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Destroying Budapest

My science-fiction work-in-progress is set in a single city, and I needed to see it to imagine living in it. Welcome to Pest! Only walk on gray parts….

Pest, the White Lake and the Soft Lands

Budapest was a proxy in the One-Day War between Greater Russia and Umoja East Africa. Buda is now the White Lake, a boiling toxic waste of microscopic robots that eat carbon dioxide, and anything else, to make diamonds that wash on its shores. Both embargoed no-person’s-land and boomtown, Pest houses thieves, smugglers, engineers, and skaters, daredevil gladiators who jump and spin over the Lake in maglev boots, just one fall from death.

I suppose I could have done any old thing to ruin a city, but I wanted a dusting of Science! in my fiction. I thought a fractal would make a believably consistent result small enough for microscopic robots to store. I used FractalWorks, a Mac app, to generate a tiny portion of the celebrated Mandelbrot function, and overlaid this on a large screenshot of central Budapest, so its finer arcs and whorls were the length of city blocks.

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver

Budapest map and Mandelbrot sliver

I didn’t think at the scale of blocks it could ever be so precise – if nothing else, land would collapse – so I cut out the Lake using an image editor’s predictive selection tool, to make the edges sloppy and eroded.

Both the pink and white areas are products of the fractal. The white is the Lake itself, while the pink represents Soft Lands, areas of shifting underground streams through which nanites recharge, around which smugglers tunnel.

It’s been a huge help to have the reference. Putting my characters on a literal map lets me figure out relative distances, and helps me imagine the land and the city that might grow from it.

I also thought further about my mechanical monster’s makeup. Where Lake meets land has always been seductively quiet, since earliest drafts. Instead, let the meeting of Lake and Soft Lands be a place of churn and upheaval, the turbulence of nanites going into and out of dormancy around the buzz of other nanites quantumly-uncertain just where their strange fractal stops. I have a heart murmur too.

It’s easier to name things in the context of the city’s weird sense of humor now, and I’m looking at it as more impressively built than previous drafts. Where before it was falling apart and hastily erected, now I see it as printed and reprinted, strange but regular, by the same artificially-intelligent drone “taxibots” that run the city services. This has new virtues and a very different look. And some rewriting.

If this map gets reproduced in the book, I don’t want the plain line drawing quality of most novel maps. Rather I’d commission a graphic artist to generate a cityscape, degrade that so it looked like a 12th-generation-photocopy of an old image, have all the landmarks written in sloppy marker. At top: “Welcome to Pest where you will likely die.” At bottom: “Wanna know more? Live and learn.”

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Demon ebook on special sale until Aug 17

Starting today for the next three weeks, The Demon in Business Class ebook is on sale as part of the “Bump in the Night” fantasy-thriller set at Storybundle.

Pay from $5 to $15, you get six ebooks, including mine; pay more than $15 and get nine more ebooks. Download versions for all readers – or, if you follow their slightly technical instructions, Storybundle can send it direct to your Kindle/Kindle app.

If you have friends who are fantasy or thriller readers, please share the sale with them! It’s good until August 17 2017.

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Hello Connecticon 2017 – and thanks!

Tonight I fly north to Hartford, CT, to join the Bard’s Tower booth opening Friday at Connecticon. It’s the first of three cons I’m doing in July at Bard’s Tower, with other fantastic writers.

Cons are intense, by design, and they’re also long days standing on concrete. Three cons in four weekends is a heavy schedule, personally tiring and hard on my family. Still, #livingthedream . These are my last big cons this calendar year. I want to connect with every interested reader during my hours in these big convention halls.

How immediate these connections can be! People know their tastes, even if naming them with difficulty, but they feel. Once in a while I get a visual clue that a convention-goer might be my audience – cosplaying Sandman‘s Death, or wearing an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt – but more often, the readers find me and click. I’ll see an hour of people glancing away, then a delighted voice reads my title aloud and everything brightens.

Connecticon 2016 was my first con behind the table, learning to connect with readers in person and find their interests, before my launch in Cincinnati. Seeing how little time one gets in the hugeness of a con convinced me to market overtly to a niche sensibility.

I am excited to come back with my book – and new trading cards!

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Sexual tension in fiction

My guest post for the Fictorians, a site on writing fiction, discusses sexual tension and its different roles in different stories. It’s part of the Fictorians’ month-long Tension series.

Read it at:

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Sticking to my knitting (opinions)

As Facebook gently reminded me —

my professional media have been stale. It was less a writer’s block than a blind alley. Perhaps others will find my thinking instructive.

Like everybody, I have opinions about the world, and in these contentious times, it’s very tempting to share them. Everyone else is, and I talk prettier than many. Why not join the fray? Ooh, ooh, you’re discussing politics, or climate change, or guns? I can do that too!

I drafted three different posts on things political. One even got into my WordPress dashboard, until I deleted it.

Truth is, I just don’t want to be a public intellectual.

It feels irresponsible to say this. In the face of the great activists of the past, and today’s popular writers who still manage worthy columns (or at least snarky tweets) – and often get slagged by some fans for voicing opinions they don’t like – it seems weak to say, nah, I’m out.

I’m out. While it might feel good to get something off my chest, people aren’t waiting around to hear what I have to say about today’s crisis. Or, if people are, they don’t just want it once. If I start down that road, I have to stick with it, have to make it a bigger part of my life and thought.

Perhaps this would be virtuous, but it wouldn’t be singular. Many good people already discuss the state of the world, plainly and well, after actually investigating it and reporting on it. If I want to change the world in favor of my political beliefs, I’m better off writing checks.

Or, writing novels.

Not that I’m going to be ripping tales from today’s headlines. That’s not my thing. More to the point, the political power of good fiction is often indirect. Fiction can say complicated things to culture, often better than it says simple ones. There are political ideas in my novel The Demon in Business Class, but they’re neither immediate nor partisan.

The “messy ground where the worldly meets the divine,” as my back-cover text promises, is a place in the mind. My characters in their big world might inform your opinions about tomorrow’s crisis, whatever it is, but only by example and analogy.

That’s my contribution. We’ll see if it’s enough, over time.

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Love your pile of words (first drafts)

I love my current first draft.

This is a shocking and unfashionable thing to say. Everyone laments their first draft. It is the shoals of mediocrity on which our dreams founder, or at least so tells every clickbait online writing workshop. Complaining about the horror of that first draft is required. Even really successful and also good writers do it, and always have.

I love mine. I banged it out for NaNoWriMo 2015, in fewer than my allotted thirty days. Yes, I know that’s a long time ago (I sold a book in the meantime!), but that length of time is supposed to make clear how awful the first draft is, as the scales of hope fall from my more jaundiced and persnickety eyes.

Alas, I love it, blazingly. I have reread it more than once, with comments from my writing dojo NoveltyDC, and each time I am in a better mood.

It’s got half-finished ideas that I now can’t remember, areas that need major restructuring, a lot of plodding exposition. Some of my best supporting characters – like the smuggler with a tail – are on far too briefly. Late ideas may turn out to be organizing principles. No doubt I will rewrite almost every sentence in it, reorganize it, wrestle it. I may occasionally kick it. It will take a lot of work. Even then it will be niche, strange, uncommercial and standalone.

It’s going to be great.

What is wrong with me? How did I get to this place? How did I find joy and wonder in my work while others gnash teeth and tear hair? It isn’t my success to date, which is tiny; nor is it my upbeat disposition, which is pure fakery. So what is it?

Here’s a thought – I love it because it’s a draft. It may be made of words, but it’s not a novel yet. It’s been work of course, the work of felling trees and forging nails, but this is the lumber and hardware and cleared ground, not the finished house. It’s a pile of words and ideas, and for that, it’s just fine. Well, maybe I will need a few more words.

The draft is the start, the lumber and blueprints. It will not house or warm you, not without a lot of work to come. It’s just a stage.

Get excited. And get to work.

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Dobranski Talks! (text, audio, video)

Apologies to Greta Garbo… Happy New Year! Here’s some recent Tony-media for you to enjoy!

Today my interview with author Raymond Bolton appears on his website. It’s certainly the most personal public conversation I’ve ever had, a story of insecurity, confusion and doubt, redeemed by the help of colleagues and the business model for Honest Tea.

Castle of Horror‘s Jason Henderson interviewed me for the Castle Talk podcast. It’s an unusual discussion, since it focuses on Demon‘s non-fantasy elements – corporate life and the travails of the business road-warrior, and how that culture defined the book’s style and language.

Finally, as a New Year’s present to my wonderful editor Vivian Caethe, I posted a video of my December 1 2016 reading on my public Facebook author page. It’s about forty-five minutes, with a short intro about my inspiration, three passages (in eight voices) from the book, and a bit at the end about marketing and promotion – which, as readers of this blog know, took over my creative life in the months leading to the Demon launch. (Those who’d rather listen can find the audio through this link, or the first comment on the FB video post.)