Hydra Headed Problems in Writing

Helsingør, Herkules kæmper mod hydraen by ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN from FlickrHercules was a demi-god…I think. We’re going off of memory here because that’s more fun.

Anyway, Hercules was a demi-god with some rage issues. One day, for reasons I can’t remember, he killed his wife and kids.

This was bad.

He wanted to atone for this bad thing that he had done, or the gods demanded that he atone for it, and so he set off on his labors. The Labors of Hercules. They’re sort of famous in mythology.

He had to kill the lion of Numedia (we’re guessing at names too…but I know he had to kill a lion). He had to capture Cerberus. And he had to clean some stables.

Yes he had to clean some stables. They were the gigantic stables of some horse-crazy land with horse crap caked on three feet deep. Hercules had to divert an entire river just to clean the stables. Big stuff.

He also had to kill the Hydra. Who on earth made up this list of chores is beyond me. One day he’s cleaning stables and the next he’s killing a mythical creature. I guess it was sort of like a decathlon, testing as many different skills and pushing as many buttons as possible.

So anyway, the Hydra. The Hydra was a nine headed monster. That doesn’t sound too bad. I mean Hercules was able to clean that stable by diverting a river so we can assume that monsters are sort in his wheelhouse.

The only problem was that every time you managed to lop off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more would sprout up in its place.

This is a problem. In fact, this is such a common type of problem that it is now known as a hydra headed problem: knock one down and it only serves to introduce two more problems.

This is where I’m at with book three. It feels like I’ve been here for awhile. Every time I figure out a kink in this book it opens up two more ideas that I have to toy with and examine and decide where, or if, they belong.

I began with a fairly basic idea for the plot. The plot is no longer basic. I have story-lines that range from Bartleby’s life as a human to a serial killer causing unrest in the world of the testers to a coup in the Council to Gregor’s rise as leader of the zombies.

It’s possible that I can tie all of these together, most likely weeding a few out, and create a single cohesive book. But right now? Right now it just seems like every step forward I take results in two more paths I have to sniff out and examine. And it’s getting really annoying. I have no idea if this is progress. It feels more like a hamster wheel.

In order to defeat the Hydra, Hercules found a giant log and heated the end and after he sliced off one of the Hydra’s heads he cauterized the wound, cooking it shut by applying the glowing red end of the log to the open cut. No more Hydra heads.

It’s possible that I’m allowing myself too much exploration. It’s possible that it’s time to start cauterizing story lines, that once I figure out one bit I need to start ignoring the inevitable questions that crop up about what else that bit might be hiding.

Or it’s possible that you can beat a hydra by wearing it out, that eventually the stupid thing just runs out of heads.

With the holidays coming up and a massive disrupt to my work schedule bound to happen I’ll probably take that opportunity to step back and more properly assess what the hell I have on my hands right now.

Until then, I’m just glad I’m not cleaning stables.

My Contract With My Book

signatureDear Book,

I love you, I truly do even though I, as of yet, do not know you fully. I love your curves as you move through time, I love your heart as you show me the humanity of the most despicable characters, I love your brain as you teach me about Ancient Rome and the origins of wool.

But we need to talk.

I’ve been through this with some of your siblings before, five of them to be exact, and each of the books that came before you broke my fucking head apart once the honeymoon part of the relationship had ended.

I know you want this to be the whirlwind romance that is needed to write those giddy, mind-blowing scenes that we both sense are coming…but I’m sorry. As an older, wiser, author, I have to insist on some things up front.

1. When I am not working on you, as in not sitting directly at my desk with your Word document open, you are not allowed to gnaw at my brain. When not at my desk I will happily push ideas back and forth with you, or take in landscapes that I drive past and dialogue that I overhear and file them away for you to feast on later. But you do not get to drive my brain while I am off-duty. That is my time. If I want to play video games and drink beer, I will do that and not feel bad about it. You will always be with me, but that does not mean that you get to always haunt me.

Calibration weights

2. You do not get to sit on my shoulders, compressing them with stress, yelling at me that you’re not finished yet and why aren’t you finished yet and you should be finished by now!!!! I have started five books in my life. Do you know how many I have finished? Five.

You will get done. I promise you that. I will work on you until you are done. But you are not allowed to put arbitrary time-frames into my head as to when “done” will be. That’s like trying to predict who will be standing next to me a year from now on the bus. It’s just impossible. You have my vow, though: you are officially a Joseph Devon product. You will get finished. But get off of my fucking shoulders.

3. You will be a good book. I’m not even going to acknowledge your sinkhole of doubt regarding whether people will like you or not. You will be good. You will have the fullest devotion of my talent and head and heart while I am at work on you. Your knots will be unravelled. Your mysteries will be revealed. Your problems will be solved.

And, you know what? I have a new tool that I am ready to acknowledge as a major part of the process now: rewriting. You will remember that I am a rewriting machine. You will not freak out because your first draft is a mess.

Don’t believe me? Here. I can show you the first printed version of Persistent Illusions. I had actually ordered a proof copy already because the process was so close to being finished. See the ending? See there? See how it’s still a clusterfuck of a mess even at that late date? But guess what? I rewrote it. And I rewrote it well. And it is now one of my proudest acheivements and one loved by my readers.

I will not quit on you. I will not let you be second-rate. What I mess up the first time through I will work out with sweat and toil during my rewrites. You will be good.

Those are the rules. That is the deal. You have my all, but you do not get to own me.


Shake on it?



Now let’s get to work…

I Think It’s Time to Start Book Three

Oh god I can’t believe I just wrote that blog title. I have so much more research I need to do. Currently I’m halfway through a book on the history of textiles and sewing methods. I have no idea when the book was published, I grabbed it for my Kindle without checking, but it discusses at length how you shouldn’t store your thread next to a fire or heating stove because that can make your thread brittle. So I don’t think it’s the most modern book ever. Nor is it the most exciting. But it’s helped a lot and given me some sense of clothing and its creation that I didn’t have before.

Before that I read a few books about Roman history.

And after I’m done with clothes I want to read about Australian history.

And then something about Romania.

And…on and on and on.

It’d be great if I could read everything about everything before I started writing but, for obvious reasons, I can’t.

And to be honest that really doesn’t matter. Truth is I don’t need to be an expert in a subject in order to write fiction incorporating said subject. I just need to know enough to fake it.

Plus there’s the fact that writing a book isn’t like telling a story.

Telling a story implies that the story is already written. You just have to add your tone, your angles, maybe give the evil witch a spooky voice so that your audience shrieks with delight, but with storytelling you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there.

Writing a book is more like excavating an ancient ruin. You have no idea what you’re going to find. You start digging and when you hit something interesting you slow down and treat it delicately and try to let it lead you to the larger picture that’s still buried.

David (Michelangelo) by Andrea Scollo from FlickrOr sculpting. I imagine sculpting is pretty similar, too. Every sculptor I’ve read about has mentioned that they don’t turn a piece of stone into a statue, they expose the statue that already existed inside the stone.

Anyway, all the research in the world can’t prepare me for the first, “Woah, where did THAT come from,” moment that I’ll hit in book three. And after that first moment hits, all my best laid plans get tossed and it’s hard to say who is in charge anymore, me or the story.

A lot of writers express joy when they get an idea for a new work. But this is my fifth or so book and I know that this isn’t a relationship which will remain in its halcyon honeymoon stage forever.

No. Writing a book is more like shackling myself to a madman for a year in an agreement to follow wherever he goes. Except my agreement doesn’t mean anything because, you know, the shackles are in place regardless.

I am worried about the amount of story that I want to get into this book. It hit me in the shower the other morning how much I’m going to try and tell and I grew afraid.

We won’t be staying in the present, not for the whole thing, that’s for sure. I didn’t read up on Roman history to add background flavor.

And we’ll be revisiting some of the more brushed over bits of tester history. Gregor, for instance, will have his story told in more detail.

And then I have to, you know, close out the entire trilogy in a suitable fashion all the while continuing with my marketing work in a field where there’s no prior models which don’t resemble roulette wheels to me.


I’m utterly terrified.

How’s your Wednesday going?

The Joy of Research

ElephantsI’m starting to do research for the third book in the Matthew and Epp series. Technically I research things constantly in a “Look at that guy! Could I use that guy in a story? Did you hear that noise? Maybe I could use that noise somewhere!” sort of way.

But recently I’ve started to actually do reading research to prepare for the upcoming books. I need to learn about ancient Rome, clothes, Australian penal colonies, and a few other tidbits.

A lot of people, when I tell them that I write fiction, get a mad gleam in their eye and say something like, “I’ll bet the best part about that job is doing the research.”

In their minds, if I have to research criminal under-lords or whatever, then I actually join some criminal society and rise up through the ranks, participating in dazzling jewel thefts and midnight gunfights aboard a zeppelin somewhere or god knows what.

In reality I purchase or download an absurd number of books and I sit and I read, and I read, and I read.

Yeah. It’s awesome.

Here is the book I read to research Isaac Newton for Probability Angels:

It was a thrill-a-minute page-turner full of explosions and sexy international intrigue.

Oh. Wait. No it wasn’t. It was the most boring book in the world and a good third of it was FILLED WITH MATH EQUATIONS.

But there were some good, invaluable even, nuggets hidden in this tome of boredom and the read was well worth it for my work. That’s what research really is for me, not an attempt to learn the topic I’m researching backwards and forwards, but a sifting process where I pluck out striking images, quotes, moments, and mindsets to graft onto my writing and give it the flavor of reality.

And, to be fair, not all of it is boring. The ancient Rome stuff has been full of goodies.

My favorite thus far? The Greek general Pyrrhus once attempted to intimidate a Roman ambassador by inviting him into a room where he had an elephant hidden behind a curtain and then, in mid-conversation, dropping the curtain.

Oddly the ol’ elephant behind the curtain trick didn’t work. The visiting diplomat didn’t even flinch when a fucking elephant appeared behind him out of nowhere.

Which is sad.

I really wish that trick had caught on.

I know I’m so using it if I ever hold office anywhere.

“So, you think there should be a stop sign on the corner of Main and Oak streets? Well have you ever thought to consider LOOKATTHISITSAGIANTFUCKINGELEPHANT!!!!!!”

Results From the PARPG Play Test

MeatSo @Rolling20s and I were finally able to discuss his visit to SCARAB two weekends ago as well as the results of his play tests of the Probability Angels RPG. As I mentioned last week, the whole concept of attending smaller, regional conventions was scrapped. @Rolling20s ended up leaving the convention and driving north to a house full of friends where he was guaranteed a play test.

First, I want to thank, @celeloriel, @daniel14159@TheUniverseGM@cadorette, and @nezumi_hebereke for agreeing to be guinea pigs. Helpful, fun, witty, and intelligent, they proved to be most able guinea pigs indeed. Please give them a hand, ladies and gentlemen.

Their play test was recorded and I finally got a chance to listen to it this morning. There was a lot more good than bad, in my opinion, but clearly lots of things need work.

For starters, there’s a ton of information to get across before the players can dive in and actually start playing. This is normal for any game, you have to get a sense of the rules before you can play, but briefly explaining a new dice system and the world of Probability Angels is quite a challenge. @Rolling20s had his hands full. I mean I cant even explain my world.

We’re attempting to build this so it can be run at conventions, so I think some front loading of information is to be expected, but a much quicker and cleaner version needs to be worked out. One of the players came up with: “You’re immortal justice ghosts! Now start rolling dice!”

Which isn’t too bad.

I’ve learned from writing synopsis after synopsis until I want to barf that the urge to put in every cool little detail you’ve come up with has to be quashed. You have to know that you can’t cover everything. You should put in enough to hook the reader, even if it’s somewhat misleading or glosses over some big details, and then trust them to catch up. Same concept needs to be implemented here.

Secondly, some of the mechanics on the dice side of things need to be tweaked. That is something that happens on into infinity for games like this, you can always tweak things. So that wasn’t a surprise.

The worst thing to come out of this experiment, though, was that @Rolling20s has decided that he can’t represent me, with the attention that a sponsor deserves, at future conventions. He is currently working on two other games of his own design, Shadows of the Collegium and School Daze, not to mention anything else he comes up with (most of which is quite awesome), and he came to the conclusion that his attention was too split to run the PARPG as per our current arrangement.  He still wants to shape this into a workable game and run it, but as a fan not as a marketer. This wasn’t a big shock to me as his to-do list has been growing and growing recently and I’m glad that we both realized it.

That being said, in my mind @Rolling20s is still the guy, even if he doesn’t think he can be the guy. He’s just the guy. I have no other guy in the wings, for starters, but, also…he’s just the guy. So I’m calling this a hiatus. I don’t know what word he is using.

Anyway, the plus side of the play test was listening to all of these strangers have fun in my world. And I think they were having fun. Interruptions and confusion and gaffs aside, there were some moments of pure awesome buried in this gaming session (not to mention a reference to one of my favorite shows, Archer).

There is meat here. Succulent, delicious meat. Currently, how best to prepare and serve this meat is a mystery. But there is meat. Do not doubt it.

I’ll put it like this. @Rolling20s and I have managed to put a game together where people were laughing and having fun for an hour and a half while their characters wrestled with the notion of whether or not a dragon running amok inside of an iceberg was real.

I consider that quite an achievement.

Probability Angels Role Playing Game

Playing HeroWhile noodling over the results of sending my friend @Rolling20s to a gaming convention to do some marketing, which you can read about here, a lot of ideas have been tossed around. Some in my head, some with @Rolling20s in conversation, some with my tarot card masseuse.

One very fun idea has taken root and will become a full grown idea tree in the coming months. @Rolling20s and I are going to put together a one-off adventure for him to run at gaming conventions of Probability Angels as a Role Playing Game.

Players will get to step into the shoes of a tester, or a rotted thing, or a Guardathing, or…well whatever they want, that’s sort of the point of a role playing game, and play around in the world of Matthew and Epp. Actually, I’ll amend that even though it’s only one sentence old: since this is a one-off adventure there will only be a few set characters for people to play and, no, nobody gets to play any of the main characters.

But for the adventure I have in mind it should be a fun mix of personalities which then get inhabited by a fun mix of real people *playing* those personalities as they interpret them, and then dice get rolled. Also, players will, in the current plan anyway, be interacting with some of the higher up muckity mucks of my world. Possibly with an ex-samurai. Possibly.

Even though it’s still in rough draft form it has been a great creative stretch to do this. I’ve never made a game before so there’s a fun freedom involved. However, I want this to carry the mood and tone of the books so there’s a lot of pressure too. I had to learn a dice system, we’re using FATE if you’re curious, which took some time to get familiar with. And currently I’m very slowly figuring how best to represent the various quirks, attacks, quantum mechanics, philosophies and such in a playable game involving dice.

Weird but definitely fun overall.

For example, while brainstorming player skills, I just started writing down phrases that sounded like they fit in with the world of Matthew and Epp.

Some player skills that have already been discarded (or were written down at 3 AM and proved to be utter nonsense in the morning) are:

Condensed Gravity

Ocular Manipulation

Quark Magnetics

Bone Spur

Atomic Humonculous

So…yeah. This should be hella fun by the end.



Probability Angels – Now with More Pumpkins!!!

PumpkinsOn the one block walk to get my coffee this morning I was assaulted by no less than three different adds all telling me that someone was selling their normal products, only now they was crammed ass-full of pumpkin. You’ve got pumpkin coffees at Starbucks, pumpkin muffins at the corner muffin place, pumpkin doughnuts at Dunkin.

Everyone’s suddenly fucking nuts for pumpkins.

I mean, I understand why, the whole winter gourd phenomenon isn’t a new thing, but the sheer number of pumpkins being crammed into my eyeballs during a one block walk got me thinking.

Maybe I should try and cash in on this…

So I’m releasing a special edition copy of Probability Angels, only it’s got pumpkins all over the motherfucking place.

Probapumpkin Pumpkins

And we’re not stopping with mere cosmetic changes to the cover. Hell no.

You all remember that early scene where Matthew goes to meet Epp in the park? Epp has the tape set up and Matthew steps into it and watches as sound drops away and a lone firefly freezes in time?

Guess what. Now it’s got fucking pumpkins everywhere:

The first difference was as immediate as it was obvious. All noise ceased. Also pumpkins were all over the place. Pumpkins…luscious, sexy, orange pumpkins everywhere. It was like a god-damned pumpkin D-day. As Matthew straightened himself up there was no more wind in the trees, no more muffled sounds of traffic from Central Park West. You know what there were, though? There were some pumpkins all over the fucking place. He continued walking down the path that had pumpkins on it, the second change slowly sinking in as he realized he was no longer walking through a post-midnight darkness. And also he realized how many pumpkins there were. The air was now mellower, lighter, like it was only a little past dusk. You know what color the sky is around dusk? It’s orange. Like a certain winter gourd that right now you wish you could bake down, puree, fill a hot tub with, and sink into like some crazy-ass spa treatment. Then he stopped short and walked a slow circle around a single point of light, smiling as he recognized a firefly, its bottom flashing electric green, frozen in time, hovering in the air. Probably there were some pumpkins here, too. I don’t know. Fuck it, the firefly’s name was Pumpkin. How’s that? He reached a finger up and slowly pointed it towards the glowing beetle, was about to tap it to see what would happen when a voice spoke up behind him.


Matthew jumped and turned, then smiled and shook his head. “Jesus, Epp, you scared the hell out of me. And why are you slathered in that gross orange mucous crap that’s inside of pumpkins while wearing a pumpkin-orange suit and eating a slice of pumpkin pie and standing on a pumpkin and reading the scene from Cinderella where her stagecoach turns back into a pumpkin?”

Thrilling, isn’ t it?

This version should be hitting stores soon…

Soul Glow and Probability Angels

Every so often I go searching through the internet for myself, checking to see if any interesting reviews have popped up or if a forum somewhere might have been discussing me. It’s a little scary sometimes how little of the internet one actually sees.

During these searches, in which I wander far far far far into the google results of various queries, I find that, like, 80% of the internet makes no sense.

It’s just pages of babble or crazy-ass products crammed together or complete mirrors of Amazon, only crappily laid out and with zero hope of generating any traffic.

I usually can get some small grip on how some of these sites came into existence.

Then I came across this and my brain stopped:

Black Hair Weave – Your Discount Weave Store

I give up. I don’t understand the internet.

My Blog Tour

Recently I went on a tour of the interwebs, giving interviews and writing guests posts at various sites.

I’ve posted some of them in some places but now that all of them are up I wanted to list them in one place for convenience’s sake.

Thanks so much to everyone who hosted me!

First there was an interview at Back of the Book Reviews in which I my thoughts on Snooki came up for some reason. You can read that here.

Second was Donna’s Blog Home who actually interviewed Matthew. That was a lot of fun for numerous reasons and can be read here.

Then I arrived at Jacqueline Paige’s site for another interview. There I discussed how aliens implant their ideas into my head and that’s where my stories come from. You can read that here.

Laurie at Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews managed to score an interview with Epp himself. Check it out here.

At Sherry’s Fiction Writing Tools I gave another interview in which I waxed on about the Aenead. Oh yeah. Nothing gets ’em going like ancient Roman epic poetry. You can read that here.

Finally, I wrote down three quick tips for writing effective horror for Curling Up by the Fire. Fun stuff.

Thanks again to everyone and thanks to Fangtastic Books for organizing.


The JD Art Contest Winner

So here’s the winning entry. Please click on it to view it full size.

This entry is from Saher Imran and, as far as I’m concerned, needs zero introduction. However if I don’t type something up here the home page of this site goes bonkers, so I’ll babble a bit.

I fell in love with this as soon as I saw it, and every judge who I showed it to replied with, “Wow!” (or a similar succinct superlative)

Saher has taken one moment from my words and turned them into an iconic image. The attention to detail is remarkable (notice the cross in the upper right?), the contrast of the polished shoe and the splashing blood gives me the chills, and using no more than a foot and an ankle she has captured Epp more fully than I think I even did.

Congratulations Saher.


And give Saher some love in the comments or by linking to her work around the web, please. Wow, does she deserve it.

Joseph Devon Art Contest winning entry from Saher Imran