30 Jan 2015

Unruly: The New Girl - Chapter 1

The Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls was founded outside Oshawa in 1886 to help young, troubled women turn their lives around.  In 1889, U. F. Gephardt changed the mission, refining the girls to become his personal army.  Gephardt retired to the Century Manor Asylum in Hamilton after suffering a nervous breakdown.  The Academy, however, still continues, helping troubled and troublesome girls get an education and a good start in life, whatever their ambitions are.

The New Girl
Chapter 1 - Arrival

Laura stared out the window at the passing farmland.  The landscape and the gentle ride in the back of the black sedan would normally be enough to send her to sleep, but nagging worries prevented that.  Instead, Laura sighed.  The black-suited men in the front passenger seat glanced back, peering past the arm of his sunglasses.  Laura gave him a wan smile, then slumped down in her seat.  She pulled the elastic holding her dark hair in a pony tail out for the umpteenth time to fix her hair yet again.

29 Jan 2015

Unruly - Preview

Normally, Thursdays are reserved for commentary on the previous week's chapter.  Last week, though, I posted just ideas on future arcs for Beaver Flight, with the commentary included.  I could always comment on the commentary, but that type meta-level discussion has been done already for an unused, unfinished episode of Fatman for The Weird Al Show.  I doubt I could live up to the standards set there, so no commentary for last week.

Instead, I'll try to segue into Unruly, my NaNoWriMo project for 2014.  Throughout the commentary for Beaver Flight, I mentioned that the story didn't fit the novel format.  As imagined, the Beavers would work best as serial fiction, like Subject 13Unruly, no matter how much I twisted it in my head, also fit best as serialized fiction.  I figured this out before I started, mainly because of my efforts serializing other works, like Lethal Ladies and By the Numbers.  By using a serial format, I could have arcs that could run as long as they needed without worrying about stretching the story over 50,000 words and twenty-some chapters*.

Unruly thrived as a serial.  I could set up threads for later arcs, introduce characters as needed, and explore the setting in a leisurely manner.  Small details came out, as they always do, but they added to the overall story without causing problems.  Characters had time in the spotlight.  As always, one or two tended to take the spotlight away from others, but the nature of the setting allowed them to do that.  Besides, the girls are scary.

Tomorrow, the debut of Unruly!
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, a short but sweet news round up.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Mrs. Columbo.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* Based roughly on the number of chapters in By the Numbers.

23 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight - What Could Have Been

Despite the abrupt ending last week, I did have ideas of where Beaver Flight should go.  The first twelve chapters focused on Darkside One, the secret lunar base.  The people of Earth were kept in the dark about the invaders with only certain people within the governments involved knowing the full details.  Typically, this would be the head of government, the minister of defense, head of the military, possibly the minister of foreign affairs, and the least number of people needed to get the mission off the ground.  The more people involved, the more likely there's a leak.  That idea would lead to a new arc, one where a news outlet breaks the story that there's a secret mission on the moon.  Sure, conspiracy theorists are crackpots for the most part, but when a reputable source accidentally reveals the mission?  Damn straight a media outlet would latch on to it like a leach to a blood source.

The arc, and I was thinking in terms of arcs during the writing, would start with a news broadcast that would be seen at Darkside One.  Worried families would get involved, making Tori's disappearance a bigger problem.  Other nations would want to get involved, but not all would be interested in maintaining the all-woman aspect of the joint force.  Problem is, the invaders want Earth men.  While some of the women on Darkside One would celebrate having men around, so would the aliens.  Increased attacks and more MIAs abound.

The original nations are still trying to get more women up.  Australia's Kangaroo Flight would be joined by Koala Flight, informally known as the Drop Bears.  The American Eagle Flight would get a sister team, turning the group into Eagle Squadron.  Eventually, the Beavers would get more their own countrywomen on the moon.  Going by the backs of Canadian coins, the choices for the new flight's name are Maple Leaves (from the penny), Bluenosers (dime), Moose (quarter), Loons (dollar coin, aka the loonie), and the Polar Bears (two-dollar coin).  The nickel doesn't come into play; there's a beaver on the back*.  Maple Leaves run into the problem of being associated with the hockey team, who may not have won a Stanley Cup even by 2128.  The other problem with the penny is that the coin is no longer being minted.  The obverse of the coin may become a trivia question on a game show in 2128.  Loons may fit Tori; other women might object.  Polar Bear could get confused with the Russian Bear Flight.  Moose may also create objections, leaving Bluenose Flight as the best possible name.  Yay?

Tori won't be idle.  She has new people to annoy.  Through Tori, the aliens would be developed further, showing why they're abducting Earth men and trying to learn from their latest captive.  The main lesson they learn will be to toss her back.  However, Tori may be the best way to settle the hostilities.  She's learning about the invaders and what they want, beyond getting her to shush.  Even if I remained with the "Venus needs men!" approach, there would be volunteers to go with the aliens to help repopulate their world.  Tori is also the stick in any negotiations; give the Terran diplomats a hard time and she gets assigned to go with the aliens.  Dire threat, indeed.

I never really had an idea of how the story would end.  At some point, as a novel, it has to.  But, as I've pointed out many times, /Beaver Flight/ never fit the novel format.  The story would've worked better as a serial.  The first arc would be the Beavers' arrival on the moon, followed by an arc that led to Tori's disappearance, followed by the news leak arc, and so on.  As a webcomic, the pacing would change, allowing for splash pages as mecha launched.  As a serial along the lines of Subject 13, I could set up the cliffhangers better and not worry about making sure the plot didn't bounce around erratically.  Beaver Flight gave me the ability to see when an idea wouldn't fit in the form I wanted, and the ability to realize when the story just isn't working.

Thanks go to the NaNo Ottawa folks and, especially, the Municpal Liaisons for help us cats stay on track.  Another shout-out goes to the Arrogant Worms for the song that served as the inspiration and the unofficial theme for Beaver Flight, "We Are the Beaver".  Thanks also go to Greg for an early look at the story.  Go read his works, too - he's experimenting with a "Choose the Plot Twist" style of writing that deserves a look.  And thanks to everyone who has been reading along.

Next week, Unruly debuts.

* Or, to quote the song, "the nickel we complete".

22 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 12

Welcome to the commentary.  As always, please read the chapter first.

Last week, I had a cryptic note at the end of the short chapter.  Chapter 12 was the last one written.  I mentioned throughout the commentary that the more I wrote, the more I realized that a novel was the completely wrong format for Beaver Flight.  Once I passed the 50 000th word, I ran out of steam.  Beaver Flight was a far more visual story in my head than what appeared in text, and would've worked better as a serial.  Chapter 11 came about sooner than I wanted, but getting to it would result in a slower pace than I would've liked.

That said, I did have a few events occur.  With the Beavers down to half strength - Tori missing and Darcy's mecha Swiss-cheesed - the other flights took up the slack.  India's Tiger Flight finally gets shown, albeit briefly.  Very underused, Tiger Flight.  Lt. Barb Finnegan makes another appearance.  Finnegan turned out to be the diametric opposite of Tori without me planning.  Barb needs structure in her life; Tori creates chaos.

Dr. Kayla Asselin provides Darkside One with the first real knowledge of the invaders.  Note that the aliens didn't understand her, or, at least, communicate with her.  Tori managed to badger one into talking.  Again, I never planned the difference, but it works out here.  Kayla went missing before Yulya's team did, so in between when they had her and when they returned her, the aliens did learn English.  They probably learned Russian.  How long was Kayla in suspended animation?

I'll go through the ideas I had for the rest of the story tomorrow.  The lessons I learned, though, are far more useful than I expected.  The first was to trust my instinct about what sort of format a story needs.  Beaver Flight should have been a serial, possibly even a webcomic*.  NaNoWriMo 2014's project, Unruly, went through a few permutations, from webcomic to series of short stories. before I started writing it as a serial.  The result, which will appear here soon enough, worked out far better than expected and let me focus on individual elements without worrying about a novel-length story that could lose some of the ideas I had.  The second lesson was that I should have done more work with the core cast before starting.  While By the Numbers taught me that writing a pre-story bit helped discover the characters, not doing so meant that I really didn't know the Beavers.  Renée and Dom didn't shine as much as I wanted.

Thank you for reading the shortened Beaver Flight.  Tomorrow, what I post the story arcs I had in mind, and a week later, the first chapter of Unruly should appear.  Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, fixing Battleship.  Saturday, over at MuseHack, the January remake news round up .  Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* Too bad I can't draw.

16 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Chapter 12

"Hey, you speak English, too!"
"If I understand the definition, I am innately inhumane.  I am not 'human'."
"I am not planning on probing or disecting you."
"What I have learned is that you like to talk."

Chapter 12 - Empty Bunk
August 2, 2128

Darcy entered Darkside One's control room, ready to start her shift.  She wished her new power suit would arrive.  The past few weeks saw no alien incursions at all, which, while dull for the pilots out on patrol, were mind numbing for everyone in the control room.  Tempers frayed, leading to some chilly conversations on shift among command staff.  Darcy envied Dominique and Renée and their ability to at least get out of the base, even if it was with other nations' flights.

Fay got up from her station.  "Here you go, Lieutenant," she said as she passed over her headset to Darcy.  "Tiger Flight reports no disturbances in the Force.  Not that they used those words."

15 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 11

Commentary time!  As always, please read the chapter first.

Like Chapter 10, last week's chapter came about sooner than planned.  I had a wider plotline in mind, but, well, Beaver Flight just never fit the format of a novel.  Chapter 11 began in the last week of November 2012, with the 50 000 word mark of NaNoWriMo within sight.  My goal went from having an intricate story to just finishing the challenge.

I wanted something in between Tori's disappearance and the discovery of where she went, with the base having suffered their first real loss.  Didn't happen, mainly because I felt that prolonging the reveal didn't work in the story as written.  Thus, the jump to Tori.  I had to work out who was abducted by the aliens.  My top choices were Renée and Tori.  With Renée, I had a character who was unsure of being offworld, with only a bulkhead between her and an airless void.  Renée is also a linguist; she would have a chance at deciphering the aliens' language.  With Tori, I had a character whose curiosity gets the better of her.  Give Tori a chance to talk with aliens and she'll grab it.

Obviously, I went with Tori.  That choice meant a lighter chapter.  Sure, there's some mood whiplash from the previous, but a bit of light-hearted prose never hurt anyone, especially before springing new problems and drama to the crew of Darkside One.  It's a technique used by many dramas, including Supernatual and Doctor Who.  I am not claiming that the mood change was deliberate.  I am claiming that I will use what I have to look like I know what I'm doing.

With the aliens finally appearing without a mecha around them, I had to work out what they looked like.  The idea of "Venus needs men!" meant that the aliens should be humanoid and somewhat compatible with human physiology.  Green skin is too cliché, so I went with blue.  Not just one shade, though.  The aliens have light and dark skin.  For a species I never bothered to design before starting, I worked out a few details that went beyond the usual visual SF approach.  Even the clothes took a bit of thought.  Two had green lab coats, one had a black overalls with gold trim, making it easy to show who the commanding officer was.

The game of Telephone the translator plays between her commander and Tori shows the difficulty of learning a new language unrelated to any from one's home planet.  It's not just the lack of similarity between grammatical structures.  Think of all the metaphors and jargon in daily use.

Let's take junk email.  In English, it's called, colloquially, spam, much to Hormel's chagrin, coming from a Monty Python sketch.  In Quebecois French*, it's pourriel, a portmanteau of pollution, or pollution, and courriel, or mail.  In more formal terms, junk email is called unsolicited commercial email or unsolicited bulk email.  An alien who arrives in high Earth orbit and monitors all our communications may see the Monty Python sketch, but without knowing about Hormel's spiced ham product SPAM**, it makes no sense.  There may be a reference, though, to spam email, and a connection to the sketch is made, connecting the Vikings to the junk email, leading the alien to scratch its head in confusion about how strange we are here on Earth.  Now, take that same alien, have it monitor only French broadcasts, and both le spam and pourriel become obscure.  This same line of thought led to the question about the word "wormhole".  Wormholes were originally just the tunnels left behind by a worm as it dug through the ground.  Space sciences, especially the theoretical ones, use terms that are descriptive to label phenomenon.  A tunnel through space that allows for faster-than-light travel is also called a wormhole, which has nothing to do with worms.

If Tori was the first Terran human kidnapped, they'd probably just send her back and leave to find some other world to harvest.  Jie, though, learned from other abductees, who were less willing to talk.  Tori was told what the minimum to say to captors - name, rank, and serial number.  Major di Carlo wouldn't be pleased that Tori answered other questions, but might be happy with the answers.  English isn't a precise language.  "How many of you are there?" may be taken as "How many other people are you with?" or as "How many versions of you exist?"  Tori answered the latter, and told the truth.

Tori's main goal was to make a connection with her captors.  If she couldn't charm them, she'll annoy them.  She discovered a taboo of the invaders.  Sticking out one's tongue is just not done.  Tori does wear down Jie.  Jie and Renée could sit down together and commiserate after this chapter.  Jie also got to learn of a Terran taboo, the anal probe.  Poor alien woman probably heard it from her other prisoners.

The discussion about Pluto is Tori trying to get a new perspective and me adding words.  It helped open a new bridge between Tori and Jie.  Tori got to show off her home solar system and open diplomatic channels.  Jie got a headache.  Tori did score a point.  "One does not shoot friends."  Too bad Jie was so confused at that point to get what Tori meant.

For a chapter I never expected to reach so soon, it was fun to write.  Tori lets me ramble.  I don't think she could carry a story on her own, not without annoying both readers and the writer, but she was ideal for this chapter.

Tomorrow, Chapter 11, "Empty Bunk".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Wonder Woman.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the Adaptation Fix-It Shop engages in salvage operations on Battleship.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* In France, spam is just le spam.  The Office quebecois de la langue français tends to be vigilant when it comes to protecting the French language, creating a small schism with France.
** All-caps is part of the proper spelling of the brand.

9 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Chapter 11

"Geek, no."
"McGee, this may be my best chance to find out more about what's happening."
"Geek, listen to her for once.  Get back!"
"Approaching the event horizon.  Someone make sure my telemetry is recorded.  I want to analyze this when I get back."

Chapter 11 - Piece of the Action
unknown date

Victoria's head threatened to detach from her shoulders.  Nausea plagued her stomach.  Victoria opened her eyes and regretted it.  Bright light pierced her eyes, adding to her headaches.  She shielded her eyes with her hands.  "Hello?"  Her voice returned as a shallow echo.  Victoria reached out and felt a plastic shell enclosing her bed.  "Hello?" she repeated as she pounded her enclosure.  "Is there anyone there?"

8 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 10

Welcome back!  As always, please read the chapter first.  Mild spoilers abound.

The events in Chapter 10 weren't supposed to happen yet.  I did have a plan in mind when I started writing Beaver Flight.  What I hadn't counted on was finding that the story didn't work as a novel.  I've mentioned it in previous commentaries, but as I wrote the story, the more obvious it became to me that the novel was the wrong form for the story.  The visuals would work better as a webcomic or TV series, while the pacing works better as a serial.  By this point, I was getting close to the end of the 50 000 word goal NaNoWriMo sets out.  If I had considered the idea of a serialized story, similar to Subject 13 or NaNo2014's Unruly, Beaver Flight would have developed in a different way.

What I would have preferred was to have more alien appearances, working out why they showed up each time.  Other arcs would have focused on the workings of Darkside One, highlighting the different flights and how they made the best they could on the base.  Each of the Beavers could have had an arc of her own for character development, something Dom and Renée could have used.  The third week of November was too late to revamp everything.

Chapter 10 shows the aliens being effective.  There's enough appearing that Bear and Tiger* Flights need the Eagle, Kangaroo, and Beaver Flights in the sky to assist.  The aliens also shoot to hit for the first time.  In a webcomic, the battle would start with a splash page, showing the combined Flights in their colours approaching the aliens.  Can't quite do that in text form.

I had two goals for this chapter.  The first was to show that the aliens were effective.  The best way to do that was to have someone get hit in the fight.  Darcy drew the short straw.  Yulya Emelin, commander of Bear Flight, was the sole survivor from the prologue and was determined to get payback for the loss of her squad.  Darcy was the closest and did what she could to prevent Yulya's powered suit from being destroyed.

The second goal was to lose one of the Beavers.  The original plan was to have the loss happen a little later, but, as mentioned above, that plan changed.  I had two choices in mind for the lost pilot, Tori and Renée.  Tomorrow's chapter will show why I chose Tori, with next week's commentary going into further detail.

I've set up a conflict between Darcy and Yulya.  It was building for a few chapters, but with Tori missing and Yulya on her own mission, it should ramp up.  Darcy is also out of the fight for a bit.  Each powered suit was designed for a specific pilot.  With her suit usable only for spare parts, Darcy has to sit out missions, which doesn't help her mood.  Beaver Flight is down to half strength, not enough to patrol and respond properly.  Where Dom and Renée wind up will be seen soon enough.

Tomorrow, Chapter 10, "Piece of the Action".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, looking forward to the movie meltdown of 2015..
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Wonder Woman.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* India's contribution to Darkside One.

2 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Chapter 10

"Neutrino emissions," Victoria called.  "Source is – Darcy, look out!"
"Are you sure?  Princess, this isn't like helping someone with a broken leg hop around."
"It's official, I miss home."
"It's been a long day, at least for me."

Chapter 10 - Full Throttle
July 12, 2128

Darcy returned to her quarters after her breakfast.  She knew she should have skipped the eggs; something was just off with them.  Maybe a quick rest on her bed would settle her stomach.  As Darcy entered her room, her hopes for a rest were dashed upon the rocks of disappointment.  Victoria had the holodisplay on.  Darcy recognized the movie playing.  "Tori, again?  This makes, what, four times in as many days you've seen the movie."

Victoria looked up from the film.  "Hi, Darcy.  Yeah, I know, but I need to see the car chase again, and it doesn't make sense if I don't start from the beginning.  Besides, Anya wants me to run a game based on the movie.  I'm taking notes."

Darcy shook her head.  She picked her way through the room to her bed and sat down.  "Anya?"

"She's part of the Russian team, working in maintenance.  Nice girl, really."

"I see."

"What's up with you?  You don't normally come back here in the morning."  Victoria paused the movie.  "Do you need to go to Sickbay?"  She walked over to Darcy's bed.  "Can I feel your forehead?"  Victoria reached out with her hand.

Darcy swatted the hand away.  "I'm good.  I had the eggs this morning and they're not sitting well."

"Ah yes, the eggs.  I left at least half of mine on the plate."

"I just need to lie down for a bit."  Darcy laid back in her bed.  "I'll try to ignore you and your movie."

"Don't worry."  Victoria turned off the holodisplay.  "It's not like I won't have time later to take notes.  Need anything?  Tea?"

"I'm good, thanks."  A klaxon blared, startling both women.  Darcy rolled out of bed, landing on her feet.  "Ready room, now!"

1 Jan 2015

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 9

Happy New Year and welcome back!  Before continuing, please read the chapter first.  The comments will make more sense.

The story opens on July 1st, Canada Day, the day to commemorate the creation of the nation.  A day of celebration, of barbecues, of beer, and of fireworks.  A day so big, even the aliens get in on the fun, sending a massive firecracker of their own.  Darcy kept the flight alert even at the end of the shift.  The explosion could have been far worse if the Beavers hadn't been cautious.  The launch of Eagle Flight was standard procedures; with four flights in rotation, having backup on standby helps.

Darcy's landing showed the emergency crews in action.  A plane crash is devastating on Earth.  A crash in a hanger that serves as a buffer between a pressurized habitat and the vacuum of space could destroy the base.  A fire could be dealt with by opening the hangar to space, robbing the blaze of oxygen, but all personnel would have to be evacuated or don a space suit first.  Darcy was able to limp in without exploding, though.

Dominique's story about her younger sister was based on something my cats did.  When Mischief was a kitten and first introduced to Tux, six years older than her, she got it in her head that she would tackle him.  There was a huge size difference, but that never stopped her.  Tux could easily have put her in her place, but he didn't.  He swatted her, smacked her, and once even picked her up and tossed her.  Tux's usual method was to come crying to me when he knew Mischief laid in wait for him, but he'd never let me go first to go pick her up.  When Mischief got bigger, she managed to throw Tux to both cats' surprise.  Tux grabbed her to push her back, but Mischief got her back legs under him and rolled.  And that's where the story of Dom and her sister Tanya.
Mischief, not attacking Tux.

The recorded celebration from Parliament Hill is based on Canada Day shows I've attended there.  The show starts in the afternoon and runs until dark, featuring Canadian entertainers from coast to coast to coast*, interspersed with short speeches from Canadian statesmen, including the Governor-General.  When it gets dark enough, weather permitting, the fireworks are set off.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation usually carries the evening show at the minimum.  As for Farming Dirt, just another shoutout to the Arrogant Worms, without whom there would be no /Beaver Flight/.

Tux, on alert while trying to rest.
Tomorrow, Chapter 10, "Full Throttle".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, a holiday hiatus.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, a look forward to 2015.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* Canada has three coasts.

Hello 2015.

Last year, I had plans.  Most fell by the wayside or mutated.  Of course, that's why I had plans and not resolutions.  This year, I'm not going to get too ambitious.  I'm between jobs right now, so planning tends to get shot.

Instead, warm wishes to everyone and may 2015 be joyous and peaceful.