Breaking a Fairy Tale 

Except for my efforts to get Wine Bottles and Broomsticks published on inkshares.com I’ve got two major works in progress at the moment. The first is the Deep Space Help Desk – I really want to knock that out, but I got stuck -I have to back up a chapter or two and take a different angle. Really, I just need a solid day to focus on that project to get it put back on the rails again. The second project, The Dark Queen of Darkness, is in slightly better shape, even if I’m finding it a slightly more difficult project to write. 

The Dark Queen of Darkness is an unexpected project. It launched as a way to test out my new iOS version of Scrivener, and also an excersize in employing tricks learned (stolen) from Terry Pratchett. Not so much as taking his words or style as incorporating parts of his approach to story telling, it appeals to me and, as they say, what doesn’t kill you or get you sued for copyright infringement will only make you stronger. In any case, the story has taken hold because it’s got a fairly clear trajectory. At least, it has if I treat it like a fairy tale, albeit a seriously broken, yet true-to-form fairy tale.

With all that in mind, and some advice received after sharing the first part of the first chapter, I went back and pivoted slightly more toward a YA vibe, and starting working the fairy tale angle a little harder. Right now, I’m looking largely at Snow White, while brining in characters from other tales. This isn’t anything like a new idea, but it’s a new approach for me. I also happen to be fortunate enough to have in my possession a stack of books containing hundreds of old fairy-tales with a publication date of 1928, which I realize as I write this puts these books at nearly 90 years old – the oldest we have in the house by a considerable number of decades. The image up top features one of these books with the illustration of Snow White and Rose Red, which I only know because I read that one last night from the other book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

In any case, the idea with this story is to make it an upside-down fairy tale that takes on the well trodden tropes and re-uses them in a slightly bent or fully ironic manner. For example, there’s the huntsman. He appears in a bunch of stories, I’m going to work him in with a lead role. Prince Charming comes in all over the place, even if not by that name. He’ll appear, after all how could a good, epic fairy tale end without a kiss by a Prince Charming? I’ll also see about writing in some dwarves, trolls, elves, wizards, and other various characters. With that, I’m off to do a bit of research and plotting.

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Nobody cares that it’s called a ‘poop deck’.

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If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you are aware that I’m having an epic and very public fight with chapter 10. I’ve drafted it twice and was getting ready to rewrite it for a third time before I handed it over to my wife. My wife is a lovely and tolerant woman, and also the most well read person I know. I actually had to design our house around built in bookcases (if you don’t believe me, ask her. This actually happened.) Anyhow, she’s usually a good sounding board for identifying ideas that suck, but she’s always kind enough to not say “this sucks,” instead offering suggestions on how it could be better.

Turns out, chapter 10 didn’t straight-up suck, it just needed a little more focus, which we got to the bottom of fairly quickly before dissolving into an argument discussion about the intention of a particular character, as if he were real. It kind of made me feel good because it’s the sort of discussion we have over other people’s books. One of the big messages though, was “you’re not Patrick O’Brien*, nobody cares what a poop-deck is.”

There is a balance between what is necessary for plausibility and what is just too much information. While I have spent a reasonable amount of time and energy researching historical British naval terminology, it’s completely unnecessary for anyone reading my story to know that. Furthermore, it would be best if they didn’t. So, describing the poop-deck is overkill, I need to find another way to deal with the description.

At this point, I bet you’re already not asking yourself, what is a poop-deck? -assuming you haven’t already not bothered googling it. Contrary to what you may be imagining, this is not where sailors take their poops, that’s done at the head. According to Wikipedia, the name poop-deck originates from the French word for stern (rear of the ship), which is la poupe, from the latin puppis. The poop-deck is the highest deck at the stern. It was typically unarmed and served as the station for the signaling officer. So, poop-deck aside, how am I going to deal with naval terms nobody except Patrick O’Brien fans will care about? Well, it’s pretty straight forward. As much as possible I’m going to limit the naval jargon to dialogue, then back that up with action for context. Instead of saying something like:

  Todhrel made his way to the poop-deck.

I’m going to say something more along the lines of:

  “An’ he’s on the poop sir, shall I call ‘im?” the young midshipman said.
  “No, I’ll fetch him.”
  Todhrel mounted the narrow stairs to the deck with more vigor than he felt.

I can’t say this sort of approach would be a solution for everyone, but it’s how I’m going to do it, and hopefully, I’ll be able to avoid the over-sharing of details no-one cares about.


 

* Patrick O’Brien wrote the Master and Commander books, which are exceptionally dry and full of obscure naval terms. I love these books. Jack Aubrey is my 3rd favorite captain after Mal (if you have to ask, don’t bother), and Kirk (I repeat).

Fantasy book research #3 – guns and gunpowder

First question, I suppose, is what the hell are guns doing in a sword and sorcery fantasy? In short – I’m writing this story and I get to choose. When most of us think about guns and gunpowder images of white smokeless powder come into our heads. This is the stuff that you’ll find inside of modern cartridges, let’s say a .22 round, for example. My story doesn’t involve this sort of thing, otherwise it would be a lot easier. For my purposes, I’m more interested in black powder, the sort of stuff you’d find on an old wooden tall ship, or in a revolutionary war musket.

This proved to be one of the more difficult things to easily dredge up. Largely because there are thousands (millions? possibly approaching trillions?) of blogs and forums on the interwebs about guns, and you have to wade through a lot of unhelpful junk in order to find anything useful. Even then, since guns and gunpowder are so dangerous, there’s not a lot of easy to find general information out there. Most folks offering advice have an interest in making sure you don’t accidentally blow yourself up. Let’s say we ask the question: What is the volume of a pound of black powder? The answer you’re likely to find time after time is: ‘it depends’. What about: How much powder is required to fire a cannon? Again, this can be a ‘it depends’ situation. As a hapless writer who really just needs to know what is reasonable and plausible, none of this ‘it depends’ crap is helpful. In the end, I did manage to locate enough detail to sketch out an island of ‘reasonable’ for my story, here are my notes on the topic:

Black gunpowder consists of roughly seventy-five parts of saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate KNO3) to twelve and one-half parts of sulfur, and twelve and one have parts of charcoal. Once upon a time, Saltpeter was extracted mostly from animal waste through various methods OR could be mined. Either way producing it was NOT cheap (http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/tech/cannon.htm)

Powder kegs are considerably smaller than kegs to transport anything else. Most traditional oak barrels run anywhere between 160-300L (about 40 to about 80 Gallons), which take up a space of something like 28” in diameter and 35” tall. One source (I’d cite it here, but I didn’t write it down. I think it was associated with the US Civil War, or possibly the British navy. In any case, I couldn’t find it when I went looking.) describes a common powder keg as containing 25lbs of powder, which translates to a container roughly 10” in diameter by 14” tall. This makes sense, because it’s a very transportable size.

The consumption of powder for a cannon can be assumed to be 1/3rd the weight of the ball (Can’t locate the source for this again), for example, a 32 pounder would consume roughly 11lbs of powder per round (http://www.cannonsuperstore.com/cannoninfo.htm). If you scale this down for a musket (and I suspect it scales reasonably well), the amount of powder consumed per shot is negligible compared to the volume of a full powder keg, something on the order of 6-8 grams (http://www.chuckhawks.com/blackpowder_volumetric.htm). You could easily get 1500-1800 rounds out of a powder keg.

And finally, (only because it’s in my notes, and was actually important for my story) rust rate of cannons:

http://www.nma.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/346049/NMA_metals_s2_p10_cannon.pdf

Basically, if you have a cannon sitting in open air next to the ocean for five hundred years, after a bit of cleaning, you could still probably fire it.

Anyhow, all of this looking around got me enough information to write the bits I needed to, and I think what I have seems plausible. Perhaps not perfectly accurate, but good enough.