Friday, March 30, 2012

Support Global Annihilation!

I recently donated to support the funding for Wasteland 2!  Being put together by InXile studios - run by Brian Fargo - Creator of the ORIGINAL Fallout.  Considering what a huge inspiration this has been for my writing.

I strongly encourage any lover of post-apocalyptic survival games or literature to at least check it out and see what I'm geeking out about.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Time to Destroy: A SimCity Retrospective

Remember way back in the day when you’d spend all of recess toiling in the sandbox trying to create the perfect sandcastle? Then just when the bell is about to ring, the school bully and your personal tormenter comes and destroys it, kicking all of your hard work and progress over with one swift movement, leaving you crying in its wake. For the record, the tears were from the sand in my eyes. While you may never have a chance to get her back for all that she’s done because she’s bigger than you and is infected with the cootie virus, you can experience something similar with the classic simulation game, SimCity.

The premise of the game is simple enough – Build housing, commercial business and industrial lots to provide your citizens with places to live and work and the all-too-essential electricity. Out of the box this seems like the greatest idea; an entire civilization at your fingertips and far away from the clutches of Jessica Whatsherface.

In actuality, the so-called power is little more than the ability to place zoning lots and roads. If you’re unsatisfied, you can bulldoze the whole thing for a slight loss of your lack of funds, but that shouldn’t be unsettling to you. Now it’s the responsibility of the people to work with what you have provided. The unsettling is the incessant bitch-fest that you’re about to encounter.

Pollution, crime and traffic immediately begin to spawn their ugly faces into your beautiful Utopia. Suddenly the power plants are too close, so you shut them down and move them. The streets, which have no ability to become expanded to anything larger than a two-way street, are suddenly filled with pixilated boxes. As for the crime, I’m guessing you just have to take their word for it. It’s not like there’s little pixel-people that you can chase down and arrest.

Next thing you know you find out that your teenage daughter is pregnant, your wife’s having an affair with Henry from the mail room and your dog just got run over by the drunkard down the street. While that last part never happens in the game, it seems to fit perfectly with the depressing motif of giving hours of your life for an ever-growing supply of malcontents. So what satisfaction do you achieve by building a megalopolis? How about the fact that God is on your side?

That’s right, the big guy upstairs understands your frustration and lends you his angel of death in the forms tornadoes, earthquakes and even Godzilla to punish the whiny bastards. Your vindictive nature is finally satisfied as fires begin to erupt around the city, power lines are destroyed making lightning strike indefinitely above residential and commercial lots. If this isn’t moving fast enough for you, you still have your handy-dandy bulldozer, destruction that pays. What better way to end the game by destroying the world you worked so hard to build with your pockets overflowing with virtual cash and no more whining.

All in all, I had a lot of fun with this game, frustrating as it may have been. In fact, this entire game may have been an advertisement for the Amish. No electricity, no traffic-ridden roads, just a bunch of good ole boys with Biblical names and wickedly awesome beards.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Querying a Dead Horse

Writing an entire book is no easy task.  Many people aspire to do it, believing they have some great idea to share with the world.  Then something happens.  This something is called 'life'.  For first time writers, nobody is paying you to believe in the power of your dreams.  So you have to get a job, or two in my case.  While you shouldn't be sitting around waiting for that moment of inspiration, you can't make yourself sit down and write when there's nothing inspiring or motivating you - anybody can read right through the crap you end up outputting.  You're motivated by nothing more than a whim, the thought of perhaps someday this can be greatness.  You may even be right.  For many of us, however, you're not.  And if you're being honest with yourself, you know you're not.

But against adversity, issues of finding time in the midst of life's many responsibilities, you finished that damned book.  Your chest swells with pride and all you want - more than anything- is for somebody to read it.  For this alone, you should feel proud.  Crap or not, you did the unthinkable and beat the odds.

Now comes the hard part - getting it published.  Revise reread rinse recycle repeat.  Polish it until the pope himself would be proud to lay his holy lips upon the lettering.  Now welcome to sit-and-waits-ville - Population: You... and many many others.

I have several friends who have spent years going back and forth with agents, publishers and editors.  I, myself, have been playing the game for the past year.  I KNEW I would get published.  I had to.  I'm a good writer.

Here's the problem:  I hate my book.

Perhaps 'hate' is too strong a word.  I spent six years toying with the idea.  Four years went into writing and perfecting it.  One year of revisions.  This was my first book - my first love - and I can't get anybody outside of my beta-reading group to read it.  But if I'm being honest with myself, I don't want to read it again either.

You see, my manuscript was the first in a series - one with a strong mythology and a lot of work put into world building.  But even as I was finishing up, I no longer cared for it.  Over the years, we'd grown apart.  Being the first in a series meant that I would have to continue telling the same story.  Not only that, I would have my name tied to it.

Doors wasn't a bad book by any stretch of the word.  It was a decent book.  Something I could probably self-publish and sell a few thousand copies of.  But that's not what I'm looking for.  I don't want to be a 'decent' writer - I, like many others, strive for greatness.

With a full arsenal of much better ideas floating around in my head, I finally came to the conclusion that I need to scrap it.  It didn't really hit me until I received rejections from Brooks Sherman and Sarah LaPolla.  These are both amazing agents that I follow semi-religiously and have a lot of respect for.  They were both charmed by my writing, but didn't love the concept.  I had to agree.

It's hard to let years of work slip through the cracks.  Painful as well.  But I can't let myself see this as a loss. Four years of writing is some damned good practice.  All of my research and world-building can be translated to other projects.

I'm nearly 30k words into my next story - one that excites me like the honeymoon period of a new relationship.  The characters are solid.  The story is intriguing.  The pacing is fast and hard-hitting.  Even reading it over again brings about a charge I'd long since lost with Doors.

So to all of those who rejected me, especially to Brooks and Sarah, I'd like to offer a very honest and heart-felt, "Thank You."  I feel like you've given me years of my life back that could have easily been wasted on pouring over words in a story that I'd already fallen out of love with.

Let this be my word of advice to fellow writers looking for representation:  If you have something you truly believe in, then fight until you've exhausted all options, then fight some more.  But if you have doubts, please don't marry yourself to an idea that you've lost faith in.  Cutting your losses now will save years of heart-ache later.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Music That Tells a Story

I’ve always been one to believe that all music tells a story.  For some songs, it’s pretty easy to discover.  A little ditty about Jack and Diane comes to mind along with just about any song by Meatloaf.  For others, there’s a story behind the music, lyrics expressing emotions of times come and gone in a metaphor of self-establishing moments.

My favorite kind, however, has always been the instrumental.  Most of my stories have been inspired through music, letting my mind wander on a long commute or road trip.  Even back when my friends and I used to ‘nerd it up’ around a session of table-top role-playing, we’d always supply a soundtrack to set the mood for individual scenes. 

Whenever I started on my latest manuscript, the first thing I did was search for some new music to set the mood.  I’d been listening to a lot of Celldweller mixed in with video game soundtracks for the first one, but the music and the story were kind of all over the place.  After a bit of searching and research, I came across The Luna Sequence and fell in love.  Since then, I've been running her first full album, "They Follow You Home", on loop through my writing.  The music fits perfectly with the tone as well as the setting, keeping me nailed down from scene to scene. 

Through Twitter (aka I was able to get in contact with Kaia Young, the genius behind The Luna Sequence.  She was gracious enough to spend some time answering a few of my questions about the science behind her art.  Please enjoy the interview and take the time to check out some of her work, maybe even find a place for it in your own writing soundtrack.

You have an undeniably amazing talent for creating industrial tracks. What got you started making music?

      I got started just by being a music fan! I grew up in a very... culturally isolated rural community, music was my window to the rest of the world. I always loved the import section of record stores, it was amazing to me that a small piece of culture could travel across the world and end up in the middle of Missouri! I didn't have internet access until my teenage years, so music was really my only way of knowing there was something else out there besides what I saw every day. My early attempts at songwriting were as much about trying to feel connected to something as they were about any musical ideas. If CD's from Europe found their way into my possession, how far could my own voice reach?

Have you always worked solo or have you worked with others?

      I've been in a number of different bands over the years. I've always tried to maintain some kind of balance between solo and group work since they require (and develop) different sets of skills. Up until recently, there has never been an electronic music scene anywhere near me, so any non-solo projects tended to be more on the metal and punk side of things. I actually have a project I'm working on right now with a talented singer, which has been wonderful in preventing me from staying in my pretentious and self-indulgent instrumental box!

You've done remixes for several Fixt artists including two of my favorites, Celldweller and Blue Stahli. Have you ever considered doing a collaboration?

      I'd love to do something like that in the future, I've always enjoyed working with vocals! I'm not really well-known enough to get the attention of those two in particular, but I do have a literal list of people to start harassing about collaborations now that my album is finished. Hopefully, I will be able to announce something soon!

You named 'The Luna Sequence' after a phenomena of a psych ward that locked patients in isolation during the full moon to prevent suicide attempts. What about this attracted your attention?

     It really grabbed me as a perfect picture of how poisonous our society can be to vulnerable people. We are so busy criminalizing the symptoms that we fail to notice we are also spreading the disease. It’s easy to now look back at situations like that and say that the people in authority were blind, but the same trends and systems still exist today. How often do we decide what is best for other people and strip away their voice when they try to tell us the consequences of our actions? To me, it’s a reminder to consider my actions carefully, because being 100% completely wrong about something can feel a lot like being 100% right.

What are some of your inspirations for your music?

      All of the pieces of ourselves that we are afraid to bring to light and examine. I've always been inspired by the journey to find beauty hidden in dark places. One thing we all have in common is that we are all hiding something. At what cost do we keep these things hidden? What would happen if we showed everyone our true ugliness? Would that make us less, or more connected? Regarding actual music, I don't really listen to a lot of electronic music. It may just be a product of being a child of the 90s, but I've always been really into the whole singer/songwriter thing. I experimented with writing in that style for a long time and eventually started studying classical music in an attempt to get outside of the commonly used chords and phrases. Even though it was the complexity that initially attracted me to classical music, I ended up being amazed at the simplistic vocal quality of some cello/violin players. They seemed to convey all of the same meaning of a singer, but without needing words. Since then, I've been inspired by people who find ways to communicate meaning without words. 

What do you often focus on when recording? That is to say, what's the thought process?

     I tend to start with some kind of a visual image in mind. From there, I try to come up with ways to tell the story of the image as a series of connected moments. My thought process is really centered around trying to define those specific moments in musical terms. The moment could be anything, an abrupt change, a chord progression, a particular sound, whatever creates the image or emotion I am trying to communicate. Once those moments are defined, I can develop the rest of the song to connect the moments.

What kind of literature are you drawn to?

     Stories about people finding strength in their weakness. I love a good tragedy, but I hate victims. At least half of the books I have read have been biographies or sociological works. I also have to admit that I am a huge sci-fi nerd. So, I suppose that I like stories that are either exactly like real life, or nothing like it at all!

Aside from music, do you have any other artistic talents?

      I do actually have a fine arts degree, though I'm currently working in a different field. I did freelance studio work for several years, and occasionally continue to do some on the side. I've been focusing more on concert photography recently, though I am wanting to get back into studio work at some point. Recently, I've been considering doing a series of silkscreen prints based off of some of the TLS songs. I may post some pics eventually if they turn out well!

Your most recent release, Persona, has some similarities to popular video game music from the early 90's.  Have you ever considered doing work for soundtracks? (Games or otherwise)

      It's definitely something that I would love to get into! I've always felt that music has been undervalued in other forms of media. It’s pretty much a requirement that any big budget movie has some kind of an "epic" soundtrack, but how often is it just yet another generic orchestral arrangement with big concert hall drums, some guitar and the latest Loopmasters sample CD on top? Can you even remember the melody when it’s over? Great film music can become as iconic as the film itself. I've actually been reading quite a bit on game soundtrack design recently, and have always been interested in the more interactive applications, such as when the music is directly influenced by what's going on, rather than progressing in a linear fashion.
You have a new album, 'This is Bloodlust', coming out April 2nd. This will be your second full album. How does it differ from your other releases?

     Overall, the writing process was a lot more focused. I knew when I started the project that I was going to be doing a full length, so I spread out my time and worked on all of the songs at once instead of just finishing one at a time. Taking that different approach enabled me to view the album as a cohesive whole, which resulted in me incorporating a wider range of ideas than I might have otherwise. I also made a deliberate effort to develop some particular ideas and concepts that I had been avoiding. In the past, many of the themes I explored were based on observations of other people's lives that paralleled my own in some way, though I rarely directly referenced my own experiences. I ended up unearthing a lot of things I had been ignoring, which was therapeutic and catastrophic all at the same time! It was actually quite difficult to finish the album towards the end, I'm very happy to be done with it!
I noticed the demo single, Parallels, has a very large range of instruments and tempos, but still manages to flow together very well. Would you mind sharing the story behind this song?

      It was based off of a moment of realization when I discovered that a force I thought was opposed to me was actually just moving parallel to me. My writing process was mainly focused around the abrupt change right after the second chorus. I structured the chorus so that it felt like a long build up to something, only to violate that expectation and go in a different direction instead. I deliberately incorporated a lot of different changes to give the song a very turbulent feel.

Which of all your recorded tracks do you feel the strongest connection with? Is that a fair question to ask?

     Ocean Under Light, which was the last song on They Follow You Home. The whole album was a narrative of a disgraced who is haunted by the images and voices of those who have accused her of crimes she had not committed. After experiencing this for years, she eventually started to believe and internalize the accusations, and eventually drowned herself. The imagery of Ocean Under Light was based off of a recurring dream about drowning that I had for years, which is probably responsible for my obsession with water-based imagery.

You've been releasing music for several years now. Any big hopes for the future?

      I'd love to be able to get to a point where I can make a living writing or performing music someday. I realize that there is not much of a market for overly long and pretentious instrumental electronic songs that you can’t really dance to... but with a combination of licensing, engineering, remixing, and probably some art on the side, I hope to be able to pull it off eventually! I would also like to be able to do a live show someday. I've never been a fan of the idea of doing the whole DJ thing, so I've been working quietly on the side to develop a way to pull off the songs completely 100% live with 3 performers. 

Again, I'd like to say a great big "Thank you" to Kaia for sharing some of her life and art with us.  Be sure to check out The Luna Sequence.  Her latest album, 'This is Bloodlust', is due to be released on April 2nd and is available for pre-order at

Need more motivation to check out The Luna Sequence? Have a listen!

So how about you guys?  What's your writing soundtrack?