On toddlers and the spontaneous generation of novel vocabulary

Toddlers are an author’s best friend. If you’re ever stuck in a rut and need some help, pay close attention to a kid trying to grapple with the intricacies of learning a spoken language. They will inevitably toss in extra vowels and consonants, clip words short, duplicate sections, or improvise sounds that are more manageable for their developing mind-lip interface.

I think every parent has had the pleasure of being called “Mapa” or “Pama” at some point or other. My boy is fascinated by crocodiles thanks to Dora the Explorer. He trundles around the living room yelling “Crokoli, crokoli!” and roaring his head off. Today, my kid invented a novel mashup of ketchup and mustard. “Kestard, moustchup!” I’m not quite certain why he was going on about condiments, since it wasn’t mealtime, but his little mind was bubbling away trying to figure things out. I keep my ear trained to his vocal experiments, and from time to time can come away with a wonderful nugget that will serve as the setting, character, or event for a future story.

This may not be too useful a feature for non-fiction authors. In fact, such re-interpretations of any language is probably going to lead to deleterious effects on your writing by osmotic transference so having kids is probably not a great career move. Thankfully, mine will doubtless continue to enhance my efforts to produce engaging works of fantasy and science-fiction.

Thanks kiddo!

Prancercise: The WTF of self publishing

I came across Johanna Rohrback’s Prancercise video on youtube yesterday, most likely as did 99,73% of the rest of the Earth’s population. It appears to have surged through the collective consciousness much like the arrival of an alien starship hovering over Washington DC. I am certainly left wondering if aliens have played some horrible joke on us by unleashing the material that will lead humanity in droves to prance around parks and sidewalks, at least for the next 92 seconds that this current fad manages to capture our microscopic attention spans.

I am not going to comment on the value of the workout that Mrs. Rorhback proposes. After participating in high performance sports for more than 25 years, I will simply say that it isn’t something I’d be doing. Neither am I going to comment on the public’s reaction to it. This is being documented far better than I care to in other places.

The cover to the greatest work of PR ever. This week.

I will take a moment to speak about how this phenomenon applies to self-publishing. A quick look at Amazon’s Prancercise page shows that the book is published by Wingspan press, a self-publishing site. I don’t know if the youtube video is part of their marketing campaign or not, but there certainly are a lot of eyeballs glued to it. Over 2,7 million views. Crazy! I’d wager that the author would make more off of a monetized video than any book sales, unless people start buying the book to offer it as a prank gift.

The book reviews on Amazon are worth taking a moment to read as well. There are some very creative reviews. Clearly, they are meant as parodies or designed to poke fun at the book, but many have left me chuckling or even laughing myself to tears.

It will be interesting to see what happens to this book in terms of sales. Maybe I need to take some inspiration from Mrs. Rohrback’s approach and come up with something completely ludicrous to market my book. Hmmm…maybe this is an excuse to do what I’ve always wanted: film plop on some Elf ears, let my hair (what’s left of it) grow way out, and film myself dancing, shooting bows and arrows, and baking cookies or extolling the virtues of lembas bread (once I make my mind up whether I am a Wood Elf, or Keebler Elf) !

Rummaging through old memories – how The Genius Crucible’s cover was born

Nissigoboro and Nala

Nissigoboro and Nala

Many years ago, my parents lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I will not go into detail the reasons for which they were there, but suffice to say that my head was filled at a young age with stories of exotic jungles, villages of rugged tribesmen, and exhausting scientific expeditions through some of the world’s most rugged terrain.

My parents took a few memorable pictures. Back in the 70’s, film was expensive and hard to store adequately in the humid jungle. Since they could only carry so much, only a few pictures remain of their treks. My father had turned some into slides that he used during classroom presentations to his students. Thankfully, a few years ago he made the effort to scan those slides. I now have a selection of the images stored for posterity. They are beautiful and open a window of insight on a world that had remained largely untouched by the progress of history. I will share some of these images here from time to time.

The first to make its appearance is a photo of Nissigoboro and his son, Nala. Nala served as my father’s interpreter in the Karimui, a remote district in PNG. They worked together for several years over many expeditions, developing a close friendship. My brother and I were fortunate enough to meet Nala back in the ’80s when we accompanied our father on his last expedition to the island’s jungles.

It was therefore fitting for the pair to figure prominently on the cover of The Genius Crucible, since they are inspirations for some of the book’s major characters. Thanks to the magic of digitization and a little help from photoshop, a forty year old picture became a central component for a science fiction book dealing with many cutting edge artificial intelligence and environmental issues. Does it work? I’ll let you be the judge.

The Genius Crucible (available at Amazon.com)

Follow @GeniusCrucible if you are interested in science, the environment, artificial intelligence, and the disappearance of genius.

Sketching – Nasty Grunt

A nasty grunt.

A nasty grunt.

This charming chap tumbled onto my electronic sketchbook a while ago. The sketch arose as part of a stream of consciousness exercise I was running on a page to help me come up with some ideas for a story. As I doodled on, the concept for my upcoming book took form in my mind. A little cross-disciplinary creativity can work wonders for generating ideas.

When life hands you lemons, make a Dwarf cut banana sandwich. Say what?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Trust me.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Trust me.

I am afflicted by a condition that gives me the hardest time making out what people say if there’s a little background noise or if I can’t see their lips when they speak. I’ve only ever been able to make out the lyrics to a few songs on my own. Most of the time, I need to pull out the printed lyrics to understand what’s going on, or have someone tell me. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the music. Indeed, voices become a rich instrument that I appreciate the same way as a violin, guitar, flute, piano, or drums. I just don’t understand the information carried by those words.

If I am at a crowded function, or at a restaurant, following a conversation can be quite an adventure. I usually make it out okay by playing the angles and lip reading a bit to ensure that I can really make out what is being said. Since such functions are infrequent, the most impacted person by this is my wife. You see, it’s not that I don’t hear the words. It’s that my mind interprets them as sounds, or as entirely different words. It can be frustrating for both of us when she asks for a bag of sugar as I’m heading out the door to the grocery store, only to return with flour. Close enough, right? They both end in a “ower” sound. Yeah. Not really.

There are all kinds of strategies I put into play to mitigate the dirty tricks my ears play on me daily. However, I also keep a notebook handy. Often, the words my mind hears are novel or contain some morsel of information that can spark a new idea for a picture, a story, or a solution for a problem at work. As soon as I mishear the words, I scramble to jot it down lest it evaporates from my ephemeral memory.

Just the other day, I was sitting at the dinner table having dinner with my wife and son when she asked me: “Dwarf cut banana sandwich?”

I looked at her in puzzlement. What on earth did she mean by that? Was she suggesting a dessert for our boy? What is a dwarf cut banana? Is it some kind of cutting technique? Or maybe it’s a dwarf banana that’s chopped up? I really don’t remember buying any small bananas, though. Uh, oh. Did I get that wrong?

It turns out I did. She hadn’t said a single word I had heard the first time. In fact, it was about as far as you can get from Dwarves, cuts, bananas, or sandwiches. “Do you want it in a cup, or in a dish?” she had asked as she contemplated the potential storage vessel for our leftovers.

We both had a good laugh. Me for coming up with such an outrageous concept. She at me, for being a goofball.

It’s not all bad. It gave me something to sketch.

The lesson here is that when life gives you lemons, you make banana sandwiches. Err… Lemonade.

Cover illustration completed. That’s a set!

A snippet from the cover illustration

A snippet from the cover illustration

I am overjoyed! My final illustration, the book’s cover, has just made it in. That completes the illustration work for my book. It is wonderful to see things beginning to take shape. I’m now down to writing the last two chapters before getting into the heavy review and editing.

As much as those stages will be tough work, I’m still a little daunted at the prospect of laying out the book’s 60 or so pages. I am experimenting with iStudio Publisher in the hope that I can have more control than with Pages. The major problem I see so far is that it appears that I will have to insert each text page manually, which is looking like a tedious process. That should motivate me to look for the best way to optimize my workflow.

Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

Here are some great suggestions for coming up with great names for your characters.

Shannon A. Thompson

2 days until the Minutes Before Sunset release! I’m feeling pretty supercalifragilisticexpialidocious about it all 😀 [And definitely not sleeping due to excitement] And I have one more announcement!

Minutes Before Sunset will be available as an e-book through Barnes & Noble and Amazon for $6.99 on May 1st! Please help spread the word :] The first day of sales is often the most important, and I really appreciate everyone who’s helped (and encouraged) me on here, Facebook, and Twitter. 

I’ve also received an author review for Minutes Before Sunset: “An exciting mixture of paranormal, romance, and page-turning action. Can’t wait to see book 2.” – Raymond Vogel, author of Matter of Resistance, a YA Science Fiction novel.

And the first chapter was published in The Corner Club Press yesterday! You can open an online version of it by clicking here. And congrats to the founder, Amber Forbes

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Keeping perspective – when orks fight

The young reader’s short novel I am working on right now is progressing nicely. I manage to get a a little writing in every day. This helps me keep my momentum up while letting ideas simmer and brew in the back of my mind for the next day’s typing. I rattled out the lines below as part of last night’s writing. They are still an early draft, but I am quite pleased with the pacing and growing tension.

“If I had a moment to think about it, I would have one last forlorn thought for my axe. Instead, I scoop up Grork’s sturdy steel shield as I dash past it. It was forged by the finest Steel Ork smiths of Krimlork. It isn’t pretty to look at, but is almost as tough as basilisk scale. It is also heavy, which is perfect for what I have to do next. I brace my shoulder firmly against it and duck my head low. Another step carries me into the creature’s side.

The impact rattles my tusks. It is like I have charged into the very mountain wall beyond the tent. After what feels like an eternity later, I hear the creature grunt from our collision, and we begin tumbling to the ground. Our trajectory takes us over my father’s cot. I briefly catch a look of complete surprise in his eyes as he glimpses both of us sailing over his bed space.

We land in a heap. I try to roll to my feet, but I get tripped up in my father’s things. The creature is much quicker than I am despite its enormous bulk. It springs upright and grabs a hold of my chest with a massive paw. It is also apparently much stronger than I. I struggle in vain as its vice-like grip begins to crush my throat and ribs. It rears its other mighty hand back, its fist clenched and ready to cave in my head. Despite the infamous thickness of our skulls, I suspect this beast will have no more difficulty squashing me into a pulp than it would a grape.”

I’ve always been one to see things from outside the box, so when I decided I’d write a fantasy-themed book, I approached things from a different direction. There are tons of stories out there that relate the epic accomplishments of the likes of dwarven, elvish, and human adventurers. I haven’t really found anything about the world as seen by orks. This is my attempt to populate that space, and generate a new set of adventures.

Writing a story is an endurance event

Persistence pays off, even for Orks.

There’s still a lot of work that has to get done, but as the illustrations roll in, and I close in on my draft’s last few chapters, I get a sense that persistence will pay off.

I plan to keep posting excerpts on a periodic basis. If you have any thoughts or comments, please let me know. I will incorporate any helpful feedback, making it a stronger, more legible offering.

The Genius Crucible

available at Amazon.com

The Genius Crucible (available at Amazon.com)

A year ago, I was exposed to my first real experience editing a novel. I lovingly and patiently wrangled words and wrestled phrases into a greater level of cohesion for my father on his first outing,  The Genius Crucible. I discovered that this was in fact an enjoyable experience. Although I have been dealing with mountains of paperwork in my day job, there is certainly something special and delightful about using words to bring imagination to life rather than simply fuel the fires of bureaucracy. Here is a short excerpt for your reading pleasure:

CHAPTER ONE: 2015 Karimui, Papua New Guinea (PNG)

Snakes; God I hate snakes. Even a garden hose can scare me. I hold a strong contradiction when it comes to snakes. I inherently fear them. I startle when my subconscious mistakes an unnoticed stick along a trail. A primitive part of my mind thinks it’s a snake, but I also feel they are beautiful critters. I can only marvel at how they locomote, all so alien and exotic. It’s as if my conscious mind can admire snakes, but my subconscious mind is scared the hell of them.

My consciousness seems to identify a gnarled stick on the trail as a piece of art, an image of interest and wonder. My subconscious, though, notices it first, not as a stick, but as a Papuan death adder ready to expunge my existence. Such thoughts are inevitable when one marches through the jungle in the dark.

When the moon escaped from the clouds, I can see massive cumulous clouds rapidly building from the Papuan Gulf as they advance toward the Highlands like an army of huge siege towers electrified by Tesla1 himself. I hope the damn moon will stay out since the trail is covered with kunai and kangaroo grass. Although not tall, the slender and sharp leaves made a nice knee-high tunnel along the trail, perfectly suited to hiding snakes; big and dangerous ones, like Papuan pythons and taipans.

Why can’t they just have garter snakes in PNG? Aren’t they scary enough on a rainy night, in the middle of nowhere, with a dying headlamp?

I had never hiked on a New Guinea trail at night alone. The batteries of my headlamp are failing again and thoughts of snakes are exploding in my mind. This isn’t merely some kind of joke my brain is playing on me; snakes in New Guinea are a real threat. I wish my subconscious mind wouldn’t continually remind me of the string of possibilities lying below my next step because I wish to think about the big event. I met Nara today.

Stubborn fool; the people of Dibe village insisted that I stay the night since all sort of demons are out on rainy nights. Wawi, my translator, afraid of demons, refused to do this hike with me tonight. Negabo village is a long way off, but luckily, there are no big rivers to cross. Damn mossy logs for bridges.

Right now, everything is scary. Hell, this morning Wawi found a small but deadly black scorpion in my boot. How did he know to look in my boot? I have a doctoral degree, yet I’m an ignorant blockhead when it comes to this environment. The jungle is so beautiful, so ominous and aloof, and for the naive, so dangerous. The rainforest is like its snakes, its miraculous birds and in fact, its people. The jungle is mysterious and foreboding.

As I trudge on with all my senses set to high gain, I think: What the hell am I going to do when all my spare batteries are used up and my headlamp dies?

About a mile earlier, before the clouds started building, I shuffled under a casuarina tree, awakening a roosting mob of large fruit bats which, in unison, abruptly lifted en masse, reminiscent of a hat being removed from the head of the tree. The sudden burst of powerful wing beats from this swarm of great bats startled me. It was as if the giant Grendel had jumped out of the jungle. It appeared that they felt safe roosting as a horde.

Safe from what? I wonder. Is there something else I should be worried about this night besides snakes and falling into a ravine? A cassowary maybe?

I make no claim to be knowledgeable about tropical rainforests, but I do know enough that it wouldn’t be good for me to blunder off the trail and into the jungle itself. To the uneducated, the jungle is like the gaping black abyss at the outer edge of a coral reef or a dark alley in Bagdad. One wants to return quickly to the safety of the known.

Even at noon, if I wandered in more than six or eight feet, the fractal geometry of the vines, the massive buttressed trees and profuse understory would give me no clue as to a heading, a bearing. I would rapidly become disoriented by its great abundance. It’s all diffused light in there, no obvious sun, as a piss ant in a thick hairbrush. Even if I could climb into one of those giant trees, I could never get to the top to see anything anyway.

In the Karimui there’s nothing except dense tropical rainforest and a few highly scattered villages. My only hope would be to chance upon a randomly running trail, and that could take many days. My tropical quest is rapidly losing its appeal, and my mind keeps bringing up scary scenarios. But then again, I met Nara today. I met Nara.

Hearing the menacing roar of an approaching tropical downpour, a traveling waterfall, my eyelids tightened. Oh man, here comes the rain! This evening’s drenching. Great! To top it all, I’ll next be attacked by Indians.

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

Any author worth her or his salt has probably laid eyes on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and is familiar with the concepts relating to the The Hero’s Journey, which one should incidentally avoid using as an excuse for writing a poor story, or risk the wrath of Autotelic.

The CMA (http://www.the-cma.com/images/openmagazine/201210/seven-steps.png) has distilled the work into a brilliant infographic and tossed a few more tidbits in to optimize helfulness:

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

I love it! I just wish my printer could cleanly pump this graphic out so I could pin it up on my wall.