Author Archives: hccummings

About hccummings

Here you will find out about Hans's writing and other projects. Feel free to leave comments. As time goes by, this site will become more sophisticated and hopefully, be able to provide you with all the information you need about his novels, short stories, and fantasy & sci-fi worlds.

The Gingerbreadening, Part the Second

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(Trying to get WordPress to put images where I want them is always a struggle when I have more images than text, so I apologize for the presentation.)

In one respect, building a gingerbread house is like any other construction project: you need to start with a plan.

(You can click on the images to enlarge them.)

Many gingerbread books include plans for the structures they feature (some do not). There are also some available online. You can also create your own by constructing your buildings out of cardstock or cardboard, then using the finished pieces as templates for your baking.

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Part of our prep work also includes making modeling chocolate. Domed and round structures are really hard to make out of a cookie, so using a flexible medium eliminates a LOT of stress.

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The Gingerbreadening, Part the First

There comes a time of year when spices emerge, vast quantities of butter, sugar, and eggs are acquired, and the baking begins.

This is not an activity that comes without planning. Architectural plans are drawn up and mock-ups are created in cardboard, then used as templates.

Pounds upon pounds of confectioner’s sugar (aka icing sugar aka powdered sugar) will be used in quantities that could make the kitchen look like a cocaine den.

This time of year is called THE GINGERBREADENING.

2014-11-22-18-20-52Each year has a theme. The last time The Gingerbreadening happened, it was a village square. This time, it is Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” Normally, part of the challenge of building gingerbread structures is keeping everything straight. It’s like building a house of cards: if your cards were made out of cookies. I don’t know if purposely constructing warped, crooked structures is going to make this easier or more difficult.

Thus far, only the base has been created. Well, that’s not true. All of the gingerbread pieces are complete and ready for assembly. But, in order to assemble them, a baseplate must be made ready. It is little more than a foil-wrapped cardboard box covered in white fondant.

Fun fact: different brands of mini marshmallows are different colors. Even when the coloring additive in all of them is Blue 1. One batch had a definite blueish cast. Another was more yellow. The third was sort of a neutral, off-white. Once the building are in place and decorated, it is doubtful anyone will notice.

Echo Station 3-T-8. We've spotted Imperial Walkers on the north ridge!

Echo Station 3-T-8. We’ve spotted Imperial Walkers on the north ridge!

My wife left me alone with the base while the fondant was drying. This was the result.

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More NaNoWriMo Advice

There’s a lot of great writing advice out there. The best advice comes with the caveat that it is what works for the author who wrote it and may, but not neccessarily, work for you, too.

This advice includes things like restrict adverb use (or more extremely, NO ADVERBS EVER THEY’RE BAD YOU’RE A MONSTER FOR USING THEM), always use simple dialog tags/vary dialog tags/never use dialog tags, make sure all your fluff advances the story, make sure all your characters have a clear arc, etc. etc.

It’s good advice, but it may not be the best things to keep in mind as you’re racing to accomplish 50,000 words in 30 days.

1,667 words a day for thirty day is not, in itself difficult. The real challenge during NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, is having those thirty days in November. It’s a busy month, particularly if you’re an American who celebrates Thanksgiving near the end of the month. If you add in Election Day and Veteran’s Day, plus holiday shopping, maybe even Halloween tear-down, that’s a LOT of demands on a would-be author’s time.

The demands on an author’s time in November are one reason I advocate building up a buffer early in November. As the holidays approach, time becomes more and more valuable. So, my advice if you want to increase your speed, is to take all that advice about making your writing better and chuck it out the window.

Write your story.
Ignore the rules about what makes writing good (or even acceptable).
Just WRITE.

Editing & revisions later will make your writing good. If you don’t get a story written down, there won’t be anything to edit.

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NaNoWriMo 2016

National Novel Writing Month is upon us! For the first time since I started participating in 2007, I am not writing anything of substance this month.

The reason for this is simple: I already have two manuscripts in the process of revisions and editing, and I do not need to add to the backlog. I just finished up the fourth Zack Jackson novel and the final novel in the Scars of the Sundering trilogy is in editing now. I really need a break. Plus, there are a lot of other Real Life™ issues coming up this month.

There’s always Camp NaNo in April or July (and I likely will participate in one of those). By then, I’ll probably be ready to start on the next Zack Jackson novel (that’d be book 5, for those of you keeping track).

But, this is about NaNoWriMo, not about my plans.

The important thing about NaNoWriMo, to stay on track is to write 1,667 words per day. The holidays can make that REALLY difficult, so I try to do a little more, especially at the beginning, and build up a bit of a buffer.

The advice about turning off your internal editor is doubly applicable during NaNoWriMo–don’t worry about making sure everything is perfect as you go, that’s what editing & revisions are for. Once you “give yourself permission to suck” it’s much easier to make progress.

I used to get all stressed about FINISHING the story before Nov. 30th, even if I was way past 50,000 words. The thing is, if you try to force a story into a certain word length, it can feel rushed or forced (or too drawn out), so just to satisfy the Rules Lawyer within, I’ll make sure I write some sort of closing, even if I never bridge it with the rest of the novel in November.

Pancras by Lily YangIf you have an outline and your story starts to deviate from it, that’s OK, too. When I wrote Wings of Twilight during NaNoWriMo 2010 (we’re entering mild spoiler territory here), I had all these plans for a particular character only to find out, OOPS HE DIED 1/2-WAY THROUGH THE BOOK. Thus was Pancras born, who became the breakout character and is one of the most popular characters in the story based on feedback I’ve gotten from nearly half-a-dozen people.

So, crack a beverage, get to writing and good luck!

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REVIEW – Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston

ahsoka-coverFor those of you who don’t know who Ashoka Tano is, a quick introduction. After Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, an animated series debuted on Cartoon Network called “Star Wars – The Clone Wars.” In it, we are introduced to the previously unknown apprentice of Anakin Skywalker (he who would become Darth Vader): a young Togruta named Ahsoka Tano. She was essentially the breakout character of that series after a bit of a rocky start (i.e. once the writers figured out how to write an adolescent in a war without making her too annoying). When the series ended, the explanation of why she wasn’t in Revenge of the Sith was satisfactory, but her ultimate fate was left unknown. She reappeared fifteen years later (in-universe chronology) in the current Disney XD show, “Star Wars – Rebels.”

This novel fills in some of the between the end of The Clone Wars and Ahsoka’s appearance in Rebels. Specifically, it shows how Ahsoka came to the attention of Bail Organa (Princess Leia’s adoptive father) and became the agent known as Fulcrum.

We see how the New Order of the Empire affects the regular, rural people of the galaxy and Star Wars: Ashoka takes time to show us how nasty the Empire is to everyone who isn’t part of their very narrow view of “acceptable.”

Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say the book is tight; it moves quickly and I was never lost or confused. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and, in fact, would rank it near the top of all the Extended Universe novels and thus far, the best of the new EU continuity. While I appreciate what some other authors bring to the EU, I didn’t have to fight against the writing style (which is a completely subjective judgment), and it certainly made reading more pleasurable. My only real criticism is I felt the climax was a bit rushed, particularly Ashoka’s confrontation with her nemesis, an Inquisitor (fans of “Star Wars: Rebels” will be familiar with the type). Still, I suppose it is good to occasionally show the bad guys getting curb-stomped because they underestimate their opponents, and it is a known flaw of the Empire.

For too long, and with few exceptions, EU novels focused on the exploits of the Skywalkers and Solos we came to know and love in the films. With seemingly every event in the galaxy revolving around Luke, Leia, and Han, it made the universe feel very small.

Expanding the cast of characters novels can focus on helps with that tremendously. For all the awesome things about Star Wars, there’s really very few role-models for young women and the franchise sorely needed more. Ashoka Tano is a good one. She’s witty, strong, competent and self-sufficient. She’s not shown to need help to accomplish the most basic tasks and when she does need help, she recognizes it, formulates a plan, gets the help she needs and gets things done. Without a doubt, Ashoka Tano continues the tradition of strong female characters in sci-fi and fantasy and she is a fine addition to the heroes of Star Wars.

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Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus

Zack Jackson Arc

The first draft of Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus is complete!

Once I remembered how to write for this series (three fantasy novels in a row kind of made forget some of the character’s voices), I had a lot of fun writing it. There are several new characters to look out for:

  • Rio, a transfer student who takes a liking to Zack
  • Major Jericho, an EAC fleet officer who is on Cytherea to help with the immigration of Confederation citizens relocating to Vilicus
  • Kaneer, a Kerrolan who is Zack and Ix’s new roommate
  • Valianna Hallox, a Noble Devoran and daughter of the former Emperor of Devorus, temporarily stopping at Cytherea en route to Vilicus… Dravs may be in love…

I hope to have this one available for sale by next August (to be released at Gen Con). After a short break, I will start writing book 5, Zack Jackson & the Ruins of Athos.

You can buy the previous three Zack Jackson books at Amazon.com.

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Interview with the Moi

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00040]I was recently interviewed on Melanie Tomlin’s blog about Scars of the Sundering: Lament. Check it out!

Lament is book two in my Scars of the Sundering trilogy. It is currently available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.com.

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REVIEW – Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever by Frank Conniff

25moviescoverSo, I’ve read Kevin Murphy’s A Year at the Movies. I kind of expected this book to be similar to that; essays about twenty-five terrible films. Instead, Frank Conniff uses each film to start an essay on a tangentally-related subject. So, don’t read this looking for in-depth analyses of the films used as chapter titles.

That said, it’s a very entertaining book. Sometimes, it’s good to have expectations challenged.

There were a few surprises in this book, which elevate it to something more akin to a love letter to movies, good and bad. Mixed in with the hilarious, rambling essays about terrible movies is a poignant tribute to filmmaker Ed Wood. It was surprising to see this after so many diatribes and rants, but Frank Conniff is absolutely right: though Ed Wood lacked talent, he did not lack passion for his craft. He had the soul of an artist trapped in the body of a man who had not a shred of artistic talent. Ed Wood was a geek auteur in an era where being anything other than a cisgendered, straight, white male, was a recipe for ostracization, scorn, and often worse. Yet, Ed Wood made his movies anyway, and made them his way, as best he could.

Of course, there is an almost obligatory apology for Manos: The Hands of Fate (an infamous movie riffed on MST3K which arguably would still be rotting in obscurity were it not for the show). Thanks, Frank, we appreciate that!

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Reading and Imagination

Imagination is a fire.

No, think about it. Fires start small and can either peter out if they have insufficient fuel, or can catch and blaze away forever.

A log will burn for a good long while, but you can’t easily set a log on fire with a match. The match will burn out long before the log catches fire.

A recent article argued that the glut of YA fiction is turning off young readers and “robbing our teenagers of the change to become literate adults.” (I won’t link to the P.O.S. article because I don’t want to encourage page hits.)

Aside from the asinine assertion that reading can cause illiteracy (I know that’s not what the author meant, but it could have been worded in such a way as to NOT suggest that.), the article basically laments the fact that reading things like The Hunger Games and Twilight is keeping teens from reading “classics,” and thus, contributing to the illiteracy of society.

Oh noes! Western Civilization is going to collapse because little Timmy McGee is reading X-Men comics instead of Ulysses!

Now, I can go on and on about what constitutes a literary classic. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say if I had started reading Faulker or Joyce or Woolf when I was 12, I would be a very different person. I wouldn’t have developed a love of reading for one. Without a love of reading, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Elitists love to separate fiction into Literature and Pulp. All genre fiction is automatically shuffled into “pulp,” unless, by circumstance it becomes so ingrained into culture it becomes impossible to ignore it (and even then they’ll hold their noses when they speak of it).

All literature has value, however. It boggles my mind how someone can bitch about teens choosing to read instead of playing video games, watching TV, “hanging out” where ever teens hang out these days, etc. It’s crazy.

See, a good fire, needs to be started properly. If you want voracious, “literate” readers (and by literate, I assume the author of that despicable piece means “readers who like & appreciate what I consider to be Literary Fiction” rather than people who are able to read and comprehend), you have to get them hooked on reading.

So, start small. If you want that log to burn, you use kindling (yes, you can use an accelerant, but sometimes, an accelerant will burn too fast and not actually cause the log to catch fire). You lay a foundation of small sticks (or wadded paper), and gradually pile on larger and larger sticks and branches. Once the fire is good and burning, THEN you add on the logs.

Good fiction, whether it’s YA or not will make readers WANT more fiction. So what if it doesn’t have anything profound to say? Not everyone finds the same thing entertaining or enlightening. Fiction of 100 years ago was written in a totally different style and can often be impenetrable to today’s youth. Why would you want to force them to slog through that before they have a good foundation? That won’t make them lifelong readers. Instead, it will only teach them that reading is boring WORK and I don’t know anyone who will willingly spend their free time doing boring work when they could be doing literally anything else.

Reading should be fun. It should help you escape. Show you new worlds, new ideas. Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction should be the kindling we use to light the fires of imagination in our young people, not a data point to use while we rant about the decline of our youth.

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Gen Con 2016

Doing a day-by-day breakdown seems kind of silly when I essentially did the same thing every day. The only day where something markedly different occurred was Sunday after the traditional end-of-Gen Con annoucement.

But, that’s getting ahead of myself.

2016-08-03 11.44.04Set-up on Wednesday morning went smoothly. I got in and out of the Dealer Hall before the heat and humidity became too oppressive (they don’t turn on the A/C in there until Thursday). Unfortunately, I was missing a key piece of my display because Ix’s legs broke between ConQuesT 47 in May and TeenCon a few weekends ago, despite being in my basement the whole time. I suspect it has been going out on adventures without me or Zack Jackson.

Many of my long-time customers (i.e. friends) came by on Thursday to pick up my latest books. That’s to be expected. It’s always nice to see my first true fan (Hi Dani!) again and the Undergophers (listen to their podcast!). I’m also starting to see returning customers from previous years stopping by, as well, which is very encouraging. Building a fan base takes a long time, so it’s nice to see that foundation come together.

Supposedly, the anthology in which I participate with other Author’s Avenue authors was supposed to encourage people to stop by (at least for a signature on my story). However, I did not see a single customer who mentioned it. In fact, I only saw the book itself for the first time when someone came by my table with two cases of books and told me to sign my story on every copy. No reason was given. I eventually learned they were probably contributor copies. Since that information was not given to me at the beginning, I grumbled and hate-signed every book.

Communication is key. More on that anthology later.

2016-08-07 13.27.25Sales on Thursday generally seemed good. Friday was not as good, but that holds with trends I’ve noticed on previous years. Ix was returned to me on Friday with a temporary repair (you can’t even tell it was broken). It’s so nice that the sculptor is local. One thing that stood out was that Sunday was the biggest credit-card day and might have been the largest day of sales over all for me.

The four days of the convention really seemed to fly by. I didn’t have time to socialize with the various RPG publishers as much as I wanted to. Part of my duties as ENnie Awards Submissions Coordinator was to do that, but I felt like it was too difficult to step away from my table for extended periods of time this year. I’ll just have to rely on social media for that for now.

After it was all said and done, it felt like the number of sales was steady compared to previous years, or possibly increased. I had a few lower-priced items, so revenues felt like they were down. However, after making all the deposits, it turned out that revenue was slightly UP from last year. It wasn’t my best year ever, but it was a solid showing and I went away happy.

I also came away with opportunities to travel to up to six different Midwest schools and talk up my Zack Jackson series as it relates to science and creative writing. Since part of the whole point of making the ZJ series fairly hard science-fiction, it would seem that I am hitting my target.

Then, at 4PM, the great weekend turned, quite frankly, to shit.

I’m not going to call anyone out by name, as a few things are still pending (communication is always slow the week after Gen Con). Basically as soon as tear down started, a vendor got careless and knocked the wall panel behind my table over. My wheelchair-bound wife was standing there and would have been crushed under it had a friend not also been standing there and caught the wall.

Several pictures fell and broke apart. She jumped, shrieked and sat down HARD in her chair. Since there was debris around her chair now, she couldn’t move it out of the way when the wall wobbled again. This feeling of entrapment triggered her PTSD. Several of us yelled for the person to STOP hitting the wall. The culprit(s) high-tailed it out of there without so much as an apology.

Of course, this delayed my own tear down (and wrecked my evening plans as someone enduring a PTSD attack is no longer up for going out for a nice dinner after tear down). During tear down, a well-meaning, but annoying helper of another vendor came over, began to touch my wife on the arm in a misguided attempt to calm her and describe IN DETAIL how she managed to sneak in each of the four days of the convention.

This particular person had been a disruption to myself, my wife, and other authors the entire weekend, going around and butting into conversation while we were trying to sell our books. Mostly harmless, if annoying. I chalked it up to someone having social interaction issues. But the lack of a badge? Yeah, you can be sure I turned that over to Gen Con, LLC as soon as possible.

I don’t know what possessed this person to brag about not paying to get in for four days to fellow vendors who spent $350 on a table, $90 on a second exhibitor badge, and $92 on an extension cord, but you can be damn sure I am NOT the person who will be sympathetic to cheats.

Anyway, I finally got everything packed away and back to my car. Gen Con staff were extremely helpful and understanding. I made a list of people I intend to compliment to Gen Con management once things are settled and I can start a dialog with them about the incidents.

Then, when all the dust was settled, I looked at the anthology.

What a hot mess. The Table of Contents is inaccurate (let’s not mince words, in some place it’s just flat out WRONG). There are seemingly random blank pages (they’re not, I figured out exactly WHY they’re there, but the lay reader won’t understand). They should at least say “This page intentionally left blank” and be included in the page numbering, but they aren’t. The layout is confusing, and there are errors introduced into my story that weren’t there when I submitted it and there are other stories that appear to be completely unedited and un-proofread. In all, it feels very much like an amateur, vanity product and I am ashamed to have my name associated with it.

I sent out an e-mail listing many of the problems I found, conceding that certain things could be stylistic choices. Thus far, neither the editor nor publisher of the anthology has responded.

I submitted my story as a favor (i.e. I did not get compensated for it), to participate with the group who spend all four days of Gen Con sharing a space. Next year, I do not intend to participate for less than 8 cents a word. Giving a story away for free is one thing. To have my work treated in such a slipshod manner (not to mention the poor communication and marketing demands that were made with no mention of them in the “contract” I signed) is insulting.

I feel sad that detailing the tear-down on Sunday took up more space than describing all the good of the previous four days. Despite a generally good experience, that last hour or so really colored the whole weekend. Oh well, Gen Con wouldn’t be Gen Con if I didn’t learn something to make the next year even better.

I learned many valuable lessons this year. Gen Con 2017, AKA Gen Con 50 will be even better!

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