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Seven Suns: An Unlimited Special Effects Budget

Published July 31, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

It’s summer blockbuster movie season, and we’re ready for the biggest movies of the year. Gigantic budgets, incredible special effects, 3D IMAX, fantastic colors, amazing images, explosions, monsters, super heroes. The studios promise to show you things that you’ve never seen before.

But, I have. In my imagination, as I develop my stories and write my novels. I’ve seen things that no filmmaker could ever put on screen. With words, you see, I’ve got an unlimited special effects budget.

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Years ago, when I was writing my first X-files novels, I asked Chris Carter, the show’s creator, what kind of story he was looking for. Chris said, “Write something so big that I could never afford to do it as an episode. You’re not constrained by set limitations, location shots, or effects budgets. Take advantage of that.”

So, I did. And I’ve always remembered that advice. I like thinking big, telling stories that are constrained only by my imagination and nothing else.

I’ve written epic Star Wars novels, Dune novels with Brian Herbert, as well as our big and complex Hellhole trilogy, and my Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy about sailing ships and sea monsters. But my greatest creation of all, I think, is my Seven Suns universe, originally published as a seven novel series, and now I’m embarking on a brand new standalone trilogy, The Saga of Shadows.

It’s the biggest canvas I’ve ever written on, the grandest story, the most complicated cast of characters, and a labyrinth of interconnected plots. I can feel James Cameron quaking in his boots.

You want alien planets? You got ‘em–a whole Spiral Arm full of them. Lava planets, ice planets, stormy gas giants, ocean stations, alien capitals, a jungle planet with gigantic interconnected sentient trees (hmm, maybe James Cameron is trembling after all), ancient abandoned cities on desert worlds.

There’s a race of intelligent and murderous insects, as well as killer black robots. An empire of benevolent aliens who look mostly human on the outside, but have tremendous differences. A dimensional transportation network, telepathic priests who can commune with trees, outlaw space gypsies. And monsters. Did I mention monsters?

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Each new idea in the Seven Suns universe led to a character or a storyline that would allow me to feature the concept, because when I developed such fantastic images, I had to use them somehow. The first volume of my new trilogy, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS, is a 672-page tome, and I crammed everything I could into it, but had plenty to spare for the remaining two volumes.

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An energy-harvesting industrial station in the center of a blazing nebula, a huge derelict space city filled with the bodies of an extinct alien race, a hollowed-out comet that serves as a school. And of course there are incredible creatures: destructive elemental beings composed of pure fire, a race that lives in diamond-hulled chambers at the cores of gas-giant planets, a huge dragon insect that preys on a quiet fishing village—and the terrifying Shana Rei, the creatures of darkness, that are entropy incarnate with a desperate quest to unravel the universe itself.

Yeah, all that would probably be too cost-prohibitive to film.

I had so many colors and images in my mind as I came up with one idea after another, building upon concepts that I developed for previous scenes. I did my best to visualize them, but I’m no artist.

Before writing the original Saga of Seven Suns, I hired one of my comic artists, Igor Kordey, to help me put it down on paper. I gave him the outline for the series, my write-ups of the history, the characters, and the cultures . . . and I turned him loose. Igor did close to fifty sketches, developing the architecture and clothing of the Ildiran Empire, and the magnificent crystalline Prism Palace, where the Mage-Imperator ruled. He sketched out the types of organic buildings that Therons would construct in their gigantic worldtrees.

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And he did more than sketches. Igor presented me with three complete paintings: a gypsy Roamer standing on the deck of a skymine looking down at the stormy clouds of the gas giant his factory was harvesting. Another painting shows a desert world with the empty ruins of a Klikiss city and the insidious beetle-like robots they constructed. And a third painting shows the bizarre and exotic hydrogue city in the high-pressure depths of a gas giant.

I used those images as reference when I wrote my novels, and I built upon them, creating even larger landscapes. After all, I had an unlimited special effects budget and I intended to spend every penny.

THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS is one of my biggest, most ambitious novels ever. Writing it was immensely satisfying, and now it’s the reader’s turn to interpret those words, enjoy the story in their own minds on the screen of their own imagination—because as a reader, you have an unlimited effects budget too.

And, yes, Book 2, BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, is written and I am editing it now for release next summer.

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Teaser Tuesday: HELLHOLE INFERNO

Published July 29, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

On August 12, Tor Books will release HELLHOLE INFERNO, the grand finale of my science fiction epic trilogy with Brian Herbert.  To whet your appetite, here’s a sneak preview.

The planet HELLHOLE, devastated by an ancient asteroid impact, is inhabited by only the hardiest and most desperate colonists.  It is one of 54 remote frontier worlds forced to pay tribute to the corrupt Constellation, which is ruled by decadent nobles.  An exiled rebel general, Tiber Adolphus, was tough enough to keep his colony alive on Hellhole, and he has now mounted a second rebellion against the Constellation, much larger than his earlier failed attempt.

This time Adolphus aligns himself with the Xayans, a resurrected alien race from Hellhole, thought to have been destroyed in the long-ago asteroid impact.  As the ancient civilization awakens, the Xayans encourage converts from among the colonists to immerse themselves in strange “slickwater” pools and acquire ancient alien memories. Their goal is to gather sufficient numbers to achieve ala’ru, an accelerated evolution that will transform them into godlike beings.

General Adolphus rallies his fellow rebels from across the vast Deep Zone to fight for their independence, while the ruthless leader of the Constellation, Diadem Michella, vows to eradicate the rebellion and all colonists on Hellhole.  The Xayans add their “telemancy” defenses to the General’s conventional military resources, until they reveal an enemy far more terrifying than the Army of the Constellation: a faction of rogue Xayans bent on the extermination of their race . . . and the destruction of any planet that happens to be in the way. The rogue Xayans have already turned worlds into rubble, and now they have set their sights on the original homeworld.

As a barrage of deadly asteroids hurtles toward Hellhole, and the Constellation’s gigantic space fleet arrives for a final engagement against General Adolphus, the hardy settlers are caught between a human enemy that wants to raze their colony to the ground and much more powerful aliens who can destroy not only themselves, but human civilization, as well as the foundations of the universe itself.

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Three Constellation warships descended through a sky spider-webbed with vapor trails.  Pilots guided the bristling vessels to the staging field at the Aeroc military complex, where they joined the numerous other warships already landed in formation.  By now, Commodore Percival Hallholme had lost count of the new arrivals, each one with new armor and reinforced shielding, loaded with all the armaments the Diadem’s government could muster.

As he assessed the massive preparations, Percival nodded to himself and muttered, “Putting everything on the line this time.”

After stinging defeats at the hands of rebellious Deep Zone planets, led by his nemesis General Tiber Adolphus, the Constellation was expanding the war.  No hesitation, no reservations, no mercy.

And not much of a plan, Percival thought, but he didn’t express such reservations out loud.  It would not be appropriate for the ostensible commander of the operation.

This influx of additional warships—all of them rounded up by Lord Selik Riomini—increased the confidence among the Diadem’s fighters, although Percival knew that the sheer quantity of ships would not guarantee a victory.  He had faced General Adolphus before, numerous times, and in their last encounter at Hallholme—a planet named after the Commodore and not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Hellhole” by the colonists—Percival had suffered an embarrassing defeat, forced to retreat.

Now it was time for a rematch.

The Aeroc military yards were bustling.  The upbeat victory tempo of “Strike Fast, Strike Hard!” rang out from widely distributed loudspeakers.  The Commodore watched attack ships loaded with fresh, untrained recruits who had rushed to sign up after Diadem Michella saturated them with propaganda and fear. She painted Adolphus as a monster and a threat to human civilization itself, and worse, the rebel General had allied himself with a mysterious alien race that could possess innocent victims, filling their minds with bizarre memory-lives.

The crisis was enough to inflame the population—at least those who believed the Diadem’s words and concurred with her fears.  Many people were not so easily swayed.  And Percival knew full well that the old woman’s portrayal was not precisely accurate. Nevertheless, he was bound by his duty.

As he crossed the parade ground to the towering military headquarters building, he wore a crisp new uniform from the Army of the Constellation.  It was more modern and stylish than the old uniform he’d worn during the General’s first, failed rebellion fifteen years ago—back when Commodore Hallholme had made his name as a hero.  In historical images from those old battles, Percival had looked younger, fresher, bright-eyed, optimistic . . . and gullible.

Although he still sported the same distinctive muttonchop sideburns and steel-gray hair, he looked older and thinner now, carrying the weight of years and regrets.  His degenerative limp was much more pronounced.  He had retired at the end of the last rebellion and intended to stay out of the limelight, wanting nothing more than to tend his grapevines, play with his grandsons, and let his son Escobar be the next renowned military hero.

But as the new rebellion went sour, Percival had been dragged out of retirement and pressed back into service at the Diadem’s command. His fresh uniform was adorned with colorful, even gaudy, medals—some of them earned, some merely for show.

Forcing himself not to show weakness or hesitation despite his chronic limp, he strode at a brisk pace that exuded authority.  With briefing documents tucked under one arm, he walked past fountains and military memorials, obelisks engraved with thousands of names of the fallen, but his thoughts were preoccupied. Diadem Michella and Lord Riomini had requested a special briefing, and Percival knew he would have to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Five sleek fighters streaked across Aeroc’s sky, performing aerial maneuvers, which impressed those who were impressed by that sort of thing.  A man like Commodore Hallholme knew that combat would require more than tricks this time.

He mounted the marble steps of the pillared headquarters building and glanced at the engraved quotes from past heroic commanders.  One of his own pithy sayings was included somewhere, but he had never bothered to find it.  Pennants of noble families hung outside the arched entrance, arranged according to their financial sacrifice.  Inside the hall, red banners carried the names of lesser families who had lost sons and daughters during the bloody battles of the General’s first rebellion.

Percival lifted his chin and made his way down the oddly empty hall to the giant simulation chamber.  With a glance at his chronometer, Commodore Hallholme saw that he was precisely on time, and he entered.

The curved ceiling of the simulation chamber was embedded with high-res holographic projectors.  During wartime the chamber had been used for combat scenarios and tactical planning, but in the decade of calm after Adolphus’s exile to Hellhole, it was primarily used for wealthy noble officers to experience immersive simulations of the Battle of Sonjeera or other famous engagements—particularly the ones in which Commodore Hallholme had defeated the rebel General.  That way the participants could imagine being heroes themselves.

The Diadem and the Black Lord sat in VIP participation chairs in the prime viewing area.  They did not rise as Percival presented himself to them.

Diadem Michella Duchenet was so ancient that she might have been a poorly preserved museum piece.  Thin and wrinkled, she was not frail, but intimidating in her old age, with bird-bright eyes and quick movements.  Defying her own mortality, Michella remained lean and healthy, kept herself fanatically fit, as if she intended to rule for yet another century.  Over her long reign, the old woman had survived many battles, and Percival knew not to underestimate her.  Generally, Michella liked to present a sweet, maternal demeanor, convinced that her people loved and adored her, but she was as comforting as a bed of glass shards.

Beside her, Lord Riomini sat dressed entirely in black, as usual.  Two decades younger than Michella, the Black Lord’s body was soft, his eyes hard.  Though he was primarily a politician and businessman, he was not afraid of command and had seen battle first-hand.  But unlike a commander who simply had a war to win, Riomini had something to prove: he wanted to be the next Diadem.

Percival held out his briefing papers. “I have the report you requested, Eminence.”

Upon his return to Sonjeera in defeat, the Commodore had offered his resignation, but Diadem Michella refused to accept it.  Since then, he felt as if he were more of a military trophy than a useful participant.

Instead of taking the report, Michella lifted a hand that was overburdened with jeweled rings.  “We are not here to discuss inventory, Commodore, but to talk about your upcoming conquest of the Deep Zone.  Fifty-four valuable worlds have broken away from the Constellation. We need them back.”

Riomini added, “The lost wealth is incalculable.  The political embarrassment is even more devastating.”

Arguments and replies boiled up within him, but Percival held himself silent.  Better to say nothing than to point out that this current clash was an unnecessary crisis of the Diadem’s own making.

“Present your overview, Commodore.”  Riomini operated controls linked to his seat, and the vault filled with stars, showing the settled systems of the Constellation, the twenty central Crown Jewel planets and the fifty-four outlying Deep Zone worlds.

Percival nudged the controls of the galactic model himself, calling up a standard template.  Bright blue lines radiated outward from the center of the star map to each one of those worlds.  Twenty established lines connected the Crown Jewels, and an additional fifty-four extended into the less-populated Deep Zone, connecting the dots.  “With Sonjeera as the hub for all stringline travel, Eminence, you control all of the stringline paths, and thus all commerce throughout the original Crown Jewels as well as the new DZ worlds.”

Another nudge of the controls, and a secondary webwork of red lines radiated from one of the distant unobtrusive points—planet Hellhole—in a network that linked every one of the Deep Zone planets.  He was sure Michella understood the credible threat that Adolphus could wield—had wielded.

“The General’s independent stringline network gives him a strategic advantage that we cannot overcome.  Now that he has secretly laid down those alternate iperion paths, the DZ no longer needs the Constellation.  And because his rebels are fanatically independent, they are willing to sever every one of the old lines binding them to Sonjeera if they feel threatened.  We know the General will do it, cutting the entire Deep Zone loose from the Constellation.  He’s already cut his own direct stringline to Hellhole.”

That was how Adolphus had stranded the first Constellation retaliatory fleet—commanded by Percival’s son Escobar. The General had left the fleet adrift in empty space, and then he had seized all those ships, taking thousands of soldiers prisoner—including Escobar.  “It’s an ancient tactic, an army blowing bridges to deny the enemy access across vital rivers or canyons.  For General Adolphus, those canyons are many light-years wide.  If we attack him directly, he will do it without hesitation, and then we’ll never be able to get him.”

Both Riomini and the Diadem listened, but they appeared bored.  “That is old news, Commodore,” the Black Lord said with a quirk of a smug smile.  “You’re not aware of what has changed.  That is why we summoned you.”

Michella couldn’t contain her excitement.  “We have a route into the Deep Zone—one the General will not suspect.”

Riomini reached out to touch the hovering image of an insignificant Deep Zone speck at the edge of the frontier network.  It glowed when he selected it.  “This is how you will achieve victory. Tehila.”

Percival was familiar with the names of all Deep Zone worlds, but this one meant nothing to him.

Michella explained.  “When the General declared independence for all the frontier worlds, by fiat, he did so without the knowledge, cooperation—or desire—of many Deep Zone worlds.  When he embroiled them in this unnecessary war, not every planet was pleased to be part of it.  In fact, most of them were shocked.”

Riomini’s mouth twisted in a cruel grin.  “Theser was certainly shocked when I demonstrated the consequences of their unwise choice.”  The Black Lord had led a punitive assault that turned Theser into a smoldering, uninhabited rock.

Percival still didn’t understand.  “How does Tehila factor into this? What is its significance?”

The Diadem said, “Tehila’s planetary administrator Karlo Reming never had any desire to leave the Constellation, and now he wishes to come back into our protective embrace.  He and his people want our forgiveness.”

Percival raised his eyebrows,unconvinced.  “All of his people want that?”

“Enough of them,” said Riomini.  “Administrator Reming is about to stage a purge to get rid of any Adolphus loyalists.  Then he will seize and secure the stringlines, both the path to Sonjeera as well as their connection into the Deep Zone network.  Through him, we will have a back door right to the General’s doorstep.” 

Michella’s papery lips formed a terse smile.  “The way will be wide open for you, Commodore.  Your fleet is almost ready.  Take those ships to Tehila, secure the planet and establish a beachhead from which to swoop down on the General.  Crush planet Hallholme just like the asteroid that struck centuries ago.”

Upon hearing the new option, Percival felt an unfamiliar hope.  “That will give me a chance to rescue my son, along with the other prisoners the General is holding.”  He suddenly remembered.  “And your daughter too, Eminence.  I will do everything in my power to see that Keana is returned safely to you.”

Michella gave an unconcerned wave.  “Defeating General Adolphus and restoring order throughout the Deep Zone is your primary goal, Commodore.  Naturally, I love my daughter, but she is an adult and she went to that awful planet of her own free will.  Now she’s been possessed by one of those hideous aliens.”  The old woman shuddered visibly.  “I doubt there is a cure for it, so I have to consider her already lost.  They are casualties of war—my daughter, your son.  A price we have to pay.”

Riomini spoke up, as if wanting to make certain he was included. He shook his head.   “And my poor grandniece with her two boys, left fatherless when we lost Escobar.”

“Escobar is still alive,” Percival said pointedly, “as far as I know.”

“Yes, let us hope he is,” Michella added without any apparent sincerity.  “For now, begin planning your military operation.  Move your ships from Aeroc and stage them at the Sonjeera hub.  Be ready to move as soon as Administrator Reming has taken over Tehila and opened the door for us.”

HELLHOLE INFERNO will be released in eBook formats and hardcover on August 12. You can preorder your copy now!  Also, as a special, Tor Books is offering the Kindle version of the first book in the trilogy, HELLHOLE for only $2.99 right now.

HELLHOLE US cover

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The Devil’s Causeway

Published July 29, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

Truly Epic may be overused, but at least that’s what it felt like to me. Last week I made a trip with brother-in-law Tim to northern Colorado where we stayed in the ski and spa town of Steamboat Springs. I love Steamboat and have been there many times, but this was Tim’s first visit. We planned to do a legendary 20-mile loop hike out in the Flattops Wilderness, circumnavigating and ascending a huge mesa and then crossing a unique and nail-biting geological feature called the Devil’s Causeway.  (With all our hikes, considering all the landmarks named after the Devil, he sure must like to claim real estate.)

On the drive to Steamboat, Tim and I stopped along the way to hike out to a noted landmark at Rabbit Ears Pass, the twin volcanic towers of Rabbit Ears Peak.  I started writing a new project on the walk and got two chapters done.

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After we got to Steamboat, we checked into the hotel, unpacked the car…but there was still time for me to show Tim some of the things he had been missing in town. We went to see the natural sulfur springs in the downtown park, and then headed out to spectacular Fish Creek Falls.

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Done with hiking and exploring, we stopped at a brand new brewery that had opened up in town, the Storm King Brewery, where Tim played designated driver so I could sample their IPAs. We asked for the best pizza place in town, and were directed to a lovely place just at the end of their 2-for-1 pizza happy hour. We sat outside as our pizza was delivered—then huddled under the umbrellas as a deluge of late-afternoon rain dumped on us.  Since we were off to do 2o miles the following day, we wanted the weather to get the rain out of its system.

Next morning, we set the alarm for 5 AM, got up, donned hiking clothes, filled Camelbaks with water, loaded lunches and Red Bulls into the backpacks, and set off for the Flattops Wilderness. An hour drive away from Steamboat Springs, we got to the trailhead…and ready to start our big hike. The guidebook calls this a “three-day backpack” so naturally we planned to do it in a day!  We had our maps, and I had my recorder and notes. We set off on the trail at 7 AM.

It was a 15 hour hike, very strenuous. Apart from the first mile, we saw absolutely no people except for one camper at the halfway point.

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Wildflowers, waterfalls, (mosquitoes), and after we walked 10 miles along the great wall of that huge mesa above, we climbed up the side and walked 10 miles back along the top plateau, 12,000 feet, mostly grassy, exposed, with almost no trail, just a cairn every half mile or so…plus a couple of insidious “wrong” cairns marking cowboy camps that had nothing to do with the trail, so we were sidetracked several times.  Tim caught a great shot of me while I was walking in front of him dictating.

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The Devil’s Causeway itself was in the last couple of miles of the 20-mile hike, and some of the sidetracks had cost us a lot of hours, so we were hurrying along (and dead tired) as we rushed to get there before sunset. The Causeway is a tiny isthmus connecting two mesas, a rock bridge only about 4-ft wide, with a sheer 500-ft drop on either side.  Quite unnerving for anyone with a fear of heights, and even after all I’ve done I still felt a bit of a fluttery feeling as I worked my way across it in the last light of day.  We got to the Causeway with literally only 3-4 minutes of light left before the sun dipped below the mountains on the horizon. We scrambled to take pics, and you can notice the dramatic diffrerence in light from when i crossed (first) and when Tim crossed right behind me.

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But, in one of those “angels singing from the sky moments” I saw that all our trudging, our missteps, our rest breaks, and finally hurrying to get there in the last light of day, had left me in a position for absolutely perfect once-in-a-lifetime timing.  While I was in the middle of the Causeway, balanced on only a few feet of rock, I turned to the west and saw the sun dip just behind one of the peaks we had climbed a few hours earlier.  It was breathtaking.

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But even then, at sunset, we still had another two hours to go before we reached the car. As night fell, we took out our flashlights and kept going (carefully, over the rocky trail) making as much noise as possible so as to discourage any non-human nocturnal hikers.  We finally got to the car at 10 PM, finally got cell signal (Rebecca was very concerned not having heard from us), and drove back to Steamboat Springs, an hour of winding country roads in the dark.

We were tired, sweaty and hungry, and when we got back to Steamboat Springs, alas, ALL of the restaurants were closed for the night, even the Wendy’s drive-thru.  Well, we had some pretzels and lunchmeat—and a growler of beer—back in the hotel room, so we made do and ended the exhausting and spectacular day on a high note.  Truly epic.

 

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Early Bird Prices extended for Superstars Writing Seminar 2015

Published July 26, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

Blame it on me being swamped with finishing up the first draft of BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, but I never got around to giving everybody fair warning that the early bird prices for the 2015 Superstars Writing Seminar were increasing on July 15.  Since I didn’t give all of you fair warning, we’ve decided to extend the price break until the end of the month.

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Until July 31,  admission for new members is $849, students $699 and alumni $599.  Prices go up after the end of the month. Signup at the main Superstars Writing Seminar site.

This is the sixth year of  Superstars, widely recognized as the premiere career-building and business-of-writing seminar in the field. Taught by Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, David Farland, James Artimus Owen, and Eric Flint, the curriculum covers copyrights, intellectual property, contracts, promotion, indie publishing, networking, and many other topics to help serious writers boost their careers.

This year, we also have a terrific array of guest speakers, including legendary bestselling indie author and commentator Hugh Howey, Toni Weisskopf the publisher of Baen Books, bestselling authors Todd McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye, Christine Munroe from Kobo Writing Life, and a representative from Wattpad.

Superstars is held at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO, February 5-7, 2015. Sign up at http://www.superstarswriting.com

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