Tag Archives: humor

Deconstructing the Sci-Fi Novel, Part 1 – The Biggest Bounty

BRIAN SAYS:

Have you read The Biggest Bounty yet? If you would like to, you can grab a copy via this link here and then the rest of the blog entry will make sense. Now that you’ve read it I’m sure you noticed that it’s a swashbuckling science fiction with action, adventure, intrigue, milk, and a little bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. This is book 1 of the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga where the two protagonists had just recently met and started working together. Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning and follow these two throughout their careers. As such, there were two things he and I wanted to touch upon with this book.

One thing that always makes me roll my eyes is the “I know a guy” story-telling device. This plot device transcends genre, and can be found in television, movies, books, plays, comic books, and haiku. The protagonist has a minor mystery that needs to be solved to help further him or her along with the larger mystery. This minor mystery is solved by going to a character never mentioned before and then never mentioned again. I think what aggravates me the most about this device is how these characters know each other. Let’s say Character Protagonist has an item that he knows nothing about, so he takes it to I-Know-A-Guy for information about it. This kind of implies that two characters have different backgrounds, because if they had similar backgrounds then Character Protagonist would have a pretty good idea of what the item in question is. That also implies that I-Know-A-Guy has a different background than everyone in the supporting cast around Character Protagonist, or else one of the supporting characters would know what the item is. The story has now introduced another mystery of how Character Protagonist knows I-Know-A-Guy, a character with a completely different background than Character Protagonist and the supporting characters. They obviously have a past together, but something must have happened or else I-Know-A-Guy would be a member of the supporting cast. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to know that story far more than the story that has been presented to me. With the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga, Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning with Zeus and Fiore so we can tell the stories of how they met these helpful I-Know-A-Guys when they meet them later on as well as follow our protagonists through a much bigger story.

Over explaining. I just finished reading a techno-thriller about a virus capable of rewriting the genetic code of men. The author spent waaaaay too long explaining how viruses work, how those who study viruses work with them, and how his theories could work in the real world. It was so much information. I was born right around the Age of Aquarius and spent all of my teen years in the 80s with a remote control in my hand and a love of microwaves – instant gratification isn’t fast enough. I appreciated that the author had clearly done his homework, but with so many info dumps, I found it very easy to put the book down. I’m not saying that I would have been satisfied with a technowizard waving a magic keyboard and saying, “Because science,” as the only form of explanation, but I thought that over explaining was detrimental to the overall work. For The Biggest Bounty, Chris and I used technologies that we’ve all seen plenty of times before so we didn’t have to explain anything, let alone over explain. None of our technologies are new. We have laser guns and cybernetic body parts and handheld computers and jump-ports and flying cars. We know that science is an integral part of science-fiction, but we just didn’t want it to get in the way of the story.

CHRIS SAYS:

So, have we established that you have read The Biggest Bounty yet? The book was something of a departure from the comfortable feel of writing fantasy or horror for us. Clearly, this is not hard science fiction (quite on purpose). There’s often a clunkiness involved with starting a new project. It sets in somewhere between the half-conceived plot of the story and the outlining of the chapters. Brian and I were both nervous about the project, but decided that we wanted to push ourselves. Ultimately, we opted to add some swashbuckling to our science fiction, some humor to our seriousness, and some current world issues to our off-world adventure. And we can state our reasons in one word: familiarity.

We decided to add in elements with which we were familiar. Sure, it resulted in a hybrid genre of sorts, but our goal was to come up with something entertaining, not something that adhered to the rules … except that we both know one big detraction from a science fiction story, whether it’s hard science fiction or not – the writer may not know the science involved in a daring getaway or how to apply the Pythogorean Theorem to an alien spaceship for the purpose of maximum propulsion, but there’s always at least one reader who does! Moreover, there’s always at least one reader who knows the scientific failure and is more than willing to share it with thousands (ok! Since you are that reader with a mathematically gifted background, then read that word as “dozens”) of other readers. That is the imaginary line that neither Brian, nor I, wanted to cross. We both knew that no matter where this adventure took place and no matter where our characters roamed, it wasn’t going to happen because of our poorly constructed theory or space travel or time continuums or anything else of that nature. Simple. Straight forward. Easy does it. Like flipping a page. Until you get to The End…

 

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Deconstructing the Anthology, Part 1 – TV Gods

BRIAN SAYS:

“Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked.

Chris exhaled, slowly trying to blow doubt and insecurity out of his body. His eyes shimmered with the start of tears. “I think so?”

“Oh… oh, God… no…,” Christine muttered, realization crawling up her spine like ants.

“What are we talking about?” Jeff asked.

“Jeff, run. Run, run now, run fast, Jeff, just run,” Christine whispered.

Knowing Christine well enough, Jeff heeded her warning without question. He jumped from the couch, knocking the tray table over, and stepped on the cat’s tail as he sprinted for the door. Fingertips fractions of an inch from the doorknob, Chris and I thwarted his escape by yelling in unison, “We’re going to publish an anthology and you’re going to be the editor!!”

Jeff fell to the floor and writhed, screaming, “It burns! IT BURNS!”

“Are we sure we’re ready for this next step?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve published one anthology already, as well as three story collections, and dozens of magazines,” Chris answered. “It’s the next logical step.”

“IT BURNS!! BURNING BURNS!”

“So, what’s the anthology going to be?” Christine asked.

“IT STILL BURNS! IT BURRRRRRRNS!”

I shrugged my shoulders. “How about we call it ‘TV Gods’? We’ll ask the writers to take their favorite TV shows and their favorite mythologies and mash them together.”

“BURNING ME! IT BURRRRRR… wait… that’s not a bad idea,” Jeff replied as he sat up and grabbed his mead, the aloe rub for his soul. “I think I even have a story idea already.”

Thus, TV Gods was born. The reality of how it came to be was not all that far off from the above anecdote. As we had mentioned in previous blogs, the “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” series was an experiment. We wanted to see what it took to publish a book; a full, perfect bound, trade paperback sized book with stories and illustrations. And we did it. It was not without its pains, but we did it and it was fairly successful. People we didn’t know purchased it and liked it. It ended up on the shelves of a few book stores. Everyone involved was very proud of the finished product. So, after about ten years of being a publishing company, we decided to take a more hands-on approach to publishing an anthology where there would be more writers involved than just Chris and me. And through divine intervention, we procured a wonderful editor almost immediately. We were all but finished! Okay, maybe it wasn’t that easy….

 

CHRIS SAYS:

Fortress Publishing Inc. events are pretty simple, by and large. For instance, one of us states that a day off work is approaching and asks if there is interest in going to the lunch buffet until we are asked to leave. All hands raise in lieu of a more formal RSVP and we’re done. That’s how stories get done. But an anthology? Well suddenly it goes from “Dude, are you free on Friday?” to “Contact fifteen to twenty of your closest work associates.” Now it’s more like a daunting task. Where to begin?

Fortunately, Brian and I are quasi-likeable guys. More fortunately, we’ve been invited to participate in anthologies as contributors. First step: pull out copies of those anthologies. We learned a great deal by looking through those books, from formatting to layout to estimated page counts.

We had so much fun working with Danielle McPhail and her editorial team on the “Bad Ass Faeries” anthologies. Flipping through the pages of the actual book was a bit of a trip down memory lane for us. Brian and I have our own series of editorial steps that we use when we are working on a story, but we were able to add our experience of having gone through the editorial process that they used for “Bad Ass Faeries.” Big bonus.

More recently, Brian and I had also been in the anthology, Coven, edited by Andi O’Connor.  Again, it was a completely different process, including a virtual chat room that was set up for the day of the book release. Contributors could check into the “room” and answer questions posed by potential readers. We had a great deal of fun with that as well.

Now where to find contributors. Well, we had a good beginning spot by looking through the table of contents for “Bad Ass Faeries” and Coven as well as other anthologies that we’ve been in. But, over the years, Brian and I have done a fair number of public appearances and conventions. If we could bide our time, we reasoned, we’d be seeing some likely candidates and decided that we could corner a few of the less intimidating ones in the hallways or at a convention table. There was also our most valuable resource: the bar! Brian and I have been known to hang out there for extended periods of time in order to change a non-committal answer into “Yes, if it will make you leave!”

But what to do with the more intimidating folks? Hmmmm. We went to our usual thinking place. We did our usual thinking tasks. We ate pizza rolls by the box. We drank beer by the pitcher. And then it came to us like a power surge on an otherwise dreary day: Jeff! We’d get Jeff to do it!!

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The Journey: Struggle

In our previous installment of The Journey, we learned about different business types. We also learned that the world loves it when Brian gets laryngitis. Let’s see what else we can learn when it finally comes time to form the business….

The Journey
“Struggle”

With most endeavors in life, there are two ways you can do things – either the cheap and difficult way or the expensive and easy way. Walking to work is very very cheap, but probably not the easiest thing to do. Driving to work will save your sanity, but cost your wallet dearly. Starting a corporation is no different. Since both Chris and I are college graduates and my alter ego is an accountant (my superhero identity, of course, being “Sasquatch: Devourer of Mass Quantities of Food!”), we thought we could take the cheaper way to start a corporation. We’re no strangers to research and/or a little hard work, and I don’t seem to have the same phobia as most of society toward paper work (another super power, perhaps?), so we decided to roll up our sleeves, show some American spirit, and do it ourselves! Well, it was a good idea at least.

The biggest problem we faced was where to begin. We were ready to fill out any and every form we could find. But which ones? And in what order? Of course, federal forms and state forms are different animals. That are untamable. With sharp, pointy teeth. We went to our state’s website, but that only helped to a certain extent. It listed all kinds of forms, but it told us neither the specific forms we needed nor the proper order in which to file them with the state. And the federal government? Fahgedaboudit!

We did manage to figure out how to file for a fictitious name, though. Filled out the form, wrote out the check and off it went. The interesting thing about that was our lawyer later told us that the procedure wasn’t in place to protect us, but it instead protected the public FROM us, letting the good citizens know that we would be operating business under the name Fortress Publishing, Inc. A piece of paper and a small ad in the local newspaper were supposed to protect the public from Chris and me? The comedy just writes itself: Two bald men went on a rampage in south, central Pennsylvania, drinking all the beer and eating all the hot wings the region had, but before all hope was lost, they were thwarted by… an official government document!

As you can probably surmise by now, Chris and I caved in and took the easy, but expensive, way out. We hired a lawyer to create, and file with the state and federal governments, the Articles of Incorporation, the agenda for the initial Board of Directors meeting, and corporate by-laws. We then had an accountant friend of ours help us get our tax ID number, sales tax numbers, and “S” Corporation status elections, for both state and fed. It was certainly a lot of paperwork considering we live in a paperless society. However, we did find solace in knowing that we had experts involved. Certainly, we would have overlooked a form or two or filed them in improper order, undoubtedly creating a scenario very similar to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”

In the meantime, our third partner decided not to participate in the corporation. Of course, his money wasn’t going to participate in the corporation either. The true beauty of the situation was he decided to tell us AFTER we put his name on the Articles of Incorporation, elected him to the Board of Directors, and made him an Officer. So, for our first official Board of Directors meeting, we had to un-elect him from all of the above. Remember, as a corporation there are certain rules you need to follow, including the occasional Board of Directors meeting with legible minutes, election of officers, issuing stock, yadda yadda yadda. However, we hold all our business meetings at the local Hooters, so they aren’t quite as boring as they may sound. Before you ask – yes, the local Hooters is very conducive to conducting official business. We may now be CEOs and Presidents and all kinds of official sounding titles, but we’re still writers at heart and we find the environment very emotionally stirring.

One of the more exciting (and I use that term very loosely) things about becoming a corporation is the “corporate kit.” Chris and I are men, so when we heard the word “kit” we immediately translated it to “cool toy.” Tools come in kits. When you buy a grill, it comes in a kit-like box – and there are very few toys cooler than a grill. So, we were pretty amped up when it came. It was basically a large notebook with a sheath. There was a section for minutes, record keeping and the corporation’s stock certificates were located in the kit as well. SWEET! There were only twenty certificates, so we decided to use only two (one for Chris, one for me) and not all twenty. There was one item that caused the clouds to part and a ray of light to shine from Heaven upon it – the corporate seal. It looks like any standard paper crimper that any Notary Public would have. But it was OUR corporate seal! We paid for this! There was a certain sense of pride we had discovered in following through with the creation of a corporation. We showed that pride by putting our mark on any piece of paper we could fit between the plates. Every scrap paper in my office, every one of my son’s pieces of artwork on the fridge, every receipt I could find. I was so maniacal with it the dogs ran and hid in any room I wasn’t.

Even though it was quite a struggle (that we eventually solved with our checkbook), starting our own corporation was kind of a rush. We get to honestly say we own our own publishing company. And no matter how hardcore “down with the institution” you are, you can’t help but have an extra swagger in your step knowing you are legitimately a President or VP of a corporation. So, now what…?

Next Issue: “Foundation.”

Post Script: This article was originally written well over a decade ago about events that occurred even farther back in time. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made significant strides in making information about starting a small business readily available, especially with their recent website, business.pa.gov.

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Deconstructing the Stories, Part 5

BRIAN SAYS:

A sequel. That’s what we needed, a sequel. Okay, I’m using the term “need” very liberally, but after we successfully put together The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness and The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness: Reflux Edition we decided to do a sequel. So, now what? Science fiction, of course! Thus, The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction was born. Obviously, we wanted to evolve, to do more with this book than just rehash the same jokes over and over again. One of the ways to do that was Jeff.

Even though each story in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness had an antagonist – more times than not, Chris and I acted as our own antagonists – we felt that there was something missing by not having a more specific, overarching bad guy. Jeff fit into that role perfectly! As editor, Jeff has to wear many hats, especially when dealing with Chris and me. Sometimes he needs to wear many hats as disguises to hide from Chris and me. After reviewing our antics from the first book and the extended edition, we realized that Jeff has PLENTY of motivation to want to kill us.

Having Jeff as a villain (at least to our characters), it created a sense of continuity with the stories, and it retroactively fit with The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness. Even the stories without Jeff now had the feel that he could have been behind the scenes influencing the events. Ultimately, this idea led to one of my favorite stories in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction — “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Mad Scientists.”

Throughout both books, and the extended edition, Chris and I crossed paths with more than a few mad scientists and (usually by no fault of our own) thwart their plans. In “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Mad Scientists” Jeff decides to act as the unifying factor, gathering the many disgruntled scientists to join forces for the singular purpose of destroying Chris and me. What makes this one of my favorite stories? Chris and I aren’t even in it. Yep, the influence of The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys is so great that we don’t even need to be in the story to affect its outcome. What about the goat, you may ask? Yep, he’s there, too!

 

CHRIS SAYS:

A sequel? Why in the name of anything that’s good, worthy, or even slightly wanted by anyone, would we do a sequel? I’m glad you asked! The most obvious answer is that we had so much fun with the first book. Throughout the writing process of the first book, our snickering and giggling about what we were doing was a contributing factor in waitresses asking us to leave more than one location of a well-known restaurant chain (but I digress…). More importantly, though, there were still things that we hadn’t tried and we were in agreement that we needed to try them.

In The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness we mostly stuck to tropes for a variety of reasons. Using a “type” of monster not only increased the chances of greater reader familiarity, but it allowed us to jump right into the story without needing much background for setup. Not to be vain, but we really did think these stories were about “us.” Since short fiction was one of the goals of the project, we saved word space through the trope technique.

In The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction, we wanted to break out of that mold a little bit. We considered for the first time some character re-occurrence, so it made sense to give them a slightly more specific background. As such, we created each story with the backdrop of a much more famous story in mind. This helped us with the organizational details of the stories and kept us directionally pointed towards a proper story “ending.”

It’s always difficult for me to pick a favorite from any of our collections. “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs The Center of the Earth” appeals to me because of the attempt to show the camaraderie that Brian and I share. Plus I just find the concept of fighting the center of the earth one that allows for a great deal of interpretation. “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs The Moon” is another story that really allows for a great range of writing freedom, conceptually, and it is based on one of my very favorite books of all time. Every story in this collection is a doppleganger of a much more famous piece of fiction. Take the challenge and see if you can guess them all!

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