Nanowrimo 2015: Starting with the characters

nanowrimo_logowithwords

Hey everybody, long time no see!

I’m working on a new novel, and this time it is a sequel. This story has been a long time coming, but unfortunately as I’ve come closer to NaNoWriMo time, my original inspirations have started to fade away. Now I’m left with a vague sense of a character, and a setting I have only explored once.

So why don’t we just talk about that character?

Character Profile: Delilah ‘Dada’

Serious, thoughtful, and adaptive. Those are the words I would use to describe Delilah, aka Dada to her friends. She was always going to be a priestess, a woman of the faith of Jua (the primary god in the biggest religion in the setting), if her life allowed it.

Some would call her manipulative. When she speaks to people, she twists her words to get the best result. Her life, since she was young, has been trying to get the world to bend her way. She doesn’t do it out of spite, it is just the best course of action, the way to get the world to work the smoothest. If you see someone angry, why not say what you have to say in the best tone to make sure they don’t take it out on you? This is Dada’s life, and when talking one on one, she becomes anyone’s best friend. When speaking to a crowd, she can make their hearts sing. Unfortunately, when in an intimate group, needing to deal with a few individuals, she suffers as she bounces between different needs in the conversation.

Dada is college educated, with a degree in the theology she uses everyday. Her husband (or ‘mate’ as he would generally be called) balances her everyday life by giving her the time to formulate that she needs to be a priestess in a large busy neighborhood.

Unfortunately for their relationship, Dada is so focused on her religion that she puts her community and temple before her own home. To Dada, she is in love with god first, her temple second, and her mate, Hans, third. This is something she would never vocalize to Hans (it wouldn’t make him feel good after all), but is a fact she holds true to herself. In fact, her love for god could be considered, unconventional even in the eyes of the greater faith.

Dada had a fun past. In fact, she had wild years in college while she was still wondering if she would go through with her major. Drinking, partying, days away from her family household, and the occasional bout of drug usage. She put all of that in her past when she put on her vestments, and with the help of Hans’s family, they moved to a new neighborhood and started their lives fresh.

Now she serves a governor, several wealthy families, and even has a chance to meet some of the most important people in the country. That is, as long as she can keep herself, her household, and her faith, intact.

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Saturday Fiction: Giorgio the Juggler

In 2013 I participated in NaNoWriMo, writing a small novel in 30 days. I also worked together with my other half to write short stories to be read alongside her NaNo. All of the stories were the origins of Circus folk in a mystical circus with some unusual members. This is the story of their resident juggler, Giorgio.

Excuse the simple language, Giorgio is a simple guy.

Giorgio the Juggler
Smalltown, USA

Sometimes you don’t get to make the choices in life. Sometimes everything is out of your hands, and you just get to go along with the ride.

That’s what Giorgio thought. Life hadn’t been easy so far, but he didn’t stress about it. He wasn’t that smart, and he knew it. School had never been easy for him, when he even bothered to go. His family had come to America with a hope that things would be different, that they could have a fresh life. Instead he spent his life hearing stories about the old country.

He had a skill though, a talent. When it came to sports, Giorgio was a natural. It didn’t matter what he put his hands on, a baseball, a basketball, he could move it with such ease that it blew the minds of his family and friends.

It didn’t matter if he was out in a field juggling a ball, or wrestling in a backroom, no one was better than Giorgio.

One day, when Giorgio was still in school, he was juggling out in the yard with the other boys. He had found heavy rocks, and produced a knife from his back pocket.

“I bet you can’t do it,” One boy offered, “I bet you my lunch.”

These are the bets he loved most. A free meal, and plenty of fun. He threw the first rock, began to pace it in the air, and soon the second rock, before the knife joined in. The other boys were in awe as it spun in the air, its blade gleaming, narrowly missing his palm each time it came down.

To Giorgio, this was easy, a carefree way to spend the time.

“Another rock,” shouted one of the boys, chucking one at him. He caught it in his left hand, and soon the rock joined the rotation, floating through the air as if weightless.

“Giorgio!” Shouted a girl’s voice. It was his sister.

He caught the rocks, one by one, and let the knife fall to the ground. It landed with its point digging into the earth near his foot.

The other boys turned their face to the black haired girl approaching them, an angry look on her face.

“Mary,” Giorgio said as he dropped the rocks behind him.

“You know you should be studying, you know what mother said.”

He turned his face away. The other boys ran off, snickering as they went. He didn’t want to be yelled at, not for doing something he loved, not for being good at something.

“Come on Giorgio,” She said while grabbing him by the hand, “We have to go back, school will start again soon.”

He let her hand go, “I’ll catch up.”

She looked at him, but he grinned in a way he knew she couldn’t resist. A big brother’s grin.

“Trust your brother.”

Mary looked back at the school, nodded, and ran off.

Giorgio retrieved his knife from the ground, balanced it in his hands. It was a pocket knife, his favorite, worn through years of service. Given to him by his father, before father left.

“Have you always been that good?” Asked a voice.

Giorgio turned, and there stood a man, hidden under the shadow of a tree. Giorgio turned away from him.

“Everyone says,” Giorgio started, “Giorgio is the best there is.”

The man laughed, it was a jolly laugh. Whatever made him happy, it was none of Giorgio’s business, but he remembered thinking he had never heard anyone that glad to see a boy juggle.

“Giorgio,” Said the man, “I think I know something you could do, and do well.”

It was an offer, a job. If he wanted, and the man always left him the choice, he could join their circus. Giorgio knew it was in town, saw the signs about the big top, saw the peak of the tents on his way to school.

At first he didn’t like the idea, but the man offered him the chance to come and see, meet the people, try it out. They were leaving in a week, and by then he could make his choice.

Giorgio went after school. He wasn’t that impressed with the carnival rides, and the loud vendors. It seemed like a place for children, and in his eyes, he was almost a man. He didn’t need cotton candy, or hot dogs.

Then he saw the strong men, and the jugglers. These men showing off great might and skill, smiles on their faces as they hoisted weights or juggled blades in pairs.

The jolly man took him to the back of the tent, introduced him to the other circus folk. Some of them were no older than him, some looked ancient in comparison.

“What can he do?” Asked a man only a little older than Giorgio.

The man looked at Giorgio, then to the juggler, “Give the boy your blades.”

Giorgio had never juggled long blades before. He held three in his hands, weighed them, practiced tossing one.

“The boy’ll end himself,” Said the juggler with a heavy accent.

“Hush,” Said the man who brought him there.

Giorgio looked at all the eyes on him, bulky mustached men and skinny acrobats. He swallowed, and began. His hands slid over the hilt of the blades, and one by one he launched them, juggled them in the air, and soon they were dancing above him like anything else.

The people were watching him, and at first he thought he saw anger, frustration. Then, they burst into cheering, claps and shouting for him to go on. Giorgio smiled, and the blades went higher, twirling in the air.

When he finished, the strongman smacked him on the back, and the juggler squeezed him in a hug. They smelled of barn straw and sweat, but they looked happy, and they made him happy. He stayed with them, listened to their music, tunes he had never heard, sometimes in languages he didn’t understand. They were unreal.

When he returned home, the lights on the street already lit, he could see his sister waiting for him outside their house. Her face was red with rage, and Giorgio’s smile did nothing to slow her anger.

“Where have you been?” She cried out, “Mother is worried sick.”

Giorgio looked through the window, but he knew what he was looking for wasn’t there; his mother’s face. She would be inside, sleep for the next day, ready to work.

“Where were you?” Mary asked as Giorgio passed her. She grabbed him by the arm, tried to hold him in place. Giorgio would have none of it, and pulled himself free.

“I was at the tents,” He said, “For the circus.”

The explanation was simple, but it did nothing to change his sister’s expression. She looked hurt, on top of her anger. They squeezed inside the house, and Giorgio sat down in a chair to take off his boots.

“You went to the circus without me?” Mary said, “With what money? What were you doing there?”

Giorgio didn’t look at her. It was hard to ignore her, not to see something of his mother there. She was so concerned, but it never felt like concern for him. She was trying to keep him in place, make sure he became the new father of the house, with the same work, the same lack of control. She didn’t seem to understand, father was gone.

“I was invited,” Giorgio said, “For no money. The recruiter, he wanted to see my talent.”

“Your talent?” Mary said, her voice rising.

“My talent. He says I am exceptional. He says I could be great in their circus, I would bring in great crowds and be happy there.”

Giorgio didn’t see the strike coming, but he felt the sting of Mary’s palm. It felt like a hot coal across the cheek, and the pain lingered, made the room spin.

“Stupid,” She said, “Did you even think about us? Did you think about your family? You will be happy there, but what will they pay you? How will we live, Giorgio? You are being a stupid boy.”

He looked at her, and he could see her palm reach back again, a look of fury in her eyes. Giorgio caught her arm, stood up from the chair.

Even without his boots, he towered over her. Looking down she was exactly what she should have been, a child. Her wrist was small in his palm, flimsy. He had to concentrate to loosen his grip, and she pulled her arm free, held it in her opposite hand.

“Stupid,” She whispered. Then she sniffled, her breath caught in her throat.

Giorgio took a deep breath, “I want to be happy, Mary. Can’t you and mother come with me? We can travel, see the world, and all of us will be happy.”

Sports, running, juggling, these things were what his life was all about. Asking anyone, they would have told you the same. Giorgio loved to move, Giorgio had a natural talent. He thought of the other boys with talents, some were good with numbers, others were good at fixing things, these talents Giorgio could see going places. They would work, and their sisters would be happy, they wouldn’t fight in the dark.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Mary said, turning and heading to go to bed.

Giorgio sat back in the chair, looked around their house. It was tiny, full of pictures and gifts from family. It was home, but it didn’t make Giorgio feel welcome.

The next days he spent with the circus folk, dancing, singing, playing. It was beautiful. The women were extraordinary, hair flowing as they span in circles. The men were free, they played instruments when they wanted, and their work looked like play. They would draw in crowds of people, show off their skills, and Giorgio would watch.

One day, the juggler invited him over to join him. Giorgio had never juggled with someone else, but he wasn’t afraid now. He took his position, smiled to the crowd, people from his town and beyond. They surrounded them as the long knives were pulled out, they wowed the crowd as they tested the knives by cutting ropes, by digging them deep into wooden poles to show they were deadly. Then the juggler threw him his first knife, and without fail, Giorgio sent it right back to him, found the timing between them. The act created cries of awe from children.

Then another man lit small torches, and threw them to the juggler. The number of objects doubled, but they still juggled them without fail, smiles on their faces, cheers from the crowd. The torches felt hot on Giorgio’s palms, the light was blinding, but it was a rush like he had never felt.

When they it was time to stop, Giorgio caught the knives, the juggler caught the torches, and they both bowed to the audience around them. Never had Giorgio been part of anything so wonderful.

When the crowd dispersed, the recruiter man came to him.

“Juggle these,” he said, handing Giorgio two small rubber balls.

Giorgio shrugged, and did this.

“I want you for this circus,” The man said, “You don’t know what that means to me. We don’t hire just anybody, we only bring in family. If you come with us, you are one of us, and we will protect you as our own. You are something special Giorgio, and I don’t say that lightly.”

The man had a fast tongue, but his words only made him think of Mary. His sister would have hated what the man was saying, maybe she would have slapped him too.

“What about my real family?” Giorgio asked.

The man looked over his shoulder, and he nodded at the strong man. The man took a black dumbbell he was using, and without hesitation, threw it at Giorgio.

Giorgio was afraid, but then he caught it, and he juggled it. The weight seemed light, as if it was fake. Giorgio felt silly for ever fearing it in the first place.

“We can send your money home,” The man said as he watched Giorgio. He nodded to the strong man again, and another weight was thrown. This time Giorgio didn’t react, he caught it, added it to the whirling air show.

“My sister, she will not be happy,” Giorgio said.

“Your sister doesn’t know what is best for you,” The man said, “You don’t belong here. They will put you in some factory, or working on a farm. This is not your destiny, Giorgio. I’m here in this city for you.”

“I will think about this,” Giorgio said.

Giorgio stopped juggling, catching the balls in one hand, and the weights in the other. The dumbells, which seemed as light as air a moment before, regained the weight he feared they had before. At first Giorgio strained to carry them, then realized it was impossible, and dropped the weight to the ground where it crashed into the dirt.

Giorgio’s arm flared with pain, and he looked at the dumbbells, unsure what to think of them, or what just happened.

When he looked at the recruiter, the man was staring at Giorgio intently.

“See that you do think about it,” He said, “You have two more days, Giorgio.”

Giorgio returned home, and this time his sister didn’t bother to welcome him. He walked into their house, and she was in the kitchen, cleaning dishes. He sat down and took off his boots.

The main thing on his mind was those weights. No matter how much he asked, no one would explain what happened. He tested them, and found they were as heavy as he expected, as were the other weights of the strongman. Still, when they were being juggled, they felt weightless. Was this what all circuses were like? Was it just a trick they used? Some special show business?

The man, he made it seem like it was Giorgio’s fault. How could that be? All Giorgio knew was to play, to juggle, to enjoy himself. Sure, he had a talent, but it wasn’t something like that.

“You didn’t go to school again,” His sister said as she brought out a plate of food and set it on the table behind him.

“Thank you,” He said. Taking a knife, and digging into the simple plate of veggies and chicken. He could tell she was annoyed with him, but he didn’t bother to look up at her.

“Everyone was worried,” She continued, “They wanted to know where my brother had gone. I told them, he wants to be carnival folk. He doesn’t care if his sister and mother starve.”

“I do,” He said as he chewed, “I do care.”

“This isn’t how you act,” She said as she went back to the sink and scrubbed more dishes, “You’re acting like a spoiled child. You think only of your own dreams. You think I wouldn’t want to join the circus? When we were younger, I dreamed of that all the time. Then things changed, because we got older.”

“The man,” Giorgio began, “He says I can take everyone with me. We don’t have to worry about money. We can live with them, earn money, and be safe.”

“And be circus freaks?” She said, a crash of dishes accompanying her frustration, “Do you think mother wants to live like that? Can’t we be normal people, brother? Is that so difficult for you? No childish tricks, no showboating, just working and living.”

He swallowed a mouthful, and scooted his chair away from the table, “You want to live my life for me.”

Mary turned, “No, Giorgio, I just want us all to be happy. Not just you.”

“You want us all to be miserable,” Giorgio replied as he stood up, “I will do what I have to. You can go on being miserable.”

Mary’s eyes could have lit a pool of water on fire. She watched him leave the room, and head back to bed. Then Giorgio could hear her go back to washing dishes.

The next day his friends knew about his decision. They surrounded him before school, jeering and chatting between each other.

“A circus freak?” One boy said, “Giorgio is definitely unique, like a wild tigerman.”

“A real brute,” Another said, “Will they put you in a cage?”

They laughed and poked fun, but Giorgio didn’t listen. They were his friends, but at the same time they were never close. They were just the boys in his class, the same ones that were there every day, for him to play with, wrestle, juggle for. They were sometimes mean.

“I will juggle,” Giorgio said, “He says I am talented.”

“Really?” Said one smaller boy, “Talented like that bearded lady they got?”

They broke into laughter again, but now the bell rang. They had to head to class. Giorgio did what he always did, try to survive the session. He wasn’t bright, and he knew that, but he absorbed what he could. He could count, and he could write, and that suited him just fine. He knew some history, he knew some math, and that got him through tests when they asked.

When the bell let them out into the yard, Giorgio stretched, and headed down to join the other boys. He saw a commotion, a circle of boys around a man. It was the strongman.

The man saw him above the school boys, and waved. The kids were all crying out at him, shouting insults, throwing small rocks at him. He ignored them.

“Friend Giorgio,” He said, “I am here to see you.”

Giorgio charged the circle of boys, pushed his way in.

“Stay away from him,” One yelled.

“He stinks,” Said another.

“Get him.”

When he finally made it through the crowd, the strongman reached down and grabbed him. Lifting Giorgio up in his arms, he was brought a few heads higher than the crowd. From up there, Giorgio could drown out the cries, ignore the pebbles being launched at them.

“You wanted to speak to me?” Giorgio said.

“I am here to say, we leave tomorrow, just after dawn, if you wish to come.”

Giorgio looked down at the people at the strongman’s feet.

“What if they don’t want me to come?” Giorgio asked.

The strongman seemed to know the look on his face, and brought Giorgio closer. He could smell that earthy smell on the large man.

“It is tough choice,” Said the strong man, “But, I find these things solve themselves.”

The man nodded, and put Giorgio down back in the center of the circle.

A rock flew straight for the strongman’s head, and with one sweep of his arm, the strongman caught it. With a squeeze of his fist, the rock crumbled into smaller pebbles. The large man made an angry face, flaring his nostrils and twitching his mustache. The boys gasped, and all backed off.

With a wave, the strongman left the schoolyard.

The other boys gathered around Giorgio, and soon the flinging of insults was focused on him as well.

“What are you doing with that freak?” Said one boy before he pushed Giorgio.

“Do you think your circus folk can protect you?” Said another.

The circle became nasty in a way that Giorgio had never imagined before. It was almost like watching animals snapping at large food, wolves slobbering at the muzzle. Giorgio looked around him and saw exactly what he was afraid of, people with nothing to accomplish, sad people who didn’t know what to do with themselves. Were their lives so empty that they had to attack him for something as simple as wanting to juggle.

He broke out of the circle, tried to head toward home, but a few of the boys followed, staying close behind him on the paths home. He started to run, trying to create as much distance as he could between him and them.

They ran as well, and here Giorgio knew he was truly in trouble. There was no way to get away from them, not unless he was faster, could run longer. Maybe he could, but even then, what if they knew where he lived? Would they stop at his door, or would they try to come inside? What did they even want?

So right before a field, he stopped and turned on them.

At this point only 4 of the boys remained.

“What do you want?” Giorgio shouted as the boys surrounded him.

“What are you doing with those people?” Asked one of the boys, “We’ve heard you were doing your little show there, you might even go live with them?”

This was Mary’s doing. She was telling others about the circus, and it had angered his schoolyard buddies. It seemed strange she would go this far, but he didn’t need to look far for proof. The red in their eyes was something only Mary could create. She was good at moving people’s hearts with just her words. Maybe that was her talent.

“It isn’t your business,” Giorgio said, “I’ll go where I want.”

“You think so?” Another boy said, “Maybe you’ll figure it out when you can’t walk so good.”

Giorgio imagined Mary telling the boys, spreading lies about the circus, about his new friends he enjoyed so much. Why else would they be so angry at the strongman? The most dangerous thing about him was his odor, and his booming laughter. As he told her, she was trying to stop his happiness. He couldn’t take that anymore.

Giorgio clenched his fist, and the boys came at him. Four on one wasn’t fair, no matter how much Giorgio liked to fight. It didn’t matter how many punches he threw, or how many he wrestled to the ground, if they had the numbers to surround him.

When they left him he was bruised and covered in dirt. His eyes felt like they were swelling, and he didn’t even know if he could sit up.

They stood around him, and one of them spat on him. Then they left. Giorgio rested his eyes.

When he got home, Mary was already sleep. He set his alarm clock, and laid down to go to sleep. His bruises kept him awake, each twist and turn sending a shooting pain through his ribs. Still, if he woke up early enough, he could pack up his things, and he could go to the circus. No matter how many people his sister sent, she couldn’t stop him from being happy.

When Giorgio’s eyes opened, it wasn’t to his alarm clock. It was to Mary’s smiling face, hanging above him.

“Wake up, sleepy,” She said.

He saw that sunlight was coming through the window, and sat up.

“My alarm,” He said as he got out of bed, “What happened to my alarm?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mary said, “I decided it would be better if you slept.”

He turned to his sister, and she looked at him with an expressionless glance. It was cold, sinister.

“No,” He said, “Where is the clock, what time is it?”

“What time did they tell you?” Mary said as she walked toward the kitchen, “They should already be on their way out of town.”

Giorgio rushed to his cabinet, pulled out a pair of pants and threw them on. He tried to pull a shirt over his head as he got into the living room, but Mary was standing in front of the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” She said, “Don’t you get it. Its over. Go relax, brother. There will be no more circus.”

Giorgio grabbed her at the shoulder, and pushed her aside, pulling the door open to the bright morning sun. She was right that he was late, the circus would have packed up through the night, they were likely on their way already. He had to make it there before it was all gone, see if he could talk to someone.

He ran from the house, and Mary followed, “Come back Giorgio,” she said, “You can’t.”

It didn’t matter what she thought. He had no other choice. If he stayed here now, Mary had made sure he had enemies at school, that his former playmates hated him, and his life would be miserable.

Mary kept pace as he ran the trail. The road was ahead, right before the clearing where the tent had set up. He couldn’t see the tents. It made his eyes sting with tears, his feet felt heavy. He wanted to see some sign, any sign that they were still there. He could feel himself slowing though, giving up. Maybe she was right, there was no hope. He would have to live the life defined for him, some time in a factory, an eternity of misery, day by day.

He could hear her coming up behind him. He stopped before the road, cars passing each way.

“Giorgio!” She shouted, and he turned to face her, “Stop!”

She ran into him, full run, and knocked him back. He heard the cry of a horn, and heard the screech of wheels. Then something heavy hit him in the chest.

When his eyes opened, Giorgio could hear voices all around him, could see the colors of the circus.

He tried to sit up, but a hand held him down.

“Stay down, friend,” Said the strong man.

The colors he was seeing, it was clowns, their painted faces looking down at him in a red, blue, and yellow dotted pattern. The crowd cleared long enough for Giorgio to see around him.

A truck was over-ended in the road, a wheel turned way off its axis.

People were crowded around the edge of the road. It seemed his town had come to see what the commotion was.

Across the street, he could see Mary, crying so hard that her face was red. She was being hugged, by his mother. When Giorgio looked, his mother turned her eyes to look at him. They were tired eyes, a dead stare that he only saw occasionally on weekends. It was a face that fed two kids, wearing an apron and a layer of dirt.

Mary’s eyes turned on him as well.

The recruiter touched him on the shoulder, “I know you’re shaken,” The man said, “But we have a schedule to keep.”

Giorgio looked at his sister, waved for her to join him. Mary shook her head no, hugged closer to their mother.

It felt like he was sore all over, and his stomach was on fire, and he didn’t know what was causing which. Giorgio bowed his head.

“I’ll come,” He said.

There was a cheer among the circus folk, and the strongman pulled Giorgio up into the air. Though they were just somber, they were already full of happiness and song. The movement of their dancing caused a jolting pain through his chest, and Giorgio pulled up his shirt to see what the cause was.

A handprint was across his chest, so large that he knew only one pair of hands that could make it. He looked to the wrecked truck in the road, and the saddened faces of the people he used to know. He never had a choice, he was born with a talent, and he was going to be happy.

#NaNoWriMo Day 1: Sequels, The first page, and beyond!

If you ever wanted to read blogs about blank pages, now is the time. A million and one authors will be posting blog posts about how important it is to get started, conversations about blank pages, and ways to get past writer’s block.

I generally don’t get writer’s block. The question isn’t if I will put something to the page, it is if I will want to read it in the morning. After a long amount of time without writing, I tend to second guess every word that appears. I will write it, it will stay there, but I can’t help but wonder if it will derail my whole novel if it stays.

For those who have read my past couple of blog posts, you know that for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, I decided to do a sequel. I am writing a follow up to my Nano from last year, Corpfall. It is a cyberpunk novel that follows a government agent and her hacker partner.

Unfortunately, a lot happened in Corpfall, and I’m not usually the type to do sequels. I forgot exactly how much happened in the first novel, and this left me questioning exactly what my characters should be doing, and why. I knew what I wanted to physically happen, the main character was going to open the novel on an adventure, go in blazing like she did in the first novel.

Ashleigh looked out the doors of the lightplane, the shimmer of a million lights dotting the SeaVan cityscape. The air whistled beneath her, the lightplane moving invisible through the city sky. She took a breath, and leaped.

Then, I froze up. Ashleigh needed to be suffering from the action of the last novel, but what did that mean. When Corpfall closed, Ashleigh was hurt, and holding a small drive that was important to a major villain, without Ashleigh knowing what the drive was. I was skipping the aftermath of that, and jumping straight to more action, so now I had to ask myself, what was my intent with the end of the last novel.

I pushed forward, ignoring my reservations. If I didn’t know what was going to happen in the greater story, I could at least see what was going to happen when Ash beat up a bunch of nameless thugs. As I continued, I let the action tell me what themes I wanted to see. For one, Ashleigh would have one personality change from the previous novel. Her previous partner, Fuller, was a paranoid and nervous man. Ashleigh was never suspicious, her character was based on her complete trust of her superior officers. These were the people who trained her, enhanced her, and kept her alive.

This new Ashleigh is a little different.

“Is there any additional information on the target?” Ashleigh asked. She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Ashleigh was sure they both received the same mission briefing. If anything, Ashleigh’s information on Samantha Fields was more indepth than Twain’s. Still, something was making her nervous.

Not the smoothest execution, but I’m on a time limit. Ashleigh doesn’t have the same complete trust. She isn’t Fuller, but unlike Fuller, she isn’t a hacker with information at her fingertips. This is going to be important later, but for now it is just a small hint to the reader of Ashleigh’s behavior.

Suddenly, a flood was released, and I knew what hints I needed to lay in this first chapter. For genre writing in particular, I think one of the most important aspects is laying eggs of intrigue, and then growing them to fruition. Even if an idea isn’t brought up until the end of the book, it will be satisfying to the reader if they were paying attention. For instance, in the first Corpfall novel, a throwaway name brought up around the middle of the book ends up being related to the conclusion of the novel. It isn’t critical, it isn’t a moment that make the reader go ‘why would you hide that information from me?’ It is a small nod that makes you see what the characters see, that the plot twists in life can’t always be seen a mile away.

In the end, the first day wasn’t easy, but I got 2,166 words in. I gave myself a small headstart into finishing my 50,000 words, but that won’t make tomorrow any easier. See you folks in a few days!

Hacking in Corpfall and more #nanowrimo Worldbuilding

I’m relatively tech savvy, but I’m no student of computer science. I can open up a computer, and do just enough to make sure it doesn’t explode, but don’t expect me to explain to you why a computer’s components are doing what they are doing, or how it all works together. When it comes to writing about computers, I follow the rule of speculative fiction: stay consistent and don’t establish anything that will make your reader incredulous. I mean, no one can be 100% accurate about what technology will look like 100 years from now, so there is wiggle room to predict a lot of fanciful changes.

I like cyberpunk as a genre, to a degree. I’m a fan of the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, Neuromancer, Deus Ex, Netrunner, I thought Ghost in the Shell was okay. There are certain technological advancements that seem consistent across the genre, as a staple. In the same way steampunk absolutely requires terrible facial hair and gears glued to your clothing where it cannot feasibly serve a real purpose, cyberpunk has elements that seem to cross mediums and series. Cybernetic implants are chief among, powerful prosthetic limbs that can serve additional purposes, work better than natural limbs at times, and might be networked with technology that would seem impossible to shove into a human body. Another common advancement is the ‘Matrix’ or ‘Net’, the internet advancing to the point that it permeates society, and has its own weaknesses and accesses that can allow crafty individuals to assault even those who might be unassailable in the physical world. In a way, these two technologies tap into the cyberpunk themes of a world where humanity is vanishing, and an overwhelming drabness is sucking up everything that we once considered magical. Cybernetics represent chopping off what was truly human and attaching computer pieces that don’t quite do the trick, aren’t nearly the same. The matrix/net is an endless world for normal people to be trapped in, so far from reality that they don’t realize they are a shell of a human being living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

cyberpunkishConsidering the age of your average successful writer, and when cyberpunk started as a genre, you can imagine this was a constant fear at the time. People were going to strap themselves into the internet, and never come back out. Outside of a few addicted people here and there, this is rarely the case. The internet is a wonderful tool, and has now outstripped all other forms of communication. We use the internet to communicate real problems, beautiful realities, as well as our made up dreamscapes. I’m not worried about the internet, or what it will do to society. I know that it will continue to shock and change the system, but that this change will eventually just craft changes in how humans work.

In a previous Nanowrimo I wrote, called Update, I followed a pair of detectives that had to catch a murderer. The crisis was that the murderer killed a ‘Public person’, an oversharer who broadcasts every moment of their life from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep. Because of how much social media, the internet, and computers, were in every aspect of society, it should have been impossible for anyone to kill the victim. When I think about the cyberpunk world of this novel I plan to write, Corpfall, I imagine things have only grown weirder from there. When most people don’t bother having any privacy, when every crisis is broadcasts across the world, media and communication have to change. A cyberpunk world has no use for newspapers, and even news media has likely become a glorified Tosh.O (a trend you can already see in your local news, where whole segments are dedicated to highlighting footage from popular internet videos). Information is shared, but so is misinformation. Trends come up in a moment’s notice, with millions of people becoming aware of a new idea simply because others have latched onto it, but some of these trends are just as artificial and constructed as a modern day TV commercial. This is our future, maybe.

Still, Corpfall isn’t about normal people, it is about a super-powered agent and her hacker. Carlos “Tru” Fuller, who grew up hacking in Mexcity, is an expert at the process of tapping into the Net (as I chose to call it, because the Matrix creates its own emotional response that I cannot control). Like a rigger from Shadowrun, or a runner from Netrunner, he knows how to infiltrate, hack, and alter computer systems from remote locations.

Unfortunately, the Matrix of Shadowrun, and similar internet analogs, have always escaped my full understanding. Personally, when playing Shadowrun, I always focused in magic. I only understand hacking in Netrunner because it is the basic process that the abstract mechanics of the cards are representing. Other cyberpunk series I interacted with are of no help in this regard, like the new shadowrun game, or Deus Ex. At the end of the day, it seems like a bunch of keywords are thrown out there, and the reader/player is supposed to get the feeling that computer programs are fighting other computer programs in an effort to protect representations of data that people would want.

That is to say, in most of these cyberpunk futures, the process of hacking is visualized as something akin to a video game battle, and the winner gets to steal information from a computer. Which, if we think about it, seems absolutely ridiculous.

On the other hand, this is speculative fiction, and we have to understand exactly what might be happening here. In Neuromancer, the hacker Case had been ‘burned’ after a previous incident. The access nodes on his body, where he would interface with a ‘deck’ (or computer), were destroyed, making it impossible for him to fully connect to a computer. The idea is that for deckers like Case, you don’t just type a bunch of keys on a keyboard, the best hacking is done when your spinal cord has a direct connection with the computer. This means that you can perform more actions than made possible by any other input method, it means you can sense computer output directly as if it were another sense. To a decker/rigger/runner/hacker, when you are fully connected, the internet can become its own world.

When someone first invented this, it is likely that the first interfaces were boring and predictable. You could see squares that represented your files, touch them, read them, and probably type on a virtualized keyboard or ‘think’ commands to the computer. Entertainment would take it further, with users (who didn’t have the full implants, but other ways to sense this virtual reality) would want computer games and programs that take advantage of this new interface. Soon we have users who set up servers to be social, and games like Second Life or social MMOs already represent this sort of advancement. Soon, most internet users would be used to a VR interface, where an avatar of them represented even basic actions, like going to social locations or visiting digital ‘parties’. Of course normal interfaces would still exist, because you can’t always have a full avatar set up or the equipment that might require.

In a situation with virtual reality internet, that is always growing in scope and features, every user would be experiencing something different. Based on their hardware, operating system, software, output devices, input devices, you have millions or billions of people seeing slightly different version of a space. This would require a sort of ‘agreed upon reality’ system within the programming, where different hardware would need to come to consensus on what they ‘should’ be trying to show to their user. If three computers know they have entered a social room that is based on feudal Japan, they would do their best to portray that, but the general idea of ‘feudal Japan’ might be all that the users can agree is in common.

Hackers also use this virtual visualization. It would help people like Fuller react properly to output. Sure, a computer that is tracing another computer doesn’t need to waste extra power to represent that as a hunting dog, this might be completely on the part of the hacker’s computer. Two hackers entering the same space might not even see the same ‘programs’ trying to attack them. But likely, because the sysops and programmers also grew up in a world that relies on this same virtual reality, they would program a baseline visual aspect to their internet countermeasures. A simple program wouldn’t need much more than to be an arrow shooting out, or an axe slicing down. These work to deter internet users who don’t know what they have gotten into, or are way over their head. It is the new symbology, like giant stop signs when a website is blocked, or the disruptive sound of a computer giving an error message. Few programs need to have complicated symbology, and usually those programs would be intelligent enough that their appearance would make sense. Examples of these would be human shaped guardians, or hunting animals.

So when Fuller hacks into another computer, he attaches to his deck using implanted interfaces in his skin. He can use a less clean method, but this is his preferred way to do it. His computer creates a virtual interface, and he may even have a comfortable ‘home’ environment there to do basic functions. When hacking, his computer interfaces with the net, and the whole of the internet is represented almost like a vague world if he wants it. When he connects to an internet address, a computer or server, that space may have a pre-set visual setting that his computer will try to adapt to. If he connects to a server and it is coded to represent itself as a cozy house, this would be communicated to Fuller’s deck, and his avatar would materialize in a house. This is done automatically to help him understand what the server is trying to communicate. This server could just be a cozy party, and it would be visually confusing if he was seeing an empty box with blips of information while the server was trying to represent a room full of men smoking pipes and talking about sports. If he were to be hacking the server, he would use programs he had installed on his computer to attempt to pull hidden information out of the server, or take control of the server’s functions. Because programmers create program visuals to reflect their function (usually), hacker programs that deconstruct or disrupt these functions can usually take on appearances of their own, and sometimes the theme of destruction matches the visuals (like using a virtual axe to represent a program that hacks at simplistic digital barriers that might often be represented by doors). In reality, these are hacking scripts assisted by their creator to destroy a digital space and mine it for information. The details of what happens to these constructs aren’t important, the results of the data are. The door may look like it is in splinters, but the important part is whether the hacker can now bypass the barrier and get to the other side. This seems obvious when I think through it, but the important part I need to remember is that the visuals don’t mean that hacking is a video game, Fuller or whichever hacker still need to be an active part of the process. Not everything can be done with scripts, or our hacker isn’t all that impressive.

There are other aspects of the technology that I should investigate, like AI, but I’m already reaching 2000 words. This investigating has already helped me a lot, and I might still be able to think about what happened with AI technology in my world before November hits. So maybe I should just be patient.

#Nanowrimo worldbuilding and the new nations

As I expected, thinking about the New Nations of my cyberpunk novel has been the hardest part of my pre-National Novel Writing Month preparations. There is a lot that I could go over, and at the same time I don’t really have an urge to go over any of it. I’ll tell you why, it isn’t always important.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love world building. I spent some time just before work today telling strangers on the internet about the family and relationship habits of a made up fantasy world I created for two Nanos ago. When it matters, I enjoy digging into random details that the reader may never fully understand. But when it comes to some details, they are both not important to the story, and not constructed of elements that I understand enough to construct well. I’ll explain more as I jump in here.

plainfuture

The ‘New Nations’ as they are called, are three (sometimes four) trade organizations that serve as the primary form of government for several world powers. They are, in order of importance to the story, NAB (the North American Business Authority), WEB (West European Business Securities, sometimes OEB for French speaking countries), and SAB (South American Business Authority). The fourth is the UAT, or the United African Treaty. These are world governments in that they create laws, execute those laws, and govern over the citizens of their regions. It was important that they function enough like a world government that the reader doesn’t have mindless questions about that, but at once I didn’t want them to just be the world governments we know today.

Really, I want them to be like strange megacorporations. The new nations are here to help the people, they saved the world from the Corp war, when megacorporations fought openly with mercenary armies, when citizens were cannon fodder for their schemes against one another. When the new nations materialized, there was cheering in the streets, and a new age was born. People stopped starving on street corners, you became less likely to die in random gunfire between mercenary armies, and your block was less likely to explode at random. These are all good things. But the new nations didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Leaders came together and decided that a new government was needed, but the world was too advanced for the old method of nation forging. They couldn’t just fight a guerilla war, or write a sternly worded letter. They needed assets, infrastructure, and support from billions of people.

So the new nations were created in a business deal. Smaller corporations, some just below qualifying as ‘mega’, and others just too weak to compete with the largest megacorporations, bought into the new nation idea. A president would be elected, but these would be nations that would have a board of directors. Those with the most money in the country, the wealthy who were at risk of losing a lot, were given that chance to sit in what would be like a new house of lords. Sure, their power to govern is checked by the other branches of government, but money has an obvious place in running the government, instead of hiding in the shadows.

In exchange, the new nations did several things that were missing since the corp wars. The world is made up of many people who cannot protect themselves or their assets. The poor, the homeless, those who are making just enough to get by, the sick, the odd, the oppressed. The world was dangerous for these people when corporations were the ones in control, and were more likely to take advantage of them than help them. When you are a megacorp and you can either feed the poor, or give them an experimental slop that will feed them but might also give them life destroying side effects, you have to think of the bottom line and torture the homeless. With the new nations, a super welfare net was created. The world was at a state where the homeless could be housed in cheap dorms, the sick can be kept marginally healthy with cheap drugs, and the poor can be given just enough cash to pour it back into the system. Everyone is supported, on the backs of the system. It isn’t the prettiest solution, which is why Corpfall has nicheads and dorms, people given enough money to buy ‘scrip drugs and lounge around their one bedroom ratholes instead of even trying to be productive. It is meant to play at the nightmare scenario of every republican presidential candidate in the last few decades. The new nations bleed money, and only through support from their board companies and business efforts can they ever make enough to stay stable, and maybe not even then.

The primary new nation in the story is NAB. NAB is divided into three zones that I mention, based on internet backbones. Westboard is centered on SeaVan, the megacity that developed out of Seattle and Vancouver crashing into each other. While SeaVan isn’t the biggest city in the West (that would probably be SanSan in the Southwest), it is a cultural center, and the weather is nice. Southboard covers much of the American South, and the biggest cities I mention there are SanDall, San Antonio and Dallas megacity, and Mexcity. Mexcity, you might guess, is the future version of Mexico City, and has grown to consume most of what was Mexico. Eastboard has Boston, which is still just Boston, but now bigger and better than ever. NAB is known for being the most creative of the new nations, a wildcard among them. While many say the brightest creators are still in Asia, NAB has created new medicines and technologies that rival the old markets (aka, East Asia, India, Russia, and East Europe). NAB, more than the other new nations, has a poverty problem. There are a lot of people in North America, and the economy was already hurting when the corp wars began. With the new nations, and old habits, NAB has certain holes in its support net that leads to an oddly large number of its citizens taking advantage of the support net.

I might not stick with all of those ideas, especially considering where I want to go with SAB, but it is worth typing out.

WEB, or OEB, is Europe. It is effectively the European Union, but in the future. My first thought when I considered WEB, was a very American thought. Who is better at high taxes and welfare states than Western Europe? WEB is the king of welfare, but not in a bad way. When it comes to helping their citizens, no one does it better than WEB. Among world nations, they have the strongest lock on their megacorps. It is to the point that many would say, “There are no Megacorps in WEB”. The corporations there are taxed, controlled, fined, and sued into submission. For this reason, WEB has few players in their megacorp game, most companies choosing to relocate, or never trade in the WEB market, despite the large pool of customers there. WEB doesn’t have a poverty problem. When people are poor enough to be put on welfare, the administration makes it a motto to have a ‘personal touch’, as much as you can in such situations. They try to turn over every person who falls on hard times, and make public cases of those who have become successful members of society. Of course, this also means that WEB is a leaking ship. As a nation, they tax so much that it almost seems easier to fail than to succeed, at least then you will know for sure where your meals will come from. The system, compared to NAB, is easy to work and hard to fail out of. WEB is known for their service work, with many citizens simply serving in office jobs that support other citizens of WEB in an endless cycle of customer service.

WEB has their own version of the Billion Dollar Babies program, that was started after NAB. In comparison, it is much more spy-like, and it is likely that they spent a lot less per agent. Less cybernetics, less intensive training, more specialized.

spaceelevator

SAB is the last new nation I’m going to talk about here. Their territory starts south of Mexcity, and heads to the tip of the South American continent. You can imagine that the center of SAB is Brazil. This is true, but not just because Brazil is already powerful. SAB is the problematic cousin of the new nations. SAB is rich. Because space flight is best done close to the equator, the new nation with easy equator access was the most successful, and SAB is overflowing with space trade, space experiments, and contracts with the old governments. SAB is also a tourist haven. Combined, SAB has the least control over their markets. Some say that SAB is still being controlled by the megacorps. They take trade deals, they give tax breaks to certain corps, and they allow for some special rights and privileges to some businesses. SAB can also be a dangerous place, with people vanishing in the literal tourist traps that dot the region. On the other hand, SAB has money to burn, and they sometimes use it well. It is also said that no one gets sick in SAB, and it is the richer America. They use their money to achieve results, creating massive infrastructure projects that keep their people employed, and business flowing into the region.

SAB isn’t thought to have a babies program, and they usually use third party mercenaries to fight crime. Whether this is better or worse for them is up for debate.

Like I said at the start, there are reasons this was difficult for me. Geography, while once a favorite subject of mine when I was a kid, is no longer my strong suite. I have trouble deciding major hubs of activity in other regions, especially because I don’t know their background enough to know why cities would grow or combine, and which would shrink or be enveloped. Paris is probably going to be a megacity, but would London grow or just become an artifact of the Britain that was? What about Sao Paulo, is there a city nearby it could merge with to be the megacity of SAB? I need to research, but then again I don’t know if I need to research more than what is necessary to namedrop the megacity.

I’m also not a business expert. I didn’t even think about Megacorp interactions with New Nations until earlier this week. What happens if a Japanese company wants to do business in NAB? Do they block them out on principal? Do they let them in but control everything they do?

I used an example to decide this one. take a company like Domotek, an entertainment megacorp centered in Japan. They create toys, electronic entertainment, interactive objects, anything that can have a cute mascot on it, Domotek does. They are powerful, so powerful that everyone knows their brands, and the world buys their toys, apps, microtransactions, all day. Except the new nations are supposed to control megacorps, so how do they do that? Well, with Domotek, they likely would tax their products heavily since they are a foreign company. They would hold Domotek to regulations and standards that would block some of their other products (please, no toys that explode, contain poisons, or will degrade into hazardous materials). They would limit the amount of land Domotek could buy to business property, which would stop them from pulling schemes they can do for cheap in other regions (in Japan, Domotek might be free to buy up land, build housing on it, and then pay factory workers with housing instead of a living wage). The end result is that while Domotek might sell their products in NAB, the prices would be high, and some cheaper products might never hit the shelves or be rare. This would make the new nations feel different from their neighbors. Even with electronic products, the new nations might limit access to certain sites and products (which would cause a huff with those against censorship). While a game in Japan might be big that scans child brainwaves, adapts to their whims, but also tends to brainwash the kids a little to like more Domotek products, this could be banned or censored in NAB for the protection of the citizens under a special act.

In the end, this creates a set of countries that ‘feel’ clean, but mostly because they are pushing the problems elsewhere. Less bums on the streets, we built giant apartments for them to sleep in. Less drug addicts, because they are all addicted to this one particular drug that helps you get off of other drugs. The new nations feel ‘clean’, but the seeping wound is right there under the surface, and it isn’t nice when you run into it.

Anyway, I think that is enough thought about that, it was good to work it all out. Now I can move on to thinking about technology, and how I want to represent hacking, computers, and future tech.

Megacorps and #nanowrimo Brainstorming

Megacorporations are a difficult topic. They are so common in cyberpunk and near-future fiction that I don’t think we really think about what they actually represent, and what they require to be a reality.

Lately I got into the card game Android: Netrunner. The game simulates a fight between a ‘runner’, a hacker/lowlife, and a megacorp, a faceless entity creating evil schemes to take over the world. In that game the corporations perform actions that don’t so much represent one person, but an unimaginably large bureaucracy that doesn’t stop to consider what it is doing to the individuals in the world, unless those individuals put a spanner in the works that bring the corp grinding to a halt. I think it is a wonderful representation, and the game really helped me understand why megacorporations work so well in fiction.

Weyland-yutani

For a megacorp many of us might be familiar with, think of Weyland-Yutani, famous for their depiction as ‘THE COMPANY’ in the Aliens franchise. Weyland-Yutani is willing to send living people, cutting edge technology, and brave soldiers, to their deaths for the sake of a little more information and a possible profit. Weyland-Yutani doesn’t care that 5 people die terrible deaths, or that they have passed on information to an alien race that might one day destroy all of mankind. That will be someone else’s problem. The important thing is that they might make that much more money. As long as no one can connect the horrible crimes to the Weyland-Yutani brand, they won. Even if someone can connect it back to their brand, they could pay to make that go away. That is a megacorporation.

When a company gets that large, control has to become weak. There are different minds at different levels of authority, all trying to perform actions that they consider the most profitable to themselves, and to the company they work for. So these massive companies can seem a little scatter-brained, and really, the vast majority of those working in the company would have no awareness of ‘evil’ actions taken by their employer. Others within the company might think the actions are just, like a security director that thinks killing a gang of 20 men would save the thousands of employees who were being financially threatened by the gang raiding one of their outposts. Or a medical researcher who believes that letting a virus loose in a dorm with a hundred tenants is okay if it means saving millions when they have the cure. Megacorporations create distorted senses of morality within them.

In my Nano novel, Corpfall, Megacorporations got out of control. JIL, one of my named megacorporations in my timeline, is considered the perpetrator of one of the worst crimes against humanity. They destroyed a space station with a city on it. So many people died, that the backlash would be felt across the world. JIL was a ruthless corporation, and I imagine that many of the other megacorps that competed with it had to be equally brutal. They were part of the Corpwar, which means they hired and maintained attacks against other megacorps, actual physical violence that took to the streets of cities that the corps had constructed when the world relinquished governance to them.

JIL is dead now. It is less important what sort of corporation they used to be, and more important what happened to them. They were dismantled, their CEOs tried for crimes against humanity, and they were the head on a spike to warn the world that the ‘New Nations’ of the world meant business. Likely, JIL is an acronym, maybe an acronym that stopped functioning as one as the corporation grew in size and took on more subsidiaries and departments. JIL would have been a name so well known, but so powerful, that no one could imagine life without it. We don’t have a lot of those in reality. We have competitors to Microsoft, Time Warner, PepsiCo, and even if we love or hate their products, we could imagine a world without them. JIL would be bigger than that, maybe they were in the center of technologies that changed the world, like cybernetics, food, or transportation. Transportation would be an interesting one, since it would mean they could have built a space elevator, efficient space planes, or reached our neighbor worlds. Destroying a company with that much power in transportation would have a radical effect on normal people, especially if the company was then split into competing powers after years of being an advanced near-monopoly. Sort of like the baby bells (sorry for non-North Americans who may not understand that reference), these smaller JIL companies would take what they were handed, and then mostly sit on it for vast profit, only advancing when absolutely required by the market.

the other Megacorp I already have partially defined is Mailer-Bronson. At the end of the novel, Ashleigh and Fuller break into Mailer-Bronson, searching for a crucial piece of hardware that has been hidden in a sub-basement in their building. MB for short, Mailer-Bronson has the sort of hyphenated name that is supposed to imply a long history of other companies merging together. MB is old, a corp that survived the corpwars by being complacent. When the other corps fought against the government, Mailer-Bronson bowed, and was spared. Now they are one of the strongest remaining Megacorps. The only interactions with Mailer-Bronson are in an office building, so they could be any kind of company. Maybe, based on the first half of their name, they could be related to communications technology. Similar to Cisco as we know them now, a corporation like this would be wired into absolutely everything, and in a cyberpunk future, they would be absolutely essential for the future to continue functioning. Of course, that means they would want to cut out any business that might threaten their future, and aggressively research any future technology that might slow them down, then repress it until they are ready. That means technology like advanced high speed communication (like some sort of faster-than-light communication tech that could work for space stations).

Mailer-Bronson has a major stake in NAB, and maybe other world governments. For MB to continue functioning, they use NAB for protection, and invest in the government to keep that protection active and strong. Mailer-Bronson would be famous for their low number of violations of the NAB charter, a company that plays by the rules, but mostly because they always have a hand in writing the rules.

Of course, I should consider why I want interactions with Megacorps at all. I think that a common theme in modern society is the idea of the faceless corporation trying to crush down any and all opposition. They use underhanded tactics to get what they want, even buying politicians, or social support. In the future, this wouldn’t stop completely. The idea of a cyberpunk future is that corps eventually win, and the future becomes dark when your politician can actually wear the logo of the company that bought him, instead of that just being a clever joke in liberal memes. In my Corpfall novel, the timeline is supposed to be so far forward that this period of time has ended, and now the government tries to bring these companies back in line. The new nations would try to stop corruption, violations against human rights, civil rights, and the environment (what is left of it at that point anyway). So megacorps would be forced to have faces again. These faces would, in most cases, be constructed and false. Buy social media connections, buy spam to drill your ideas into consumer heads, buy fallguys to make sure that nothing is ever really your companies fault. Buy the prettiest people to accidentally use your product while their picture is being taken. Some of these actions wouldn’t be illegal at all, it would just be the future of advertising and media. Except, all of that megacorp money has an influence on normal people. They would think like the corps want them to think, to a degree. They would be a hodgepodge of all the campaigns they were hit with, a walking jumbled commercial. It is an interesting concept.

Another idea is that in Corpfall, the biggest megacorp of all IS the New Nations, and our main characters work for it. They are likely evil, no one within seems to realize what they are doing, and they sacrifice people to get the tasks they need done. The most shifty group in Corpfall is definitely the NAB, and they do have a large number of investors from corporations and old money. They stopped the hackers, but made them ‘Intelligence Agents’ they could shove into office buildings. They stopped the gangs of street samurai working runs for megacorps, and then turned around and created the Billion Dollar Babies to do the same for them. Maybe that is why I’m having so much trouble thinking about Megacorps, my largest and most well thought out Megacorp… isn’t.

I think I need to think about the new nations, and the old. NAB, SAB, WEB, UAT (the United African Treaty), and whatever happened to Asia. I can do that next, which might give me some time to think about what technology I should expect across the globe.

#Nanowrimo and a little Worldbuilding

November is on the way, which means it is almost time for National Novel Writing Month.

Last year my one month novel was a cyberpunk story, Corpfall. After reading Neuromancer, by William Gibson, and playing a lot of Netrunner, I couldn’t escape the urge to write a cyberpunk novel of my own.

This year, I decided to write a sequel to one of my four novels. In the end, I chose to write a sequel to Corpfall. Now comes the fun part, thinking about what the plot will be.

Corpfall is about Special Agents Carlos Fuller and Ashleigh Anderson. They work for a future North American government known as the North American Business Authority, NAB, that replaced the United States, Canada, and most of Mexico, after the ‘corp wars’.

Ashleigh, or Ash, is known as a ‘Billion Dollar Baby’, trained as part of an expensive program to create perfect government agents through early training and expensive cybernetics. Fuller is a hacker hired into the Business Authority when his former gang was shut down.

By the end of the novel, we are introduced to the other ‘babies’ that followed after Ash, the other members of Fuller’s gang, and the threat of artificial intelligence manipulating NAB for its own ends.

Now I have to ask myself, what more can I build in the toybox I created?

One of the aspects I fleshed out a little before writing the first novel was the history of the world. Cyberpunk as a genre usually leans on a few key ideas: Unrestricted capitalism that allows anything to be sold, Megacorporations that are willing to do anything to continue expanding, and small people who are trying to stay afloat in a world that is collapsing around them.

When I started writing Corpfall, my idea was to write some sort of ‘post-cyberpunk’. Considering I’m not a cyberpunk aficionado, this has likely already happened, and the word doesn’t mean what I thought at the time. In the end, what I wanted was a world that is moving out of the ultra-capitalism stage, and into a stage of returned government control. My question was, ‘what if we mixed stereotypical socialism, and cyberpunk?’

In my timeline, legislation called the Taylor Act allowed corporations that owned enough concentrated land to govern that land like an incorporated town. In the end, corporations gained so much power and control that several of them moved from covert corporate spying to outright violence. The governments of the world took action after an orbital station was destroyed and a the Megacorporation JIL was thought to be involved. Protesters wanted the company ripped apart and held responsible, but the UN was powerless to do much of anything. Shortly after, direct fighting between Megacorps and world governments began, with the mercenary armies of the megacorps winning out.

In the period after, nicknamed ‘the Free Market’, corps fought against each other, and the world governments faded into powerless figureheads. This is the period that is normal ‘cyberpunk’. The average person suffered, but technology took leaps and bounds as no one was able to restrict scientific research that might make the megacorps a profit.

After the Free Market period, came the New Nations. These new governments partnered with corporations, offering to govern the market, but also let them invest in the government as partners. Enough smaller corporations joined that all but the strongest megacorps were forced to consider. As these ‘Business Authorities’ gained traction, their first act was to dismantle the ‘monopoly’ organizations that caused the corp wars, like JIL. Others, like Mailer-Bronson, were simply crippled.

The three well known new governments are NAB, SAB, and WEB (OEB). They are the North American Business Authority that controls the North American business, South American Business Authority that is its sister, and West Europe Business Securities. Russia, Eastern Europe, and most of Asia, resisted the new nation movement. This is also why corpfall doesn’t have the same heavy Asian vibe that most cyberpunk does. While Asian corporations likely had strong sway during the corp wars, the New Nations idea makes me imagine that North America maintains its usual mix of cultures, instead of the ‘future where Chinese is mixed into everything’ that I see in a lot of fiction.

Before November starts, I want to investigate a few parts of the setting that I didn’t look at before.

1) The Billion Dollar Babies: Ashleigh and her ‘siblings’ were my ‘Razor girls’. Hopped up on cybernetics, powerful, but full of issues. I touched on their history, and more babies being made, but their use as agents is still a little vague. Ash is the main character of Corpfall, so I won’t be able to avoid telling her story as the plot continues.

2) The megacorps: JIL, Mailer-Bronson, I don’t have a lot of Megacorps defined but they are important to the plot. Their movements and actions are a background force in cyberpunk stories. They don’t have to be primary actors, but I have to be careful not to make them complete background noise. So knowing a few of them could be helpful.

3) AI and Technology: In Corpfall, an AI is one of the central big bads. To tell the truth, the whole story was born from a short story that I wrote that mirrored the final scenes of Neuromancer. I wanted to see if I could capture that same feeling. Now I need to stop imitating, and figure out the reality of AI in the Corpfall setting. When did they start existing, how many are there, and how powerful are they?

I can’t wait for November this year. I love National Novel Writing Month, and this year I plan to split this novel into two ‘books’, and maybe write another 25,000 words on top of that. I’m pumped, and hope that cyberpunk can motivate me the same way it did last year.

Trying Out Being Organized

Not a lot to say. I’m trying to get my thoughts together for some novel editing. Trying to get my thoughts together to make my life work. Really, the last week has just been a lot of trying not to be trash.

It isn’t going so well.

One victory though, the program known as yWriter. Well, victory so far. It allows me to organize out my novels in a way that makes it easy to create notes, understand where stuff went wrong, and make systematic changes across the novel. Like, when I accidentally call a character Dedric one place, and Dedrick another. This is a thing that happened, I felt pretty sad. Most of my novels (read, all of them), have been written as part of a NaNoWriMo project, so I tend to just write in one long spree. So when I miss a detail, or a character returns in a later chapter, I don’t have the time to try to find the character’s previous appearances. 

yWriter should make Nano easier, and editing easier. I’m glad. 

I need something to help with projects. It seems I drop them everywhere. I was creating three RPG books, a short novel series, editing a larger novel, and creating a Rogue-like video game. This is only scratching the surface. At the end of the day, I don’t finish stuff. This is one of my great flaws (besides being so darn handsome), and I know it. The problem is, what am I going to do about it.

So I continue to push toward little accomplishments. When I sold a book under a pseudonym, I felt like I had climbed mount Olympus. It turns out it was a foothill. I still need to learn to properly edit, to sell myself, to create proper promotion campaigns. I have a lot to learn, and I’m running out of youthful years.

I Wrote a Novel Once

I had to make a decision yesterday. 

I started editing a previous Nano novel of mine, and the novel is a strange creation. When I made it, my assumption was that I would never try to publish it under my name. Because as I began November that year, my plan was to write a ‘Romance’ novel. It was going to be sappy, have bad relationships, and there would be ‘lewd’ content.

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Except, the idea rammed into another idea, driving at a million thoughts an hour. Being an atheist and all, I figured I could also make the romance novel all about religion. Genius right? I’ve read religious romance novels before, and fantasy romance, I even had a blog dedicated to reading bad romance novels.

Of course, I couldn’t just go with that concept. If I had just written a novel about some christian girl and her not quite christian enough boyfriend, I could be a bestseller on Amazon right now. Instead, I wanted to do some worldbuilding. 

I built my own religion. Altered Earth history, redefined society. In the end, the Nano novel became some strange animal. It still had lewd content, but it was from a male focused point of view (this doesn’t happen outside of gay erotica), it was first person, and the main character doesn’t just trip into a love triangle. I tried to write a romance novel, and failed miserably.

So I started editing my novel yesterday (I should get back to the subject of this post), and asked myself… is this still going to be about lewd content? I wanted to be fair to the lewdness, it is pretty nice. I can write one mean scene of a phallus entering a vagina. The story, as it were, became so much about the religion of the main character. The point was that he took on a special place in society, giving up the right to exist within the normal social order, to perform special rituals in his religion. So does it need the sex?

The answer I came to? Yes. I decided to own up to the sex I wrote, even if it means the novel never goes anywhere but my own computer. The decision was easy after I started editing, and looked at the opening lines. Knowing what I knew, about the main character, about the path he takes and why he does what he does, I found myself enjoying my own opening lines. Here, I’ll copy paste it here.

I grabbed her by the jaw and squeezed hard enough to make her wince. Her mouth popped open, and I leaned down low enough to take a look inside. It was exactly what you would expect, rows of perfectly brushed teeth. She was healthy, as far as I could tell.

“Move your tongue,” I told her. To make sure she got the point, I squeezed my fingers even tighter.

She let out a sharp sob and moved her tongue to the left, and then to the right.

Still needs some work, but I instantly returned to the character I wrote now years ago. More importantly, that he was a complete dickhole. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a character so hard to like. 

So I followed my plan I made before. I read it, made an outline of it, I will edit the outline, and then I will rewrite the same scene blind. Then I will mash the best parts of the original and the new one. Here is the first outline I ended up with.

Mosi helps the Jelani house after the man’s death, and hears that Nia has moved in.

A. Introduce the main character at the Jelani house.

     I. Mosi inspects Zora physically. Harassing her to keep up the image of a Shaman.

     II. Jengo says a new family moved in. Mosi notes this.

     III. Jengo asks what to do, and Mosi gives instructions for a ritual.

B. Mosi goes home and checks his messages.

     I. Notes the details of his room. Boring walls, the big wood mask, bookcase.

     II. Checks messages, discovers message from Wilhelm. Realize Nia is here.

C. Mosi heals house Jengo

     I. Returns to Jengo house in Kifo outfit.

     II. Speaks to Jelani, and Subari. Notes Subari’s apprehension.

     III. Meets Zora in room and performs Kifo ceremony.

          a. Begins with bowl and incense.

          b. Says words to Kifo, and notes the goddess.

          c. ‘invokes’ the goddess with beak mask, fallen crane.

          d. Sleeps with Zora to help her connect to dead Jengo.

 

It felt weird boiling down about 11 pages in word into one little outline. I did it so often with essays, but I’m not an outline maker when it comes to fiction. Hopefully this won’t slow down my progress in this editing adventure. I want to stick to it this time. Because for some reason, the time that it is worth going all the way, is when I’m writing about a dude who goes all the way.

 

#NaNoWriMo Day 30: Running Backwards

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I knew that the holidays would make it hard to update, but here I am on the 30th. Hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Nanowrimo was… a success! 51,000 words later, my 5th (5th? I think 5th) National Novel Writing Month novel has been completed. I got myself so far ahead of the curve, it was simple to come in for the finish. As for the content of the story… well that is a different story.

Let me tell you a little something.

When I first decided on my Nano novel, I based it on a short story that I actually posted here on The Little Tower. It was called Panopticon, and I wrote it in the aftermath of reading the novel Neuromancer for the first time. I was excited, I wanted more, and I definitely wanted to do cyberpunk for my Nano. So I wrote my novel these past 30 days, with Panopticon in mind.

Small problem, and a spoiler, one of the characters in Panopticon doesn’t make it out with their life. Which means, the short story was going to come at the end, or I would have to edit it. Since I usually Nano by the seat of my thumbs, I got close to the end, and realized that I wanted to shove Panopticon at the end of my novel, Corpfall.

Oops, this is a dumb idea. I mean, in general it is an okay plan, I’m sure it could work, if you actually plan around it. Corpfall got so far ahead of me, that I didn’t have enough time to establish some of the elements that would make Panopticon an awesome set of closing chapters. Instead, this plot twist rises up out of nowhere, like a terrible creature from the Black-guy-can’t-write lagoon.

How bad was it? Well the two main characters weren’t even partners anymore when I started shoving a final story arc into their face. For shame, I felt terrible the whole time.

Then I was finished, then I didn’t feel terrible. I felt very relieved.

Lesson learned, either way. Plan ahead, unless you don’t, in which case power through it as fast as you can and forget it ever happened. That’s my life motto, at work, in writing, in the bedroom, wherever it works.

I’m glad though, Corpfall can join my previous Nano stories (The One With The Black Cloak, Update, Shaman, and … that one about amnesia…), where it will collect dust until I figure out what to do with it.

Well, if I edit it and try to do something with it, you guys will be the first to know. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving (unless you are from Canada, in which case this is too belated to matter), and I will see you folks in December.