Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Breaking the Law

One of the rare delights of being a fantasy author is taking a good hard look at the immutable laws of physics and, after careful and studied consideration, thumbing one's nose at them.

With the exception of the Wistril stories, I'm not one to have a wizard wave a staff and lay waste to whole landscapes. No, I prefer for my magic to make some sort of sense -- after all, the kinetic energy required to lay the aforementioned waste had to come from somewhere, right? If not, well, there goes Conflict, right out the window, because if my wizard can flatten armies with a wave and a word, what problems does he really have?

I tried to base the magic in All the Paths of Shadow on a feature of our world with which I am familiar. Electricity. Electrical current. The 'holdstones' Meralda uses are magical batteries. In her universe, magic flows like electricity, using many of the same conductors, in fact. That's why she's always winding copper wires around things.

And it's also why she can't mutter a few mystical words and send enemies flying. Yes, she can build marvelous devices, but they have limits. She has to be smarter than the bad guys.

Since I just finished the new Markhat book, and I'm letting a talented and fearless Beta reader have a look, I've dived right into my next book, which will be the sequel to All the Paths of Shadow.

Entitled All The Turns of Light, this new book will chronicle the further adventures of Meralda and Mug, as they take to the skies in a truly massive airship I am now designing.

I'll post drawings when I draw some I'm not ashamed of.  But that's not what I'm here to crow about.

Here's the deal. I need my airship, the HMS Intrepid, to be capable of a non-stop one-way voyage of some twenty-five thousand miles.

As you might imagine, that presents a few engineering problems, even if the story takes place in a world where magic works.

Now, airships aren't anything new to Meralda's world. I mention them frequently in the first book. It's even stated they've been flying passengers and cargo about for fifty years. They use 'lifting gas' which is obviously hydrogen, and they move using 'fans,' which are obviously propellers. I didn't go much deeper than that because we never boarded one in All the Paths of Shadow.

But the airships were always on my mind. I established that Meralda was familiar with steam engines. Heck,  she invented the electric motor on her world, along with electric lights. So we have access to steam engines and electricity. Still, what drove the airships, I wondered?

The Realms don't have petroleum. I considered and rejected alcohol based combustion engines as too inefficient. Steam engines are also out -- heating that much water to those pressures requires lots and lots of onboard fuel, and when your choices are wood or coal, you're in trouble.

I was leaning toward electric motors running on straight-up batteries when a better idea popped into my head.

And here it is!

The Intrepid's fans are powered by steam engines. But instead of boilers and heaps of coal, they're using what we would call quantum entanglement, which works like this:

Cast a hollow steel block with very thick walls, an inlet, and a steam escape valve. Call it Boiler A.

Using magic, pair this with an second block, which is identical in design and dimensions. We'll call this Boiler B.

The magical pairing is an expensive and meticulous undertaking, and it's why the Steam Guild is so wealthy.

Now, the fun part. Fill Engine B with water and heat it, burning coal or wood or the angry emails I'll get from environmentalists about burning coal. In our universe, Boiler B would boil, while boiler A sat there and looked confused.

But in Meralda's world of magic, if you build a fire under Boiler B, it's Boiler A that actually heats up.

So yes, something must be burned to generate the heat. And yes, there are losses involved in the transference from B to A.

But the airship Intrepid can take to the skies without having to haul a few hundred tons of coal around. And I feel like this 'works,' because I'm only cheating a little bit.

It's entirely possible that only a hardcore geek could get excited about applying the Law of Similarity to a fictional airship engine. But I'm a geek and proud, baby!

So be on the lookout for a new Markhat novel and a new Meralda and Mug! And by the way, if you haven't read All the Paths of Shadow yet, it's only $3.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Okay, back to work for me!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Zen of Editing

If you've been wondering what Frank is doing these days and you guessed 'a brief stay in the Lafayette County Detention Facility,' well, you'd be wrong.

I've been editing. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I finished the first draft of the new Markhat novel, BROWN RIVER QUEEN.

Sure, there was wild celebration. About eight minutes of it. Because finishing a first draft gets writing the first draft out of the way, true, but it also ushers in the next phase of the process, which is the edit and re-write stage. Or, as I call it, the 'Flaying off my own skin with a rusty butter knife' stage.

First drafts are, for me anyway, limping, misshapen things. Let's say I forget the name of a street I mentioned 34 pages ago. I don't stop and go back and look -- I just type ****, which is my code for 'Go back and look this up, doofus.'

Same for the names of minor characters. The wine steward from Chapter 4? ****.  The date, if I've lost track of it? ****.

All those **** entries have to be cleaned up. Spell-check has to run.  I do my own searches on the words I habitually screw up -- discrete and discreet, I'm looking at you two. I also run searches on the characters I tend to transpose.

Then comes the re-read. Here I'm looking for repetition. Bad alliteration. Dialog tags that repeat or don't fit or are missing altogether. Plot holes. Subplots I may have started and then dropped. Notes I wrote to myself and stuck in the manuscript and forgot about. The last thing you want to do is leave an editor scratching her head over entries such as 'Make RT kr.ull w/o 9 of the thing.' You don't want to bring undue attention to the fact that you're making this stuff up as you go.

So yeah. It gets messy.

All this before I ever consider sending the manuscript out. In fact, I like to do all this more than once, because it's so easy to miss things. I know what I meant to write, and my traitorous lazy brain sees those words, and not the ones my fingers actually typed.

This time around, though, I've added a new practice to my usual round or re-reads and edits. For the frist time, I'm having my PC read the whole book, from start to end, aloud to me, while I turn away from the screen and jot down notes by hand on a notepad.

Word 2010 has a built-in speech function. I wish I had Word 2010. Word 2010 runs about one hundred and twenty bucks. Instead, I have Word 2007, which is 2010's mute sire. So I found a free text-to-speech program on CNET called Hal Text-to-Speech Reader, and I'm using that.

I pull up the actual Word file and copy an entire chapter. Then I paste that into Hal and grab my notepad. It's slow, even after setting the read rate to just below AUCTIONEER INSANE, but wow is it effective.

I've already read through the whole thing twice, and was feeling pretty good about the state of the manuscript-- until Hal started reading to me, in her robotic flat voice. Mistakes that sailed right past my eyes leaped out screaming in my ears.

Here are a few examples, taken straight my my notepad:

twenty of more (should have been twenty or more)
isn't hat right (should have been isn't that right)
is a good as (should have been is as good as)
to and from (should have been to and fro)

Those are hard to catch, when they're hiding in several hundred pages of text. But my ears caught them with no trouble at all.

I am weary of the robotic voice and the complete lack of inflection, though. And the often hilarious pronunciation of words and names I made up myself.

But it's still a good system.

The edits on BROWN RIVER QUEEN are going quickly, all things considered.

In other news, if you wanted to grab a copy of my YA fantasy book ALL THE PATHS OF SHADOW but  also wanted to wait for the price to fall, you're in luck! You can get the e-book from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble or the publisher for only $3.99, which is six bucks off the former price.

Here are some links, so click away!

All the Paths of Shadow at Amazon for your Kindle

All the Paths of Shadow at Barnes & Noble for your Nook

All the Paths of Shadow at Cool Well Press in any format