Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Steampunk Ghostbuster Part 3: MidSouthCon 33

For the last couple of weeks, I'm been working on a steampunk ghostbuster's backpack unit. That build is nearly complete; all I need to add are a few finishing touches, some antiquing, and of course the straps that will (hopefully) keep the back on my back.

But the pack is only half the device. There's a hand-held 'thrower' unit that attaches to the pack via a thick cable. The thrower emits the stream of luminescent rarefied aether which allows our intrepid steampunk hero to capture pesky specters.

My thrower comes with a built-in surprise, which I hope will lend a bit of theater to the Con's opening ceremony.

Below are the parts which went into the thrower:

As you can see, there's nothing extravagant here. Mostly, it's sturdy high-pressure (schedule 40) PVC pipe and a few fittings. The gray thing with the red handle is a 2 inch ball valve. The gauge is a working 0 to 100 PSI air pressure gauge. The other metal item is a simple air fill valve.

After drilling and threading holes for the valve and the gauge, I used PVC solvent to build the rest. Then I painted it copper and added a few touches of texture here and there. The thrower isn't quite finished, but you get the idea.

What's the surprise, you ask?

It's a surprise. Some of you have probably already figured it out. If not, I'm saving it for the MidSouthCon 33 opening ceremony.

Here's the pack and the thrower, shown together from various angles:

This thing is going to be beautiful once the final finish is applied. Beautiful and heavy -- I think the pack alone weighs around 35 pounds.

I also picked out a hat, and it's on its way here. I choose a John Bull top hat, shown below:

Hey, you can't be a proper steampunk gentleman without an excellent hat. Going about hatless just isn't done, old chap.

Hey Look I Still Have Books to Sell!

Wherein Our Hero plugs a few of his titles, because 2 inch ball valves and elegant top hats aren't cheap.

All the Turns of Light -- Airships! Sea Monsters! Magic gone mad! And coffee, lots of coffee...

The Five Faces -- A murderer taunts his victims with drawing depicting the date and manner of their gruesome deaths. The killer hasn't been wrong yet -- and now Markhat's drawing has arrived. Can any man, even Markhat, escape Fate?

The Darker Carnival -- Out in April, so be watching for it!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Steampunk Ghostbuster, Part 2: MidSouthCon 33

In yesterday's blog (click here if you missed it), I started building a steampunk ghostbuster's backpack. I got a lot of work done today on the pack, and while the unit is a long way from being done, I'd thought I'd share a few pics in a rare non-Sunday blog post.

Here's the rig, with some copper and widgets added:

Please keep in mind none of the actual detail work has started yet. This is all rough high-level stuff going on. It's the little details that really bring a piece to life, and those aren't there yet, but I'm still pretty pleased with the look.

At the bottom of the rig -- to the far right in the picture above -- you'll see a blue disk-shaped affair. That part lights up, and it;s working. Below is a pic of the EL wiring in action.

It produces the eerie blow glow I was looking for. I'll hide the red LED and the power/switch unit with widgets later.

The main problem I'm going to face is the sheer weight of the backpack. All that copper and steel isn't light. I may have to hire an able-bodied assistant to discretely follow me around and hold the pack up if it gets any heavier.

After the antiquing and the detail work is done, I'll start work on the thrower, which will attach to the backpack via a flexible metallic conduit. The point of attachment will be the copper thing sticking up from the center on the far left in the first photo.

The thrower will also incorporate some lighted elements.

That's it for now -- more pics this weekend!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Steampunk Ghostbuster, Part 1: MidSouthCon 33

It takes a lot to get most writers excited. Face it, we're a surly, neurotic bunch, constantly over-caffeinated, often sleep-deprived, and our heads all ache from staring at the dreaded blank page that, unless filled, means the end of our stint as an author.

But if you'll look at the MidSouthCon image above, you'll see something that actually made me perk up. Why, I even went so far as to open both eyes and even rise from my customary slump -- because my name is suddenly on the same page with luminaries such as Cary Doctorow and Melissa Gay.

I'm not comparing myself with Cory Doctorow. I'm not worthy to cap the man's pen -- but as Toastmaster of MidSouthCon 33, I'll get to sit at the table with the real Guests of Honor and hang out with them under no threat of being removed by security.

Not bad for a Mississippi kid most often described as 'that weird dude from Yocona.'

As Toastmaster , I get to speak at the opening ceremonies of the Con. I'll also be hosting a writing panel, entitled 'Humor in Fantasy' (dates and times to be announced). So if you're aspiring author or a reader who wants a peek behind the curtain, I invite you to look me on on the Con schedule and drop by.

I've attended MidSouthCon many times, but always in street clothes. This year, hang on to your top hats, gentle readers, because I am coming in full-blown cosplay, as Artemis Watson, Spectral Elimination Agent.

In other words, a steampunk ghostbuster.

My clothing I'm going to keep under wraps until the day of the Con itself. But what is a ghostbuster, even one from 1888, without his trusty positron collider backpack and beam thrower?

A sad man in a bowler hat, that's what. Since I can't exactly order a steampunk ghostbuster backpack rig from Amazon, I'm building my own, and I'm going to record the build here, week by week, in my blog.

Now, just in case you've never seen the movie classic 'Ghostbusters,' here's the proton pack from the original movie:

It's a nice piece of special effects gear. It looks just techy enough to be convincing.

But as my own rig needs to use the technology of a fictional Victorian 1888, my pack is going to be a bit different. No machined steel, no decals, no modern insultaed cables. Wood and brass and copper were the order of the day.

Now, keeping in mind I'm a writer, you can probably guess what my budget for this project might be. Go on, guess, and if you chose '20 bucks or less,' grab yourself a gold star.

So, of to my junk crate went I, heavy of heart but filled with purpose. Here are the parts I selected, minus the 3 inch PVC sewer pipes that didn't make it into the picture:

It's a humble pile of what can accurately be called junk. Plumbing leftovers, wire, defective engine parts, a toilet fill assembly, old printer cables -- just junk.

Now view the same junk (and a few strays added along the way) after being painted one of three colors -- gloss black, hammered brass, or bright copper. With no rhyme or reason employed to select what bits of junk wound up painted what. Let Chaos have a hand, I say.

It's all still junk, but now it's junk on a mission. And that mission is to somehow fit together into what fools people momentarily into believing they are looking at a machine of some sort.

I needed something to serve as a frame for my machine, and as luck would have it I found an old wooden serving tray that was stored improperly and wound up curling due to contact with moisture. The curvature is perfect to work as a backpack, and the dimensions of the board were just right. I sanded it, stained it, and then I spent most of today bolting various items of junk to it.

I give you the basic main component installation of my Victorian ghostbuster rig.

It is by no means finished. No. The finished version will feature lights -- lots of them. There will also be copper tubes and brass wires running everywhere, as well as dials and meters.

This is just the skeleton. Fleshing it out will take days. Imagine each of the doo-dads pictured above connected to all the others. Oh, and the bottom-most thingamabob?

It's transparent over parts of its surface. I'm going to fill it with eerie blue LED or EL lighting, to give the rig some flash. A lot of the exterior wiring will also glow, since EL (electroluminescent) wiring has gotten so cheap even I can afford it.

The weird rings are actually worn-out clutch plates from my motorcycle. The tall black thing beneath the crossing of the cables is the agitator motor from a Dyson vacuum cleaner. The cable things are old school serial printer cables, and the lighted display at the bottom is a CD-ROM case with part of an old deadbolt door lock housing attached.

The whole thing is a little more than two feet tall and about 14 inches wide (perfect as a back-pack). It's already pretty bloody heavy, and I haven't even put batteries in the tubes yet. I used bolts to attach everything, so there was a lot of drilling, but other than that the construction is basic.

I'd post a plan here but I don't have any such thing. I grab parts and if they look cool together and I can figure out how to make them fit, yay, they get added. Which is also my approach to life, I suppose, and yes it does result in the occasional hot mess.

Once the backpack is complete, I'll bolt a leather harness to it, and start work on the hand-held beam emitter. And I'll post all the pics here.

Oh yeah -- buy a book! Or leave a review! Remember, every purchase helps fund my acquisition of old vacuum cleaner parts and out-of-date discount bread. Thank you very much.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

No Words

I don't need to tell any of you it's been a rough week here on Planet Earth.

I can imagine aliens discussing Earth as we sometimes discuss bad neighborhoods. "I'd not touch down there, Zalod," said G'Frick to his cephalopod friend. "That place is so violent you can get killed just for drawing a cartoon."

G'Frick the three-legged saucer pilot is quite correct. On Earth, you can indeed be cut down simply because someone finds the lines you drew with plain black ink to be unacceptable.

You won't see me type the words 'as an artist' here in reference to myself. I do not and have never considered myself an artist. I don't wear a lot of black turtlenecks and I don't launch into lengthy orations on the 'art of the craft' or the 'craft of the art' or anything else along those lines.

I'm just a guy who tries to tell entertaining stories in the hopes of making a buck off them. I believe the classic definition of such activity is that of being a 'hack.' I've been called that before, and I didn't take the expected offense. Storytelling is an ancient and noble tradition, and so is eating. I don't see a single conflict of interest there.

But I do take offense at the notion that my words might get me killed one day. While my body is hardly likely to ever grace the cover of GQ Magazine, I've come to rely on the wretched thing, and rifle rounds would put an end to that relationship.

Am I likely to ever be targeted by nut-job fundamentalists of any stripe over something I wrote?

No. I write fantasy. Sure, there are a lot of people who see my genre as a tool of Hell, Devil, and Co., but in a happy twist of fate these people don't tend to read anything but Jack Chick tracts and they are thus unaware of my existence, much less my list of titles.

But that's not the point, really. If one of us hacks is in danger, then we all are, to a degree. Because once the arts come under assault -- once we who draw or write or make music or sculpt or paint are told we can't cross this line, or say these words, or mock this idea, then we might as well hand over our tools to the gunmen and let them take over the whole field of human expression.

Which would mean we'd only ever get to see one narrow view of the world and our place in it. Only hear one song. Only read one book.

I don't care to live in such a world. I doubt you do either.

It won't happen, of course. No matter how many gunmen take aim, or how many bullets fly. We as a species are simply too fractious, too ornery, too determined to each have our own way to ever unite, willingly or not, under a single icon.

Which is either our saving grace or our fatal flaw. Only time will decide that.

But for now, the arts and the artists and yes, even the lowly hacks, we will fight back. No one is ever going to tell me what I can or cannot write. And I'm not alone. At my sides slouch ten thousand times ten thousand bleary-eyed, coffee-swilling hacks, each of us pounding furiously away at manuscripts while not giving one single wet frog fart what religious, moral, or cultural objections our works might raise.

Do I write to insult, to mock, to inflame?

No. Quite the contrary, in fact. I want to make my readers happy. Happy with the experience of reading my book. Happy that they chose to spend their time and money on my work. I welcome Muslims, Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, Druids, Rosicrucians, Witches, Pastafarians, Subgeniuses, Orthodox Mayonnaissers, molds, fungi, Dalmations, heavy earth moving machines, robins, meter readers, Batman, and everyone else to my books. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I just want to tell a good story, and make someone smile.

But I'll be damned if I'll let anyone tell me how to do that. Nobody has the right. To no one will I extend the privilege.

So, to my fellow hacks, to the artists, to anyone and everyone who works to illuminate or illustrate some facet of existence, I salute you. We just lost a few of our own.

Mourn them, yes, but carry on. We owe them that. Let's bury the nut-jobs under an avalanche of good books and good music and good art. Bad books and bad music and bad art, even. Anything, as long as we don't ever let madmen dictate the direction and content of the arts from the barrel of a gun.

Carry on, folks. Always carry on.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015: The Time Traveler's Field Guide

Don't press the red button. Really. Just don't.
Thank you for purchasing the GE Time Tourist Model 100. We hope you enjoy the advanced features of this deluxe time machine. With proper care and maintenance it will provide you with many years of carefree service, provided you don't create Catastrophic Paradox Events and destroy the universe (this event is not covered in your GE Extended Warranty purchase).

You have entered a destination year of 2015. This destination year presents many opportunities for fascinating tourism experiences. Please observe these local customs and practices to prevent detection by the locals.
  • Cell Phone Use. To blend in, you should AT ALL TIMES be either texting, browsing, conversing, or otherwise consulting your cell phone (i.e., a primitive hand-held computing/communication device, see Glossary for complete description). Proper use involves holding the device within 20 cm of your face at all times, even when walking, driving, or engaging in any other form of interaction. Direct person-to-person communication in 2015 is rare, and generally only conducted between Suspects and their Arresting Officers (see Glossary for full descriptions). Cell phone use during Movies (see Glossary) is mandatory.
  • Verbal Communication. When in public, and especially in the presence of Small Children (Figs. 6 through 37) pepper your speech with expletives common to the time (See Glossary, Vocabulary Addendum 16). Do so forcefully, in a loud voice, and with frequent repetition.  TIME TRAVELER PROTIP -- If you are not drawing hostile glares from strangers, you are insulting them by NOT USING ENOUGH PROFANITY. Increase potency and frequency.
  • Clothing and Dress. When in a casual public setting, demonstrate your down-to-earth nature by donning soiled, mis-matched clothing, which should prominently display profane verbiage (see Glossary, 'Shopping at the Wal-Mart, early 21st Century'). If attending a formal event or venue, dress appropriately in cargo shorts. No one has paid any attention to dress since 1959.
Use of English in North America. By 2015, spoken English as a language had begun to devolve into the system of grunts and gestures extant by 2100. If you find yourself in North America in this period, here is a guide to basic communication, including the phrases selected by fellow time tourists as those most often employed among the natives:
  1. "I seen / done / been." Use of tenses for verbs was largely abandoned by American English speakers in 2015. Thus, do not say "I have been to the emergency room," but say instead "I been treated for gunshot wounds at the emergency room." When giving statements to the police, do not say "I saw the crazed gunman open fire." Instead, say "I seen him start shooting, please stop beating me, I'm not resisting, I'm not resisting."
  2. "Like." The word 'like,' once defined as 'similar to' or 'having affection or favor toward,' became an all-purpose modifier by 2000. Thus, one should say "Like, I mean, you are, like, in, like, the room but, like, I don't know, like, yeah," when one means "I am in favor of light trade embargoes when they benefit local farmers."
  3. "Bro / bra / bae." All indicators of an intimate relationship, or precursors to an impending bar-brawl. Use sparingly, as the rules for usage are still evolving. Suggested safe use: "Like, bra, I been like, you know, sure." CAUTION: Use of the phrase 'Don't tase me bro' will almost certainly result in a tasing (see Glossary for definition).
  4. "I am sorry if you were offended by my words / actions / discharge of a shotgun in a petting zoo." Apologies in which the speaker takes responsibility for any wrongdoing vanished from the language in the 1990s. Instead, the speaker should acknowledge the hurt feelings, but then blame the other party or parties for feeling them. Particularly popular among political figures until elections were eliminated in favor of random coin-tosses by the Like It Matters Act of 2079.
The year 2015, while an excellent choice as a tourism destination date, also presents certain risks for even the seasoned time traveler. Remember, avoid direct eye contact with the natives, don't eat anything from the '99 cent value menu,' and don't bother with any of the Diehard sequels.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year De-Resolutions

A new year is nearly upon us.

Many greet the arrival of a new year with calm resolve. They see the dawning of January 1 as an opportunity for growth, for change, for making bold, daring dreams come true.

Me? I'll be down in the bunker cataloging my stores of rice and ammunition. I mean sheesh, people, have you looked outside lately?

Chaos abounds. Economies tilt on the precipice. "Duck Dynasty" was renewed for another season. If some low beast isn't slouching toward Bethlehem, it's only because the civil war in Syria sent it on a long dusty detour.

So with all that in mind, and you do realize whose blog it is you are reading, I offer unto you my de-resolutions for the upcoming new year. Mind your head, the bunker ceiling gets really low back here where I store the potable water.

  • As Thoreau suggested, simplify, simplify, simplify. I shall seek to reduce my dependence on the products of technology -- you over there, STOP LAUGHING. Okay, well, you got me. Even I can't complete this obvious farce with a straight face. Fact is, I'm going to bury myself in gadgets while I still can, because the day may come when staring into a meager brush-fire and swatting at mosquitoes comprises the evening's entertainment for most surviving North Americans.
  • I will seek to better know my neighbors, in order to re-establish a sense of community. Hilarious, right? But this time I'm not kidding. Just a few minutes of conversation, a brief visit, and you'll know a lot about the people you live by and, more importantly, where they keep their canned goods and other post-apocalypse valuables. After all, looting need not be a haphazard affair, if one invests a few moments in preparation!
  • I will start -- and finish -- at least three major DIY home improvement projects this year. First, because doing the work yourself saves money, second because you don't want a thirty-man construction crew knowing where your secret escape tunnel lies, and finally because even the most lax county building ordinances frown on the installation of .50 caliber belt-fed air-cooled machine gun turrets.

So I say, bring it on, 2015! Just wait until after June because the radiation shields on the backup pantry won't be ready until then.

Mug and Meralda News

The print edition of All the Turns of Light is now on sale! You can grab a copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. 

Here are links to each store. Both cost around $10.80 US as of this posting.

Of course, e-book editions are available everywhere as well, for a good bit less than ten bucks.

If anyone wants a signed copy, slide me an email and we'll work something out!

Hope you all had a good Christmas. I got a remote-control quadcopter with a built-in camera. As soon as I can do more than drift sideways and crash, I post some drone video!

Until then, it's back to work. Take care, people!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pre-Yule Post

"Sorry, kid, it's a Zune."

The holiday is nearly upon us. The stores are all packed with what appear to be shoppers in the early stages of zombification. The streets are choked with them too, usually sitting at traffic lights texting furiously while the lights go from red to green to yellow and red again.

What I really want for Christmas is a pair of water-cooled, belt-fed 50 caliber machine guns mounted to the hood of my vehicle. While I abhor violence, I do find it amusing if applied with panache, and nothing says 'Hey moron get off your phone and drive' quite like sawing their Ford Taurus in half with a relentless hail of large-caliber lead.

One aspect of the holiday season that truly needs updating is the traditional music. I'm not sure if I'm the only one's who has noticed, but modern people rarely go a 'wassailing, nor do they dash through the snow in sleighs, one-horse and open or not.

What we need are songs that reflect the experiences of our time, and, as always, I'm here to help!

Updated Christmas Carols:

"Stop Texting Merry Gentlemen The Traffic Light is Green"
"Mary Did You Know Your Kids Are Behaving Like Meth-Crazed Chimpanzees"
"Away in a Warehouse, Back-Ordered 'till Spring"
"The Twelve Days of Rehab"
"Ring That Bloody Bell in My Ear One More Time I'll Punch You in The Face"

The last one is my favorite. Hey, 'tis the season!

Mug and Meralda News

The print version of All the Turns of Light is ready, save for one final step -- I'm waiting on delivery of an actual printed proof copy, which I must inspect and approve. If it is up to snuff, I press a button, and the Amazon product page goes live in a few hours.

I was hoping the proofs would arrive this week, but given the time of the year, it should be no surprise they haven't made it to my door yet. I feel sure I'll see them Monday or Tuesday, and if all goes well, print copies will be on sale by Christmas. I'll keep you posted.

Final Words

I wish to extend a hearty Happy Holidays to every one of you -- blog fans, readers, people who Googled the dead Frank Tuttle and wound up here by mistake, Holly my Samhain editor, Natalie the brilliant cover artist, Maria and Randy of Bear Mountain Books, whose expert editing and conversion expertise made Turns of Light a far better book than it would have been in there absence, my beta readers, my fellow writers, and finally to Tiny Tim himself!

May the deity or supernatural force of your choice confer upon you events you will perceive as blessings, or at least stop hassling you, amen.

Now get back to work, all you authors!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Obligatory Holiday Decorating and Gift Guide for Writers

People do strange things during the holidays. Drink eggnog. Listen to that infernal barking dogs Christmas song. Willingly sit through long elaborate meals with Uncle Eggbert, who won't drink tap water or eat anything cooked with it because that's how the secret Communists deliver the mind-control drugs.

But among the more inexplicable habits of Christmas is, to me, the urge to wrap seemingly random objects in tinsel and plastic simulated fir tree needles.

Streetlights? Wrapped and lit, because apparently they weren't already sufficiently lit. Storefronts, business signs, random shrubs, the Courthouse clock. All of it festooned with decor I assume to be festive.Some of it does indeed seem festive. Some of it, not so much.

A wreath of the front grille of a fire truck? Okay. That way, when panicked drivers look up from their texting and realize a fire truck is two inches off their bumper, they get a little holiday cheer along with enough adrenaline to induce a myocardial infarction. But that's important, because it's Christmas.

But where do you draw the line? Do we add wreaths to the gun cameras of our F-18s? Should we rush the launch of an orbit-ready Christmas tree to the ISS?

To provoke thought and discussion around this topic, let's play a little game I call "Festive or Not?"

Holly and ornaments strung along police tape at an active crime scene. Antlers added to chalk outline of decedent on pavement.

Tinsel and garlands strung from motion detector to motion detector around Area 51. Black wreaths on the front of the unmarked security vehicles that appear from nowhere to whisk you away to a place decidedly less jolly than the North Pole. Sprigs of mistletoe sent anonymously to your next of kin.

Elaborate lighting displays around each settling pool at all municipal sewage treatment plants.

It's a lot more nuanced that it looks, folks.

What to Buy a Writer, or, Look, There's a Liquor Store

Is there a writer in your life? Are you struggling to come up with that perfect Christmas gift for him or her?

If so, my condolences, because I'm a writer and I know full well what a morose bunch of budding alcoholics we writers usually are.  I'm constantly staring off into space, oblivious to the world around me until the front bumper strikes something solid and the air bags deploy.

Every year, it's the same dilemma.  What to give for Christmas?  What will make your writer's eyes light up, or at least open halfway?

As usual, I'm here to help.  My list of suggestions follows, in order of descending utility.

1) BOOZE.  HOOCH. ROTGUT.  That's right, kids, the Demon Rum himself.  Why?  Simple.

A writer's job is to plumb the depths of the human condition, or at least convince a harried editor that he or she is plumbing said depths long enough for the ink to dry on a contract.  And the first thing you'll learn when you start taking a really close look at the much-vaunted human condition is that doing so induces a sudden, powerful urge to have a drink.  Or three.  Or maybe just leave the whole bottle and start running a tab, because right after the urge to drink comes the realization that it's going to be a long bad night.

2) A THESAURUS. Because nothing works better as a coaster for the drinks mentioned above than a really thick book.  I'd counsel against actually using a thesaurus for writing, because no one wants to read sentences in which characters advance, meander, promenade, traipse, or wend one's way across the room.

3) A CAT.  Hemingway had a cat, right?  He had a cat because a cat is the only creature on Earth more vain and self-centered than the average author.  While other more social animals might feel neglected or ignored by an author, who is probably staring off into space or rummaging in the cabinets for more liquor, a cat is perfectly comfortable being ignored because it doesn't know anyone else is in the room anyway.  The cat's 'I don't care if you exist or not' attitude is perfectly suited to the author's mindset of 'What? Huh? Who?'

4) AN ELEGANT LEATHER-BOUND JOURNAL.  We all know that writers, and I mean serious professional writers with book contracts and everything, are always prepared to whip out a convincing character or a heart-wrenching plot at the drop of a dangling participle. So give your author the most expensive, ornate leather journal you can find, wait a year, drag it out from under the whiskey-stained thesaurus, and give it to the writer again.  They won't ever know, because each and every page will be as blank as it was the day you bought it.  Seriously, people.  I tried the whole notebook by the bed schtick for years, and I recorded exactly two notes in it, which read:

"Char. A sees the thing, intro. other scene w/char B, str. exc. Plot hole & 9 days."
"Why G. not cld/not E?"

Which explains why Hemingway's cat had six toes, for all I know.  But leatherbound notebooks make pretty good coasters too, and if the glasses sweat on them, you can tell people the stains are from a solo hike through Guatemala which you took to 'reconnect to your muse.'

I don't have a Number 5.  You should probably stop at Number 1, because gift-wrapping a cat is nearly impossible and writers can spot a gift wrapped thesaurus from across a crowded room anyway.

Mug and Meralda News

The print version of the new book, All the Turns of Light, is done, cover and all. Amazon is reviewing it now, and I expect the print version sales page to go live early next week (if I had to bet money, I'd say Tuesday). The printed book will go for $12 in the US, and the equivalent amount everywhere else. 

Speaking of the new book, another wonderful gift for an author is that of the Amazon reader review. Reviews tell potential buyers that the book is being read. Of course, good reviews are the very best kind, but honest ones are always welcome. If you've read it, and you liked it, posting a review will only take a moment. Thanks!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Doctor Will Fee You Now

This won't hurt a bit.
I'm not a big fan of doctors.

I didn't phrase that sentiment well. I have nothing against physicians as people. I'm sure some of them perform a service of some sort to society as a whole, if only by dint of not being street mimes. I don't cross the street to avoid doctors. I'll talk to them at parties. I even know better than to try to wheedle free medical advice out of them, when we meet socially.

It's going to their offices and sitting on that ridiculous paper-covered bench and having the inevitable conversation about weight and exercise that don't like.

But, despite my efforts to avoid the six-hour wait in a tiny room filled with coughing derelicts and shrieking, mucous-covered infants, I am forced to visit a doctor occasionally. Last week saw one of those days.

As I sat in a corner and inhaled the kind of bacteria-rich air one normally associates with Europe during the Black Plague, I made certain stern resolutions concerning my future relationships with doctors and the medical profession in general.

  • I will NEVER wait more than two hours to see a doctor, ever again. This includes situations in which the transaxle assembly from a Peugot is protruding from my chest cavity. I will crawl to the door and leave via Hearse, if necessary, but I am done with the long waits. Here's some medical advice for you, doc -- don't schedule 25 appointments for the same half-hour. Or do, I don't care, I won't stick around. My time is no less valuable than yours.
  • I don't want to be be in your office. You certainly don't want me there.  Let's stick to the matter at hand. Stitch up whatever is bleeding and present me the bill. If I want a lecture on wellness - wait, there's no point in completing that sentence because I do not and never will want a lecture on wellness. Next.
  • If I had to sit behind the receptionist's desk and listen to the Great Unwashed hack and snort and moan and whine all day every day I would quickly grow to hate them, just as your receptionist Cruella de Satanica does. I don't expect a hug and a pat, but I didn't come here to engage in a snarling contest, either. 
  • Just give me the freaking pills. That's what this whole rant boils down to. You aren't Marcus Welby, caring, concerned comic-strip MD, and I'm not going to experience some life-changing epiphany on this paper-covered bench and run out and become a granola-gobbling, marathon-running, heart-rate aware athlete. Just scribble on the pad and let's both get on with our lives, because oh by the way you've got 175 more people lined up to see before lunch and it sounds like Cruella just bit someone.
Rant Mode off.

Mug and Meralda News

The new book (All the Turns of Light) is enjoying good reviews and brisk sales. Work on Book 3 is underway!

Also in the works is the print edition of All the Turns of Light. I hope to announce completion on that project this week. The print version of the first book in the series, All the Paths of Shadow, is already available (click here for the print version).

Markhat News

The second round of edits on the new Markhat book, The Darker Carnival, is complete! The release date is April, which is getting close.

And that's it for this week. Remember, kids, take your medicine, look both ways before crossing the street, and never fire off an incendiary round while inside the gasbag of a hydrogen-filled dirigible. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Spaceship for Meralda

© Unholyvault | - Spaceship Steering Wheel Photo
From time to time, I let you, my favorite readers, slip behind the curtain and take a peek backstage as a book is put together. Today is one of those days, and if the title 'A Spaceship for Meralda' didn't tip you off, I'll make it official -- we're going to talk about the science underpinning the Ovis Flying Coil, which is the dingus that gave the airship Intrepid flight in All the Turns of Light.

If you've read either Saving the Sammi or All the Turns of Light, you've already been introduced to the flying coil. I didn't spend a lot of time babbling about flying coils in All the Turns of Light because that simply wasn't relevant to the story. We know Meralda invented them, and that they can make things fly, so let's get flying, right?

But there's a whole arcane science behind the coils. Just in case you're ever trapped in a fantasy world and you need to construct a magical apparatus to escape some evil wizard's tower, here's how they work, and how to build one. 

Yes, I drew the diagram below, and yes, in fact I do know why I never became a graphic artist, thank you very much.

While puttering around in the Royal Laboratory one day, Meralda pondered electromagnets. They work in her world just as they do here -- run an electrical current through a coil of wire, and bang, instant magnet. 

In Meralda's world, electricity works just as it does here. She uses copper wire and batteries and generators and motors, many of which she either invented or improved. 

What Meralda has that we don't, though, is magic. The magic she works with is similar to electricity. It can be stored in magical batteries called 'holdstones.' It can be directed, modulated, latched to physical objects or even itself. 

But that fateful day in the Royal Laboratory, Meralda was waiting for a fresh cup of coffee to brew and it struck her, out of the blue -- an electrical current moving through a coil generates magnetism. What would happen, she wondered, if I pushed a magical current through the same coil?

You put a new crack in the Laboratory's granite ceiling, that's what happens. The entire assembly -- coil, holdstone, all of it -- simply leaped up and smashed against the ceiling as though thrown.

Meralda forgot all about her coffee. 

The flying coil creates gravity, much as an electromagnet creates magnetism. Properly driven, a flying coil can generate a gravity field sufficient to pull the whole apparatus along, as though it were falling. But you can orient the field and the coil any way you wish, which allows for level flight, hovering, whatever the operator desires.

Meralda learned to further improve the coils by latching the magical current flow to a simple electrical flow. That allows the operator to select the intensity and even the direction of the field with a bank of basic controls. She can even generate negative gravity fields, all with the same coil, by supplying different electrical voltages and rates of oscillation.

That's how Mug flies about. His birdcage has a pair of tiny hand-wound flying coils affixed to the bottom of the cage. Add a battery, a holdstone, and a few tiny controls, and Mug can fly about for hours.

The airship Intrepid, the setting for most of All the Turns of Light, used both flying coils and lifting gas. The lifting gas provided lift, and the coils pushed the airship ahead at speeds no set of electric fans could ever hope to match.

Simple and elegant, it also provided a compelling reason for Meralda to be aboard the Intrepid on its perilous maiden voyage.

Airships and their lifting gas envelopes are commonplace in Meralda's world. Of course, in the aftermath of her flying coil, the bright silver fans that have driven airships for years will quickly give way to coils. One day, someone is going to decide they don't need lifting gas either. Progress happens in her world just as it does in ours.

Sooner or later, Meralda is going to be waiting for another cup of coffee to brew, and it may occur to her -- why must flight stop with the atmosphere?

Why not just keep going up?

Thus the title of this entry, A Spaceship for Meralda. When Meralda invented the flying coil, she unknowingly touched off Tirlin's very own space program.

I know, space travel isn't normally a staple of fantasy books. I promise you that if I do include it in the next book, it will be space travel like you've never seen, and it will be wicked cool fun. 

Just in case I venture off that way, I've started designing the kind of craft I believe Meralda would create. 

Let's look at what she has available to her:
  • Propulsion, via the Ovis Flying Coils. She doesn't need rockets. She doesn't need to worry about thundering up to escape velocity. All she needs to do is set the coils for a gentle upward acceleration, and watch the ground fall quietly away.
  • Basic chemical decomposition. She replaced the Intrepid's lifting gas as it leaked through her gas bags by splitting seawater into lifting gas (hydrogen) and oxygen. With a little tweaking, she can decompose the carbon dioxide exhaled by a spaceship crew and wind up with carbon and oxygen, which can be breathed over again.
So, she has the means to fly about, and clean the air. So far, so good.

But what about a pressure vessel? I've established their technological prowess as roughly Victorian. That's great for gas-lamps and steam locomotives, not so good for assembling large, air-tight structures that don't weigh a million tons. There are limits as to what even large flying coils will drive.

But Meralda is brilliant, and I foresee the introduction of a thin, nearly-impervious bubble of carbon atoms given enhanced strength by a sustained magical field -- yes. Call it Ovinium. Perfect for a nice spherical spaceship hull, isn't it?

Okay, so now we have a hull. What about gravity?

That's simple. You hang a few short fat flying coils under whatever you want to call the floor, and set them for a wide, weak field. Everything inside that field gets pulled to the coil. Instant deck gravity, so the crew doesn't spend the entire voyage trying not to vomit.

I think this could actually work. I'll go through several ship designs, but here's the first, and yes, I'm quite aware I cannot draw.

The faint lines are steel rigging, used to stabilize the coils. The sphere in the middle is the main body of the ship. It has air, gravity, corridors and beds and kitchens and bunks. The four huge main flight flying coils are housed in nacelles away from the central hull. The four smaller coils set just below the pressure hull provide deck gravity and also augment the main coils during landing and ascent. 

There's a glass-domed flight bridge on the top of the spherical hull, and another bridge (the descent bridge) on the bottom of the ship, because you need to see the bottoms of the coils as you set the ship down. 

We're talking exposed steel beams and rigging for everything outside the pressure hull, giving the whole works a very Jules Verne look. If you look closely at the horrible drawing above, you can see the little scale dots labelled 'people' just above the words MAIN FLIGHT COILS. That's how big this thing is, because I want the movie version to look cool.

Also note the very smallest of the tiny people dots. That's Mug, furious in his flying birdcage, pointing out that airships are dangerous enough but at least they have the good sense to stay inside the atmosphere.

Maybe next week I'll post a drawing of the alternate craft, the Progress. 

If you're reading this and you're wondering just what the heck I'm talking about, well, they're books.

The second book in the series is called All the Turns of Light, and it just came out a couple of weeks ago. Here's the cover, and a link.

Book #2, All the Turns of Light

The first book in the series is also available, cover and link below.

Book #1, All the Paths of Shadow

Have a good week, people! Back to designing spaceships for a bit...