The Street of Knowledge

October 31, 2019

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted–hey, life happens.

The Street of Knowledge is one of the strangest, exotic, and, most dangerous places in the League of Elder universe. Outwardly, the culture and commerce of the Street is based largely on tourism. Even though the Street is located in the city of Vain right in the center of the austere Xaphan armada, the warm climate, unique cuisine, and breathtaking Great Xaphan Nebula lighting up the sky bring Xaphan tourists from far and wide.

Under the surface, however, the real commerce of the Street is minds, and/or the stealing and re-selling of minds, experiences, skills, etc. Vendors on the Street of Knowledge have developed technology specifically towards that end and have perfected it.  The Three Trades (the Russ, the AlbertCo and the Nightrobes) run the business of mind stealing, or “Vugging” as it’s known. Any person walking the street could be beset upon at any time, having their mind stolen by the Vuggers and then forced to buy back their own head.

Here’s a few brief terms before we continue:

Wonderland 1: Type 1 world in the heart of the Xaphan Armada, code-named Wonderland 1 in the League. The world doesn’t have a single, agreed upon name. The largest city on Wonderland 1 is Vain, located in the southern continent. The planet was thought to be a Planar World–one that appears from one place and appears in another.

Vain: Vain is the largest city on Wonderland 1. Throughout Xaphan space, Vain is known as a tourist destination, famous for an agreeable climate, amazing food, and unique sellable goods. The Street of Knowledge runs run the center of Vain.

Kopulate: (copy/duplicate)A person with an exact mental image of someone else’s head. A Kopulate pays to have somebody else’s head uploaded into their own–usually that of a person who is gifted, highly skilled, famous or wealthy. The Kopulate than believes they are that person. Kopulates can be a persistent and dangerous nuisance.

Pentagulle: Pentagulle is the wealthiest, most tourist-focused section of the Street of Knowledge.

ECSP: (Engineering Commando Squad Pentagulle) The city police of Pentagulle enforcing law and order in Pentagulle. In reality, the ECSP aid and assist the Trades as they go about their mind-stealing exploits, branding those to resist and/or fight back, criminals.

“Stinko”: nickname for a person who has had their mind completely stolen from their heads. Typically, all a Stinko can do is breathe and stand up if knocked down.

Slate: Term for a person’s mind, includes all of their experiences, knowledge, skills, traits, etc.

Smoque: An expensive form of nano-tech often used to incapacitate and drain a victom of their Slate. Smoque looks like ordinary smoke and is unmatched in the speed at which the draining can take place.

Squash: Nano tech capsules filled with liquid, Squash-dat can quickly upload pre-programmed information into a person’s head by simply breaking a capsule against a person’s forehead. Squash can make a person skilled in things the person has no training or talent for, can increase their sexuality, can make them bold, or masters of combat–anything goes. Squash is freely sold on the Street.

The Trades: Three sects who run the mind-trade on the Street of Knowledge. They buy and sell Slates, skills, experiences, etc no questions asked and enjoy the protection from the ECSP if challenged.

Vugger: A person or sect of people roaming the Street of Knowledge out to steal and sell Slates.

THE SECTS

Several Vugging sects rule the area of the street known as Pentagulle, stealing minds and selling them to the Trades on a daily basis.

snake head whore sketch2THE SNAKE-HEAD WHORES: The infamous Snake-Head Whores are known far and wide. They are incredibly brazen and aggressive. Despite the continued efforts of the Nightrobes to keep things quiet, word of their exploits have even drifted off world, though Xaphans generally disbelieve rumors of mind-stealing and other unsavory things going on in Vain.

They are known, and dreaded, for their ability to drain a person down to “Stinko” in mere seconds. They wear headdresses composed of robotic snakes with blinking red eyes. These hypnotic snakes can fully mesmerize a victim in just a few moments. They also make use of expensive Smoque, which can also drain a person’s head in rapid order. The Snake-Heads work in close association with the Nightrobe Trade.

The Snake-Head Whores hang out at the Enselaco Bar in the heart of Pentagulle. There, they often put on plays using Meat Puppets–horrific automatons they use to take control of past victims. With their Meat Puppets, the Snake Head Whores can take control of said victims no matter how far away they may be. The Snake-Heads made a Meat Puppet of Kat, the Countess of Belmont-South Tyrol and tried to control her, though they underestimated her wrath and ability to fight back.

ST. CRISPENS FIRE: Running a number of well-regarded restaurants in the Pentagulle area, St. Crispens’ Fire is a much more innocuous and less belligerent sect than the Snake-Heads. They are in direct partnership with the Russ Trade.

Any person dinning at their numerous restaurants is subject to getting Vugged, though The Fire is much less obvious about their Vugging activities, often quietly scanning and copying any experiences or skills they come across without any fuss made. The Fire rarely Stinko a person (unless under direct orders from the Russ), and mostly their victims come and go from their restaurants unaware anything has happened. They will, on occasion, blackmail any persons with interesting thoughts or memories if that person has the wealth to make the blackmailing worth their while. The sold images of people’s heads have created Kopulates, a mental duplicate of another person who can become dangerous pests.

VERTI-HOVI’S: Closely allied with the AlbertCo trade, the Verti-Hovi’s are well known for running “Verti-Hovi parks in and around the Street of Knowledge. Rounding up Stinkos from all over, the VH’s place them into these parks and also paying customers to do with them however they please, often Squashing them into horrible acts. Even amongst Vuggers, the Verti-Hovis have a soiled, lowly reputation.

–The Street of Knowledge appears in LoE, Book 12: Kat

copyright 2019 Ren Garcia

The Making of Kat

July 12, 2017

Kat cover Front FinalIn a few days the paperback of The League of Elder, Book 12: Kat will be out. This journey has taken plenty of twists and turns over the past three years when I started it. Every book has its own flavor, and this one was certainly no different.

The issues I encountered with this particular work were unlike any I’d seen before.

First of all: I wasn’t satisfied with the story. When I first came up with the story, my intent was to simply add-on to the events from Book 8: The Shadow tech Goddess. In that book, our hero, Paymaster Stenstrom, encountered a sinister Knife-class Black Hat in the lonely, but oft-visited, Ruins of Clovis located in the Vithland region of Kana.  There, he encountered three Knife-class Black Hats, two dead, one alive, all searching for evidence of the identity of the fearsome, yet elusive, Shadow tech Goddess. After brief skirmish, the lone living Black Hat captured Stenstrom’s companions, Lord A-Ram and Lady Gwendolyn of Prentiss. Due to her astounding agility and her Shadow tech tail, he called her Kat. She then forced Stenstrom to descend into the catacombs under the ruins, where he encountered the dead bodies of her two companions. Despite everything, Stenstrom found himself fascinated by Kat, at the hints of blonde hair and sparkling green eyes through the mask. As Stenstrom begins his quest across the Plains, Kat’s name was added to the list of seven mates for him. And then she was horribly killed by the Lacerta in the Ruins of Caroline.

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Kat–as she originally appeared in Book 8, The Shadow tech Goddess. Panting by Eve Ventrue.

So, that was that for Kat. In the subsequent StG books, I wanted to explore the various alternate versions of Paymaster Stenstrom and his loves. For the 6th turn, it was Kat’s turn. My plan was to simply pluck her as is from the pages of Book 8 and give her a fresh lease, adventuring with Paymaster Stenstrom as he battled the horrible demon Bellathauser.  I used the KISS technique: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

 

But, that’s when my troubles began. I was about 40 thousand words into the story. I had thought to keep these StG stories short, anywhere from 40 to 60 thousand words, and I had accomplished that with Stenibelle at around 50k.

With Kat, though, I found myself disliking the story, for lots of reasons.  I found I was repeating myself. I never have issues with Writer’s Block, but, if I think I’m revisiting previous material, that can slow me down considerably as I strive to keep things fresh–I call that Writer’s Thunk! With Kat, I felt I was reheating old stuff at every turn–I mean this is the 12th book in the series, it’s hard to keep coming up with totally new material, but still.

After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that most of the book’s issues came from the character of Kat herself. Simply ripping her out of Book 8 was not satisfactory for me at all. She was flat and uninteresting, her interactions in the story perfunctory at best. Her story was too similar to that of Sygillis of Metatron back in Book 1–the taming of an unruly Black Hat, etc. And, rather embarrassingly, I found her relationship with Paymaster Stenstrom reeked of Instalove.

Kat Sketches

Early sketches of the rebooted Kat by Carol Phillips. Kat’s spark, her ever-present brightness and zest for life is evident in the sketches.

Action was called for. I was certain if I could get the character of Kat right, then the rest of the book would follow. So, I went back to basics. In Book 8, Kat was a fully-powered Knife-class Black Hat. We’ve seen plenty of that in the previous books, while only hinting at the horrors they suffer during their training in a place called the Shade Church. I thought if I removed all her of skills and make her a trainee with limited skills, that could introduce all sorts of opportunity for growth.

 

 

Paige 2

A theme emerged after the additions, that all things, no matter how unlikely, have the potential to better themselves. (Painting by Carol Phillips)

I went to work, adding a few scenes to the front of the book to give Kat a little life–never in my wildest dreams did I think I  would eventually add up to 40k words, almost doubling the size of the book. I found myself intoxicated in the creation process, exploring the revised Kat character, seeing what was there, all the while, keeping the plot moving. I came up with Autocons and Sentrils.  A-Ram and Alesta, who had been absent from the book, reappeared. The two dead Black Hats from Book 8 became Kat’s sisters, Bird, Walker and Wheel. All of this was organic characterization, everything in real time, on the fly. In 40k words, Kat went from being a rather pat and uninteresting fantasy character to something special, stealing every scene she’s in.

 

Book 12: Kat has everything–lots of action, loads of imagination and fantastic situations the League of Elder is known for, plus fully developed characters that grow before your eyes.

Stg-blueThe 6th Turn: Kat is published by St G Press/Winter Wolf.

copyright 2017, Ren Garcia and Carol Phillips

StG Characters: Kat

October 12, 2016

 

kat-portrait-final

Kat, by Carol Phillips

Every fictional character goes through a genesis of sorts during the creation process, be it big or small–it’s just natural for an author to either polish up or improvise bits to a character during the creation process, or to change their mind completely and start over.

 

It was doubly so for Kat in the upcoming LoE book 12: The Shadow tech Goddess: Kat. I changed her so much she really isn’t the same character as when I started.

I do that a lot, though. As I prepare no notes or pre-plan no outline for a story project, I tend to frequently change course, get inspired, add tid-bits, or, change direction entirely. I’ve cut lots of pretty cool stuff because I either thought I was treading over previously covered ground or could find no good use for the material. The Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy  is nothing like what I started out with–nothing.

And so, we come to LoE Book 12: Kat. First introduced in Book 8: The Shadow tech Goddess, as one of the 7 potential love interests for Paymaster Stenstrom across the universes, my original intention with Kat was to simply pull her off the page as is and resume her tale in Book 12 with little or no intro or preamble. In StG, Kat was a Black Hat sent with several others to infiltrate the Ruins of Clovis in the Kanan north and uncover evidence of the identity of the Shadow tech Goddess. It was, essentially, a suicide mission with the possibility of success remote at best.

 

stg-7

Kat, as she appeared in Book 8, The Shadow tech Goddess, by Eve Ventrue.

Kat was a Knife-class Black Hat, very mobile, very heady with micro-line Shadow tech. When Paymaster Stenstrom came upon her in the cold ruins, she was alone, her two nameless companions dead, killed by whatever lurks in the depths beneath Clovis. She was cold and uncaring, limber to the point of being rubbery and quite ruthless.

 

This somewhat limited character is what I hoped to make the heroine in Book 12. I made a good go of it, but, as I neared the completion of the first draft, I realized something.

Kat was boring.

It’s important for an author to be able to step back to see the naked truth as it unfolds before them. Though I loved the limber, blonde-headed Kat (I had based her off of Ginger Rogers), I had to face the fact she was not only a re-tread from previous characters in the series, she had no life. She was plain boring. Her transformation from Black Hat to loving Countess had already been done (as with Syg and Duchess Torijayne of Olyn), and her love for Paymaster Stenstrom bordered on the dreaded “Insta-Love”. I stopped writing. I knew action had to be taken.

 

spider-thumb1

Proposed cover for Book 12, by Carol Phillips (Kat’s new wind-whipped Mohawk easily seen in the sketch)

I figured I’d go back, add a few scenes to the beginning of the book, flesh-out Kat a little bit and give her her own path. Shouldn’t take too long, I thought.

 

It would take half a year and about 40 thousand words before I was done, the “few scenes” I wanted to add took on a life of their own and Kat would never be the same.

I started from an elemental level, following Kat as she struggled to survive in the Black Hat’s horrid training facility, the Shade Church. I took away her mastery of Shadow tech, making her a novice in the extreme (though I would have to figure out a way to give her mastery back again by the end of the book). I gave her mentors, those watching her from afar, weeping as she suffered under the Black Hat’s heel.  I even included Kat’s sisters, those sent with her to Kana. I also added the gods, people in far away places, mystical items, the works.

I threw the lot at Kat, and her transformation was stunning. Gone was flat, boring, Kat, replaced by a remarkable new character, full of life, one that I was proud of. Fueled by these changes, I finished the book in no time.

Kat is in the initial stages of pre-production. It should be out by 2018.

copyright 2016, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue and Carol Phillips.

 

 

pizzaI was sitting with my wife at our favorite pizza place a few days ago. My wife was bored; I was regaling her with my thoughts for upcoming book projects. She’s not much of a reader, and when I start talking books, she tends to tune out. Happens every time. Finally, after several minutes of fruitless babbling, my wife asked me a seemingly innocent question:

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

And I had to sit there and think about it. Where does creativity come from? Where do ideas and concepts, characters and distant places originate??

After several minutes contemplation, I had to admit I really had no idea or a ready answer for my wife.

THE BUTTERCHURN

LTKILOS2-bloodstein-color-web

Magistrate Kilos of Blanchefort danced in my thoughts for years (Carol Phillips)

Creativity is a very personal thing. Where a person draws inspiration from will differ. I suppose, for me, creativity is a result of everything I’ve ever seen, read, watched, smelt, tasted and felt. For those with a creative persuasion these things stay in your head; you dream and ponder about them. It’s also based in all the things you love, you’ve hated, been confused by, been afraid of … everything sort of stirred together over time like a vat of hot butter in the basin of your brain continuously churned, and then recycled into something sort of like what you’ve experienced, but different. Sometimes these images linger in my head for years, slowly evolving over time before I insert them into my books. Lt. Kilos was one such character. I saw her in my thoughts for a long time, initially a banana blonde, in a colonial uniform holding a gun. Eventually the rough-and-tumble lady from Tusck spilled out onto the page, though quite a bit different than what I’d dreamed of. Things always turn out different once you get to writing.

Other thoughts site in head for only a day or two. That’s just how it works out.

THE WUMALAAR

As an example of the creative process for my wife, I used the Wumalaar. The Wumalaar, in my book series, is a mythical beast that the Sisterhood of Light believe in. They believe that, on the last day of the League, the Wumalaar will come, break through their defenses and reveal all the Sisters’ secrets. The Wumalaar is the one thing the Sisters are afraid of.

I came up with the name “Wumalaar” from a movie that I loved as a boy. I never forgot the name, let it twist around in the back end of my head for about twenty years, modified it a little bit, and wham! I had the name Wumalaar. For me, that’s how creativity works.

Can you guess what movie I got the name from, and what it was called before I modified it?? If you do know, you have one of two choices. A: You should give yourself a rousing pat on the back for having such minute knowledge of `80’s pop cuture. Or, B: You should check yourself into an insane asylum for having such minute knowledge of `80’s pop culture.

Here’s where I got the name from:

 

 

Bowl Naked

copyright 2016, Ren Garcia