GMB Chomichuk’s Raygun Gothic (Issues 1-5)

With my recent contribution to the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow RPG Kickstarter, I’ve been thinking about Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. I’ve loved those books since high school. If I am absolutely backed into a corner by persistent inquiry, it’s these novels that I label as my all time favourites (still a bit of a cheat I know, to name a ten books series when someone asks you for your favourite novel singular–if I’m forced to narrow even further, then I pick the second novel in the series, The Guns of Avalon to fill the spot).

What does this have to do with GMB Chomichuk’s serialized comic book, Raygun Gothic? When I first read the first three issues of Chomichuk’s latest work, it reminded me of the vastness of Zelazny’s Amber, and I don’t make that comparison lightly. So what is Raygun Gothic?

Raygun Gothic is: a bombastic science-fantasy tale that spans 14,000 years of  history and the lifespan of one person who is cursed to live that long in protection of humanity.

Raygun Gothic is: knights and dragons and monsters and witches and werewolves.  It is also robots and cyborgs and aliens and starships.

It’s also been serialized on Bleeding Cool and garnered Chomichuk two Prix Aurora Award nominations. GMB Chomichuk and I were guests at Keycon this year, and as I watched him create an original work, I was reminded of how much I loved his art, and also that I wasn’t quite caught up on Raygun Gothic.

So I dived back in, reveling in the slow reveal of an Immortal King who wears his crown from the distant past and into the far future, is called upon again to take an active role in the defense of humanity. Raygun Gothic’s protagonist would be right at home in the intrigues between the Kingdom of Amber and the Courts of Chaos,which puts him right in my wheelhouse of characters to love.

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Raygun Gothic plays with Greek myths (The King’s space warriors are called Hoplites, and they attempt to breach the walls of Ilium and defeat it’s defender, Ajax). I wish like hell I would have remembered this element when I was asked for science fiction that contained mythological references at my Keycon Myth & Folklore panel! Chomichuk doesn’t merely draw on mythology, there are references to Shakespeare too. An uttering of “Once more unto the breach” or The Immortal King meeting with the Crossroad Witches of Dunsinane, who told him of his rise to power–every word they said coming true.

Chomichuk gives The Immortal King many names, Sir Water the Grim, The Forever Man, The Peerless Warrior, and with his millenia spanning career as an eternal champion, the reader can imagine The King fulfilling the role of any great warrior or monarch from literature or myth. Lancelot, Arthur, Leonidas, and yes, my favourite, Corwin of Amber. When a line like “The game we played had the world as it’s prize,” is uttered, imagined Conner MacLeod battling the Kurgan in Highlander. This wide ranging influence across genre boundaries and media plays in the story’s favour and into one of Chomichuk’s artistic strengths: mixing media with unusual and unique results.

Despite the presence of monolithic space vessels, The Immortal King rides into a space battle on a dragon. Or as Chomichuk refers to it, his genetically engineered warwing. A beast that possessed a ferrous skeleton that allowed it to ride magnetic currents “as sure as any creature took to the air.” The juxtaposition of The King wielding a sword while riding a fantastic beast into battle with robots and rayguns is something that I just love.

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The King is empowered by a simple means: Those that would do him harm must risk the same. Whether it is drones, men, cyborgs or dragons that The Immortal King faces, he is up to their challenge, made equal to them by the nature of his gift. As the King battles Ajax he notes, “He had evolved to overcome the science of war. What I did was art.” And what a work of art this comic is! Only five issues in, and so much more to come.

I can’t wait.

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What are you waiting for? Read Raygun Gothic here: 

Let me know what you think of it, in the meantime, I’m going to reread The Imagination Manifesto.

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My Keycon 30 Roundup: AKA Best. Con. Ever.

A bold statement, “Best. Con. Ever.”

But I’m going to stand by it.

Keycon 30 was a multiple anniversary, celebrating thirty years of the convention, fifty years of Doctor Who, and 100 years of H.P. Lovecraft (In another anniversary of sorts, or at least a cool coincidence, I am celebrating my one hundredth post on the blog with this roundup).

This was my first con with a book out (yeah, yeah, I know, World Fantasy and Pure Speculation were a part of my tour, but Thunder Road was just released then, and few folks had had the chance to read it yet). I was blown away by the number of people who came up to me to tell me that they loved the book. And I swear, I didn’t pay first time Keycon attendee, Shayla Elizabeth to sport a Thunder Road tattoo on her cheek all weekend. 

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The only complaints I heard were about the brief period when the elevators had stopped working, but seriously, people complain about the elevators at every convention I have ever been to. And you can hardly blame acts of Cthulhu on the convention. This was the biggest and best Keycon I can remember. The guests hit on all cylinders, even the ones I wasn’t familiar with before the con. I didn’t see half of the folks I wanted to, and they time went by too quickly with those I did see. But I did make many great new friends.

Hats off to Brian Mitchell and Levi Labelle, the 2013 ConChairs. They deserve your Aurora nominations next year. As does the programming team of Sherry Peters, Lindsay Kitson, Anna Lauder and Charlie Lauder.

This year the book table was manned by some Chapters and Coles staff. I’ve tweeted about how awesome they were all weekend, but it deserves to be said again: Sydni, Stephanie, Dana, you ROCK! They knew their stuff (and knew my book!) and were lots of fun. I signed all the stock of Thunder Road they brought with them, and I hope to see them back at the con next year.

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I never get to see everything that I want to at any con. Invariably, one must see (at least, must see for me) panel is in conflict with another, but I particularly enjoyed Lee Moyer’s presentation on bad book covers and the crowdfunding panel Lee shared with Sylvia Moreno-Garcia and Steven Barnes.

As for my side of the programming, I had a great time sharing a reading slot with David Annandale. We decided to tag team and trade off several short readings rather than each doing one long one. I think it worked well and kept our audience interested. David read from Gethsemane HallDeath of Antagonis, and Yarrick: Chains of Golgotha. I read the openings from my short stories “First They Came for the Pigs” (natch, Silvia was my editor on that story) and “Back in Black”, finishing off the slot with the opening pages of the second book in the Thunder Road Trilogy, Tombstone Blues. 

Next up, I was moderating the Hour with an Author panel, featuring Author Guest of Honour, Ann Aguirre. Things got off to a slow start due to some location confusion (our original room had been partially flooded by a busted sprinkler head–R’lyeh Rising, terribly appropriate for a Lovecraftian Keycon) so I had a great chat with Ann before attendees filtered in to start asking questions. Ann is a great storyteller, and I’m in the middle of reading her Corine Solomon novels at the moment and really enjoying them (I’ve also been told that if you like Firefly you’ll like her Sirantha Jax novels–and I love me some Firefly, so I’m excited to start those too). Because our panel started late, we ended a little late, and Ann only had 45 minutes to eat before her next slate of programming started. Knowing from experience that the Radisson restaurant would not make that kind of turnaround, we hustled out of the hotel and into the rain. The closest restaurant was La Bamba, so yes, we took the author from Mexico City to eat at a Mexican restaurant in Winnipeg (her verdict: good–and more authentic than she usually finds in the States).

My final panel was a discussion of Mythology and Folklore with Karen Dudley and Leia Getty. Technically, the panel was about the “reemergence of Greek and Norse mythology in fantasy fiction” but after talking about how those stories have never really gone away, we started branching out to talk myth in a more general way and about using it in fiction. It was  a great turnout for a Sunday afternoon panel. I had a lot of fun.

I checked out the Filk room, aka The Dandy Lion, run by Morva Bowman and Alan Pollard (who are nominated for an Aurora Award for their concert at FILKONtario 22) with Samantha Beiko and Clare Marshall. Clare rocked the blue fiddle she borrowed from Sam (the blue fiddle she was hoping to sneak home in her luggage) through a number of songs before Morva and Alan started their concert. I’ve never been much into the filk scene at cons, but I had a lot of fun.

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Things got a little meta when Canadian Author Guest of Honour, J.M. Frey read a fantasy short story set at a fantasy con during the Dead Dog party. Ryan Roth Bartel from Rampant Design made a custom mask for Lee Moyer. GMB Chomichuk drew a wicked version of Nyarlathoteph in his crawling chaos shape for Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I love Gregory’s work, and so to see him create an original piece was a treat I won’t soon forget.

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You can see the finished product in all its eldritch glory in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Keycon post.

A whole gang of us spent the night of the Dead Dog in the Clockwork Club hospitality suite holding a seance that summoned only popcorn. Stories were told and plots were hatched. Oh, and we may or may not have formed a secret society. But I can’t talk about that.

It’s a secret, after all.

Creating Mythology: A Guest Post By Rhiannon Held

I’m very happy to host a guest post from Rhiannon Held to celebrate the release of her second novel, Tarnished. I absolutely loved her debut, Silver, and I had the pleasure to interview her after its release. The unique werewolf culture and mythology that Rhiannon brings to her work was definitely a highlight, and that’s what she’s going to discuss today:

When I started building the werewolves’ culture for my books, I wanted them to feel absolutely grounded, as real as any culture you’d discover in our world. One thing I knew I needed for that was their mythology and religious teachings. I didn’t model them on any real world mythology in specific, but I did draw heavily on my knowledge of various Native American stories from my training as an archaeologist in the Pacific Northwest. I think anyone who wants to create a mythology for their own world can go through a similar process.

Now, a professor of folklore or anthropology could probably list all kinds of different aspects of mythology that are important, but I focused on a few in particular when creating my Were myths. The first thing I came up with was their creation story, but that’s really just one part of a bigger function of myths: explaining the unexplainable. Imagine a pack of Were back in history, before science. They’d want to know, where did they come from? What’s their purpose while they’re here? Where do they go after death? I’m sure you recognize those sorts of questions from plenty of human sources as well.

So the creation myth answers where they came from, and sets up the gods and cosmos so they know what they return to after death, as well. Getting into more specifics, I drew on the common theme of many mythologies, in which things were absolutely perfect until someone screwed it all up. The Were lived with their gods, the Lady and Death, until the humans came to kill them with fire. Death was forced to teach them of mortality himself, so they would know to fear it and avoid being slaughtered.

Another thing I wanted to do was fill the Were mythology with elements that reflected the Were’s day-to-day life at the point the mythology would have developed. When you’re trying to explain the unexplainable, you use things that make sense to you: like a tribe describing the sky as an unturned basket made by the gods, a bigger version of the baskets they use every day. The moon and its light are central to the Were’s mythology, as manifestations of the Lady, so they say the stars are the broken pieces of her first child, that she tried too much to make just like herself. The moon is a key part of a Were’s everyday life, so it’s how they define the rest of the cosmos.

Of course, another function of a good mythology is to teach morality. In the teaching parables that I came up with for the Were, I focused on the kind of things that werewolves would need to teach their children, like wariness of humans and pack loyalty. Then, when the subject of the parable made a mistake, I made sure the consequences were larger-than-life, worthy of a tall tale. It won’t appear until book 3, but in one of the Were stories, a woman who cannot forgive doesn’t just drive away her pack, but actually transforms into a rattlesnake, forever doomed to rattle her grievances to whoever will listen. Now those are the kind of consequences that will get a kid’s attention!

A few things, I purposely made different. Rather than have the Were define the soul in a typical way, I picked another intangible thing about people to invest with that meaning: their voice. I figured that howling is so key for wolves that the Were would already be quite voice oriented. It’s the same concept as a soul: a Were’s voice is greater than some air being pushed through some muscles by some other muscles, the same as the Western concept of the heart is greater than some red cells and plasma being pushed around by another muscle. When Were die, it’s their voices that Death takes back to the Lady.

I’ll end with the trickster. Every good mythology needs evil, whether it caused everyone to fall from the perfect world, or drives the mistakes in the parables. And even more fundamentally, it’s an unexplainable thing that needs explaining. Why is there evil? Why did someone else do something bad to me or those I love? But the world is also full of chaos, and some of my favorite characters in mythology are the tricksters who create it, like Coyote and Raven. Sometimes they have selfish goals, sometimes they want to shake things up, and sometimes they just think it would be funny. When I have Death speak to Silver in the books, that’s often what he’s channeling: a force for chaos, change, and movement. Which may well be positive in the end! After a lot of trouble, of course, which Death can laugh at.

So taking even just those few basic elements—explaining the unexplainable, matching everyday life, teaching morality, and including evil and chaos—I found myself with a living, breathing mythology in no time. I pinned down a few basics off the page, like the creation story and where the Were go after death, and then let the rest of the parables and tricksters crop up as I needed them. I get excited whenever I find a place on the page where a reference to a parable will fit, because then I get the fun of coming up with it!

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Rhiannon Held is the author of SILVER, and TARNISHED, the first two novels in an urban fantasy series published by Tor Books. In her day job she works as a professional archaeologist. Unfortunately, given that it’s real rather than fictional archaeology, fedoras, bullwhips, aliens, and dinosaurs are in short supply. Most of her work is done on the computer, using databases to organize data, and graphics programs to illustrate it.

Where You’ll Find Me At Keycon 30

Tentacles,Tardis, and bison, oh my!

Keycon 30 is almost upon us! I’m really excited about this year’s convention. It’s my first Keycon with a published book under my belt, and a lot of my out of town friends are coming in for the event. All signs point to an awesome weekend. If you’re attending and want to see me, here’s where I’m guaranteed to be:

Author Reading with David Annandale and Chadwick Ginther

Ambassador C 11 11:00:00 Saturday

David Annandale and Chadwick Ginther read from their latest works.

Saturday Autograph Session Hour 2 

Terrace East 13 14:00:00 Saturday

I’ll be signing along with Ann Aguirre, David Annandale, Eileen Bell, Marie Bilodeau, Karen Dudley, Richard Hatch, Billie Milholland, Robert J. Sawyer, and Hayden Trenholm.

An Hour with Ann Aguirre

Ambassador B 11 15:00:00 Saturday

I’ll be moderating the question and answer period with Keycon 30 Author Guest of Honour, Ann Aguirre

Mythology/Folklore

Terrace East 13 14:00:00 Sunday

The re-emergence of Greek and Norse Mythology in Fantasy Fiction.
My co-panelists are: Karen Dudley and Leia Getty

There’s also a very good chance you’ll spot me in the Dealer’s Room or attending one of the other fine panels. If you do, please say hello.

Not only is Keycon 30 shaping up to be a stellar con, but you’ve got two options for an early kickoff. Thursday night, May 16th Clare C. Marshall will be reading and signing from her YA novel, The Violet Fox at McNally Robinson and Eileen Bell, Marie Bilodeau, Karen Dudley, and Billie Milholland will be reading their work, and discussing women in Canadian science fiction and fantasy at the Millenium Library.

Write on!

Getting Back In The Groove

It’s nice to have a brand new writing project to work on.

Ever since I sold Thunder Road I’ve felt that between editing that and getting my first draft of Tombstone Blues into submission shape, I wasn’t enough new writing. And drafting a book–discovering a new story–is definitely my favourite part of the process. I’ve never felt writer’s block. When I sat down to write, I found words. Sometimes they came easily. Sometimes not. But lately I’ve felt differently. After solidly revising for so long, I felt something else: Writer’s Paralysis.

I had all the time in the world to polish Thunder Road. It was well received: it’s won one award, been shortlisted for three others. So far I’ve had good sales, good reviews. But I have something to live up to now. Which is where the Writer’s Paralysis and deadline dread come in. I think I’m a better writer now than I was when I started Thunder Road and I at least had a draft of Tombstone Blues, but I was trying to fix book two while book one was still in editorial. Now I’m trying to write book three while book two is being revised. 

Book three has a deadline too. For the longest time it was just an idea. I had a sort of outline. Scenes that I’d jotted down as I drafted the other books, and an idea of how it would go, a soundtrack. But how to bring all that together in time? How to not just start a story, but pay off two other books worth of plot threads and thematic elements and satisfy my readers?  That kind of thinking makes it easy to not do anything at all. “Your next round of edits could drop at anytime so don’t get too deep into a new project,” I’d tell myself whenever I had a shiny new idea. 

How will I do it? It doesn’t matter how I do it. What matters is that I have to do it. There’s no choice. It says trilogy right there on the cover of Thunder Road. I’ve made a promise to my readers, even if I didn’t have any readers then, and so I don’t have a choice. I have to deliver. I imagine this is something that every writer who goes from aspiring to contracted goes through. There is definitely an adjustment period. Writing is a business, and the business side of things will keep popping up when you’d rather be writing.

I’ve been easing into the book. Normally, when I’m in the flow, I’ll draft anywhere between 2000-4000 words in four hours. Two thousand is usually my minimum, but I aim for three thousand. Why then is my May goal only 31000 new words, or one thousand a day? Because somewhere along the line, whether it was when I injured my arm in 2011 or got seduced by social media, I lost my routine. Words come a little bit harder at the beginning of a book, as I try to find my opening, try to find the tone of the novel (or try to remember just what the hell happened in the last two). I set realistic goals, because why set myself up for failure? If I haven’t been hitting my usual word count, why could I assume those big word count days will come right from the beginning? I’m hitting my goals.Rebuilding my routine. I’m actually a day ahead of schedule (and yesterday was my best word count so far on this book) which is pretty good because I missed a day early in the month. There’s no rest for the wicked though. I have a lot more ground to gain, I don’t think I’ll hit my 1000 words a day during Keycon (and knock wood that I can avoid any con crud).

Once the book has some steam behind it, I am confident that those big word count days will come. They always have before. Once I get through these opening chapters, I’ll also be able to start dropping in those words that were written years ago (in some cases while I was drafting Thunder Road). I have about 12000 words worth of those random scenes just itching to join the count.

Thunder Road book three, as yet untitled, is already starting to feel like a real book.

Write on!

May Goals

It’s time for another monthly goals post. I’m not shooting for the moon in May, but with Mother’s Day coming up, a convention to prep for (Keycon 30! W00T!) and my presentation at Inside Publishing behind me, I think I’m going to go light on the goals. Besides, it’s revision season, and the next round of edits on Tombstone Blues could drop in my lap at any moment.

May Goals:

  • Write at least 31000 words on the third book in the Thunder Road trilogy. Why 31000? It works out to 1000 words a day. 1K a day for May. I like the way it sounds. Also, somewhere around 30000 words is when a work in progress starts to actually feel like a book to me. My first drafts are usually in the 60K range (Thunder Road was 68000 in first draft, and Tombstone Blues was 62000 words in first draft), and so this will take me to roughly the halfway point of the novel (though I have a sneaking suspicion that Book 3, will be the longest of the trilogy)
  • Prepare for my Keycon 30 panels. I’ll be interviewing Ann Aguirre and moderating audience questions as a part of the “Hour with an Author” program. I’m also doing a panel on Myth and Folklore with Karen Dudley and Leia Getty, and sharing a reading slot with David Annandale.
  • Draft a new short story (I’m told there will be a post-Keycon write-off with some of my writing chums, and I always get lots of work done at these things, so what the hell, let’s add this to the mix).

So how did I do in April? Not too shabby…

  • Finish the first draft of my current (and newly untitled–man I hate thinking of titles) urban fantasy Work in Progress.
  • Look at my short fiction not currently on submission and send those stories to new markets.
  • Finish my latest review for Quill and Quire
  • Finish my latest review for The Winnipeg Review
  • Finalize my soundtrack for as-yet-untitled book three of the Thunder Road Trilogy(The soundtrack is the first step of my novel writing process–its essentially my first rudimentary outline).
  • When I finish reading or watching something that I really like, say something about it here on the blog.

Colour me as surprised as you, but I did indeed finish the first draft of book one in an entirely new urban fantasy series. Lots and lots of work left in this one before I’m ready to send it out, but I think it has promise (even if it still doesn’t have a name). Probably the darkest thing I’ve written so far, and skirts closer to horror territory than anything I’ve written in the Thunder Road trilogy so far.

I didn’t get all of my short fiction back out into the world, but I did resubmit most of it. There were a couple of stories I wrote for theme anthologies that I decided to take a long second look at before resubmitting, and a couple stories came back, one with a rejection and one with a rewrite request that threw a spanner in the delicate work of juggling stories between markets that are open and stories that have already been submitted to those same markets. All in all, of my stories that were sitting fallow, five were resubmitted, three consigned to the rewrite pile (one at editorial request), and one more ready to go out.

My review of Barbara Fradkin’s The Whisper of Legends was turned in to Quill and Quire, it’s not online yet, but you can read my review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars on the Winnipeg Review website.

The soundtrack for Thunder Road book 3 is currently in regular rotation in my car, good thing, because I’ve started to write that book! I won’t reveal the tracks just yet, but the soundtrack for book 2, Tombstone Blues, will be revealed this summer.

I did finally post a review of J.M. Frey Triptych, on the blog, and a couple of brief reviews on my Goodreads account, so I’m counting that last one.

Looking forward to next month, I’m going to try and get my June goals up before the first week of the month is over. But that’s a goal for June. 😉

Write on!

Join The Fight, Make Comics!

The first Saturday in May is fast approaching, and that means: Free Comic Book Day!

I love comics. I have for as long as I can remember. Comic books were a huge part of my developing and maintaining a love of reading as a young boy. And while I haven’t made an effort at it since I’ve been concentrating on writing prose, I have always wanted to create my own comics. Unfortunately, I’ve been hamstrung by one very unfortunate fact:

I can’t draw.

Okay, that’s not the whole truth. I’ve done a fair amount of illustration in my time, and I can do passable, posed versions of my D&D characters or superheroes. Passable, but not great. And I never bothered to learn how to draw anything else. This is a bit of a problem. Regardless of whether you’re telling your story in our world, or one of your own creation, it needs to be populated by more than people posed heroically (and stiffly) on an otherwise blank page.

Which brings me to something I forgot to mention in my C4 Lit Fest Roundup. I promised GMB Chomichuk (author of Aurora Award nominated Imagination Manifesto and Raygun Gothic graphic novels) that I would “Join the fight, make comics!” after attending his “Words to Page” workshop about turning your novel into a comic book. It’s his workshop, so I won’t go into too much detail, other than to say that it was awesome. He’s a great teacher and really knows how to engage with his audience and students.

What I will reveal about the workshop is his Step #1 for turning your novel into a comic:

Don’t Do It.

That was kind of a relief, actually. It followed my instinct that comic book adaptations of novels tend to, and I’m being generous here (and also not naming names), suck. I’ve been told by more than a few people that there are comic book elements to Thunder Road, and that it would make a great graphic novel. I take this as a compliment. I’ve read so many superhero comics that it is completely unsurprising that it has bled into my fiction. But I don’t think I would be the right person to turn my book into a comic. I like it as a book. It was designed to be a book. But mostly because comics are collaborative, and Thunder Road is mine.

Not to say that I wouldn’t be open to telling new stories in that world with characters that were co-created with an artist, but what I really want is to tell a story that needs to be a comic, whether it’s set in the Thunder Road ‘verse or not. I have tons of stories that I want to tell someday (there is always that nebulous someday). I just need to find the right story and the right artist (and to learn how to actually script a comic).

I know how important that pairing of writer and artist can be. While I will read books just for the art, or just for the writing, there is something magical in just the right mixture of art and words that makes comics so perfect for telling stories. Pairings like Matt Fraction and David Aja on HawkeyeBrian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples on Saga, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener on Atomic RoboEd Brubaker and Sean Phillips on Fatale (and stretching back a great ways, to my formative years, Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s epic run on Uncanny X-Men) are current standouts for me. After reading the preview pages, I’m also anxiously awaiting the September release of Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe Meg Dejmal, and John “Roc” Upchurch.

Lately, I’ve cut down my comic pull list to just those sorts of books, the ones that speak to me on both levels. It means I have had to bail from a lot of my Marvel and DC books, as long, character defining runs seem to no longer exist in the corporate comic book world. The usual best case scenario is getting one trade paperback collection of a pairing you really like these days. I think that by sticking only with the books that I love, I’ll find the comic story that I would love to tell.

I’ll be attending C4 Comic Con this year, hanging out in Artist’s Alley selling my books (Tombstone Blues will be out by then, yay!), but I’m also hoping to meet some fine folks and talk comics, and hopefully, talk about making comics. See you there.

Write on!