Monday, February 27, 2012

Writer’s Workshop

I have mentioned the writer’s workshop in a couple of Blogs. What is it?

The workshop is a website for those who write Battletech stories. Most of the website is open to anyone who registers where people post their stories and just talk.

Inside that website, is a private area where those who are serious about writing for Battlecorps posts drafts, ask questions relating to stories, and discussing anything having to do with Battlecorps writing. THe process is to Email the website's owner (Prometheus Fire) and supply your Battlecorps ID number (the BC membership requirement is so that you know what stories are being done and what's going on.)

When anyone in the group posts a story, a few of us (Those who can take the time) download the story and read over it. We note grammar mistakes, and take apart the story, looking for problems or things that need work. We note them and repost the commented version of the story back on that thread. The author then takes that feedback and hopefully writes a better version of the story. This is repeated until there is a general agreement that the story is ready to go.

We are frank with out comments on each story, not out of malice, but because we want the best story that author can produce. Jason Schmitzer, the BattleCorps editor, needs good stories. What we do is try to give him those good stories, polished and good enough for him to buy. We try to eliminate formatting, grammar mistakes, gaping plot holes and continuity problems.

We have several published Battlecorps authors as part of the workshop, and many of the stories that are published through BattleCorps site come through the workshop. The Workshop is an important part of the BattleCorps writing process.


(Edit: and wouldn't you know just as I post this, I find out the website it down! *Sigh* I will let eveyone know when its back up!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

My writing process

Now that I’ve submitted two more stories for consideration by Battlecorps, I can take a couple of minutes tio write something about my actual writing process.

A story idea can start with a "What if?" question "What if someone had been the only survivor of a lance multiple times? (The Lance Killer) Sometimes it’s taking a faction I’ve not seen any stories on (The Outworld Alliance in Groundpounder). A couple have been written in responce to a call from Jason the editor for an anthology (Salvage and Family Ties) Wherever the story idea comes from, I note it down and it goes on a spreadsheet.

As I am writing this, I have nearly a dozen stories in different stages of being written. One story has only three hundred words written, while another has nearly thirteen thousand written. I may finish all of them one day, but whenever one is completed, another one is raised from another list and started.

Why so many at once? Because it keeps me fresh. I don’t get bogged down in one story. Sometimes, if its for an anthology, I will concentrate on a story until it is done, while another week might see me working on three or four different stories. That is why you may see a couple of stories from me close together, then several months past before you see another one or two from me.

As for the actual writing process, I am a discovery writer: I have a starting point, an idea of what’s going to happen, and where the story will end up. But I don’t plot every action, or character in detail. Sometimes, I don’t have a character’s name picked out beforehand.

I write a first draft, put it away for a few days and work on others stories, then come back to it. I go through, rewrite some, and then send it to the workshop, and go back to the other stories. When I have enough feedback from the workshop, I look at the comments they have made and decide what to do with the comments. I make changes to the grammar and rewrite when the I think the comments make sense. I then send the story back to the workshop and the process repeats.

After a couple or three passes through the workshop, it gets sent off to Jason and I go back to working on other stories. There is no end: it’s a continual progression, a cycle of writing, rewriting and submitting. I have three more stories I’ve recently submitted to Battlecorps, which I’m still waiting to hear back on. In the meanwhile, I write.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Two stories done!

They were submitted to Battlecorps yesterday. Hope they're accepted.....Now I have to finish up the firsty draft of the sourcebook fiction I'm doing, then taking a look at what I've written and see what can be done to make it the best it can be!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Story Fiction verus Sourcebook Fiction

As I am writing this, I have two more Battlecorps stories being looked over by the writer's workshop, so I have a few days to concentrate on some assigned sourcebook writing I am doing for an upcoming project.

My first sourcebook writing was a couple of entries in the TRO: Prototypes, and apparently I didn’t do too badly. I can’t go into any detail about what I’m writing about, but I will drone on about the challenge of writing sourcebook fiction.

Battletech has two types of fiction: Story and sourcebook. Story fiction is just that, stories set in the universe. Sourcebook fiction on the other hand, is fiction that’s written as if it is a document from that period of time. News articles, excepts from books, transcripts, all designed to give the reader that they’re reading history, not fiction. It’s adding color to the universe.

I find there are two sorts of sourcebook fiction that I call textbook (main text) and color (Sidebars).
Textbook is exactly what it sounds like: the fiction reads as if it’s from a textbook – who, what, where, why and how. It sketches out the big picture, Unit A&B attacked here, Units C&D retreated, Unit E panicked and popped a nuke over A city. Enough information to give the reader an understanding of what’s going on. Usually, the textbook is the main text of the product. It can be bias, but its normally subtle compared to the sidebars.

Color (Sidebar) are the small articles next to the main text that are usually short and done in a completely different style from the rest of the text. It can be something like a letter, part of a radio conversation, a news item, or an except from an article or book. The sidebar can be slanted to reflect the character writer’s viewpoint, or can show that maybe the main text isn’t quite right (Unit E didn’t panic and popped the nuke – they were ordered to by the senior CO) They supply ‘color’ to the product.

Most of what I’ve been assigned to write fits into the main text category, and it’s a challenge. It takes a different sort of mindset to write sourcebook fiction.

First, I have a set word limit for the section I’m doing. With story fiction, I can be over by three or hundred words over my target word count, as an extra page isn’t a big deal. However, I can’t do that with sourcebook fiction, as there is a set page limit for the product, and it cannot go over that page count. This is a multi-author product, and if each section is over its word count by one hundred words, less by a quarter of a page, the product will be more than half a dozen pages over its target, which means it becomes more expensive to produce. Make no mistake: these products are budgeted for so many pages and anything over that throws things out of whack and brings the Wrath of Herb down on those who caused the problem.

Second, inside the word limit, I have to include the important information that section is suppose to have. Its informational writing, even though the information is fictional. That means the style and tone is different from story fiction – third person, omnipresent if its from a textbook, more personal if it’s a sidebar.

Third, the level of detail is different. My fictional stories are centered around a small group of characters and is at "Grunt-eye" level. They’re pulling the triggers and getting killed. But sourcebook fiction is centered far above the grunt’s perspective. Instead of company-level, the action is described at RCT, war front-level action, along the lines of, "Unit X landed on Planet Mongo 23 September where they fought Unit ABC, pushing them off the planet by 5 October."

Fourth and last, I have a deadline. With Battlecorps stories, I can take six months to work on a story. Sourcebooks have a deadline, in this case, March. 11,000 - 12,000 words in several different sections. It's a challenge, one I want to take on. That means most of my efforts are geared toward working things out.

Once the product comes out, I'll point out what I wrote and why. But for now, I have to get back to work!!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ardath Frances Hurst Mayhar (1930 - 2012)

Battletech fans lost one of the early pioneers in Batteltech fiction. Ardath Mayhar, author of The Sword and the Dagger has passed away Febuary 1, 2012, at the age of 81.

She holds a special place in Battletech history as the author of the one of the first battletech novels, The Sword and the Dagger. This novel, along with the Star League sourcebook, are considered by some as Battletech's holy grail.

The Sword and the Dagger is important in that it lays the groundwork for the Fourth Sucessor War, introduces Hanse Davion and Ardan Sortek. It's not as polished as later novels, but this was the second Battletech novel published (Though it may have been the first one commisioned.) and may things Battletech fans take for granted hadn't been settled yet. But its still an important novel, for it contrants and its history. This is the first of what would become the "Spine" novels, where the major event, the backbone of battletech history are laid out.

In an essay she wrote for the Battlecorps site, she said she was given the novel to write after the two authors who had been assigned the novel, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, left when a better deal came up. Given a packet and the plot synopsis. She read the and realized she needed to change some things. So, she did. With help from Walter Keith (William Keith, maybe?) to write the fight scenes involving personal weapons (As the information package didn't have anything on those weapons), she wrote the story of Hanse Davion, his double, and Hanse's loyal friend, Ardan Sortek.

But to just talk about Mrs. Mayher's Battletech work would be an injustice. She was an author with over sixty novels to her name, under several different pen names in genres ranging from science fiction to horror to young adult to historical to westerns. Go to to see her output.
When she wasn't writing, she owned and operated The View from Orbit Bookstore in Nacogdoches with her husband Joe until his death in 1999, after which she sold the store.

I have The Sword and the Dagger, but I haven't read it in a while. I'll see if I can find an afternoon and change that.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Battlecorps Process

Some may wonder what the process is that a Battlecorps story takes to get published. I think its time to reveal how a story goes from idea to published.

Jason Schmetzer is the editor of Battlecorps. He's the man who decides whether your story is good enough. If the story is no good, he'll reject it. I've been lucky that he has liked most of the stories I'm submitted, but make no mistake, he's rejected stories of mine and stories from other published Battlecorps authors. He may give my story a longer look, but if he doesn't like it, he will reject it. In addition, he will once in a while send out an email to the published authors soliciting for an anthology. The Operation Rat series of stories last year was such a solicitation.

But most of the time, I write whatever stories I feel like. I take an idea I have, decide on a time and place for it, read up on the events and anything else I need to know about that time and place. What information I don't have like a city's name or location, I invent. and thew first draft is written. Sometimes, I'm working on more than one story at a time, which allows me to sidestep the problem of writer's block.

My first drafts tend to be longer than the final published story, as I tend to write long passages and descriptions. I try to keep the first draft under 10,000 words, but sometimes they are longer. I double-space, and follow the Battletech style rules. (See the Battlecorps website for the style guide.)

(A note for any intrested authors: Keep your stories under 10,000 words. The shorter the story is, the better. Of course, if it isn't well written, being short won't help any.)

I then post the first draft to a writer's workshop that I am a member of. It's an invitation-only website, and a number of us have had stories published. They go over it, looking for weak points and grammer mistakes. Because of other comitments, this process can take a week, maybe two, depending on the time of the year.

(Another note for any intrested authors: There is no editing of story manuscripts done at Battlecorps; it is up to the author to be his own editor. There is no huge staff running the website, so it is the author's responsilbility to make sure mistakes are taken care of.)

I take the notes and corrections, go through the story and make chages. Sometimes, I take their advice, sometimes I don't. Once I make the corrections, I post the new version to the workshop and the process gets repeated. This may happen several times, as a story is refined and tightened until the opinion of everyone involved is that it's ready.

Only then is it sent to Jason and he decides if he wants it or not. If he rejects it outright, that's usually the end of it. Maybe he'll send it back with suggestions about rewriting something. If he accepts it, it goes to Continuity.

Continuity has killed many stories. At this stage, fact checkers with deep knowledge of the Battletech universe pour over the story, looking for mistakes. Details, as I said in an earlier blog, are vitally important to a story's sucess. Too many continuity errors or a massive error will kill a story.

(More notes for any intrested authors: if you are writing a story for Battlecorps submission, make sure you have a solid knowledge of the Battletech universe. If you don't, the fact checkers will pick up on them. For the WOB Jihad, there is one guy who had to keep track of ever single major military unit and Warship -- five to seven hundred indivudal units, their condition, where they where at every moment, and when they arrived on a world and when they left. It's very hard to slip anything past them.)

If changes are needed in the continuity stage, it's sent back to me with notes. I make the changes, send it back. If the contiunity people okays it, it goes to layout and most of the time, I get a copy after it comes back from layout and one last chance to make minor changes and check grammer. Then it gets sent back, finished off, and it goes up onto the battlecorps website. (I don't write the blurbs or have any input into that process -- I see it for the first time like everyone else)

Lenght of time from first draft to published? It isn't a fast process. For me, it's about a month to write the first draft, two weeks to a month or more in the writers workshop and rewrites, a week or so for Jason to decide whether or not to accept it, another month for the continuity people to look it over and two weeks or longer to get the complete story formatted as a pdf file and published on the website. It may take as long as three to four months from start to finish.

Why so long? In part, it's a time issue. When it comes to reviewing stories, either in the workshop or continuity, it has to be done whenever the reviewer can find time. No one in the process I describe above is working on these stories 40 hours a week. They have outside jobs, families, comitments, and other Battletech projects, some that have deadlines. I myself am a fact-checker and have done sourcebook writing, so I know what sorts of time management they have to have. They have to find the time to go over the story and check on things like location, events, units, how a 'Mech moves (They're walking tanks, not Gundam or movie Tranformers-style mecha.), and the overall athestics (the right ranks, the right unit sizes, even the right 'Mech or vehicle for the era). It isn't an easy or simple process, and it takes time.

So that's the process. It isn't easy, it isn't quick, but it a thrill the first time I open a Battlecorps story PDF and see my name as the author.

It's a good feeling.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ATOW Character of the Week -- Yakuza Enforcer

Concept: Combine Yakuza Oyabun’s right-hand man

Shinji Nakamuka is a senior leader in the Wind Dragon Yakuza. He grew up on the streets in the back alleys of a city in the Pesht District, joined a gang when he was twelve, and was leading the gang by the time he was seventeen. He became a foot soldier in the Yakuza and soon developed a reputation for being a loyal, ruthless soldier. he was given more responsibility and proved worthy of the trust. He has worked hard to home his fighting and social skills so he is at home in either a fight or a boardroom meeting. He is very economical in both his actions and words, never saying two words when one will do.

He came to the attention of the Oyabun and was offered the position of the Oyabun’s chief representative. Rumors have it that Nakamuka is being groomed as the Oyabun’s successor. When Nakamuka is around, something important is going on.

Name: Shinji Nakamuka
Age: 33 
Height: 190cm 
Weight: 95kg 
Hair: Black 
Eyes: Black
Affiliation: Draconis Combine

Attributes      Link         Movement(Meters Per Turn)
STR      6       +0             Walk 12    Climb 6
BOD      5       +0             Run 23     Crawl 3
RFL      6       +0             Sprint 46  Swim 6
DEX      6       +0 
INT      6       +0 
WIL      5       +0 
CHA      7       +1 
EDG      3       +0 

Traits                        Rules     Traits              Rules 
Alternate ID (4)              p. 108    Enemy (-3)          p. 113
Compulsion/Hates Clans (-1)   p. 110    In for Life (-3)    p. 120
Compulsion/Loyal to Oyabun(-3)p. 110    Pain Resistance (3) p. 121
Compulsion/Xenophobia (-1)    p. 110    Reputation (-1)     p. 124
Connections (4)               p. 111    Toughness (3)       p. 127 
Dark Secret (-2)              p. 111    Wealth (6)          p. 128 

Skills                                 TN/C    Level
Acting                      CHA        8/CB     +6
Administration              INT+WIL    7/SB     +4
Career/Yakuza               INT        7/SB     +8
Comm./Conventional          INT        7/SB     +1
Computers                   INT        8/CB     +3
Demolitions                 DEX+INT    9/CA     +6
Driving/Ground Vehicles     RFL+DEX    8/SA     +2
Driving/Sea Vehicles        RFL+DEX    8/SA     +2
Escape Artist               STR+DEX    9/CA     +4
Forgery                     DEX+INT    8/SA     +4
Interest/Weapons            INT        8/CB     +1
Interrogation               WIL+CHA    9/CA     +8
Language/English            INT+CHA    8/SA     +3 
Language/Japanese           INT+CHA    8/SA     +3
Leadership                  WIL+CHA    8/SA     +4
Martial Arts*               RFL+DEX    9/CA     +5
Melee Weapons*              RFL+DEX    7/SB     +6
Negotiation                 CHA        8/CB     +5
Perception                  INT        7/SB     +6
Prestidigitation/Quickdraw* RFL+DEX    7/SB     +4
Protocol/Draconis Combine   WIL+CHA    9/CA     +5
Protocol/Yakuza             WIL+CHA    9/CA     +5
Running                     RFL        7/SB     +1 
Security Systems/Electrical DEX+INT    9/CA     +5
Security Systems/Mechanical DEX+INT    9/CA     +1
Small Arms                  DEX        7/SB     +5
Stealth                     RFL+INT    8/SA     +5 
Streetwise/Combine          CHA        8/CB     +6
Tactics/Infantry            INT+WIL    9/CA     +1
Thrown Weapons/Blades       DEX        7/SB     +1
*Advance tier

Equipment            Cost           Weight       Stats
Submachine Gun        80              3kg        see p. 265
Reloads/SMG (3)       15              1.7kg      see p. 265
TK Assault rifle     150              5.5kg      see p. 266
Reload/TK AR (3)       9              1.0kg      see p. 266
Sternsacht Python    125               .75kg     see p. 265
Reload/Python (4)     12               .65kg     see p. 265
Katana               250              2.5kg      see p. 261
Wakizashi            150              1.0kg      see p. 261
Blackjack/Sap          5               .20kg     see p. 261 
Knife                  8               .25kg     see p. 261
Formal suit          575              3.0kg      see p. 299
Shoes                 50               .8kg      see p. 299
Coat                  55              1.1kg      see p. 299
Civilian Comm.        45               .1kg      see p. 301
Myomer Vest        1,800              7.5kg      see p. 289
Typhoon           35,000