Monday, March 17, 2014

How Addiction Came to Southwatch

Editor's note: This is a guest blog post by Daniel Ausema, author of The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame.  Enjoy!

Mellia, the central character in “The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame,” is a steam monkey, a person whose body was modified as a child to make her immune to most electricity but addicted to high voltage. Celina has asked me to dig a bit into how I took the original ideas of this shared world and teased them out into the novella, so this is the aspect I'm going to focus on in this blog post: the steam monkeys and their addiction to electricity.

If you read the original Darkside Codex bible, you'd see that there was nothing about such an operation or addiction in the original conception of the setting. So how did that come about? To answer that I need to step outside the Southwatch setting for a moment. Around the time I was reading through the materials on Southwatch, I was also looking around for a copy of Steph Swainston's Above the Snowline. The book hasn't been released in the US, so finding a legal e-copy was proving more difficult than I was expecting...and that difficulty had me thinking more and more about the earlier books in the series.

If you haven't read The Year of Our War, I definitely recommend you do. At one level they're very traditional fantasy books, yet Swainston always manages to take the ideas slantwise, with a high dose of the best kind of imagination. Central to the books is the narrator, Jant Comet. He is immortal, at least until someone can best him and take his place in the circle of immortals. And he is addicted to a drug that would certainly kill him if not for his immortality.

So I had Jant at the back of my mind as I was plunging into the background of the city of Southwatch, and I thought it would be a good challenge to write about a character who is addicted to something self-destructive and yet without losing readers' sympathy. It was the barest of outlines for a character, but it was the central seed that Mellia grew from.

There is a good deal in the Codex bible about the high society up above the Dark Cloud, and that could have been a ripe milieu for an addicted character. Moving in fancy circles, characters hiding expensive drugs from their peers. That's not usually the kind of story I'm drawn toward, though, and as I read more about the Steamworks and the street-level aspects of the city, I found myself imagining those places much more clearly. The gas masks and twilit streets called for a story, the clanking presses of the factories and the crowded tenements. I turned my attention to those parts of the Codex bible.

But what about the whole body modification stuff? How did that work its way into Southwatch and get entwined with the addiction? To answer that, I need to point to the rest of the novels and stories I've written. It's a theme that plays out in vastly different ways across many of them, not something I consciously think, “Oh, I need to shoe-horn some body modification in here,” but a theme that develops on its own in many stories. I'd say that it's very closely tied with the infections of Chels and the other characters in my Spire City episodes. In other, unpublished novels I have characters who have cyberpunk sorts of implants in one and a land that causes the characters' bodies to mutate if they stay in one place too long in another, to just mention two. All those, as I see them, are akin to each other and to Mellia's experimental implants. Someday a grad student in literature will write a thesis exploring how that plays out in my various works...

(It's worth mentioning that similar transformations take place often in the works discussed as New Weird, as well as being not all that far off from a common motif in fairy tales and folk tales, all of which have been influences on me.)

So, that's a long way of coming back to the question of how Mellia's transformations fit into the Darkside Codex. As I read through the information about the rogue scientists and the factories, with the thought of Mellia's addiction at the back of my mind, it all fell together. Of course there are and have been scientists employed by the factories, operating outside of the usual, accepted labs and laws. Of course they've looked into tweaking the workers in the factories. Maybe some they've tried to turn into mindless drones as an alternative to the mechanicals. Maybe some they've tried to keep small, so they never outgrow their usefulness. And who can say what other experiments the factory scientists have performed? Those are great wrinkles for other writers to explore, and I hope some do.

Until then, at least we have the steam monkeys, their bodies lined with electricity-conducting wires, their necks pierced by the coils of metal that are the outward signs of their modification. And when they are too old for the factories, if they live that long, then they wander the streets and underground of Southwatch, immune to shock but craving a greater jolt of electricity. So take a trip with us Darkside Codex writers, and maybe you'll meet up with one of them.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Letter From the Editor, or What Are We Looking For in TDC Books?

Everyone always wants to know the answer to the question "I wonder what they're looking for?" Although our submission guidelines are specific, they're more about the nuts and bolts of a potential submission.  The part of the acquisition process that is the most obscure for the writer is the subjective part, which is rendered even more difficult to guess because of the unique requirements of a shared world. The Darkside Codex is a huge, complex world and has been from its conception. But what makes a shared world so much fun is that the world is never finished. Never. Writers are bound by the canon, but have extraordinary license to build and expand upon it.

The main thing I'm looking for is a great story.  Yes, I know. Trite. Basically, I want to see stories that can stand on their own merit, as if they don't rely upon the shared world. Sure, you can write something that expounds upon the world beautifully, but I have to care about the characters, I have to have an emotional stake in the resolution of the conflict, and I have to "see" the story in my head, like a movie. In other words, you have to engage my interest. Even if there are a few small flaws in your story content-wise, I'm experienced enough to judge whether a story can fly with regular editing, whether it needs to be revised/resubmitted, and whether it's just not going to work.


One thing you absolutely need to make sure that you do is to send me a clean manuscript with proper grammar and spelling. The downside to being experienced enough to see past structural flaws to the heart of the story is that experience makes me a little intolerant of easily fixed mistakes. A word to the wise--do NOT rely upon spell checker or grammar checker software for your submissions. Go through your submission word for word, line by line, page by page. Spell check, for example, cannot differentiate between homonym errors--and nothing is worse than a manuscript where the author incorrectly uses to/two/too or there/they're or its/it's.

(hint: homonym errors are my current submissions pet warned)

And finally, when I read your story, it needs to have the feel of Southwatch.  That doesn't mean a rubber stamped style from the first couple of books.  CA Chevault's Storm Angel and Daniel Ausema's The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame are very different in style, tone, and feel. For one thing, Storm Angel is set primarily sunside while The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame is set darkside--and both stories reflect their settings in tone, style, character, and conflict. So your submission needs to fit in with the part of the Southwatch world where your POV character(s) primarily reside. A girl who was caught in the burning rains in Bricktown is going to have a completely different voice than a young aristocrat who's the favorite drinking buddy of Thomas Amberville, the Baron of Southwatch. Also, the feel of the setting is going to be different as well.  While there are good times to be had darkside, for the most part the lower you are in Southwatch, the more desperate your situation. There's room for any author to play in Southwatch, no matter what side of the Dark Cloud you play on.

Hopefully, all this will help any potential authors as they prepare their submission for The Darkside Codex. Let me remind you, too, to take advantage of the opportunity to send me the first two-three chapters pre-submission. I am more than willing to look at what you've got and plan to do, determine if it is working within the world, inform you of any changes in the world that will affect your story, and give you my honest opinion of your work. This isn't a submission, and I'm not looking for publication polish. All this is for is to help you to complete your TDC submission by giving you feedback at a relatively early stage. You can learn how to do this by looking at our submission guidelines.

Best of luck to you, writers!  I am looking forward to seeing your Darkside stories soon--

Editor's note: Celina Summers is not only the editor reading submissions for The Darkside Codex, but she's also the co-creator of the world (with Richard C. White) and the Editorial Director of Musa Publishing.  With a writing background in speculative fiction and sixteen novels and novellas to her credit, she's happily combined her love for the great shared worlds of the past like Dragonlance and Thieve's World with steampunk and other spec fic genre mashups in The Darkside Codex. 

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Meet Daniel Ausema, Author of The Electro-Addictive Moth Flame!

The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame is the second book of The Darkside Codex. Author Daniel Ausema takes the world in a whole new direction, penetrating into the desperate lives of Darksiders and opening the door to the academic and scientific realms in Southwatch.  So let's introduce him to Darkside readers. You can purchase a copy of The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame at the Musa Publishing website. 

Addiction and mad science come together beneath the poisonous Dark Cloud of Southwatch!

 An experimental operation by a shady scientist left Mellia immune to most electrical currents, but addicted to high voltage that pushes her to the edge of death. When she isn't chasing a fix in the factories and tunnels of Southwatch, she is an expert at fixing the wiring in broken gas masks.

A job offer from a professor offers what she needs most: money. As she fixes masks, though, she grows curious about his work. Can he really breed plants that will survive beneath the Dark Cloud of the city? The only way to test his theories is to travel into a region of the Cloud so foul that every mask fails. Running an electric current through the filters might be the last chance to keep their masks working, but that means Mellia has to go along with the professor and his students. Playing with electricity inside the abandoned levels of the city may be the last thing her addicted body needs.

  1. What first sparked your interest in the Darkside Codex? 

I like fantasy worlds with a steampunk feel, so that caught my attention. It's such a rich era for telling all sorts of stories. That wasn't necessarily enough to get me writing, but then I read about the Dark Cloud and how it divides the city vertically, and I could see a lot of cool stories happening down beneath that toxic mess. Plus I'd worked with various people from Musa with stories in Penumbra, and such, so I knew that side of things would be a pleasure.

  1. What gave you the idea for Steam Monkeys? 

One of the things I've always remembered from a high school history class about the industrial era was the kids who were forced to work in the factories because their small size was helpful for crawling into the small spaces and freeing a stuck part or fixing whatever needed fixing. So for me, those kids are always a part of any steampunk setting. In fact, I may have used the same phrase in my Spire City stories—the kids working in the factories are dismissively called steam monkeys and boiler rats (or is it the other way around?). So I simply used the same phrase here, but then Mellia's history became entwined in that, and the mechanical modifications became a part of what steam monkeys are in this place.

  1. What happens now for Mellia?

She'll always struggle with her addiction. I think she'll find a way to continue and even succeed, but it'll always be something that looms behind her, that she half wishes could still claim her. But despite that, I see her joining the faculty at Rootledge College and training people to manipulate electrical currents in new and surprising ways. Will she end up with Professor Simuel? I'll leave that question for readers to imagine.

        4.Is it harder to write in a shared world than in a world you create yourself? 

One of the things I most enjoy about writing is creating a strange and memorable place. So in that sense, a shared world is very different. I wouldn't want to only write in shared worlds. At the same time, there's something freeing in it. It takes a certain pressure off as I'm writing so that I'm free to explore things in different ways than I otherwise might. But no matter whether it's a shared world or something original, you can always be sure that I will bring that place to life. Readers will always feel themselves immersed in a place full of real cobbles and steam pipes, or whatever the story might demand, of realized people interacting with their locations and not merely performing in front of a static backdrop. Imaginary gardens with real toads, to steal that metaphor.

        5. Are you planning to write another Darkside book? 

Yes, probably. I'm currently reading through the revised Darkside Codex bible and deciding what might spark my interest next. I'm liking the underground farms this time. Hmm, what crazy things might be happening down there, and what secrets might be hiding?

       6. What part of the world do you want most for someone else to write about?

Someone else? Hmm. Probably the underwater city of Atragon. Sounds like a fascinating place, and the mix of tension and cooperation with Southwatch should provide a lot of fodder for stories, but at this point it's not what I'm thinking I'll explore in my next story there.

       7. What part of the world would be where you'd most want to be? 

Far from the Dark Cloud! Someplace with mountains and forests and, especially, clean air. Within the city, though, probably the White Cliffs, among the artists, or else somewhere in the mix in University Heights. Intellectual stimulation and creativity, but ideally in a section of those neighborhoods that isn't too run-down or rough...

      8 . So are you a sunsider or a darksider?

As a writer, darksider absolutely. I mean, sky pirates are beyond cool, and maybe I could be convinced to write about them, but it's beneath the Cloud where all the stories that really interest me will be taking place.

Daniel Ausema is the creator of the Spire City serial, also published by Musa, and has had short stories and poems appear in many places, including Penumbra, Daily Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede. He is a stay-at-home dad and lives in Colorado.