Friday, May 09, 2008

Draxian Trilogy in Conversion

I've made a decision to convert this blog to an "informational" blog about my Sci Fi/Fantasy Rom trilogy, and to post regular articles only on its sister blog Spacefreighters Lounge.

I'm finding it's difficult to juggle two personal blogs and two joint blogs, and still have time to actually write and critque, so this is a step toward advancing my craft without having to delete this site in its entirity.

I'll occasionally post updates and new material about the Draxian Universe and any announcments or progress related to the trilogy. When the first book is published, this blog may once again become more active.

Thanks to my regular readers, and I hope you'll add Spacefreighters Lounge to your "frequent visit" list. http://www.spacefreighters.blogspot.com

Monday, May 05, 2008

Command Presence

When I attended police academy years ago, my instructors had a phrase for the quality that allows an officer to step in and take charge of a situation. They encouraged their students to develop this trait in how they deal with the public, suspects and victims in the line of duty. The term is "command presence."

Command presence can also be incorporated as a personality trait in an MC, a secondary character, even a villain, if you are selective in how you frame the words, actions and attitudes. Command presence should never be mistaken with hauntiness, superiority or conceit. It's an understated quality, more about how a character is perceived by other characters, not how he/she choses to view or interact with others. A character who demonstrates command presence instills confidence and trust in others. He/she is looked at as the natural leader, the one who calls the shots, the one who has the upper hand.

In P2PC, my male MC could not demonstrate command presence. He's a fish out of water, a fugitive, and at the mercy of the pilot who agrees to help him escape. It was a difficult chore for me to keep his character strong and someone the reader could respect under those circumstances; command presence was out of the question. (Though he does acquire clout as the story progresses, he is always a bold pawn, at best.)

Draxis is a another matter. My male MC is indisputably in charge and in his focal introduction in the story (though actually not his debut), I had to establish him as a force to be reckoned with in the eyes of the female MC. He has to be confident and capable to deal with his headstrong and often unpredictable match. At the same time, I had to avoid making him a "typical male MC hearthrob who has sexual power over woman and alpha male power over men" that I see in so many romances. I've edited his intro many times, because the trait of command presence is often understated and subtle. It took a few takes to get what I was going for, and not something that sounded like a starstruck gush.

Showing command presence in a character is about understatement and undercurrent. Chosing just the right words, thoughts, impressions to describe how he is viewed by others, how they react to him. The female MCs thoughts and perceptions of him were the key to the reader's impression.

Just because a character has command presence does not make him/her perfect, however. Command presence is more about knowing how to override flaws and weaknesses with "positive vibes." Having command presence is a lot like acting. No character can maintain command presence indefinitely. He/she is also human and eventually the warts are going to show. So command presence is akin to turning on a light bulb, and knowing when it should be on, and when it can be dark.

So how do you know if your 'command presence' traits are working in your character? That's where your critique partners come in. By analyzing their feedback on your character, you can get a good sense if he/she is oozing command presence or not, and if the scenes where it is demonstrated need more work. If you are hearing comments like "arrogant, assuming, presumptuous" then your character needs more work. If you're hearing words like "confident, powerful, take charge, leader" then you most likely have the command presence character trait down well.

Here are a few examples of well-known characters with command presence from cinema and television. Each of these characters are perceived as leaders or authority figures, though each demonstrates these attributes in different ways:

Aragorn (LoTR)

Glenda (Wizard of Oz)

Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly/Serenity)

Obi Wan Kenobi (Star Wars)

Jack Riley (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and other Tom Clancy novels)

Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens)

Captain Picard (Star Trek: TNG)

Captain Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Derby Wears Black

At the risk of turning this into a blog about horseracing, which it definitely is not, I'd like to say a few words in the aftermath of the Kentucky Derby today.

First of all, Big Brown's brilliant win was beyond great. He positioned, he rated, he changed leads and when it was time to go, he was gone. He galloped out fresh. After a mile and a quarter in the company of nineteen tough competitors, he was ready to run again. He has the tactical speed to win the Preakness and the goods to win that grind of a race called the Belmont Stakes, a grueling mile and a half race that most of these horses will never face again in their careers Fasten your seat belts and stay tuned. If he is the horse he seemed to be today, then: "This could be the horse. This might be the year."

But I wanted to reserve most of my commentary for the tragic loss of the great, great filly Eight Belles. Eight Belles ran an incredible race. She came in a proud second, beating eighteen other big, strong males in the process and doing it in style. I thought for a moment that she was going to make a bid to catch Big Brown. I think she wanted to. But...well, I think I expressed my fears for her on Thursday in the post below.

Perhaps comparing her to Ruffian was not so off the mark, after all. This filly tried so hard to win that she physcially outran her body. She finished the race trying to catch Big Brown with daylight between her and the next horse in the field, passed the finish line, and as she galloped out, she broke both ankles and collapsed on the track. The fact that she had to be euthanized on the spot means exactly that...she had to be. There was nothing the experts could do to save her, or believe me, they would have. Eight Belles, like Ruffian, was all heart. Her will and her remarkable determination to win overtaxed her physical body to the point of catastrophic breakdown. It's a horrible fate for what could have potentially been one of the best fillies in history.

That said, people are already crying out for the end of horseracing, calling it a "cruel" sport. Horse racing is an extreme sport. That means there is a strong element of danger in it. These horses have been bred for centuries to run, they have to run, it's what they do. It's in their genes. I have a four year old Thoroughbred filly--daughter of a champion and granddaughter of a Kentucky Derby winner--who never set foot on a racetrack for a race, but you can't tell her that. When we turn her out to pasture, she's there to run. In her mind, she's racing. It's her essense, it's what she is, and what her ancestors have been for countless generations. Accidents happen. Injuries happen. It's a given. Should we have put a stop to racing cars when Dale Earnhardt was killed? Should we no longer have Olympics, or Pro, College or High School sports because people sometimes get seriously injured or die? Yes, it's sad. It's tragic. It's heartrending to see a great athlete go down, but the risk is part of what makes a sport a sport. I'm all for making tracks safer and conditions better, but putting a stop to horse racing, or ANY sport, is not the answer. To strive for greatness is to put everything on the line. Eight Belles put everything on the line. Honor her for her courage, don't shame her by condemning what she lived for.

Rest in Peace, Eight Belles.

Friday, May 02, 2008

It's Derby Week!

For lovers of the sport and the Thoroughbred breed, this is THE WEEK! It's Kentucky Derby Week, the event that turns the town of Louisville, Kentucky into a horseperson's Mardi Gras for seven days leading up to the magical date--the first Saturday in May and...

The Run for the Roses.

You may or may not know that along with my fanatical devotion to writing, I also breed Thoroughbreds. This is a very exciting time for me. "The Derby" as it's known generically, is the Superbowl of horse racing. The Derby is also the first leg in the Triple Crown, those three monumental races, including the Preakness two weeks later, and the Belmont Stakes another three weeks after that, that determines if we are again witnessing the making of a legend. When someone says "Triple Crown" the first horse that may pop into most peoples' minds is the immortal Secretariat, but there have been others since him--the equally immortal Seattle Slew and Affirmed--who have won the coveted Crown. It just hasn't happened since the late 1970s. Thirty years have passed without another Triple Crown champion. But, to use a standard cliche, "Hope springs eternal."

There is no standout horse this year. There is no dominate Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Barbaro that is expected to take it all. What we have is a field of very good horses. For the first time in decades, I have no horse that I enthusiastically endorse (like I did the three mentioned above). Always bear in mind, however, that with fate and horse racing being what they are (fickle), this doesn't mean we may not see our next Superhorse emerge from the herd. ;)

Here are a few that I really like, in no particular order:

Colonel John
Well, of course, with a name like Colonel John and me being so military-oriented, how could I not like this guy? Another plus. He's from the Relaunch male line, Relaunch being the sire of the immortal Skywalker, as well as at least four others with "million/s" behind their earnings. That's unusual in an age where the males lines are dominated by Mr. Prospector/Gone West, Northern Dancer/Storm Cat, and Seattle Slew/AP Indy. I won't get down into the weeds of his pedigree (you'd be here all day) but suffice it to say this guy has a lot going for him in the genetic department including a fabulous balance of both speed (for short distances) and stamina (for longer distances). This is the kind of pedigree that could take it all! His race record is very respectable at 6 starts-4 wins and 2 seconds and over $800,000 in earnings, to date. If he peaks for the Derby, he'll be a force to contend with.

Eight Belles
Oh, yes, female power. How can I not root for a filly that had the talent and credentials to make it all the way to the Big D? Do we have another Winning Colors in the making? Another Rags To Riches? Another...dare I say it?...Ruffian? Well, probably not, as her race record doesn't indicate freakish speed, but it does show a solid performer. 9 starts, 5 wins, 2 seconds, 1 third, over $300,000 in earnings. Her pedigree? Delta Mr. Prospector--that means Mr. P is the patriarchal sire of her sire line (Mr. P/Fappiano/Unbridled-Derby winner/Unbridleds Song) and he's also the sire of her granddam. That's some powerful reinforcement through opposite sexes to a great, GREAT sire. Her dam's sire is also Dixieland Band who is a phenomenal broodmare sire (meaning his daughters' offspring are often awesome runners). What scares me? The history of some of her relatives with catastrophic breakdown. Hopefully the strengths in her genetics outweigh any potential for disaster.

Big Brown
One word. Impressive. Three starts, three wins, over $650,000 in earnings., including the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He's running with the big boys and he has the right stuff. Pedigree wise: Big Brown is an example of what I would never do in breeding--the top and bottom of his pedigree are the same pattern, Northern Dancer over Damascus--meaning his sire is by a son of Northern Dancer (Danzig) out of a daugher of Damascus. His dam is by a son of Northern Dancer (Nureyev) out of a granddaughter of Damascus. Can you say inbred? Inbreeding is done a lot in TB breeding, but usually the reinforcements are reversed, in other words, the pedigrees are mirror images of each other, not a nearly identical pattern. (Am I making sense?) Still, Northern Dancer is one of the few sires where duplication of male lines does work and Danzig and Nureyev were certainly two of his greatest sons. And Damascus reinforced through female lines...awesome. Big Brown represents (to me anyway) a genetic no-no that just may pay off handsomely. His pedigree breaks all the rules and that makes him mighty (to borrow a phrase from Firefly). He's lightly raced for a test of this caliber and a field of this size--and inexperience is not a good thing to have going into the Derby--so how he does may boil down to what's inside his head. He's shown he has the athletic goods to make it happen, the question is if he has the professional mind.

Pyro
Credential wise, he's one of the best. His record is 7 starts, 3 wins, 2 places, and 1 show and he's earned his first cool million and then some. He came in 2nd in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile as a two year old, and has since won the Champagne, Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes. Until his last race, where he finished last, some had begun to whisper amongst themselves "Is this the horse? Is this the year?" His loss effectively squelched those mutterings, although in his defense, he was running on a polytrack surface for the first time and didn't care for it in the least. He's a son of Pulpit so his male lines trace directly through AP Indy to Seattle Slew, one of the last Triple Crown winners. He's got Secretariat, Wild Again and Mr. Prospector all in five generations. Love the name and I'd love to see this boy turn the world on its ear and silence his naysayers.

Monba
His race record is a respectable 5 starts, 3 wins and edging up on $600,000 in earnings. Monba is a good horse, and maybe a horse on the improve at exactly the right time. But mere "good horses" don't win the Derby, do they? When I look at his pedigree, I just smile. I see potential there that few might. Monba is a son of Maria's Mon, who you've probably never heard of if you haven't been immersed in this world. Maria's Mon is the sire of Monarchos, who won the Kentucky Derby in the second fastest time in history. The only horse that ever ran a KD faster was Secretariat. Monba is a direct male descendant of the great Derby winner Majestic Prince, who reached the last leg of the Triple Crown undefeated, only to finish second. He retired with the Belmont being his only loss. This male line throws tremendous talent. And Mom's side of the pedigree? His dam is a daughter of Champion Easy Goer who ran 2nd in the Kentucky Derby to Sunday Silence, 2nd in the Preakness and won the Belmont. Impressed yet? Well, those are just a few of the many big races in Easy Goer's portfolio. He earned almost $5 million and set a new track record. Easy Goer's sire? Alydar, who ran second to Affirmed in all three of the Triple Crown races. In addition, Monba's dam is a half-sister to stakes winners Secret Hello and Silent Account. All that talent on both sides of his pedigree is flowing in Monba's veins. As far as his own career, he won his last race convincingly, the Grade 1 Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, the race where Pyro ran last. Monba is a sleeper with the genetics to fly. Watch out world!

Big Truck
He's not a standout. 8 starts, 3 wins, 1 place, 1 show. Only $330,000+ in earnings and only one graded stakes--a Grade 3 at that--the Tampa Bay Downs Derby under his belt. Gotta love an underdog. Some would raise their nose in the air and claim Big Truck is not a blueblood, doesn't belong in this kind of company. He's the best his sire, Hook And Ladder, has produced to date. Big Truck is a great name for this honest blue collar racehorse, and he's just the kind of horse who could pull off an upset. There's a lot of depth in his pedigree. Dixieland Band is his sire's sire, Dixieland being yet another fabulous producing son of Northern Dancer. His dam's sire Go For Gin earned over a million and won the Kentucky Derby, came in 2nd in the Preakness and Belmont. His "weakness" is his female family. Although his dam's line has produced some good racehorses, there are no legends in there and certainly no runners that have competed at this level, but I will say the female line has been bred to the best stallions generation after generation--Go For Gin, Halo, Bold Lad, and Round Table, in generational order, that the resulting influences may surface in Big Truck. Think Seabiscuit. ;)

So there you have it, the six I'll be watching. Of course, that being said, I haven't forgotten that there are potentially 14 other horses in this field. In a race of this size and this caliber, anything can, and does, happen. What these horses do in this race will determine their futures, their owners' fortunes, their mark in history and the future of the breed. It is a stampede toward greatness.

So here's to the showcase of our sport and my prayer for these exceptional athletes:

Safe trip, brave ones, safe trip!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New Feature: A Symbolic Calendar

I've added a free calendar to the blog at the right. Couldn't resist. Actually, I borrowed it from the Take It To The Stars blog ( http://www.takeittothestars.blogspot.com/ ) because it symbolizes something that has special meaning in my Sci Fi Rom, Draxis. I feel like I'm enjoying an inside joke, but it does have to do with the pyramid shape, as you might guess.

Pyramids have been a topic of focus on this blog before. (Often.) :)

For my fellow bloggers, you can click on the link and take a look at the other free calendar options offered for your own blogs.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Switching Gears

Attention. You are now leaving Mennelsohn Space for the Draxian Universe.

...and this blog is about to become active, once more. :)

I'm in the process of getting out of P2PC mode and getting into Draxian mode (again) as I begin major edits on my almost-completed and about to be brutally slashed epic slipstream Sci Fi Fantasy Rom novel (how's that for a genre-bender), Draxis. Not an easy thing to do after spending the last year immersed in the world of Sair, Drea and company.

The Draxian Universe lives by different rules, and now...so must I.

Draxis is not about ships and flying about the universe. Though it does have an array of futuristic vessels and one very unique starship, these aren't essential to plot development and are more backstory than environment. Where P2PC centers on the passengers and crew of a particular spacefreighter (a not-so-mundane cargo ship with a startling secret) and its role in a monumental struggle the MCs are embroiled in, Draxis is about the two MCs coming to terms with their differences, and the ship(s) are merely a form of transportation.

Draxis is about a culture shaped by ancient laws and taboos--a culture one of the MCs is expected to embrace, but instead gives it a pretty solid head butt. This stirs controversy that leads to an empire examining its very foundations. In the midst of all the struggle is what I hope will be--like P2PC--a love story that readers will never forget.

Sorry, again, for the somewhat vague teasers, but I must stand by my proclamation: No spoilers! (You may thank me someday when you pick it up to start reading. :) )

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Interview with Barbara Elsborg

An interview with debut author Barbara Elsborg is posted on the Toasted-Scimitar. Barbara discusses the steps that got her first novel, PERFECT TIMING, to the point of being e-published. (Release date April 30th.)

http://www.toasted-scimitar.blogspot.com

Some good information here for aspiring writers. Be sure not to miss it. :)

Draxis World Building