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August 13, 2010 — 999 words

Review: TimeSplash

By MCM

I think I've said before that I hate doing reviews. You'll see why shortly...

TimeSplash by Graham Storrs is a truly great sci fi novel about the fallout of time travel, but not in the way you usually see it.  In a nutshell: when you travel back in time, you can't change history, but you can make "splashes" that ripple through the fourth dimension, causing havoc in the era you came from. The concept is illustrated brilliantly in the first chapter, and from there things go off the rails for the characters.  It's tense, actiony and generally a brilliant execution of a brilliant idea.

I was given this book by Anna (gifted PDF! woo!) after she insisted I was being lazy and not reading what she told me to read. She said she'd read it in one sitting (or something, I'm too lazy to look it up) and sure enough, I did pretty much the same thing. This is definitely one of those "can't put it down" books. I was looking for a chance to take a break, because I wanted to prove her wrong, but she was right.  It was that good.

The details of the world are really well-articulated and convincing.  End of oil, economic collapse, the fact that America is basically a Christian fascist state with the CIA as their religious enforcement agency, the way the world ignored and then suddenly fears time travel... it's all very, very smart. This is not a book where the sci fi technology exists in a vacuum and only pops up when convenient.  These characters have been living in this world their whole lives, and it shows.

The big bad guy is a lunatic, and at times he goes a bit over the top, as if to sell his psycho-ness, but it doesn't really detract from the story at all (in fact, it helps sell other characters' motivations).  The supporting cast is very good and no one feels like they only exist to serve a function, which is nice in this kind of story.

If you want to read the book and enjoy it without my opinions tainting it for you, stop reading now and just go buy the book. Nothing below this point is really important. I promise.

Update: Before you read this next part, or maybe after, or maybe simultaneously, read this response by the author. It makes a very big difference.  I'm leaving my notes below so you know how obsessive I can be when I get on a roll :)

Now for the part of reviewing I hate.  The book isn't perfect, but I can't say it was the book's fault so much as my own prejudices.  Here's the thing: the protagonists are very, very young.  Sandra, a timesplasher's "bitch" in the first chapter, goes from 15 to 17ish over the course of the book. Jay, a timesplash fan-turned-secret agent, is only 19 when things kick into gear. To me, the two years between the first events and the rest of the book seem too brief for Jay to have gone from half-assed punk to an even semi-capable law enforcement officer.  And even so, I can't wrap my mind around the fact that these two are in charge of saving the world.

Here's where I go off the rails, because these things get into my brain in all the wrong ways.  I don't have a problem with Sandra being 15 and then 17.  I mean, it's a bit young for my tastes (given the things she does in the story), but then I have a teenaged assassin in Arkady and Kain, so obviously I'm not one to criticize.  But then you have Jay, who really seems to me should be an early-20s character, say five years, six years after the first chapter, grappling with the demons he witnessed when he was still a kid.  But instead, he's STILL a kid, somehow playing in a grown-up world, and every time he engaged with his superior officers in the story, I got this nagging feeling we were slipping into inauthenticity.  It seemed like the training he'd go through to join M15 would have to take more than two years to complete, no matter how brilliant he might be (and he never comes across as especially brilliant).  And every time I was about to let it go and just enjoy the story, there was some mention of either Jay or Sandra being a teenager, and I got sucked right out.

So then I started wondering who Graham Storrs was, because (and I mean this in a nice way, honest) stories where teenagers take on adult roles like this tend to be written by teenagers.  But Storrs isn't a teenager at all, so that theory fell apart.  There was just something off about it... it's not that teenagers CAN'T save the world, they'd just have to do it from the outside, not as part of a serious intelligence agency. In the very real world of this book, it seems jarring that this kind of rule would be ignored. Old people don't like young'ns, and they hold them up as much as possible :)

I obsess on strange things, I know.  No other reviewer was bothered by this, so you don't need to listen to me at all.  I just wanted to mention the one thing that bugged me.  Well, that and the fact that every time a gun was used, we got its make and model. That happens in all kinds of stories, and I still don't understand it.

So yes. TimeSplash: good book. Buy it, read it, love it, and tell me how silly I am.

August 12, 2010 — 549 words

A&K Day 11 Recap

By MCM

Yesterday was a very key day for the story, and I think I bungled it badly.  I had a minor run-in with a stapler, I was being talked to in real life just a little too much, and my brain was in the wrong place, so the first draft of the chapter went off the rails.  I wrote a paragraph about the importance of Arkady, but I wrote it too soon, and then ended up having to write in circles to cover my mistake.

So last night, late last night, I rewrote most of the chapter.  I removed things, added others, and I think made it make sense.  I also added about 500 words to the thing.

So here's the key feature of that chapter, and tell me if it comes across (after reading the new version, I mean): UFIT is an association of terrorists.  The founder created the group to allow terrorists to terrorize without actually hurting people.  They stage hostage-takings and other attacks with volunteers, drawing attention to their cause without actual bloodshed.  The organization took a long time to get going, but now that Arkady is drawing the spotlight, the fragmented coalition is willing to play ball, because they think there might be some value in it.

If that made sense after the latest draft, I did a good job.  If not, I may need to recalibrate my brain :)

Photo! That's a RollBots poster in the background. Penny. Woo!

Stats! Yesterday was 132 visitors, which is down from the day before, but still not too depressing.  I should work on promoting this more.  Though I feel a strong need to edit what's already up first.  Bah, I'll never be satisfied!

Points! Yes! Jan got a postcard yesterday! I missed it earlier, but it is indeed there! Congrats to Jan!  Wooo!

Today's Live-Livewriting begins at 3:30PM EDT, and will probably got for 90 minutes.  This is a very key chapter, so it'll take some extra thinking to get gone.  Please excuse any painful slowness you may encounter :)

August 11, 2010 — 651 words

A&K Day 9&10 Recaps

By MCM

Did I miss another day?  Oops.

Yesterday was probably my favourite live-livewriting day yet.  I started the session without an outline at all... my notes said "Arkady..." and that was it.  So I asked where we should go today, and I got "the zoo", and things took off from there.  I honestly had no idea where I was going to go with the chapter until the very end, and because people were watching me write, I couldn't craft something clever and pretend it was intentional all along. Thus, Arkady and the polar bears.

Today's will be a lot more restrained, and even treading into the realm of "serious", which brings me to the next big question about livewriting: can it be used for drama, as opposed to comedy?  I think having the ability to make jokes about suggestions definitely helps make comedy possible, but at the same time, the sequence yesterday where Arkady and run away and was trapped and in danger... that was, I think, somewhat tense.  I think if you had a good enough outline and a strong desire to not be jokey, you could turn livewriting into a really intense experience.  Almost a suspense thriller, I think.  If, as the writer, you saw the audience NOT wanting the character to do something, you could do it just to annoy them... or drag things out until they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  When you write normally, you have to guess that those things... but livewriting lets you see it as it happens.

Photos! I'm mysterious today...

Stats! Yesterday was 260, the day before was 115.  We zig-zag a lot on this story.  All things considered, I'm happy with these numbers.  If I had more time in my day, I'd promote it more... but I'm almost more worried about what'd happen if too many people popped into the Google Docs file as I was writing :)

Points! Remember, it's not too late to earn some points to get free stuff (like postcards or naming characters etc).  All it takes is dropping your email in the side box and getting your personal URL for the story.  The rest takes care of itself.  Anna is almost at 500 points, but don't let that stop you!

Tomorrow: Tomorrow is the big day for A&K, but I won't say why.  But if you had pick a day to stop by and watch, I would pick that day.

August 9, 2010 — 897 words

A&K Day 7&8 Recaps

By MCM

Yesterday was a pooper of a day, so I'm late.  Bah humbug.  But anyway, here's my recap for those two days.

But first, observations on live-livewriting!  For those of you who haven't seen it, I open a Google doc and share it with the world, and then in the integrated chat, people get to throw ideas at me, and I mix it all together to make a crazy, crazy story.  At first, it seemed like a fun gimmick, and something I might do once a week.  Then, after the initial trial run, it was too exhilarating to NOT do it again, because of the immediate and unpredictable feedback you get from people as you write.

And then came the realization.  Live-livewriting was making me into a panderer.  Now I know what you're thinking: he already panders all the time anyway!  Yes, it's true, but this is a whole other level of panderization.  I imagine improv actors deal with this a lot, but for me, it's very new.  You get into a situation where you can SEE people like certain aspects of what you're doing, so you do more and more of it.  I don't know if it shows in the text after the fact, but these long rambling bicker-fights that Arkady and Kain are having? Those are completely unplanned.  I just get on a roll and can't stop myself from doing more.  I think they're generally well-received, but it turns into long sequences where not much happens.  Though maybe that's okay.  Maybe that's actually BETTER writing than what I normally do, which is try to craft dialogue to be over quickly.  Hmm...

Really, the biggest issue I have with this technique is that I find myself 2,000 words deep into a chapter, and realize that I haven't hit on half the key points I needed to make.  And then I have to have El sit down with Kain and infodump at him to compensate, which is what I normally try to avoid.  I also worry that the characters are coming off nastier than they would otherwise, because the dialogue just runs away ahead of me sometimes.

Hmm.  Well, anyway... I think live-livewriting can be good and fun and productive, but it possibly needs a little more thinking before I roll it out into a full-fledged feature.  I'd be terrified of writing something like Scarlet Lemming like this.  5,000-word chapters full of evil, vicious sarcasm.  Yikes.

Photo Time! Requests still welcome, though I don't have that much facial expression range ;)

Stats! I've decided it's too tiring to hunt for stats, so instead, I'm just going to give you the stats for the A&K main page ever day.  Sure, it misses a bunch of sub-page hittage, but most people seem to hit the front page first anyway.  Two days ago, we had 23 hits, and then yesterday, 97.  To put that in perspective, the big heavy day when Anna got all her points, that was 109 hits that day.  So we're not doing too badly, all things considered.

Points! Well, Anna has now won herself a signed A&K postcard.  She has nearly 500 points, and is by far in the lead on this one.  Everyone, give her a round of applause!  And/or plot to overthrow her.

Late Chapters. Today's chapter will be a bit late due to conflicting schedule stuff, and worse yet, TOMORROW's chapter may have to be delayed until Wednesday, because I have a meeting scheduled at 2pm.  I will negotiate a new time with the live-livewriting audience, but don't be surprised if you get a double-dose on Wednesday, and nothing on Tuesday.

Nominate Assassinations. Arkady needs more nominations for who to assassinate!  Send them my way on Twitter (#killnom) or on Facebook!  Anything is good! Go!

That's it, that's all.  If you have any questions or want to hurl abuse at me, I'm ready.  Do your worst!

August 7, 2010 — 510 words

A&K Day 6 Recap

By MCM

I don't even remember yesterday.  I think it had something to do with watermelons.  Not a good sign.  The watermelons or the memory loss, that is.

O Photo, Where Art Thou?

O hai.

The Stats Recap! Yesterday was actually not that great.  Fridays.  Feh.  40 hits, and none of them seem to be referrers.  Although maybe they were referred and it doesn't show up unless they hit a certain threshold.  Well, anyway, 40 isn't what I'm aiming for.  We must do better!

The Kill Nominations. In the story, Arkady is trying to decide who she's going to assassinate.  It's meant to be meaningful, but anything's possible.  As part of her campaign for ideas, she's opened up Facebook and Twitter for nominations.  So here's the deal: YOU can nominate someone to be assassinated by a celebrity!  It can be funny or serious, it's all good with me.  Just include the hastag #killnom on Twitter or post it on my Facebook page, and I'll integrate as many as I can into the story!

Linky Linky! Remember to send people to read the story so you can get points and take over the world!  So far, nobody has reached the 300-point mark! (though since Jan is back, I'm sure that'll change soon :)

Live livewriting: I'll be livewriting the next chapter on Google Docs in about an hour (noon EDT), and you're welcome to join in!  You can throw suggestions in as we go, and see me spell "Arkady" wrong over and over again!  Woo!  Watch Twitter and FB for the URL...

August 6, 2010 — 460 words

A&K Day 5 Recap

By MCM

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to insanity!  Yesterday, I  did my first actual live livewriting session, where a small audience of lunatics watched me type out the chapter in real-time.  It was very, very difficult, but it worked out pretty well.  We're going to do it again today, so if you're keen, watch for it at 2pm EDT.

Photo Time! You do know you can request your own photo, yes? Just tell me what to do.

Stats and Stuff. Numbers are down in the last 24 hours, but that's to be expected after the burst of activity when the points system was implemented.  We had 240 readers yesterday, but the good news is, they've been sticking around longer.  Top referrers were stumbleuponepiguide.com again, and amharte.com.

Points! Nobody's made any new milestones today in the points game.  Anna is suspiciously close to getting a signed postcard, but other than that, it's been pretty quiet.

Other Updates. As many of you know, at the end of the month, Nancy and I will be in Toronto for FanExpo.  If you're around, please come see us.  Part of our booth there will have a big-ass poster for the November release, and I think you'll want to see it in person before it is released on the web :)

As always, any questions, please ask away.  I'll be announcing the URL for the livewriting on Twitter and Facebook in a few hours.

August 5, 2010 — 617 words

A&K Day 4 Recap

By MCM

Well, travel days are never easy, but I did manage to get one chapter out.  So now I just need to write two chapters today, and I'll be back on track.  But there's excitement afoot! Yes! Excitement!

Daily Pic (this is not the excitement)

Statistics! This is also not the excitement.  HOWEVER, things are improving.  Thanks largely to my incentive program, we have now gone from 14 visitors a day to 321!  Ergofiction and Epiguide continue to dominate the source, but now Creative Commons.ca is getting into the mix (somehow... I can't see where they're arriving from).  If this trend continues, Arkady and Kain will take over the world by Monday. On the other hand, this trend isn't likely to continue.

Top Linkers! So according to the contesty thing set up yesterday, I said I would give prizes to people who linked a certain number of people to the site.  And here they are...

10+ Points: A.M. Harte, My Writing Nook, and in an out-of-nowhere appearance, the legendary Jan Oda!

100+ Points: Anna and Jan, you get to name characters.  Email me your choice, and I'll slip them into the story soon!

Excitement! Okay, this might not be as exciting for you as it will be for me.  Later today, I'm going to try some live livewriting.  The way it works is simple: I am going to invite 3 people to a special URL, where they can actually see me typing today's chapter. Each person has a choice: email me an "interrupt", which is a silly idea they want to see integrated, OR they can opt to invite another person to the URL.  This will be the live-est livewriting you're likely to see all year, and all you need to do to qualify is tweet out your unique URL (check the sidebar) with the name of the waiter, and the first 3 entrants get invited!  I'll be writing starting at 2PM EDT (7PM GMT, I think), and probably go for about an hour.

Questions! I'll be posting this on Twitter, but send me your questions for chapter 6!  Go go go!

August 4, 2010 — 788 words

A&K Day 3 Recap

By MCM

Ohhhh, my head. Packing for cross-country trips is hard work, especially when you forget to do it until the last second.  Which is what I'm doing now.  Flight leaves in a few hours, and I'm still not ready.  Which is why I'm writing stories and blog posts!

Day 3 didn't go quite as I planned. I finished chapter 2 and half of chapter 3, but most of my day was spent on unrelated stuff. I'm not sure if I can catch up today, but I'm going to try. Unfortunately, I suspect this will mean the question/answer routine will fall apart for chapter 4.  Bah!

Photo of me! Requested by the ever-present Anna, it's manic killer face!  Not sure if I got it right, but it was worth a shot.

Stats! Well, the numbers are going up at least.  I'm counting 24 uniques between my Day 2 recap and my Day 3 recap right now. Chapter 2 seems to have decent pick-up, and it appears the majority of the readers are coming directly to A&K, or from Facebook.  Epiguide.com makes up the rest.

Weekly Contest! Hey lazy people! Only Anna has entered the contest so far, which means she's going to win the big prize, and then gloat and make you all feel bad.  Repeatedly. So if you want to prevent that, you'd better head on over to the Facebook page and tell me the Ambassador's last name.  Go go go!

Tell a Friend, Get Stuff. I won't beat around the bush: I want more readers. I know August is a crap month for this kinda thing, but I'm greedy. So to help grease the wheels, I've made a little rewards system. On the side bar, you'll see a thing asking you for your email address to get a unique URL.  Spread that link, and you'll earn a point for every person that clicks through.  Here are the rewards:

  • 10 points = A thank you mention in a recap post, linked to your website
  • 100 points = You get to name a character in the story. The character may die, but y'know...
  • 300 points = An autographed postcard-sized Arkady and Kain cover print, mailed to you anywhere in the world.
  • 600 points = An autographed 8x10 print of the Arkady and Kain cover, PLUS a similar print of the poster for our top-secret November release (Polarity).
  • 1,000 points = A $25 gift certificate for Amazon or iTunes (your choice), and an extra special thanks in the ebook version of A&K.

Of course, you only have the month of August to get all this done, and if you act too late, you can't name a character in this story (we'll have to slot it into the next release).  But don't let that stop you! All you need to do is spread the word! No purchase necessary! Woo!

A Question. I started off this story in the present tense, because I thought it might make for a more interesting read.  I'm still early in the process, but the tense is starting to bug me.  Do you think it's worth keeping, or should I switch to my regular past tense self?

August 3, 2010 — 534 words

A&K Day 2 Recap

By MCM

Well, day 2 is done, and I'm already falling behind schedule.  Yesterday was a holiday here, and it also turned into an unexpected date night, so I'm playing catch up on all fronts.  Chapters 2 and 3 are due to be posted in a few hours, but until then, the promised recap data for your viewing pleasure!

Questions! Not many people heard my request for questions, so I limited the request to just two for now. The questions are:

  1. #c3q1What's an odd flavour for a jelly bean? (Anna)
  2. #c3q2 What's the difference between absolute and relative humidity? (Nancy)

Photo (via Daily Mugshot)

Stats! The numbers for the first day aren't the most exciting, but we did start on a Sunday with almost no promotion, so it's to be expected.  The hits for the first chapter are 13 (woo!), but I'm actually somewhat suspicious of that number for technical reasons that I will investigate later this week. Input sources are epiguide.com, ergofiction.com, and people who were already kicking around the site.

Next Up: Writing two more chapters today, trying to get into a writing groove, and preparing for my cross-country flight tomorrow, wherein I'll either get lots done, or not much at all.  If you have any questions about what's going on, feel free to ask in the comments or by email.

Weekly Contest! Fun bonus! Weekly contest! To enter, just post the last name of the Ambassador to my Facebook page.  I'll pick a random winner on Sunday.

August 1, 2010 — 110 words

A&K Day 1

By MCM

The first day of Arkady and Kain begins, but begins late! Check out the chapter and see how it all begins!

Now on to the livewriting part: I need some questions! In the comments below, or on Twitter (@1889ca) send me questions I can ask tomorrow. Things like "What colour is your foot?" and "The name of a man from Spain" are ideal. The stranger, the better. Remember: the questions will be irrelevant, it's the answers that will count.  So make the questions exciting!

I'll check back in after Chapter 2 goes live tomorrow with statistics and other fun stuff.

Thanks for reading!