26 July 2013

Fan Art Friday!

Continuing with the bad guy theme: Constantine. The baddest bad guy ever - supposedly. In truth I know little about this guy. I know his history. I know his basic appearance. I know what has happened in his life. But his motivation is still a mystery to me. In writing HBL I had a close encounter with him... But this still leaves him a mystery to me. Thankfully, the edits I have in mind for Hard Bank Left give me the space to make Constantine the silent predator. I have very few pictures of him, but I'll share what I have.

There you go. That's pretty much it... only a little older. He's pretty much a scary business man. Aaaand I really need to work on him. *sigh*

But I do have pictures of The Twins. Yeah, that's right, The Twins. They're a pair of grotesquely evil torturing Dureri that I'm going to cover in Target Lost. I'm not going to tell you much in hopes that you'll find out in the webisodes. But, here are the reference photos that I totally love!

24 July 2013

The Implications on the Soul: The Creation of an AI

Over the years I've written many science fiction and semi-sci-fi (steampunk) stories that involve the creation of an artificial intelligence. Some are more in depth than others, but all involve the basics behind my belief in a soul and how the soul works.

In my faith, a soul is what happens with an intelligence enters a spiritual body. The soul is then placed in a physical body creating a "living soul." (Mind you this is my personal beliefs based on the teachings of my church.) So, what defines an artificial intelligence? Mainly the artificial part.

Now, I must clarify, my faith-based definition of "intelligence" is what I am going to refer to from now on as "the spark", and the "spiritual body" we are going to call "programming" or "the program".

Current AI programming is pretty obviously just that, programming. It's essentially a fully functional spiritual body, a body meant for the housing of the intelligence or spark, that can operate independently, but has no self-driven purpose. This in and of itself has helped me have a more complete understanding of my own existence, let alone the nature of God. But all that aside! A spark must enter an AI program in order for the program (either of its own accord or of Heavenly Design) in order for the AI to function as an autonomous, self-aware being. This is something I explore in depth in a sci-fi novel I've been working on for a while now. (Yes, you shall just have to wait and see!)

But, once a fully sparked, fully self-aware AI is born, what is the best way for said AI to become part of society i.e. how do we give it a body. This has been a point of contention between my husband and I.

He believes that this soul can enter the body of a brain dead person, or can possess a body forcibly. I see both of these as possession. Spiritually speaking, there's no God involved. The spark enters the body with no additional work necessary. This is where I get a little frustrated. It'd be like transplanting someone's memories into someone else's mind. If any of you have watched Fringe then you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that putting some one else's brain matter in to a person's brain, it literally makes them crazy. The existing wiring doesn't know how to interpret the foreign matter. Now imagine putting someone else's entire brain into a body and then connecting it to the existing wiring... not a good combo!

I believe that a more purist way of looking at how to make a body for an artificial intelligence. Think of Fifth Element with Leeloo had to have her body reprinted. (Yes, I know the science is wrong.) Think of having an entire artificial human. Think of building a body by manipulating the elements into proteins and then manipulating those proteins into a DNA sequence until you have a completely artificial body with no soul. This is where we cross the line into killing God... taking his place. It's dangerous ethically, but it's the next logical step in our evolution as human beings. But still, this empty human shell, void of any prior memories, void of any prior programing, is perfect for the installation of an artificial intelligence. This would perfectly fit the bill for giving an AI soul human form. Is it any wonder that our human souls only enter this world through new born babies and not through the preexisting bodies of the brain dead?

I'd like to hear your views on artificial intelligence, the soul, and what way would be best to give AI a chance at being a fully functioning member of society. Thoughts? Opinions? Awesome books and TV shows? Let the discussion commence!

22 July 2013

Trying to be the Next Shakespeare

Everyone who has ever put pen to paper (or imagination to some sort of medium in an effort to create a novel) has at one point or another, thought of themselves as the next William Shakespeare. To which I say "Poppycock!" while also admitting that I am personally guilty of such thoughts. *blushes* Allow for me to break down both why our world today is making it more and more impossible for Shakespeares to be reborn.

So, Shakespear is known for a lot of things, iambic pentameter, moving speeches that ring in our hearts for ages, stories we will never forget, but there are three things that people can unanimously say define Shakespeare: a world class sense of humor, moving dramas, and wordsmithing.

Humor is something that requires great whit, something that many authors have in spades. I have a fantastic friend in the UK that has such a brilliantly dry (and very British) sense of humor that I can read some of her stuff and crack up for hours afterwards just remembering her sharp lines. The problem is that this humor, often times, removes us from the overall drama of a deep and interesting story line. Shakespeare was, in his highly gender biased, highly classist Britain, was able to blend these two things in such a way that it appealed to both sexes and all classes. His humor bled into his dramas. His drama bled into his comedies. This is something that is often lost in modern literature.

On another note, Shakespeare didn't have to worry about these stereotypes. From the dull underclass soldiers in Much Ado About Nothing, to the highly staunch and aristocratic McDuff in That Da** Scottish Play Shakespeare writes highly stereotyped, classist characters. And yet, we love and drool over these plays as some of the highest pieces of literature ever written.

So, why can't we write similar stereotypical characters? In modern terms, you'd have to write a plethora of stories that cross all classes, truly human stories. In our world of multicultural, international extremely diverse relationships, it's becoming increasingly difficult to write something that you feel may apply to all human kind without being called racists. This is particularly true for American writers.

The accusations and cat calls of whitewashing characters, calls for more diversity, are attacking our creative abilities. I write international characters. But I still believe that my characters would best represent their areas by not being hyper stylized, or hyper stereotyped! At the same time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your character realistically representing a certain culture and that culture fitting certain stereotypes. Some tropes and stereotypes are true and accurate representations, but they do not represent the full depth of a character. We, as authors, must be careful when walking these stereotype lines.

Having addressed these two things, which are often addressed in modern literature and have indeed been conquered by many modern authors - JK Rowling, Steven King, Stephanie Meyers (particularly with The Host, I don't even count Twilight), and Suzanne Collins are just a few of the most popular modern authors that have managed to entwine humor, drama, and transcendentally human stories.

Now! Wordsmithing! In modern culture, it seems that wordsmithing has been transitioned from authors to music artists like Snoop Dog that think that adding -izzle to the end of a word all of a sudden makes the word cooler. But then when authors go to their editors with a new word that they feel fits the description better than any existing word and the editor tells them that the word doesn't work... this is a disservice to creators everywhere.

In Hard Bank Left one of the chapters is titled "Unwillfully Discontent". It is not a hyphenated/compound word. This is a portamento. My friend and editor offered me some better antonyms for "willful": involuntarily, unwillingly, unconsciously, unfeelingly, unintentional, unknowingly, disregarded, forgotten, neglected, unplanned, chance, indeterminate, methodical, wittingly, impartially, unenthusiastically... The list goes on. But the words didn't sit right with me. They didn't convey precisely what I meant with the word. For me, the meaning of "unwillfully" or "unwillful" means, "against what one intends to do, but not without desire to do so." In other words "unwillfully discontent" = "being discontent out of duty to one's personal code rather than being discontent by what one actually feels" or "being discontent out of sheer stubbornness, but wanting to enjoy one's self." I'm sure that any number of the antonyms would have done well, but I was looking for a perfect match - and seeing as how many if not all of the antonyms have predefined cultural and contextual definitions, they wouldn't do. I had to come up with something more specific.

When editors are involved, and you have Grammar Nazis around every corner all of whom see it as their duty to correct what they think are nonsense words like "acclimatize" *cough* my dad *cough* then the English language is not allowed to evolve. Sure, you have sites like Urban Dictionary that do post popular nonsense words, or words that are so obtusely mispronounced that they are considered a new word. But most true blue editors and hard core Grammar Nazis will use such sites as proof that new words cannot and should not be invented. And yet, there are so many options of what words can and should become.  Editors should not put limits on author's creative license because they (the editors) believe that there is a better word. Sometimes the author isn't just pulling crap our of thin air, sometimes they have actually weighed all the options and decided that their word is more tasteful and better fits what scope of language they are going for.

If anyone is interested in the English language, it's origins, and where it's headed, I strongly recommend one of my new favorite books: The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way by Bill Bryson.

20 July 2013

Fan Art Friday

Wow... is it Saturday??? Where did my week go? No seriously, my husband has a different work schedule on Saturday than he does the rest of the week, so I was freaking out when he got up at 8 and I thought it was 10... yeah, that was a bit of a shock.

So! Fan art Friday... again, I have little fan art to present, but I figured I might keep up with my theme of sharing what inspires me. (Seriously, I have a bunch, so I'll keep it coming.) So, it's bad guy day!

You've heard me make references to her, and seeing as how she's playing a bigger role in HBL, it's high time you guys see my inspiration for Ero Gleilien. This character, like many of my characters started off as something completely different in a completely different universe. Ero was originally a crazy Wild Elf in an RPG that had a major schtick with goblins. The best image I can give you of what she used to look like is this:

courtesy of Ashli Hara

But then I started writing a sci-fi novel and Ero became a care free pilot with an attitude that went a little something like this:

I still love this character, but I found in writing HBL I needed Ero and her partner Caprisha to fill a role, so she turned into more of a staunch bounty hunter working with a federal agent. Of course, all that would be a cover for her true self - a Commandant in the Shadow Cast's private military. (No worries my other characters got renamed, they have not gotten lost in the mix up!) So, now Ero looks a little something like this:

mixed with a little of this

 Yeah... I know, figure that one out. But I had a dream and somehow it worked! So, you'll just have to read on and see what I have in store.

15 July 2013

Decission Making and 276th drafts

If you've taken even the most basic writing class you will note that probably the most tedious part of writing is the extensive drafting process a.k.a. The Rewrite. It's  unpleasant, it's messy, and, most importantly, it's diheartening. I cannot tell you how many rewrites have left me wallowing in a pit of self-loathing because either A) "How could anyone hate this first draft? It's perfect, and yet I must rewrite!" or B) "How could I have been such an idiot?! I swear I did not write this crap." *sets about completely rewriting the story and creating an entirely new first draft which must be edited again*...

Does anyone else feel my woes?

With self-loathing pit A, I'm usually so deep in a pit of "woe is me" that I seriously can't see what's wrong with my writing unless someone else points out what is good with it. Take for example the situation that The Next Big Writer has set up where in order to post anything you must earn as certain amount of points by reading and reviewing other people's works. Normally this leads to constructive criticism, bolstered confidences, and new writing buddies that you can do fun projects with. However, in many a case, it also leads to a newbie getting bombed by other newbies with no social skills who turn around and tell them that their piece has a million spelling errors, that their sentence fluency sucks, and that they have a poor vocabulary, and wind up saying nothing about the story in general. The major problem with this should be obvious: if you don't tell someone what's good about their writing first, they will be less likely to accept your criticism. (Seriously you newbie reviewers, read How to Win Friends and Influence People; it should be required reading for being a member of the human race.) In short, sometimes we need a little outside help to get the ball rolling with edits.

But then there's self-loathing pig B... This may be best demonstrated by a little story about a little story I've been perpetually rewriting since I was - oh, we shall say - 10. It's gone by a number of different names over the years, but recently the entire conglomerated world that I've created has been known as Legend of the Fallen Moon.  When I was 10, this was my little outlet for my D&D obsession as well as a number of other imaginative things I had floating in my head due to an overactive imagination and a love of fantasy books. As you might imagine, it took my 10-year-old mind about two years to put these imaginings into more than a few scribblings in the back of an old notebook. And, at the ripe old age of 12, I was absolutely convinced that I was the best writer in the world. I'm thinking of putting some of my 12-year-old scribblings on my website as motivation to aspiring writers that they won't always stink...

This fantasy story has evolved over the last decade and a half until it reached its current state which mainly consists of a map, a list of races, and an extensive planetary history. Given the state of things, it would be better suited for development into an MMO RPG than a series of novels, but we shall have to see what my mind is up to after I'm done with the Shadow Cast Chronicles. I may very well write a book based off the story line of an MMO I develop out of my notes. Let me know in the comments below what you think after checking out the wiki!
I guess what I'm trying to say with that story is that your edits don't always turn out to be exactly what you intended them to be. Sometimes they fizzle, sometimes they soar.

Luckily, with the Shadow Cast Chronicles, I've had a bit more success in staying focused, though it might not always seem that way. When I first started writing the Chronicles, I was writing first person from multiple perspectives and it was really confusing. This pre-first draft went into my "original concepts" folder never to be seen or heard from again.... No, seriously. I only use that draft for some basic references of what I had originally thought would happen. It serves to keep my thoughts straight, but does little else.

The really hard work has come with Hard Bank Left. HBL has been the most time consuming project I've ever worked on. And what's worse! I didn't even have the plot straight when I was writing it! I wrote down the beginning and the end and that was pretty much it for about two years. Then, about a year ago, I sat down, put together a play list on youtube of music and videos that I figured would fit HBL pretty well. After that, I compiled a plethora of inspirational pictures. This got me in the right spirit. After that, I set down a goal for myself: one chapter a week, and I started writing.

That was pretty much it for the first draft. It didn't have to be pretty, it just had to get done. And, as soon as it did, I felt as though there was a huge weight lifted off my chest. I felt that now that I had the story and all the characters down on paper, I could really begin to flush out the story, the characters, and all the details with a fine toothed comb.

...I am finding that fine toothed combs usually find unpleasant snarls - particularly in the "cliche" and "plot device" categories. Needless to say, it's still a work in progress.

Something I've discovered that has really helped in this tedious process is turning your novel into a short story. This... really hurts. Really, REALLY hurts. You have to cut out all the pretty words and fancy fight scenes and elaborate entangled character relationships, and condense the entire story into about 10,000 words. This, for me, has really helped strengthen the core of my story. It's helped build a back bone on which I can fit all my fancy filigree and crazy plot twists.

After this, after all the maiming of my convoluted story, I had a friend instruct me to do what her hubby made her do with her comic: reduce the story to one sentence. With HBL, this was difficult. I had so many things going on, even in short story form, that it took me until very recently to narrow it down. For me, HBL can be simplified to this:

Hard Bank Left is about overcoming and becoming.

It was a phrase that I'd heard since childhood which has had such a profound affect on my life. I didn't even realize that it had seeped its way into my story. Keeping that sentence in the forefront of my mind, I can rewrite the second draft to more clearly reflect the intended message of the novel. This way (hopefully) by draft three, I'll mostly have to worry about nitty gritty things, instead of having my editor point out that my story has no core. (Frankly, nitty gritty things, while tedious, are possibly the easiest things to correct when editing.)