Idyll Chatter: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I want to apologize in advance for letting my blogular presence slide over the last few months. I’ve been really buckling down and focusing on finishing the last revisions of IDYLL, Book 3. I thought I was doing really well, finishing the first draft in mid-December. But for some reason these last few rounds took a really long time.

I’m thinking about redesigning the covers for all of the Idyll trilogy. What do you think of this new logo style?

Probably the biggest factor was work, which has been crazily busy over the last few months. I’m working after-hours more than ever, and that’s certainly been cutting into writing time. But I have to admit there was a period there where I got complacent (about 75% into my final set of rewrites), and I slowed my pace. Also, I’ve been thinking more and more the next series I want to write, and there’s been a few hours of writing time that I’ve devoted to outlining and world-building on that series.

After two years of straight writing on THE WILDS and EXILE, I needed a little break from the planet of Idyll, and I think those little bits of break have helped me re-approach the IDYLL finale and re-excite myself about the whole series. I’m really pumped about the way the Idyll trilogy ends, I can’t think of any other heroes who have had their story end in quite this way!

How will Samuel, Walt, Miriam, and Virginia ride off into the sunset? Will ALL of them make it to that last ride? I’m proud to announce that readers won’t have to wait long to find out. The manuscript is now finished, and EXILE should be released by May 16!

Also, I’m planning to release the entire series to Kindle Unlimited, so if you’re a KU subscriber, you’ll be able to check out the entire series for free. Stay tuned for more news.

And thanks so much for visiting and reading!

Ranking Black Mirror Episodes, Seasons 1-3

Do you have a love/hate relationship with technology? Do you love TV shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits? Then you should check out Black Mirror, currently available on Netflix. At first I wasn’t too intrigued by the idea of this series. I kinda expected each plot to devolve into the ending of Superman 3.

supermanIII

The most terrifying/ridiculous Superman moment ever

Sure, the plots are creepy and pessimistic on the whole, but there’s more to them than that. There are explorations of how mobile/social media and our surveillance culture speak to the seamy or sentimental sides of our human nature. In Black Mirror (I always pronounce it the way Arcade Fire sings it), technology is presented as 30% awesome, 70% revolting/dehumanizing. And we can’t turn away from that awesome 30%.

With that said, here is my ranking (in order of bestitude) of the episodes in Seasons 1, 2, and 3:     

#1
San Junipero
The premise:
I don’t want to give anything away. One of the great things about this very great episode is the mystery of it. This isn’t the first bit of science-fiction to explore this concept (It turns up to mind-blowing effect in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail). I will say if you’re still yearning for 80s nostalgia after Stranger Things, this will help scratch that itch.
My take: A rare optimistic episode. Some people will find it uplifting—some will find it uplifting and vaguely disturbing. But I don’t think you can deny that the story is bittersweet and beautiful. Maybe the story was particularly resonant for me because I feel like (pardon the self-promotion) my two Idyll trilogy books deal with this idea, a little (but in a more pessimistic way). Book 3, Exile, which I’m polishing now, will explore the concept further.

#2
The Entire History of You
The premise: Almost everyone has implants in their skull that record the video and audio inputs of every moment of your life. You can replay those memories at will, or project them onto a screen for others to see.
My take: I had a similar idea for a short story; I’m sure probably a lot of people have. But here, the writers take the idea and just kill it (in a good way). My story was going to involve a guy who become addicted to reliving his best days, so that he never makes any new memories. This story goes in a much better direction. Also, Robert Downey Jr. has bought the rights to turn this episode into a film.

#3
Fifteen Million Merits
The premise: More dystopian than the SNL’s The Group Hopper. Everyone wears gray sweatsuits. They pedal spin-bikes to create energy. They are inundated with screentime at every waking moment.
My take: Of all the episodes in the series, this one builds a world that is most different from our own. In fact, parts of it are a bit cartoonish. Then the episode reveals how this world deals with instant—and disposable—celebrity, and the story really takes off. Everyone is one step from becoming a reality show buffoon, one step from an American Idol superstar, one step from a porn star.

#4
Nosedive:
The premise: The world is so plugged into social media that every social interaction is logged in and rated. Social status is now absolutely quantified, and posted on Heads-Up feeds, so everyone can see where you fall on the popularity scale. If your score is high enough, it will help you qualify for loans and housing—low enough and certain places will bar you from entering.
My take: I had to stop this one midway through because it was stressing me out. Anything involving an airport snafu is like an immediate trigger warning for me. So the first half of this episode is lightly disturbing. Then the second half almost becomes a comedy, ala Road Trip or Wedding Crashers. Overall, the feel of ‘Nosedive’ is more like a parody than a cautionary tale. Ultimately, I don’t think people would buy into this concept of Facebookifying their entire lives. But 10% of the population would probably love it!

#5
Be Right Back
The premise: A tech startup can resuscitate the dead—virtually—by creating an artificial intelligence based their mobile and social media presence.
My take: Wow. The writers flesh out the characters, lay down the dynamite, and set up the viewer for a wallop. The story has some similar themes to Her and A.I.—except this ghost in the machine was an actual person at one point.

#6
Hated in the Nation
The premise:
This one is another mystery, so I won’t give anything away. A woman is murdered. And internet hatin’ is involved. At 90 minutes long, ‘Hated in the Nation’ is a movie-length capper to Season 3.
My take:
This was good. It reminded me of those buzzy, ‘viral’-type suspense movies (Nerve, Purge, Gossip) where characters get caught up in social phenomena. Also, there’s a bit of Seven in there. Now that I think about it… it might have been better if the main sci-fi element had been removed, and the story was more of a straight-forward serial killer mystery.

#7
Playtest:
The premise: A man volunteers to spend a night in a creepy house while hooked up to an augmented-reality gaming device that taps into your greatest fear. For the love of God… Why?!?!
My take: Good, straight-forward popcorn/horror fun. You can kind of see the big pay-off coming, but the path it takes has just the right amounts of twists in it.

#8
White Christmas
The premise: A bonus-length, Christmas episode that works in two sci-fi ideas: 1) digitally copying your mind to create your own digital house-slave, and 2) turning social media ‘blocking’ into a real-world thing.
My take: This is another very dark episode, and the concepts and core characters are pretty mean. If you know someone who’s freaked out by artificial intelligence, don’t let them watch this episode.

#9
Shut Up and Dance
The premise: Verrrrry dark. This episode feels close to modern times. A teenager has his laptop hacked, and he ends up being FaceTimed during his ‘personal’ time. The troubles only get worse from there.
My take: The characters’ decision-making seemed over-the-top for a lot of this episode. And did I mention this one is verrrrrrrrry dark? Then there’s a sort of hurried, garbled phone conversation that ends the proceedings with one final, icky cherry on top. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Is it true? Seemed a little confusing to me. Good use of a soundtrack, though.

#10
National Anthem
The premise:
Someone has kidnapped England’s most beloved princess, and they want to extort the Prime Minister to do something very embarrassing.
My take: A short episode, and not a whole lot to say about technology in general. Except that the web completely cuts through the reins that the British government’s try to put on their traditional news outlets.

#11
Men Against Fire:
The premise: High-tech soldiers fighting a mysterious hostile species called Roaches. I won’t give away anything else, because this one is also set up as a mystery.
My take: I feel like I figured out the mystery way too soon, then the story seemed to drag while I waited for everything to play out. An interesting idea though; and Doug Stamper’s in it.

#12
The Waldo Moment
The premise: A comedian who voices a vulgar cartoon bear finds himself mixed up in a national election.
My take: Again, Black Mirror takes on politics. This episode reminds me a bit of House of Cards, real people caught up in diabolical political schemes. Shadowy  strategists decide that an irreverent, populist cartoon bear is the perfect candidate, and their argument actually kind of makes sense

#13
White Bear
The premise: 90% of the population have mysteriously turned into gawkers. All they ever do is wander the earth mutely and record stuff on their phones. Society has broken down, and the remaining 10% of the population react to this new status quo in one of two ways. They go on Purge-style murder sprees, or they run and hide from the Purge people.
My take: A good start, but in my opinion, this is one case where the episode’s twist actually makes the story lamer.

Idyll Chatter: Bass Ackwards

bass_ackwards_309552032Good news! I’m almost halfway through the first draft of Book 3 of the Idyll Trilogy! Not sure if I’ve revealed the name of Book 3, but I might as well announce it in this post. EXILE!! So ‘Idyll,’ ‘The Wilds,’ and ‘Exile.’ How’s that for long ‘I’ sounds mixed with ‘L’s?

So far, my writing has moved much faster on ‘Exile’ than it did with ‘Idyll’ and ‘The Wilds.’ Partly, that might be a “light at the end of the tunnel” thing. I’m starting to get fired up about bits of positive reaction I’ve received, and I’m excited to complete the whole Idyll Trilogy and show my readers how the book ends. I’ve had this Book 3 climax and denouement sketched out (roughly) since October of 2014! I hope people will find it hopeful and thought-provoking, and maybe a bit heartbreaking as well.

Another thing that slowed down my progress on ‘Idyll’ and ‘The Wilds?’ There was a lot more open to change in the story. In fact, I’ve mentioned on the blog before how ‘Idyll’ went through massive changes during the seven years (yikes!) that I fiddled with it. Zombies to lasers, to neo-cavemen, to comet UFOs. At one point, all of these things (and more) existed in the Idyll world. In Book 2, my main stumbling blocks came from the plot. There were at least three times where I would hit a stumbling block in the story (usually I needed a character to act in a way that didn’t make sense, or the story elements were becoming too complicated to explain), so I would have to backtrack and rework the path until I had a story that was as simple and smooth as possible.

With ‘Exile,’ the potential for detours has greatly been decreased. Most of the world-building is established, the character’s voices have been clearly defined. Also the room for divergencies in the plot has been greatly tightened.

With all that said, a few months back I decided to do something unconventional—maybe controversial—to try to eliminate any stumbling blocks or rewrites. I already know exactly where I want the story to be at about 66% into the book. There’s a big milestone event that happens there, and the fallout from that is what shapes everything thereafter. I had a rough outline that was pretty good at fleshing out the story leading to that 66% milestone, but I was pretty hazy on what our heroes do that gets them to the books climax and the series epilogue.

So I stopped writing from the beginning of the book, skipped ahead to the moments after that 66% milestone and started writing from there! From there I wrote up to the epilogue, which I’m guess will be the last 8% of the book. (The epilogue is going to be pretty loooong! I might end up just calling it the last chapter).

Now I’m writing again from the front of the book, armed with the foresight of what the characters need and what they WILL be thinking in the last third of the book. So, far the process has worked pretty well. I just hope the tone that I’ve fallen into now will match the tone that I was writing in two months ago. But there’s been several times before that I’ve written sequential sections of a book at different times, and then I had to go back and smooth over the tone between them.

Fingers crossed that this will work out, and I’ll keep writing at this steady pace!

Sketchbook: Virginia Bridge

sketch072Virginia Bridge
Age: 22

Like many settlers, Virginia was born of Chinese and Latino descent. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the Idyll expedition was primarily populated by volunteers from the Sino-Pacific Partnership and the United Americas.

Virginia prefers to wear leafweave clothes, which are made from gene-modded plants. The preferred method to tailor leafweave clothes is to arrange the seedlings over mannequins so that the creeping ivy intertwines together. Some articles of clothing are created from fronds meshed in a herringbone pattern. Others are made of broad, felt-covered succulent leaves. Leafweave clothes are usually not green. Jackets, blouses, and skirts are often tawny brown, or very pale blue. Deep red or bone white. If you squint you eyes, you’ll probably see an ancient American-Indian influence to most leafweave fashions.

To learn more, read Idyll, or download a free sample today:
Amazon
iBooks
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
Smashwords

Or check out the continuing story from Virginia’s perspective, starting with The Wilds.

The Wilds, Now Available!

The Wilds by James DerryTHE WILDS (Book 2 of the Idyll Trilogy) is now live on Amazon and Smashwords!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HDPFGW6

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/644912

Yay! For people who haven’t read Idyll, check it out here. That book, in my mind, had a pretty satisfactory ending to it, but I knew there was more I wanted to explore about Starboard brothers and Bridge sisters. So I explored ideas to heap more troubles into their lives, and found that I was surprisingly (sadistically!) adept at doing so. The first few chapters shake up the status quo with a big event that will have ramifications that are felt throughout the rest of the saga, to Book 3 and the trilogy’s ultimate conclusion.

Here’s the description for THE WILDS:

Walt and Samuel Starboard. Miriam and Virginia Bridge. Four travelers entered the mysterious City-Ship of Marathon, but only three made it out.

Now our heroes are faced with a new, more existential threat. An invader from Mother Earth has arrived on Idyll—an outlaw psychopath who will use Terran technology to establish himself as the planet’s ultimate creator-destroyer.

And to make matters worse—he’s brought company.

To stop this ‘outcaster,’ Marathon’s survivors will fight their way through a demolished starship, under the bowels of their planet, across untamed wilds—and into a stark white desert unlike anyplace they have ever imagined. But will it be enough to save Idyll from certain doom?

Continuing the story started in 2015’s IDYLL, THE WILDS is jam-packed with plasma-gun shoot-outs, a love triangle that spans an ocean, and ‘Lord of the Flies’-style suspense. If that sounds like your kind of character-driven sci-fi goodness, then you should check it out!

Rum droll, please!

Book 2 of the Idyll Trilogy will drop on June 21! Check out the cover & blurb for THE WILDS!

The Wilds by James DerryWalt and Samuel Starboard. Miriam and Virginia Bridge. Four travelers entered the mysterious City-Ship of Marathon, but only three made it out.

Now our heroes are faced with a new, more existential threat. An invader from Mother Earth has arrived on Idyll—an outlaw psychopath who will use Terran technology to establish himself as the planet’s ultimate creator-destroyer.

And to make matters worse—he’s brought company.

To face this ‘outcaster,’ Marathon’s survivors will fight their way through a demolished starship, under the bowels of their planet, across untamed wilds—and into a stark white desert unlike any they have ever imagined. But will it be enough to save their world from certain doom?

Continuing the story started in 2015’s IDYLL, THE WILDS is jam-packed with plasma-gun shoot-outs, a love triangle that spans an ocean, and ‘Lord of the Flies’-style suspense. If that sounds like your kind of character-driven sci-fi goodness, then you should check it out!

 

 

Idyll Chatter: Storyboarding

IMG_0345The light at the end of the tunnel! I’m approaching the last few rounds of editing on Book 2 of the Idyll Trilogy! One of my biggest challenges in writing THE WILDS is that its plot is split into two separate-but-parallel tracks for most of the novel. I have two sets of characters working toward their own independent goals, but with tangential plots and bits of mysteries threading in between them. My hope is that the reader will find out things in one plot-thread and realize it has big ramifications for characters in the second plot-thread, and vice-versa.

But intertwining those two stories (and flows of information) has become quite complicated. How to keep all of this straight? Storyboarding! If you look at the pictures in this post, each colored sticky note sums up a chapter in the WILDS. They’re color-coded to represent different P.OV.s. This book has three main narrators. To avoid spoilers, I won’t pass on any other details.

I started the storyboarding exercise as sort of a whim, but it’s proven to be pretty useful:

IMG_0350At least two times, I rearranged sticky notes because I realized the story beats had a bigger impact when they flowed in a different way. (For instance, while one set of characters is in dire trouble; the other set of characters are blissfully unaware and having a happy/relaxing day).

Also, storyboarding was a great way to visualize the novel’s timeline. THE WILDS takes place over a span of about three weeks, so it’s incredible useful to have a way to keep track of the characters’ days.

Another thing that I now see: I’m using LOTS of pages to describe plot points that can be broken down on a few dozen sticky notes. Looks like I need another round of trimming the fat!

So if you’re trying to manage multiple plot threads and points-of-view, maybe give storyboarding a try!