Marching forward – Toriko Tales

So much life happening. Lots of inspiration that I can channel into Toriko Tales.  I’ll admit I had some trouble seeing past a chapter I was working on. Usually that means I’m trying too hard to manufacture a plot and not listening enough to the characters.

A few nights ago I kept seeing a particular scene in my mind that ended up getting me past the mental block. Then yesterday morning I ended up writing an entire additional chapter. I hope this is setting a new trend for progress on this manuscript.

Honestly, I think this happen in part due to being on vacation.  I’ve been burnt out with my regular job, getting ensnared with the political dramas going on in our government, and other things.  I’ve recently taken steps to prune away my visibility to much of the things that were distracting me.  It seems my current tactics are working.

As a side note, HoverDome is coming along great.  Matt and I have the box artwork done. The updated cards based on the past Protospiel testing are complete. We can send them to our manufacturer for a professional prototype now.

More soon!

Backstory, backstory, backstory

As of right now I have nearly 11,000 words of backstory written for Toriko Tales. This compares to the 12,175 words currently written in the book manuscript.

That doesn’t even factor in the original module I wrote for Toriko’s original introduction for D’mok Revival first book. In fact, much of what I wrote back then I’m updating for use in her first solo book.

It may seem excessive, but to me, I want to understand the bigger picture before attempting to add something into the main manuscript.  I feel if I understand the history around locations or events, or the motivating factors and experiences of a character I’ll be able to represent them more authentically and consistently in my main story.

To do this I simply write some short stories.

If it’s about a character I conduct a little interview. I’ve never had a situation where I couldn’t “hear” their response. In fact, it’s fun to ask follow-up questions. I’m always surprised by the answers (despite it all coming from my own mind.).

If it’s about a location, before trying to visualize the place, I ask myself lots of questions about the area it’s in.  What is it’s function? How does it fit into the bigger scheme of the area or society?  When was it built and how old is it?  Is this place important or forgotten? How is the space used now?

Then, based on all of that, I begin visualizing. Again, starting with the surroundings and moving to the location of interest. What type of architecture is used in that area? What type of materials? The short could be a totally different set of characters that are just interacting with the space, or a discussion from the architects themselves on the approach used to craft the location.

The type of short story used all depends on what I want to understand about the subject.

For the character of Mini-T (v2) I did a number of shorts. One was a stream-of-consciousness understanding her mindset in a particular moment. Another was a set of “diary entries” (requested by Toriko) to help show the progression of her development. Another was a semi-structured interview at a later point in time (towards the end of where I expect the Toriko Tales manuscript to go). It did wonders for understand that characters arc for this book.

I highly recommend doing something like this. I believe it prevents a lot of the inconsistency problems with commercial IPs where characters don’t act consistently. I don’t know about you, but it bothers me when a character does something totally contrary to what we’ve learned about them to that point, unless it’s some shocking reveal of a totally other side we had no idea about. Then it’s okay, otherwise it’s not. So, I work very hard to maintain consistency in my stories.

Happy Holidays!

 

New PCN process from the Library of Congress

If you’re an author, this is important.

From their site: “A Library of Congress catalog control number is a unique identification number that the Library of Congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections. Librarians use it to locate a specific Library of Congress catalog record in the national databases and to order catalog cards from the Library of Congress or from commercial suppliers. The purpose of the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program is to enable the Library of Congress to assign control numbers in advance of publication to those titles that may be added to the Library’s collections.”

Each book should have these if you ever want to get your book in a library, etc.

The following is an official email directly from them to publishers (and self-publishing authors).

==============================================================

 

Dear Publisher,
Thanks for your patience as we have been preparing our new pre-publication tool for the book publishing community, PrePub Book Link from the Library of Congress. The new tool will bring the Library’s Cataloging in Publication (CIP) and Preassigned Control Number (PCN) programs together in a unified, easy-to-use web-based tool.
We’ve made the decision to delay the launch of PrePub Book Link until spring of 2019, in order to make sure we roll out the best possible new tool to make your workflow easier, whether you’re an author, a publisher, or a CIP partner institution.
The Library will provide user guides for PrePub Book Link to ease the transition to this powerful new tool. You’ll receive additional emails with more details and specific launch date this spring.
Also, you can keep up with news and updates as we roll out PrePub Book Link by visiting: https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn
Look forward to Library of Congress PrePub Book Link, coming in the spring of 2019.
Best wishes,
Caroline Saccucci
CIP and Dewey Section Head and Program Manager
U.S. Program, Law & Literature Division
Acquisitions & Bibliographic Access Directorate
Library of Congress
(202) 707-3317

More shots fired…

Another active shooter. More students dead. Yesterday the news reported 22 school shootings since 2018 began.

22 in 20 weeks. Let that sink in for a moment. I still haven’t fully absorbed it.

Predictably, we see the dance of legislators, victims, and big gun businesses begin once again. Hope of change fades.

When asked “Was there a part of you that was like ‘This isn’t real,’ ‘This would not happen in my school.’” one of the students shook her head with a sickening smirk. Clearly she wasn’t happy, it was more an expression when you’re overloaded and in disbelief. She said “No there wasn’t. It’s been happening everywhere… I thought eventually it would happen here too.”  https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/student-on-texas-school-shooting/index.html

It breaks my heart.

Then I think of my 11 year-old son.

Then I think of the all the kids in his class that just graduated elementary school with him.

Then I recall the “yellow alert” his school campus faced this newly completed school year where an outside lingering interloper caused the school to go into a semi-lock-down.

What’s more shocking, my son didn’t tell me when it happened. Nor did the school. My son mentioned it months later. The school never did. It’s as if this is “normal” and not needed to be mentioned.

It’s not normal. It’s not right.

But policy is the adult world. My mind goes back to the children. How can we help them?  What can we say?

Eerily, my latest novel, the Weun Academy: The Shadow Maker is all about terror at school. It’s sickening (literally) how timely and topical it has become. I want to bring children a message of hope while securing them with tools to manage the growing chaos.

They are not helpless. They can become the instruments needed to counter what’s happening. Reviewers have called out key aspects of the book’s messaging:

“The curve in character development is calculated and it is interesting to follow the protagonist as he quickly learns to think beyond himself and his immediate world.” – C. Sia

“(The main character Eisah) took charge of the situation, took a chance and didn’t back down when his plans didn’t work. This story talks about things that teenagers face and have to fight every day. Author Michael Zummo addresses these issues with care and takes on these sensitive topics with diligence.” – R. Tanveer

“School violence, bullies, and adults who don’t seem to get it at all are a current problem in schools all over the world so the book definitely will hit a nerve with readers from the intended target group. It is a great, exciting story that shows how easily things can be misunderstood when you don’t take the time to ask questions about what REALLY happened.” – K. Anasi

 

But the one that really hits home, that makes me feel like I’m doing something right is this:

 

“And yes, without being preachy, there is an agenda implicit throughout this story, one much needed in our world at large: helping students to deal with and bring to an end (to) the recent horrific trend in school violence. This is an engaging, fast-moving, and richly imaginative tale, with characters both likeable and unlikeable, but often relatable, particularly by younger readers.” – A.L. Peevey

 

“(A story and agenda) much needed in our world at large…”

 

I hope it’s the right messages at the right time. It seems the case. Now I just have to convince others to help me spread this message.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend some more time with my son.

 

Finding my voice

When I started writing, I didn’t really think “what I wanted to say” with a particular story. With most of it streaming into my head like a movie, I didn’t stop to consider why “this story” was one that needed to be told now. In fact, I didn’t question at all, I just “documented” what I saw and published it.

Granted, I have always been aware of how my own life has shaped characters and influenced events in the D’mok literary universe.

But something has changed. It’s not the plans for the series (with its many branches). “That” story stills needs to be told. However, rather than just infusing my life into the details and nuance of characters and events, I feel this call-to-action to integrate social commentary.

Early reviews for my Weun Academy manuscript, that focuses on school violence, have been amazing! People are really connecting with the characters, and commenting on how their effected by the attack. This has really opened my eyes. Beyond writing a slick action-packed story, or cleaver romp in the future, I finally understand the value of “saying something.”

Looking back, my fourth novel covered the topics of broken families. The fifth covered the topic of school violence. My new project, Toriko’s Army, is shaping up to tackle the rise of artificial intelligence and society’s response. I guess that societal commentary was already weaving into the DNA of my books. This is a great thing!  This approach will certainly strengthen the case for “why this story now?”

I can’t wait to see how my latest work shapes up! Regardless of my “early previews” into the story, the details that flesh it out are always an amazing surprise!

The big picture – planning out the D’mok Revival literary universe

Now that the first manuscript for Weun Academy is off to my AMAZING editor Arlene Robinson, I have a moment to write another blog post.

Some amazing fans have asked what’s coming next. I think I’m finally ready to tip my hand and show what’s in the works. Keep in mind, some of the titles may change, and don’t expect lots of details yet, but here you go!

 

D’mok Revival: The Nukari Invasion Trilogy — Completed

  1. Awakening – Published
  2. Retribution – Published
  3. Descension – Published
    1. Mindwalk Novelette – Published
    2. The Aloan Conspiracy — Published

 

D’mok Revival: New Eden Saga                                

  1. New Eden – Published
  2. Chancellor Arenji – FUTURE
  3. The Second Coming – FUTURE

 

Wuen Academy (Spin-off)

  1. The Shadow Maker – Currently with my editor
  2. The Sabereth Incident – FUTURE
  3. The Golden Hands – FUTURE
  4. The Collectors – FUTURE
  5. Gems of Oridar – FUTURE
  6. The Third Age – FUTURE
  7. Prequal: Secret of the Stone – Future

 

Wayfinder (Spin-off)

  1. The Assassin’s Gambit – FUTURE
  2. D’maran Justice – FUTURE
  3. Hero of the Nukari – FUTURE

 

Toriko’s Army (Crucial Side novel)

  1. Tomb of the Metallics – Startup in process

 

D’mok Revival (Conclusion)

  1. D’mok’s Revenge – FUTURE

 

D’mok Revival (Prequal)

  1. Executive Order 188 – FUTURE

 

So, how do all of these fit together?  Good question!

Weun Academy picks up as of the end of book 4 in the D’mok Revival Series. The end of this spin-off aligns between books 5 and 6 of the D’mok Revival Series.

Toriko’s Army happens between books 4 and 5 in the D’mok Revival Series, and after book 1 of Weun Academy.

Wayfinder picks up after book 4 of D’mok Revival, and aligns with book 2 of Weun Academy. The end of this spin-off leads into the beginning of the capstone book 7 of the D’mok Revival Series.

The Weun Academy and Wayfinder series must be complete, along with books 1-6 of D’mok Revival before the capstone book 7 can be written.  Finally, there’s a prequel (because, of course there is). Okay, technically “Secret of the Stone” is a prerequisite (but I’d like it to be).

Simple right?

I’ve had this planned for some time now. However, I didn’t want to mention anything. Mostly because it seems like the plan of a madman. I honestly wouldn’t take a new author seriously if they claimed all this. I wanted a number of novels completed to prove I’m serious about this.

I’m not even going to think about the age I’ll be when it’s all done.

I’m thrilled to report that I’ve started working on Toriko’s Army. I’ve been waiting a long time to do this story. Toriko is among my favorite characters (if I had to pick that is).  More about this soon!

When characters appear from thin air

I’ve had something particularly interesting happen twice during the writing of my latest novel Weun Academy. Characters that I didn’t foresee suddenly appeared mid-writing and ret-conned into the plot! Luckily, it’s never been in a destructive way. To be honest, it has always been more of a layering concept, completing details as if the plot had been constructed to have them drop in place.

The first time it happened was with Kira Madaki, a Human female and senior student mentor and upper-class person. She naturally completed the core group of students and became a central part of the book’s action.

Where’d she come from? Those that know me can spot how my own life has manifested in my writings. Kira is actually modeled after a friend of mine I’ve grown closer to, especially in the past few years. I guess it’s no surprise that this budding friendship directly inspired Kira’s appearance.

After “seeing” Kira during a writing session, I decided to pause advancing the plot to write her backstory. This is something I do with all my main characters to really “get them” and make sure their choices and interactions in the book are authentic. My friend has shared many things about her life. I also have the fortune to witness the amazing woman she is every day at work. I wanted to make sure that Kira embodied her, so others would be as inspired by her perseverance and drive as I am.

I’ll admit after writing it up, I was nervous to have her read it. I think we all doubt ourselves at times, and I wanted so badly for her to approve of what I wrote. Worse yet, I worried maybe something I included was too close to her actual story and she’d be offended. All my worries were for nothing, thankfully. She really enjoyed it, saying I remembered more than she recalled telling me about her life. We do talk a lot–and about many topics (and I love it).

Now, it’s difficult to think of Weun Academy without Kira!

I still find this all fascinating, as it did not happen with any of my other novels or short stories. I always seemed to know everything about those plots and characters. But I’m a firm believer in letting the story tell itself, that includes new revelations like this.

The way I look at this, it’s no different than a painter going back and adding new layers to a composition, or a musician adding additional music tracks. So, why can’t I go back and layer additional character and story information?

I guess we’ll see how it all turns out!

“To ret-con, or not to ret-con!”

 

To Ret-con, or not ret-con… That is, indeed, the question!

I’ve learned a great deal over the course of my five novels, two novelettes, and omnibus edition. Among the larger points: the structure of long-term and short-term story arcs, the importance of small chapters, the use of page-turner cliff hangers, keep the core character count down, avoiding episodic tv like story blocking when writing a novel, etc.

With respect to the content itself, being more descriptive, and presenting names people can consistently pronounce are ongoing opportunities for improvement.

My latest novel, Weun Academy, is actually the first spin-off from the D’mok Revival main series. Its timeline picks up at the end of book 4. Many established alien races, and characters appear as expected. The Nasadric, who were introduced in book 4, become more prevalent as one of the main characters in Weun Academy is one! I was never fond of the way they were presented in book 4. the description sounded gangly and odd. It was fine for a background race at the time. But, as a main race it just didn’t work. I guess I try to picture people cosplaying the characters, and no one was going to cosplay looking like what I described in book 4.

So… I’m changing it. Hey, I’m the author, I can do that. Trust me, the new look is far cooler. I could completely see people cosplaying this race now. Of course, this means I must go back to book 4 and update that. There’s no updating the printed copies. But, those will become instant collector’s editions, right? Well, someday someone may be intrigued by the original text.

There’s one other major thing that has bothered me since the beginning. This one is so much bigger, and impacts every book released to date. It makes me nervous to consider, but at the same time it bugs me so much!

Seigie Weun. No one pronounces it correctly…  Most said “Seg-gee” or “SEA-gee.” Again with the cosplay thing, I think it would literally kill me if I heard someone cheer “I just looooooove Seg-gie!” I mean, I’d be thrilled someone did, don’t get me wrong. But “Seg-gie?” I would feel like I betrayed her. I imagine it would be like someone running up to me and yelling “I love you Meek!” You know?

Anyway, the original manuscript had “Segie.” To be honest, that probably should be been pronounced “S-eh-g-eye.” The desired pronunciation was (and still is) “C-G” as in the hard pronunciation of the letters “C” and “G”.  I tried to mutate it Sea-G, then, incorrectly, to Segie. I believe it was my sister that suggest I try to use the spelling approach for “siege” to correct how people would say it.

In my utter brilliance, I did a mass correct with “Seigie.” Then pushed the first book out the door. Hey, my launch at Chicago ComicCon 2013 was coming fast and I had thousands of copies being printed.  I needed to get it done! So, of course, I take something SO important–and blow it.

So, here we are 8 printed works and 4 years later. I STILL have to check the spelling every time I write it to make sure I’m keeping it consistent. Why? Because my brain will not let this go.

Again, I say, “To ret-con, or not to ret-con!”

Of course, there could be another option… Given Weun Academy is a spin-off… Who’s to say it can’t be presented there in a different way? Say, perhaps “Seegee” or “C’Gee” the “way her D’mar spelling would look.” Hey, you don’t know that’s *not* how her native tongue spells it. It *could* be the case.

While thousands of people have owned and read the D’mok Revival core novels, I’m hoping to bring Weun Academy to an even larger audience. So, NOW is the time to address this.

I feel like I’m almost talking myself into this concept as I write this. It’s not a “bad” idea. The D’mar native language, hum?  Food for thought. I guess you’ll have to wait and see what I end up doing!

To Kristin Zummo

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My sister-in-law, Kristin Zummo, has passed away. It was swift, unexpected, and heart-breaking. From the moment I met her she was so incredibly kind. She frequently texted and Facebook messaged, and even helped out at my book launches. She always made sure I knew she was behind me and did everything she could to help. What a sister-in-law!

My life has always been the inspiration for my stories. Kristin’s life, and now her death, has also inspired my literary world.  In my latest book, Weun Academy, a great tragedy befalls the school. Many students and even teachers are killed. My reflections on Kristin’s death made me revisit the memorial scene. Fighting through my own tears, D’abar’s speech began to rewrite itself. The following not only speaks to my fictitious characters, but to me and the others Kristin left behind:

“We are gathered here today to remember and pay homage to our fallen family members. The tragic loss of life, especially for those so young, is unconscionable. There’s nothing to say to rationalize such events, nothing to take away the pain of their loss. While their corporeal journey has ended, ours has become overcast with a cloud of confusion and sorrow.

“While death is life’s harshest lesson, there is a silver lining to this cloud.  We are forced to reflect on the things our lost family members brought into our lives. We take stock on the ways they touched our hearts, saw the world, and forever changed us by their example.

“But the lessons don’t stop there. Death reminds us just how precious and fleeting life is. It exposes our mortal fragility and bodily limitations, while at the same time encouraging us to live life to the fullest and without delay. As a result, we challenge the very substance and direction of our own lives.

“Right now you may be feeling pangs of anger, sadness, and regret. Perhaps you should have spent more time with them, or talked more often. Maybe they never knew how you felt, or understood just how much you appreciated all the things they did. Maybe you didn’t return a call, or a favor. Or maybe you just wish you could have gotten to know them better. Such feelings are normal. It’s called guilt, and we all suffer it. It’s the result of us being imperfect beings: ones that make assumptions about our lives and opportunities, and about the time we have to do the things that don’t quite land high enough on our long list of priorities. It’s important to face this, to acknowledge whatever we should have done better, and to not repeat our mistakes again.

“I will never say death is a good thing, but it makes us examine things we’ve taken for granted, and helps us to become better people–if we’re willing to change. Don’t make our loved ones loss be for nothing. Enshrine them in your heart. Feel what you must, then learn and grow. Become the best you, and above all–live your incredible life.”

Thank you for all you inspired in my life Kristin. You were an amazing sister-in-law.  My heart aches, and I will miss you greatly. I already miss your smile and beautiful heart. Rest in peace.

Expanding on Weun Academy’s first book!

Progress continues on my latest novel, Weun Academy! As I’ve mentioned before, the new manuscript sits around the 160 page mark, which I predict is about one-third of the completed book. It’s been at that number of a while now. Around the 2016 winter holidays that started to worry me. I kept wondering why I couldn’t progress on the main story. After all, it’s not like I don’t know what the story is about. But the inspiration and drive to sit and write just wasn’t there.

I’m wondered, like I’m sure many other writers do at some point, if I had hit “that wall,” the one you’ll never get past. But here’s the thing, I honestly love looking into what’s happening in the D’mok Universe. When I sit to write, I get a streaming view directly into my mind about what’s going on there. I truly enjoy it, and wanted to experience that again.

Inspiration is a funny thing, it ebbs and flows as it wants to. I know I’m making it sound like it’s alive, as if it has a will of its own. But you know what? Sometimes it feels exactly like that. It tells me what it wants, when it wants, with however much detail, and for however long as it wants to. It also tells me when it’s not ready to show me something. I just “had that feeling” that it wasn’t time to write more.

So, I do what I always do when this happens, I sat back and enjoyed life. Creativity, for me, comes from living life. My friends, my triumphs, my failures, my fears, all somehow feed the well from which the D’mok Revival universe springs. A wonderful wedding happened, the election happened, the aftermath of the election happened, Thanksgiving, Christmas and a magical new year happened, and low-and-behold, so did inspiration!

Between the New Year and Donald Trumps innuguration I wrote 14 short segments about various aspects of Weun Academy. This is very similar to what happened when I began writing D’mok Revival so many years ago. I’d get snippets of information, background stories, glimpses into the lives of specific characters in situations that have nothing to do with the main story but help me understand who they are.

As a result the Weun Academy campus has transformed, new characters have emerged, I understand the meaning and relevance Weun Academy’s prologue and its implications (which impact D’mok Revival’s main story and Wayfinder’s, the second spin-off series)…

And NOW–now it’s time to integrate this into the existing manuscript. “It” tells me once that’s done I’ll get the next part of the story. So be it.

I’ve worked on integration all day. One of the things that jumped out was the need to more clearly describe the uniforms used at the academy. I took the time to sketch out designs and scour the internet for things that matched. I’m happy to report, I’ve pulled together exactly what I had in my head!

I found components of these drawings on the internet, created additional assets, then pulled them together to create what you’re seeing. Final versions will be developed. I’ve attached the images below.

The first is the ability category (“Discipline”) pin for “The World,” represented by a mountain.

the world emblem

The second is the student jumper.

lyons_emprada_uniform_1_by_kenu v6-postable

This is worn while on campus grounds and during all training sessions. The specialized shirt is really the most customized part of the outfit sporting black outer edges on the arms and shoulders, purple main section and lighter purple stripes, and raised collar. On the collar shows the ability category (“Discipline”) pin, and on the chest, Weun Academy’s emblem.

 

Third is the formal (or “Dress”) jacket.

formal jacket

A subtle pattern is printed on the jacket, that reflects in the light and becomes visible when you’re closer. You see a hint of that in the example image. On the neck, the wearer’s ability category (“Discipline”) pin is displayed. On the chest, the Weun Academy emblem is displayed. The golden braid is for an earned distinction (like becoming mentor of other students after mastering skills). The shoulder boards display the number of stripes equal to the level of mastery (could also be years at school), and sit on black panels. The silver “flower” buttons further accentuate the ornateness of the jacket. This is complimented by formal black trousers and with purple stripe down the side.  As a note, Matt helped me apply the pattern.  Thanks Matt!!  🙂

I’m especially proud of this jacket design. One of the things I try to keep in mind as I go along is whatever readers encounter I want them to be able to recreate in the “real world.” It could be food mentioned in the cafeteria, learning games from classrooms, or outfits characters wear. I believe the above designs are very accessible, where cosplayers could make them happen. A dear friend of mine, Kathleen Jenks-Grobben, mentioned how Victor Krum’s outfit in Harry Potter has a unique angled part to his jacket and people have been able to recreate it.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, Stanislav Ianevski, 2005, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, Stanislav Ianevski, 2005, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

That actually made me feel much better.  I DO love the angled section and want to keep it.

Anyway, with these designs I can continue the integration of the other holiday items. Specifically, the introduction of a new character, Kira Madaki.

It might be fun to do future posts introducing some of the Weun Academy characters (non-main story items)… Hum. We shall see!

As a side note, for anything found on the Internet that wasn’t explicitly mine, I DO have contact information for the original creators and will reach out to them as appropriate. I believe in people getting credit for the things they create!