Update: writing progress

Some of you have read my books The Babylon Eye and The Real and are waiting for the third in the series, which I’m planning to call The Strange. But things are not going so well. Usually by this time of year, I’m finished with the first draft and deep into re-writing. This time, not so much.
I’ve never had so much trouble with a book before and I think I’ve finally figured out why. I don’t think this is one book. I can’t seem to compress the story into a single volume. There’s just too much going on. I’ve been frustrating myself in trying to find a way to bring the story to a conclusion, when it actually needs to play itself out.

What’s probably going to happens is that either The Strange is going to be much longer than the first two, or its going to be two books (“Strange” and “Stranger”?). Either way, my dreams of launching early next year have evaporated.

For those of you who have read the first two books, I can let you know that Meisje the cyber-dog gets her own point of view again like she does in the first book, Elke gets a whole new love interest who might actually be a nice person for a change, and of course, we see quite a lot more of the Strange world.

Launching soon: “The Real”

If you are in Cape Town on the 16th of February, come to the launch of The Real, the sequel to The Babylon Eye. We’ll be at The Field Office coffee shop, 34 Salisbury Road, on Thursday 16 February at 6pm.  My other novels will be available, including The Babylon Eye (in print for the first time) and a discount will be given to anyone who has purchased either The Real or The Babylon Eye in e-book.

Book description:

The Muara. A ruined sea-side resort, shattered by the weather, buried in sand. Three children scavenge a living on the abandoned beaches and in the sand-swamped houses. This is their home and its desolation is their security…but their safety is an illusion. 
Under the sands of the Muara, in an underground room, is a secret that could destroy them and everything they know.

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The layers of language in The Babylon Eye

Several people who’ve read The Babylon Eye have asked about the languages used in the book. I put quite a lot of thought and research into that aspect of the world building. This explanation of my process will probably make more sense if you’ve read the book!

I wonder how many readers picked up on the fact that while the book is written in English it is really, as it were, translated from whatever language the characters in this alternate world actually speak. They never refer to their own language as English. One clue is that every now and then one of them will consider another character to be rather “anglo”, suggesting that they don’t think of themselves as anglophone. This is my own private joke, as I have an allergy to people who think of English as the default language, and consider all other languages to be foreign, no matter the country or context.

I decided early on in the planning process that the world I was creating would be very similar to ours but that its history would have some significant differences. These differences don’t have a direct impact on the plot but they do shape the world and especially the names and words used.

For example in the world of the book, Germany  won the First World War and the United States doesn’t exist, being a collection of smaller countries. The Second World War never happened and  at the time the story is set in, Prussia is still one of the dominant powers although some of the American countries have been gaining influence over the last decades.

Closer to home, South Africa (called Nieu Batavia in this world) was never a British colony but stayed Dutch until it gained its independence. This had an impact on the names of places and people.  The character names tend to be Dutch or Germanic rather than British, for example the main character Elke is diminutive of Adelheid which is a German name and her surname is Dutch. Some of the place names are Malay (this is more apparent in the second book, The Real). Dutch titles like mejuffrou (which means miss) and meinheer (the equivalent of mister) are used for ordinary people, while the high status Prussian characters retain their German “Frau” and “Herr”.

The names for the different castes of Strangers, (the people from the other world), are all words that mean “ghost”. Geist is Germanic, glim is middle English and eidolon is Greek.  This suggests that these terms were chosen by people from our own world rather than being official strangeworld titles, probably chosen to match some the unpronounceable strangeworld equivalents.

The first Strangers who contacted people from our world used a form of Latin. This is a clue that there must have been contact between the worlds before, and that the Strangers’ culture is not utterly alien to our own. Of course, Latin wasn’t necessarily their mother tongue, but a bridging language they knew we would be able to understand. Many of the names of things in the Eye itself are influenced by Latin, for example the dexter and sinister states of the Eye, and the soluster, the chandelier-like light that lights up the main levels of the Babylon Eye. Even the cubbies, the tiny living quarters of most of the population of the Eye, is rooted in the Latin word cubile.

On the other hand, the slang and the swearwords used by the working people in the Eye is a little different. For that I mixed in a lot of Polish, Zulu, Afrikaans, Russian and Spanish, based on the idea that the mechanics, cleaners, drivers and other workers would have come from all over the world.  Since the Eye has quite a communal culture and was, originally at least, to have a open and non-hierarchical structure, the working people had a say in the running of the Eye and its customs. This is reflected in the official terminology. For example the court, the body that is responsible for hearing legal cases, is called a “stolik” which is the Polish world for “table”.

The names people call themselves differ from what other people call them and reflect their status. The lowest of the Stranger castes, the untattoed ones, are called “weeds” and “blanks” and other rude names by those who shun them, but they refer to themselves as Fugado, the fugitives. Using “blanks” (in this context, referring to somebody without tattoos to signal their status) as a insult was another in-joke, a play on “blanke”, a term which has a completely different meaning in Afrikaans, being a term for a white person and which is not usually considered and insult.

I could go on! There is so much more. I’m busy with the third book in the series now and have a whole new universe of titles, place-names and slang to figure out. I’ve been digging around in Somalian, Arabic, Assyrian, Yiddish, and some of the other ancient languages for inspiration. Only a small part of this shows in the finished book, of course, but I hope that it helps to make the world feel richer and more real.

Not Chlorr of the Mask

I made a small mask-face that started out inspired by Garth Nix’s character “Chlorr of the Mask” who features in his Old Kingdom series. Although it started out as Chlorr, it ended up not looking like her at all, so for the moment, it’s nameless 🙂

mask

I started with Super Sculpey firm polymer clay with some cowrie shells for eyes…

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Worked a bit more…

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And a bit more…

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Painted with acrylic…

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Added gold and aluminium foil…

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…and quite a lot of hair.

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The Babylon Eye is launched!

A cyber-dog, lost in the void between worlds. The woman who must find the dog to win back her  freedom. A spy’s betrayal that could kill them both.

It’s alive! The first book in my new “Linked Worlds” series, The Babylon Eye has been published and is available from Amazon.  I’ve dropped the launch price to $0.99 for the first three days 🙂  It’s the first book of a three-part series. I wrote The Babylon Eye in 2015 and have just finished writing the sequel, The Real. I plan to publish The Real in February 2017.

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The Babylon Eye is a science fiction novel set in Cape Town, South Africa, where technology from an alternate world is used to create cyber-beings and bio-mechanical hybrids. Access to the other world is through the Babylon Eye, a space-station-like town that exists in the void between the worlds.

The story follows Elke Veraart, a prisoner who used to be a member of a vigilante group that protected rhinos and other endangered animals from poachers. Before she was imprisoned, Elke was a talented trainer of gardags, cybernetically enhanced attack dogs. Elke is offered a deal. One of the most advanced gardags is missing, and presumed to be lost in the Babylon Eye. If she can find this creature, her prison sentence will be commuted and shell be win back her freedom. But Elke soon realises there are other hunters on the gardag’s trail, and they’re willing to kill to protect their secrets.

You can buy the ebook version of The Babylon Eye here.  The print edition will be published early in February 2017.

Cover Reveal: The Babylon Eye!

Everything’s ready for The Babylon Eye launch, including the final cover design. Here it is:

babylon-eye-real-book

The Babylon Eye is a science fiction novel set in an alternate version of Cape Town, South Africa, a world in which the divisions between nature and technology are blurred. The setting, the Babylon Eye, is a  town set in the portal between two worlds. The technologies of both worlds combine to create cyber-beings and bio-mechanical hybrids.

And what is the story about? Here is the description:

Meisje is no ordinary dog. She’s a gardag, a cybernetically enhanced living weapon. She’s also lost, hungry, and lonely. Elke Veraart is on Meisje’s trail. If she can find the dog she’ll win back her own freedom. If she fails she’ll be sent back to prison.

As she closes in on the gardag, Elke finds her admiration for Meisje growing. And Meisje, weak with hunger, begins to wonder if she could trust the woman who is hunting her. Then Elke discovers that there are other hunters searching for the gardag and that her orders have changed. She no longer has to find Meisje. She has to kill her.

If you’d like to be notified when The Babylon Eye is published, you can sign up for my mailing list. I only use it when I launch a book (about once a year) so you won’t be inundated with emails 🙂

The Babylon Eye Cover: discarded designs

I don’t think I’ve ever gone through so many different versions when designing a book cover! The Babylon Eye went through quite a few look and title changes.  Since I’ll soon be doing the cover reveal for this book, I thought I’d share some of the discarded designs. Keep in mind that the look of the design isn’t the only criterion, it has to convey the genre, set up reader expectations for the tone of the book and also be adaptable enough so that it’s possible to make tie in the sequel’s cover.

First attempt: at this stage the title was just Babylon Eye (no “The”) The dog is too flat and a bit clumsily drawn. Also not to sure of that title typeface!

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In the next one the dog’s pose was inspired by the Persian bull mosaics from the Ishtar gate (there’s an Ishtar gate in the story).  The main problem with this design is that it doesn’t really convey that the book is science fiction.

bull

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Something completely different for the next one. I’m not very fond of books that show the characters on the cover myself, but it’s a popular look. But my attempt doesn’t really work. It hovers uneasily between a sort of children’s book look, and something a bit more serious. I also really don’t like the fake plasticy gold of the title.  And Meisje (the dog) looks a too goofy!

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At this stage I was spinning my wheels and trying out different titles. The ghostly author name in the top left is not intentional!

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My next idea was to focus on the main character. Yet again, a title change.  This isn’t too bad but it doesn’t feel right for this particular book. I liked the typefaces though.

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And after many more attempts, I ended up with my final design and title. Watch this space for my cover reveal 🙂

If you’d like to be notified when The Babylon Eye is published you can sign up for my mailing list. I only use it when I launch a book (about once a year) so you won’t be inundated with emails 🙂

The Babylon Eye ready to launch…

My next book, The Babylon Eye, is about to be published. It’s something a little different for me, science fiction set in alternate world South Africa.  I had a lot of fun with it. The main character is my age for a change.  It’s been interesting writing about a woman in her forties. Her age means that there’s space for her to have had a complicated and rich past life before the story even begins, something that’s not always possible with a teenage protagonist.

For the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the print and ebook formatting. It’s a finicky process but I do enjoy it, although it does bring out my obsessive streak. Choosing the exact right symbol for the text separator took my much longer than I’d like to admit 🙂

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If you’d like to be notified when The Babylon Eye is published, you can sign up for my mailing list. I only use it when I launch a book (about once a year) so you won’t be inundated with emails 🙂

Writing Update

I’ve just completed another two book series which I hope to publish in the last half of 2016. This is something new for me: science fiction set in alternate world Southern Africa, and nothing to do with Crooks & Straights or any of my other books. The series title is “The Babylon Eye” but I have not finalized the titles for each of the books yet. Here is a description of the first book:

Meisje is no ordinary dog. She’s a gardag, a cybernetically enhanced, living weapon. She’s also lost, hungry, and lonely.

Elke Veraart is on Meisje’s trail. If she can find the dog she’ll win back her own freedom. If she fails she’ll be sent back to prison.

As she closes in on the gardag, Elke finds her admiration for Meisje growing. And Meisje, weak with hunger, begins to wonder if she could trust the woman who is hunting her. Then Elke discovers that there are other hunters searching for the gardag and that her orders have changed. She no longer has to find Meisje. She has to kill her.

I have just started the third book in the “Babylon Eye” series and don’t have any immediate plans to write more books in the “Special Branch” or “Sisters” series, but you never know! 🙂

If you want to be notified when I launch these books, you can sign up for my New Release Email List 

If you are curious about these new books, here is a link to the visual inspiration for book one and book two.

Meet Science Fiction writer L J Cohen

Today I have a guest! 🙂  Writer L J Cohen has kindly let me interview her. She’s just launched her latest book, DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, book 3 of the Halcyone Space series of science fiction space opera adventures that began with DERELICT and continued with ITHAKA RISING.

Here’s the book description:

When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict between the young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness as a hostage expires. 

Lisa has agreed to give away an ebook copy of one of her books right here on my blog. To participate, leave a comment stating which of her books you’d like, if you win the draw 🙂 We’ll pick a winner in 7 day’s time. (If you don’t know which book to pick, see below! There is a short description of each.)

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Do you write for a particular age group? Who is your ideal reader?
When I started writing, I thought of myself as writing YA novels because so many of my protagonists were older teens. But my stories are transitioning to less true coming of age tales than speculative fiction stories that have some young adult characters. My idea reader is a teen or adult who enjoys character-based adventures in fantasy or futuristic settings. Given the emotional stakes, I wouldn’t recommend most of my books to readers younger than 12, even if they are strong readers, though that is something I leave up to parents/guardians to decide.

Which of your books would you recommend a reader should start with? What is it about?
By the time this gets posted, I will have six novels published. There are three possible entry points to my work: the standalone urban fantasy FUTURE TENSE, THE BETWEEN, book 1 of my fantasy/fae changeling series (Changeling’s Choice), or DERELICT, book 1 of my SF/Space Opera series (Halcyone Space). However, I do attempt to write my series novels in such a way that readers can start anywhere and still have a fully enjoyable experience.

In FUTURE TENSE, a 17 year old foster kid struggles to keep the people around him safe from the danger he glimpses in his prescient visions. THE BETWEEN is the story of what happens when Oberon and Titania pick the wrong changeling to become a pawn in their war and that young girl clings to her stubborn humanity. In DERELICT, a group of teens stranded on a sentient spaceship must work together or risk being killed when the ship’s AI wakes believing it’s still fighting the war that damaged it decades ago.

(You can find all of these books at Lisa’s Amazon Author page)

What qualities do you like using in your characters?
That’s a good question! I like to give my characters traits that have both positive and negative features. For example, Ro Maldonado, the main character in DERELICT and Lydia Hawthorne, the main character in THE BETWEEN both have the traits of stubbornness/persistence. Depending on circumstances, this is either a good thing or a very bad thing!

Jem Durbin, also from the Halcyone Space novels, is curious and creative. While he’s great at problem solving, he doesn’t have the maturity to know that sometimes asking questions can be dangerous. It lands him in some very hot water in ITHAKA RISING. Matt Garrison, from FUTURE TENSE has an almost overdeveloped sense of responsibility. While he never runs away from owning his problems, he also doesn’t let himself rely on others or ask for help, which is nearly his undoing.

I think if a character has only positive or negative character traits, it makes for boring reading.

Some people believe that it’s important that a book have a message beyond just the story itself. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think you can avoid imbuing your writing with messages – writing is only partly a conscious process and our subconscious mind is a very tricky bastard. However, I don’t start out trying to embed a particular message in my writing. Do my stories have a message beyond that of the story itself? I’m sure they do. And those messages are probably as much a result of what I put into the story as what the reader reads into it. I do think I have recurrent motifs and themes that show up in all of my work: identity, trust, and choice. Others don’t get to choose your identity. Trust starts with trusting yourself before you can trust others. And choices made out of fear are almost never the right ones. I’d love to know what messages others see in my work.

Is there anything that you have a “chip on the shoulder”about as a writer?
Stories that rely on tricking the reader to work. I hated The Life of Pi. It was beautifully written, immersive, original, and magical. All up to the final chapter where the author basically popped out and said ‘Ha, tricked you. Aren’t I clever?’ It was one of those ‘and it was all a dream’ endings which completely break my trust in the narrative and in the author. I haven’t read a single other word Yan Martell has written.

What are you reading at the moment? Is it any good?
I’m currently reading several manuscripts for critique and can’t name them. The three last published books I read were Aftershock, Rick Wayne’s episode 5 of The Minus Faction (loved it!), James S.A. Coreys’s Abaddon’s Gate (very good), and Audrey Faye’s Grower’s Omen (loved it!).

I’ve come to a place in my leisure reading that if I am not enjoying a story, I stop reading it. Life’s too short and there are too many books out there. And just because I abandon a book, it doesn’t mean it’s not good, just that I didn’t really enjoy it. There is so much subjectivity in what makes a book good and what I love may not be what someone else does.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

More about Lisa:

LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

Some links to LJ Cohen:

Homepage: http://www.ljcohen.net/
Blog: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/
Newsletter: http://www.ljcohen.net/mailinglist/mail.cgi/list/bluemusings
Google+: https://www.google.com/+LisaCohen
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5305326.L_J_Cohen
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ljcohen
Twitter: @lisajanicecohen

 

Writing companions

Who says writing is a solitary occupation? Although the birds are much less distracting than Pippin, who keeps lying on my feet, groaning, and accidentally switching the power off at the wall.

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The Dragon Girl

A fairy tale that came to me when I was supposed to be writing something else… 

Once there were two dragons. They lived in a cave quite close to a village. This was lucky for them because they were both getting old and could no longer fly long distances to find food. Every now and then one of them would float down the mountain on the evening breeze and pick up a cow, or a sheep, or a villager for their supper.

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The Green Man doll

In between everything else, I’ve been making a new doll. At the moment he is called “The Green Man.”  Using marbles for eyes is a new thing I’m trying out.  He looks quite different with his skin on 🙂

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I added ears. Then reshaped them. To my horror he looked just like Dobby from Harry Potter, which is not the look I was going for.

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So I moved the ears and added more bits.

 

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Then I made him a hand, holding the shell of my deceased apple snail.  His other hand is a hoof.

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Hand and hoof, freshly baked.

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Skulls

Have finished the first draft of my latest book (a whole new story, not a sequel to anything I’ve written before!).  Listening to Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind” while doodling on Photoshop.

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Wolf Logic is published!

At long last,  Wolf Logic is available for sale on Amazon.  Wolf Logic  is part of the two book series that starts with Crooks & Straights. These are fantasy novels set in an alternate version of contemporary South Africa where magic is real and magical creatures live and work among the rest of us.

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For those of you who don’t have the first book yet, here is the link to Crooks & Straights.  

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