all this stuff!), and a dozen other things I don't even know about.  So I move into lesser digs in a crappy neighborhood, trade in my car for something rattier, and abandon the concept of nice clothes and decent food so I can go out and get those things.  Hardly seems worth doing, since I know that by the time I get them home and take them out of the box, they're going to be obsolete, and the very people that sold them to me are going to be offering 10c on the dollar if I trade up to the new latest and greatest.
          So, no thanks, Star Trek.  It's a beautiful world you've created, but I'll just stay firmly rooted in the stone age for now.  Maybe when I'm reincarnated a century in the future, this will all be worked out and stable, but as long as competition trumps compatibility, I'm out.  If anyone wants to discuss this, you can contact me the old fashioned way, text, Email, or right here in the comment section.  Have a great day, and enjoy your toys!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

And Now a Word from My Ego

          Today I'm doing something completely different.  As a little mid-week treat, to stroke my own ego, and because I don't want to lose this, I'm posting verbatim what is almost certainly my favorite review of all time.  I don't want to insult people that I know and converse with daily, but when it comes to content, nothing has yet beaten this.  It appeared on the now-defunct review site Good, Bad, Bizarre on May 13th, 2014.  What makes it so great from my point of view is the fact that the reviewer, H.C. Dallas, doesn't like steampunk!  Or at least she didn't until she read mine.  It's a rare and wonderful thing for a writer to be able to change someone's long-held opinion about an entire genre, and I was on top of the world when I read this.  To this day, when I get down on myself for not being the writer I am in my fantasies, I come back and read this, and I am on top of the world again.
          I don't know why you've stopped reviewing, H.C.  I hope it's nothing more sinister than personal preference, but should you chance to read this, know that you touched a life, and more than once have kept a writer writing.  You have my eternal gratitude and best wishes for a long and happy life.
          So with no further waffling, I present Good, Bad, Bizarre's take on Beyond the Rails.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

          Today we have a review for a genre that we have been avoiding until now:  Steampunk.  Why have we avoided it?  Well, a couple of bad experiences with the genre, via books that we will not name, had previously soured us to Steampunk in all its forms.  One book was so awful -- a mishmash of Sci-Fi, Victorian history, and (surprise!) magic -- that we could not even finish it.  We were hurled from one setting to another, had technology and then magic shoved in our faces, and when the talking lobsters appeared… well, we just threw in the towel (and, if you read any of our other reviews, you will know that this is quite unusual -- usually we love the strange and bizarre, but in this case it did not love us back).  If this is Steampunk, we thought, then clearly it’s overrated.  We have not picked up another Steampunk book… until this day.
          That’s why we’re glad that we had the chance to review this book.  Because, before now, we quite literally did not know what we were missing.  It just goes to show that when you give something a second chance, it can surprise you.  So let’s take a look into things, shall we?

SUMMARY

Title: Beyond the Rails
Author: Jack Tyler
Genres: Steampunk, Action & Adventure, Western-ish
          The book is comprised of several adventures -- more like short stories -- which center on the plucky crew of an “airship” -- that is, a dirigible.  It takes place in the 1880s (according to the preface) in a region of Kenya, Africa, which is being colonized by the British.  The railroads in the area only reach a certain distance into the African frontier; after that, everything is “beyond the rails,” and only accessible by air.  That’s where our crew and their airship come in, for they have the one thing that everyone needs: mobility.  This means that they need to be ready for anything -- and everything -- that they can encounter, both inside civilization and out.
          The book starts out with a sequence of interrelated short stories, which read very much like classic “penny dreadful” or adventure tales, complete with dastardly villains who receive their comeuppance by Our Heroes by the end.  Each story also serves the purpose of letting us get to know a member of the crew a little better, as we get to see them act alone and interact together.  By the end, the book changes gears and moves into a connected narrative, with each chapter starting to add to a larger plot.  Unfortunately that plot ends in mid-swing -- but the fortunate thing about this is that this also means that there is more to come in future installments.
          Throughout the book, we were struck by the author’s writing.  It does a wonderful job of relating the stories in what we would describe as a “verisimilitude” way -- that is, it does feel as though these people are from the late nineteenth century, with their mannerisms, niceties, and ways of looking at the world.  It also flows wonderfully, providing ample description, and has mastered the ability to both trust the reader’s judgment -- there’s a lot of subtlety in these pages -- while still providing ample amounts of description and oddities for our brains to gnaw on.

THE GOOD...

1) Vibes: Rudyard Kipling, Indiana Jones, and Cowboys & Indians
          Not having had much experience with Steampunk, we can’t rightfully say if most of the genre features these sorts of things or not; but right away, the moment the story begins, we found ourselves having a “Western Adventure” kind of vibe.  Instead of the American southwest, it was the African frontier.  Instead of Cowboys and Indians, it was the Airship Crew and the Africans.  Each chapter was a complete story of its own, so we kept experiencing new adventures with every turn of the page.  There was a rough-and-tumble, get-yer-guns-ready, we’re-riding-(flying)-into-town sort of feeling in these tales, and we enjoyed the blend of safari story and Wild West.
          Whether or not this is common to Steampunk, we can say one thing about the presence of Western-style genre within this book: it was awesome.  Setting the tale in Africa added so many layers and so much room for adventure; it was quite the brilliant move.  Add to this the fact that most of the characters were not American (there is one person from the USA), then it also becomes a British Cowboy story.  Throw in some colonialist themes and there’s Rudyard Kipling waiting in the background, too.  Add a dash (a small dash) of magic, and bigger countries’ struggles (English and Prussian strain), and suddenly Indiana Jones is dancing around.  In short, anyone who loves the old-fashioned adventure tale will love this book.
2) Great cast
          The cast of characters was very flavorful and unique.  Each character both embodied a stereotype and possessed his own unique flair, which really allowed us to picture them in our mind.  The Captain of the airship, Clinton Monroe, is a no-nonsense man of action, and takes good care of his crew like a father-figure.  David Smith, the American cowboy, has found a home-away-from-home in Africa’s savanna.  Doctor Nicholas Ellsworth is a prissy, highly educated, somewhat out of his element newcomer to the crew, and despite his rough patches still has a good heart.  And there are others, too (Of course, our favorite has to be Patience Hobbs, who we will discuss below.)
          The thing about each of these characters is that we’re given time to spend with each of them.  They are each given a portion of the story to themselves, and we get to follow them around, get a feel for them as individuals, and see a little about what makes them tick.  This is a wonderful way to become invested in their fates throughout the story.  We really liked how different they all were, and yet how they all functioned together as a single unit: the intrepid crew of the airship Kestrel.
3) Portrayal of women
          Right from the start, this story makes no bones about it: Patience Hobbs is a frontier woman, and such women don’t scare easily.  She comes from fine breeding and had a high education in England, but truth be told she’s now working with the boys and can keep up with them easily.  Patience forms one of the core characters in the narrative.  She is the airship pilot, and this is only one of her formidable list of skills.  She steers the ship through crises.  She kicks the butt of an assassin.  In short, she rocks.  She’s not the only woman here, either.  There are others of equal importance, skill, and complexity.
          The thing we enjoyed the most, however, was that these women were both strong… and feminine.  This is not a story of a woman who had to give up being female in order to be taken seriously.  Patience is allowed to show a softer, more feminine side: she sticks up for those who need a helping hand (like Ellsworth), and she in general acts more like a tough woman than a man’s man, and nobody holds this against her or thinks that she’s below them because of it.  Another character, Cynthia Blackwell, also travels from being weak and dependent into a fuller, able-bodied individual, and she also does not lose touch with femininity.
          Oh, and did we mention this book passes the Bechdel Test?  By our estimation, Patience Hobbs and another female character, Cynthia Blackwell, have an entire conversation about airship flight, what it means to travel, and how this is affecting them, personally.  And they only mention “boys” in an abstract sense, just once, and it relates more toward describing their own feelings, personalities, and character arcs.  How awesome is that?
4) Saves the magic… until later
          One thing we first thought about this story was that it took its time.  Aside from the presence of the dirigible, at first it read nothing like a Steampunk story at all.  It was taking place in the late 1800s, to be sure, but plenty of stories take place at that time without being Steampunk.  We kept reading page after page, feeling quite at home, getting to know the characters, cheering the Heroes and booing the Villains.  It was all good fun, through-and-through… with one exception, which was caused entirely by us and our own attitude.
          You see, we were subconsciously dreading and waiting for when the talking lobsters would appear.  Given our previous exposure to this genre, we were worried that things would take a sudden left turn and leave us stranded, wondering, confused by the sudden influx of unfamiliar tropes and obscure clichés that would make our head spin.  After all, this was Steampunk, and in our case we were “once bitten and twice shy.”  Surely there would be talking lobsters, yes?
          But that terrible moment never came to pass.  Instead, the book handled the eventual introduction of magic and super-science with a great deal of finesse and subtlety.  By the time the first hints of magic appeared on the page, we were so engrossed with the characters that we were not confused by it -- in fact, if anything, we were thrilled.  It made sense, given the context of everything that had happened previously, and it added new flavor to the story.  The characters who encountered it had normal human reactions -- “Holy carpets! Real magic!” -- and didn’t just shrug it off like no big deal.  Once it arrived, it also didn’t take over the story, instead remaining exactly where it should be: in the periphery, so that we could continue to focus on the characters.  Just like how Indiana Jones can have the Ark of the Covenant raining Holy Fire onto the Nazi heathens, so also could witch doctors in the savanna have magic at their beck and call.  Makes sense, no?
          It is about one half of the way through the book before magic is brought into the picture.  And super-science -- or at least its 1800’s equivalent -- only appeared about three-fourths of the way into the book.  We suppose that the sequel would have these things in much larger proportions, but truth is we wouldn’t mind that very much.  We were permitted to learn the characters and the normal world’s customs before we went running off into the great wild unknown of sorcery and science, which is good enough for us.
5) World building
          Given everything that we just said above, we would also like to take a brief moment to mention the verisimilitude and “feel” of the book.  We don’t know how accurate these stories are to real life with dirigibles on the African frontier in the late-nineteenth century.  In fact, although we’re fairly sure that there were no blimps in Africa at the time (were there?), we can’t say for certain that there weren’t.  We only know what feels real and what doesn’t, and this book definitely falls into the former category.
          We truly felt as though we were adventuring on a blimp in sub-Saharan Africa.  We felt the heat.  We met the people.  We thrilled at the danger.  We listened to the people speaking in other languages.  We concerned ourselves over the impact of a far-off European war on this growing colony and the people there.  And, if we ever read a history textbook on the time period and learn that there were no dirigibles in Kenya, we will be sorely disappointed.

THE BAD...

1) Incomplete ending
          Despite all the awesomeness in this book, it does end on an unfinished note.  Again, some people will like this, and we (kind of) can’t begrudge it, because it means that there will definitely be more stories in the future.  All the same, we like when a book ends with a completed plot, not halfway through the major arc of the next book.  It sounds good and it ends on an intriguing note, but a cliffhanger is still a cliffhanger.  Arg!  We’re not rock climbers, so we’ve got to mention this. :(
2) Character blitz
          Now, in this case it was a lesser form of character blitz.  The story does a good job of delegating each character’s role when they are first introduced -- one is the captain, one is the pilot, another is the customer, one is the engineer, etc -- and it also does a good job of focusing on only a couple important characters in each chapter of the book (remember, as we said above, each chapter helps flesh out one of the airship’s crewmen).  Still, when they were first introduced, we had a little trouble telling them apart.  Only a few more pages into the story, this was solved (mostly by ignoring the characters who hadn’t been fully introduced yet).  But we still had that initial moment of confusion.  It’s a credit that the confusion only lasted so long, though.

THE BIZARRE...

1) Dirigibles… er, we mean blimps… uh, actually make that “airships”
          The story concerns a lot of dirigibles, as one can guess (hey, the title is “Beyond the Rails,” and only dirigibles -- or “airships” -- can really travel that far).  The characters actually go into detail explaining how these massive contraptions work, which is awesome.  A large part of the plot concerns them and how they fly, the mechanics of how travel like this affects the characters, and so forth.  This must have been the result of a lot of research and it was fascinating for us, given that blimps aren’t really things that we know (or think) that much about.  We’re definitely noticing the Goodyear blimp next time it hovers around our house.

...AND THE VERDICT:

This book is GOOD.
          We have to say, this book single-handedly convinced us to reconsider our dislike of Steampunk.  This is a feat all by itself.  And with that, we can’t say that it’s anything but Good, even though it has plenty of Bizarreness everywhere -- which, of course, just adds flavor to the whole shebang.
          This book would satisfy a whole range of people, so we’re just going to list the two most important below:
          First, those who are fans of Steampunk -- which is a no-brainer -- but also those who would like to give Steampunk a try.  As we said before, we personally are unfamiliar with this genre and had, in fact, originally sworn off it because of a bad experience.  Now we think that perhaps the problem was that we had been introduced too quickly to something that was too deep inside the genre’s tropes -- kind of like throwing The Watchmen at someone who has never read graphic novels before -- and as a result were just left dazed and confused.  By contrast, this book does an excellent job of introducing the reader more slowly into the world of the Steampunk genre, making for a much smoother reading experience for those who have doubts.  So, Steampunk virgins, this one’s for you!
          And second, those who are fans of the good ol’ adventure story.  It’s very much like a Robert Louis Stevenson or Rudyard Kipling tale.  If you enjoy intrepid explorers braving the unknown, then that is exactly what we have here.  It’s a swashbuckling, “let’s go see what’s out there” sort of tale, and boy, it brought back memories of reading the good old stuff.
          Of course, we would also recommend this to fans of Westerns -- we’re seriously not kidding about that whole “frontier” vibe -- and to those who like reading about strong heroines who are not unfeminized (that’s us!), and even to children ages 12 and up (If they’ve read Treasure Island or The Jungle Book, this should be on their list.).  Basically, anybody who just wants to enjoy a rousing old-fashioned adventurer’s tale, look no further because it’s here.
          And, best news of all, according to the author’s blog, he’s also already hard at work on the sequel, and has the eighth “short story / next chapter” posted online as a free sample. We hope this means that it will be done soon, so we can continue the adventure.  In a single book we’ve gone from hating Steampunk to giving it a second chance, so we have big expectations for the upcoming sequel.

          Not hard to see why this review is one of my prized possessions as a writer!  If you haven't encountered Beyond the Rails, and would like to see what turned this reviewer's head, the first story, The Botanist, detailing Nicholas Ellsworth's arrival in Kenya and his introduction to the crew, is available in its entirety as a free sample.  Just click the tab at the top of the left sidebar.
          To visit my other blog where I give a weekly monologue about my take on punk fiction and writing in general, click on https://www.writing.com/main/profile/blog/blimprider -- I'll do my very best to keep it interesting, informative, and entertaining, so drop in and sample my wares...  I double-dog dare you! 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cerulean Rust

          Here's the latest on William Jackson's Rail Legacy series: 

          Yep, Cerulean Rust, the second Rail Legacy book, has dropped to 99c.  Wait, who puts the second book on sale, you ask?  I do.
          But what about the first one?
          You mean An Unsubstantiated Chamber, the gothic steampunk superhero mashup mystery, that old thing?  Well, here’s a secret.  If you don’t mind ebooks, it’s FREE.
          Everyday.  Around the clock.  No joshing.
          Go here and get a copy:
https://instafreebie.com/free/ropDh.
          Then, go to Amazon, and BUY Rust for pennies on the dollar.
          Get both for under a dollar, kindly read them.  Feel free to tell me what you think at andorian9@gmail.com, and please leave honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
          Know your alternate history, and explore new yesterdays...

          Then explore William's author page at https://therailbaron.wordpress.com/.  Get to know a talented author in his natural habitat!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Celebrating Self

          As a Father's Day gift in 2016, my daughter did a DNA kit on me, and while my family always told me I was predominantly Viking (i.e., Scandanavian), those pesky little protein strings show me to be 38% Irish, 35% Scandinavian, 17% British, and 10% trace elements from three continents.  Ancestry.com includes a map of the world showing the source of all your genetic makeup, and all of my elements, major and minor, almost exactly coincide with a map of all theplaces the Vikings dominated at some point, from Ireland to Russia to the near east.  Maybe the old folks knew what they were talking about.
          To mark the occasion, I decided to host a cookout, and in honor of finding myself a member of one of the coolest ethnic groups on earth, I set about creating a celebratory recipe.  As a newly minted Irishman and a lover of potatoes, it had to be a potato recipe, and as a lifelong resident of southern California, it had to include a Southwest flavor.  So, after careful consideration, behold

Taters O'Tyler

To make this incredible dish, you'll need:
          Four small potatoes (or two large ones), scrubbed.
          One-half of a Green Bell Pepper.
          1/2 tsp. Paprika.
          1/2 tsp. Parsley Flakes.
          1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper.
          1/8 tsp. Mustard Powder.
          1/8 tsp. Garlic Powder.
          1/8 tsp. Black Pepper.
          1/8 tsp. Celery Salt.
          1/8 tsp. Ground Cumin.
          And for the hint of the Southwest, 1/8 tsp. Chili Powder.
          Cooking oil of choice.

Preparation:
          Boil potatoes fully covered for about 15 minutes.  You'll want them to be almost done, but still firm.
          While the potatoes are boiling, cut the Bell Pepper into 1/4" rings, then chop the rings into 1/4" pieces.  You want to finish with a pile of 1/4" squares.  Set these aside.
          Thoroughly mix the various powders in a small bowl to a smooth, reddish-brown consistency.
          Drain the potatoes and let them cool to where they can be handled.  Cut them into thin wedges, skins and all.  Coat a large mixing bowl with oil.  Place the wedges in the bowl, and "toss" them until they all have at least some oil on them.  Continue to toss, gradually adding the mixed seasonings, until all the wedges have some of the seasoning on them.  Mix in the Bell Pepper squares and take the bowl to the grill.
          Cook over medium heat in a grilling basket, using a stir-fry technique, until hot.  The recipe as you see it serves 4, and can be easily doubled, tripled, etc. to serve large gatherings.

          This was by all accounts the hit of the party, and proved so popular that an uninvited guest dropped in.
          Everyone was very excited to see him, but he didn't eat much, and the people sat out on the patio in the warm summer night talking and laughing, and enjoying each other's company.  No one felt compelled to leave until after midnight.  It was what I call a perfect party, and these spuds are what was remembered.  I'll have to admit that they're pretty labor-intensive, but if you know your way around a kitchen and you like the flavor of the southwest, they're well worth springing on your friends.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

          All the best in all things always.  Now get out there and live life like you mean it!

~ Sean "Jack" O'Tyler

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Solar Sea

          The following just in from steampunk and scifi author David Lee Summers:


          This past week, I’ve been reading the fine steampunk adventure Arabella on Mars by David D. Levine. It’s a fine novel that won the 2017 Andre Norton Award for best young adult novel. One of this fantasy novel’s conceits is that it imagines an atmosphere in interplanetary space that allows ships to sail between planets in the 1800s.
          When I read the novel, I couldn’t help but think that while sailing between the planets without an atmosphere would have been beyond nineteenth century technology, it’s not beyond our current technology. In fact, I wrote a futuristic science fiction novel about such a journey called The Solar Sea. Solar sails don’t work by harnessing wind, or even the so-called solar wind, but they move by light pressure. About three years ago, I wrote a post that goes into some detail about how it works. You can read more here: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/solar-sailing/
          In my novel, I imagine a future where humans got as far as building lunar factories, but the will to go farther out into space died. While I know there’s still a strong interest in exploring space, I fear many of the people who control this country’s money don’t see the value in investing real money in all aspects of space exploration. As an example, the Trump administration routinely touts it’s support of space exploration, yet proposed significant cuts to astronomy funding in its initial budget.
          I sometimes wonder if it will take a major discovery to give us the impetus to push out into space again as we did in the 1960s and 1970s. In the novel, a technician from the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico discovers powerful particles orbiting Saturn’s moon, Titan, which could be a new energy source. When the discovery is announced, whales around the world changed their songs.
          This chain of events encourages the owner of the powerful Quinn Corporation to build a solar sail to find the source of these particles in Titan’s orbit. He gathers the best and brightest team to pilot his craft: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist specializing in whale communication; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. All together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.
          Earlier this year, my publisher and I decided to take The Solar Sea out of print. There were several reasons for this. Partly, science and technology have caught up with the novel and I thought I worthwhile to revise it to make it more accurate. Partly the ebook was created ages ago and wasn’t up to the standards of newer ebooks, so I want to address this aspect as well. Once I finish work on my steampunk novel Owl Riders, I will turn my attention to some of my out of print titles.
          In the meantime, I have a few copies of the first edition of The Solar Sea left in my stock and I’m even offering them at half off the cover price. You can order copies at http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#solarsea. I would be delighted to sign any copies you buy. Just email me at hadrosaur [at] zianet [dot] com (replacing the info between the brackets with the relevant characters) and let me know that you would like it signed. If you would like them personalized, just tell me so and let me know who to sign the book to.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The End is Nigh

          "Listen carefully to the first criticisms of your work.  Note just what it is about your work that the critics don't like--then cultivate it.  That's the part of your work that's individual and worth keeping."
                              ~ JEAN COCTEAU

 
          They're out there, oh yes they are, and I'll bet you've seen them.  The less-traveled cable channels are full of them, especially in the middle of the night.  Nation-wide AM radio call-in shows?  Check!  Internet?  Try turning on a computer without a measured bombardment, I dare you!
          Oh, I'm sorry, did I start in the middle?  Allow me to clarify:

ARE YOU READY FOR THE COMING DEMISE OF THE DOLLAR?
          I'm just a dumb secretary with an AA degree from a community college, but my millionaire boss just moved to a secret ranch in Outer Slobbovia after converting all his assets to one form of holding.  He survived the Great Depression, the Nasty Recession, the Unexpected Gold Plunge, and the Other Great Depression, and if you buy my book, I'll disclose the secret method he used that will enable you to survive the Coming End of the World!

          Now, this is brilliant, and I'm ashamed that I didn't think of it myself.  After all, I've lived my whole life in the U.S., where the politicians get elected by making up some perceived end-of-life-as-we-know-it scenario that only they can fix, the military gets the new budget they want by reporting that our ideological opponents are just one circuit board away from rendering our armed forces obsolete, where the auto industry has pretty much convinced us that it's too dangerous to drive on public roads if you aren't in an SUV that can go head-to-head with a Tiger tank.  How did it never occur to me to simply tell everyone that you're going to die in poverty if you don't buy my book?
         Oh, wait a minute, because of my personal shortcoming, integrity.  I just can't do it, largely because of the embarrassment I'm going to suffer when the sun rises tomorrow, and the only thing different is that I now have some of your money.  And his, and his, and hers, and...  Hey, looks like I'm going to survive the coming recession after all!  What are you going to do?
          Okay, at this point, long-time readers will recognize that I'm tap dancing as I try to find a point to put on this ramble.  I'm just having some fun this week in the wake of last week's detailed post on character development, but I think the point I'll make for you, the aspiring author, is to be careful.
          Let me make this perfectly clear:  This is the Golden Age of the snake-oil salesman!  Those guys who went from town to town in the Old West, selling bottles of colored water from the back of a wagon, could reach maybe a hundred people a week.  These guys today can reach a million people a nanosecond, and from deposed Nigerian princes to undercover bank auditors, they're doing it, and they have their sights on you!
          Breaking into writing is a tough prospect, and I don't think I'm disclosing any secrets to anyone who has already tried their luck with the publishing industry.  Even if you're destined to be the next J.K. Rowling, you're going to experience rejections; in all likelihood, you'll collect enough rejection slips to wallpaper your bedroom.  It's the nature of the life we've chosen.  But some of the less scrupulous among us have chosen a different path.  They prey on young writers, new writers, some not so young, with stars in their eyes and dreams in their heads, and they come calling.  They're in your E-mail, they're in your sidebar, they're in your pop-ups and your blog comments.  Once they find out that you're trying to place a book, they're as relentless as ants at a picnic.  They'll sell you this, they'll sell you that, they'll sell you that elusive success that's just around the corner...  Only they won't.  What they'll actually sell you is a bill of goods that will never be delivered, and what it will cost you is every nickel they can wring out of you, and most of your dreams besides.
          Don't believe me?  I know how easy it is to be taken in by these hucksters, because I almost was myself.  They found me as I was shopping my first novel, Temple of Exile, around looking for a publisher.  They were so smooth they made butter look like sandpaper, and they might have caught me if their first request for money, for "editing" services, hadn't been so far beyond my means.  I'm here now, an almost-victim, to try to help you avoid these predators.  And you don't have to take my word for it.  Read what the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has to say about them at http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/.  It's a fascinating read, but don't go into it unless you have a couple of hours to spend.  Yeah, it's that bad.
          So that's today's post.  There are, unfortunately, people out there, lots of them, who feel that they are somehow entitled to take your money and give you nothing for it, and they know that people with dreams are soft targets.  Knowledge is power, forewarned is forearmed, intelligence is victory; you guys are writers, you've heard them all.  They're all true.  Educate yourselves, be smart, and don't be a victim.  And until we meet again, let's be careful out there!

*The delightful photograph is from the Trades that Shaped the West living history exhibit in San Diego's Old Town, and was snapped by my good friend Richard Schulte.  You can enjoy thousands more of his quality photos by visiting his photoblog at https://coolsandiegosights.com/

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Character Study

[Original post 28 Jan 2017 in Riding the Blimp at Writing.com]

                   "Discover everything about your characters that you can before you write your story. If you get stuck at any point, they will write your dialogue for you."

                                       ~ MICHAEL J. KANNENGIESER


         I have long championed the position that characters are fiction, and that if your characters are weak, shallow, or in any way poorly drawn, then there is no amount of skillful description or plotting that can rescue your story. Those of you who have been recipients of my reviews are already familiar with my beliefs in that area. Over the next weeks and months I plan to share some of the techniques I use in the composition of my own books and stories, and I can think of no better place to start than with the construction of your characters, the people, aliens, spirits, and automatons who are going to tell your story for you by living it. I had intended to open this installment with a quote very close to, "Authors don't write books, characters do," but I couldn't find an attribution. My memory is telling me Arthur C. Clarke, but I can't find it anywhere. I know I didn't say it, but somebody did, so there you are. In any case, truer words were never spoken.
         I can't tell you how to create a character from nothing. That's one of the primary skills of the writer, so I'm going to assume that you have it. You're just idling along minding your own business, when BAM, a trapdoor opens in the gray matter, and out climbs this person. Suave guy, tough chick, or someone completely different, it doesn't matter. Another thing that doesn't matter is whether you were already working on a story, and this spontaneous creation is in response to that, or if this person just popped into being and inspired a whole narrative for his or her own use. It is a character, and as such, has to be developed.
         First, compare him to the story you are writing. Comedy, romance, action, horror, all have their denizens that populate their pages. Writing a comedy, and the guy who popped up bears a striking resemblance to Indiana Jones? Then you need to look at whether he'll stand for you making him a bumbling sort of action hero. He won't have it? Then consider a role as a pompous straight-man. Now comes the tough part: If he refuses to fit into the story you're telling, then he needs to go. Not to the gallows, but to a sort of author's limbo where ideas, settings, characters, and situations percolate for use on future projects. If he just won't gel, then maybe he does need to go permanently; if you can't make him hold still for a snapshot, how are you going to manage him for the marathon that is writing a novel?
         Let's assume he does work, though. Now he needs to be developed to a level where you know him better than you know some of your own family members. People are going to say, "I'm a pantser," or "Planning stifles creativity." If that is your philosophy for the story as a whole, that's fine, your style, your business, but a character is much more complex than a simple plot. Plots tend to behave; characters are people, and if the ones you know are anything like the ones I do, they're as drifty as the most chaotic subatomic particles. Every plot twist, every unexpected development, every decision in which your character goes to the street corner and waits for the light to change, or just darts out into traffic comes down to who that character is, and you, Mr., Miss, or Mrs. author, have to know. You have to, because if you get it wrong one time, your readers will notice, and you can take that to the bank!
         This requires some form of character sheet. I'm sorry, but no short cut exists. You have to know far more than you will ever put on the page, because if you don't, your character will be a straw man, a stick figure, with no more depth than the page he's described on. If that's good enough for your purposes, then you may as well stop reading now, but before you go, consider all the most powerful works of literature, from Dickens to Rowling. Every character comes alive, leaps off the page, draws you into the story and keeps you there for the whole ride. If you want your fiction to grab your readers like that, then read on. Writing is hard work. If it wasn't, we'd all be on the best-sellers list. If you want to be a top-tier writer, it begins with doing the work.
         So, the Character Sheet. What goes into it? When you first think of this character, record the obvious things. Height, weight, build, color of eyes and hair, distinguishing marks, all the things you'd tell a cop if you'd witnessed a robbery. Ah, but then it gets interesting. Let's examine each point that you need to know intimately to make your character come alive.
         ROLE: The first thing you need to decide is whether this character is the Lead, the Opposition, the Confidant (sort of the Lead's version of a Henchman), the actual Henchman, the Romantic Interest, or a Minor Player. If a Minor Player, it is important to know whether he favors a victory by the Lead, or if he's partial to the Opposition.
         CONNECTION TO LEAD: If this character is not the Lead, then he or she must know or otherwise have an interest in the Lead's success or failure, and you have to know what that is. Whether a blood relative, childhood friend, or someone who read about the Lead in the paper, and views him as heroic, or as a villain who must be stopped, there is a connection between them, and it must be defined. It isn't enough to throw a character into the mix who wants to bring the Lead to his knees. There is a reason, and knowing that reason, and keeping true to it, is what elevates the story above the level of Archie and Jughead.
         STORY GOAL: Every character wants something tangible, something that will benefit him personally. It isn't enough to say that the Confidant wants the Lead to win. It's all about the why. What does she gain if the Lead goes home victorious, and what does she lose if he loses? That's the motivation, and without it, the Confidant becomes a Sidekick, motivated only by hero-worship, and any other character becomes less interesting than that.
         MANNERISMS: This is very important, and one of the few things that can grow as the character does. If you have anything in mind for him, write it down here. Talks with her hands, sways when standing in one place, nervous tic in the left eye, anything, anything at all. Then leave a lot of space, because much of what you write as the story develops will need to be recorded here. Don't skimp on this. If your character drums the fingers of her right hand on the outside of her thigh when she's agitated, and a hundred pages later, she starts popping bubble gum under the same kind of stress, readers will notice. Readers notice everything, and that's only good if you've gotten everything right.
         SPEECH PATTERNS: Here go your character's regionalisms and accents, his embarrassment talking to the opposite gender, his stutter, the way he says "y' know?" at the end of every sentence, and all that jazz. I suppose you could combine this with Mannerisms, but keeping it separated helps me keep these points from getting lost in the shuffle.
         PERSONALITY: List here the character's basic traits, the qualities that are going to inform his every action, be that a bubbly optimism, cowardice, underhandedness, saint-like honesty, any sort of quirk or flaw you can think of, and stay true to them. Again, readers will notice. Note: the four indispensable traits of the Lead must be Courage, Virtue, Likability, and Competence. Lose Courage or Competence, and you have a comedic hero, as in Beverly Hills Ninja. Lose Virtue or Likability, and you have an anti-hero; think Paul Newman in Hombre. Lose two or more, and you will have an unsympathetic ass who will kill any story you place him in.
         BACKGROUND: This is simply the pertinent facts in your character's life up until the beginning of the story. Examine the story you are writing, and let your imagination run wild; a young woman who had grown up in a convent wouldn't likely choose to become a gangster's moll, for example. Jot down a few details. They needn't be exhaustive biographies, but you need to know what has driven these people to the time and place of your story, and what factors they believe are important. A few areas to solidify:
         Geography: Where was he born? Into what conditions? Where did he grow up? Was the childhood location stable, or did the family move around a lot?
         Family: What were her parents like? Does she have siblings? What is their relationship like? Did she marry or have children, married or not?
         Childhood: What was his childhood like? Was he happy? Abused? Popular? Miserable? Lonely? What caused his underlying condition, and what sort of person did that make him?
         Education: Did she go to college? Where? Did she do graduate work? Was there any other sort of training such as vocational school or military training?
         PERSONAL LIFE: Where does the character live? A house, an apartment, a co-op, a condo? In what state, city, or town, real or made up, in what neighborhood? Is there a spouse? A parent? A partner? Are there children or pets? What is his social life like? Who are his friends? How does he socialize with them? Does he go to the gym, do things with his son, enjoy a night out with the boys, or a card game with his wife? Does he like to go dancing or visit museums? We are all products of the road that brought us to this point. I am 68 years old, and I still carry baggage from my childhood home. Your characters do too. You need to capture it.
         PRIVATE LIFE: What does the character like to do when she's alone. People don't just sit and stare at the wall until the next dramatic plot twist arises. We all have things we like to do. I write, play video games, read, watch music and documentary videos, and sometimes work out just for a few examples. You need to know whether your character is a bookworm or a squash player. Also, most people have a secret they would kill or die before disclosing. Maybe your character is a porn addict. Maybe she's into BDSM. Maybe she's embarrassed to be a Furry. Once you know what that character is hiding, she will fairly leap off the page! It needn't even be that dramatic. Patience Hobbs, the airship pilot of the Beyond the Rails series, has a small tattoo in an area that is always covered by Victorian clothing. None of her friends know she has it, and it doesn't come up in the stories, but I know she has it. I know who put it on her, why she allowed it, and what it signifies, and it informs her actions in ways almost too subtle to imagine.
         PROFESSIONAL LIFE: What does he do for a living? He does something, unless he is retired, a bum, or a member of the 1%. What is it? Did the story you are telling come about because of his job, such as a police officer or a journalist? Or was it an obligation dumped in his lap by his shiftless brother-in-law, and attempting to solve the dilemma it presents is going to bring him into conflict with boss and coworkers? How is he viewed at work? Is he a valued team member, or a problem employee? Who are his friends? Who are his allies? These are often not the same people. Who are his enemies and his rivals? Again, not always the same. Does the story take place in his work environment, or is it going on outside, maybe affecting his performance? All things that contribute to a well-rounded character, and vital for the author to know.
         SKILLS: These are special abilities that the character brings to the story. This is perhaps easiest to envision in a fantasy story. If your character is a mage, what are her most familiar spells, the ones she will go to in an emergency because she can rely on them? Which are harder for her to manage, ones with a high payoff, but a big risk attached to attempting them? The housewife in your story may have dropped off the kids at school and gone from there to a two-hour karate lesson every day for the past five years. This will inform the way she looks, carries herself, and her confidence level at the very least, but it will also render her attempt to free her children from their kidnapper considerably more believable than if she's a librarian who hasn't exercised since the Bush administration. Once you identify a skill that your character is going to need, identify in parallel with it a reasonable way she could have acquired it, and when it comes up in the story, you will have a full understanding of it, and be ready to explain it in a thoroughly believable fashion.
         STRENGTH: What is this character's strongest positive trait, the one that will inform his approach to solving every problem? Express this in one word, if possible, certainly not more than three or four. This character may be completely villainous in his outlook, but everyone believes that he himself is righteous, and has powerful strengths to support that belief. These are things like loyalty, ingenuity, discretion, and adaptability. Most of us would be honored to be described in those terms, but those are character traits that would serve a villain well.
         WEAKNESS: Similarly, what is the one dominant weakness that will test your character to the fullest when the going gets tough? These are the Seven Deadly Sins sort of traits. Envy, greed, laziness, arrogance, and selfishness all belong on this list, along with sloth, gluttony, and so on. Tempting though it is, pick one, and make your character face it by the end of the story.
         NAME: I know, it's a small thing to name a character. Throw a dart at a telephone directory, and there you are. True to some extent, but it's not quite that simple. There are a few considerations you have to take into account. Is your character ethnic, or from an ethnic background? A migrant Mexican worker is unlikely to be named Clive. You need to consider the period in which the child was born. When I went to school, the most popular name for girls was Debbie; my daughter's school was awash in a sea of Jennifers. Girls in the Victorian era, in which most of us steampunks write, are more likely to carry such cumbersome handles as Theodosia, Eudora, or Henrietta. Consider who the character is to imagine how her name might have been changed with use. A party-loving club-crawler named Cecelia might encourage her friends to call her CeeCee; a college professor of the same name might decline that particular honor. Nicknames are usually given by others, and they aren't always flattering. My mother's legal name was Kay Frances Tyler. Not the worst name in the white pages by any means, but it didn't quite fit the professional gambler that was mom, a fun-loving girl at home in a man's world with the nerve to bet it all on the turn of the next card, and show a steely-eyed poker face looking over a pair of deuces. At home, the other adults called her Kay, but on those occasions when I found myself accompanying her to the local gambling haunts for any reason, everyone I ever met in that world called her Frankie; it fit her to a T.
         Most importantly, help your readers out by choosing names appropriate to the character. A high-powered attorney might be named Grant or Elliot; the drug dealer he's defending probably won't. Finally, keep your names distinct. Do not, under any circumstances, have three important characters named Edmund, Edward, and Edwin. Okay, nobody's that heavy-handed, but a useful trick is to write down the alphabet on a page of your notebook, and when you name an important character, for example, David Smith, cross out the D and the S, and don't attach those initials to any other important characters in that story.
         All right, I know I said a few naming considerations, and this is the biggest section in the article, but naming conventions are important. The name describes your character, and a well-chosen name defines her. Done right, you can tell a bank officer from a pre-school teacher, a liberal from a conservative, one who embraces life from one who endures it. Done wrong, names can lead a reader into a minefield of confusion, and I've been led to believe that readers don't like that. They don't like it to the point that they will remember your name, and never buy another book that has your name on it.
         THE BIGGEST NO-NO: Resist the temptation, no matter how strong, to impart all of this information to your reader. The reader should glean, whether through dialogue or exposition, no more than two-thirds of the information you compile on these characters, and on the thoroughly detailed ones, closer to half. Part of the character's power to hold the reader spellbound is the mystery, the uncertainty, the romance of what's implied. Use that mystery to seduce, to charm, to intrigue. Never relieve that curiosity, and they'll remember your characters into their old age.
         Okay, I've given you a ton of material here to use in creating and developing your characters, and you're probably thinking, "What's the matter with this guy? I just want to tell a story!" Well, I'm honest. That's my character trait that I fall back on when the going gets tough, and make no mistake, if you're a writer, the going is tough! It's hard to get a firm figure, but taking the averages of the various places I've looked, it appears that some 5,000 books are published every day! The majority are self-published, which means the writer is responsible for the quality of his own work. No one is standing over him making him take care of the details, and so most of them don't. There are tens of millions of books available for sale on Amazon; go on, ask me how I know! Vast numbers of them have sloppy grammar and spelling, improper punctuation, ridiculous premises, and are riddled with plot-holes. They are a complete waste of every aspect, from the writer's time to the reader's 99c, or whatever he paid for his Kindle edition. Anyone who has the misfortune to encounter one of these is probably going to swear off indies for life, so they harm all of us. The things I'm telling you in articles like this are the secrets of success. Do the work. There are no short cuts. Writing is hard work. After all, you're creating a world, a society, a culture, and all the people in it. You're controlling every aspect of every character. Do you think it's going to be as easy as dealing a hand of solitaire? If you haven't been approaching character creation using some formula similar to this, why not? The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. First do the work, then enjoy the success. It doesn't happen any other way.
         And I'm going to wrap this up here. That's a lot to take in, and if you have been pantsing your characters, you're probably in shock right now. I'll be around for questions and comments, and would love to hear your thoughts on this. Until next time, read well, and write better!