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Writing and Pitches

Dangerous affair, writing. Even more challenging and devious is writing for a pitch when you want to submit to a publisher.

If memory serves, two years ago Black Library had an open window for submissions same time as this year. The topic was their Heroes of the Space Marines anthology. Having done a little writing before, all unpublished and unfinished of course, I thought why not do something for this.

A month later I gave up. I had no idea of what I wanted to write about. The story was barely a page long in word and utter crap. I forget the plot I thought I was writing then but so far I had written about an impending Chaos Marine attack on some world held by the Imperial Guard. I tried to make it cool with the “countdown feature”.

It really was utter crap.

Fast forward two years later to now.

I finished the 1000-word sample, the summary and synopsis for Project: Angels of Retribution (retconned name of course!) in about two months. It took a lot of effort to get right. I was neck deep in an online dictionary/thesaurus, lexicanum, a few of the novels and loads of codices and rulebooks to check various things so all the references made sense. Had to invent a few words too but that wasn’t too bad.

I chose a very old space marine tradition to showcase in the sample and the pitch is about a conflict between two of the oldest mini-factions in the history of the Imperium. I am quite proud of this pitch as I got to talk about in subtle terms about my favourite chapter/legion and primarch.

Then there is my second pitch, which for want of a better working title is called Project: Temptations. As I mentioned before this one is about the Invictors chapter facing off against chaos daemons. Its going to be a really fast-paced piece (the complete short that is) full of bolter-porn and sacrifices and larger-than-life champions.

And it is done. *drumroll*

Indeed. In a day and a half I have finished an entire short story pitch! And incorporated about three-quarters of critique in it as well. Gotta say that I am very surprised how quickly all this came together and how quickly I completed it, compared to P:AOR. Good things like this don’t happen to me very often.

Response to this was very good, with little in the way of any real critique other than awesome grimdark idea like Phalanx mentions on his blog. At least I think he was talking about me here.

He is not the only one to comment that the idea may be a little over-ambitious for a short story and should be a novel instead. As Chris mentions there are three variables involved with writing either a short story or novel or downgrading/upgrading from one to the other.

Time. Experience. Imagination.

Time, I have enough of. Definitely not in short supply. So I can afford to make the idea either a short story or a novel. That’s covered.

Experience, I definitely don’t have any. I have never written a novel. My attempts at the Kinth Series were sparked off of random ideas during a really boring chemistry class in junior year of high school. The half-novel I wrote was without structure, character, theme or plot or anything really. I wrote as things came to mind. So that  is one vote against writing a novel

Imagination, I have in ample amounts. Even I cannot keep track of all my ideas. So that’s another vote in either direction.

Lastly, I have enough confidence in my fledgling attempts at writing short stories. I fit about a fifth of synopsis plot into dead-on 1,000 words. BL’s page says that final manuscripts for short stories are in the 5,000-8,000 word range. So I am covered there. I am pretty damn confident and I am not going to let anyone say otherwise. Shamelessly I am reminded of a Miley Cyrus song here, Liberty Walk from her album Can’t Be Tamed.

I will indeed be living it up 🙂 And how I approach the story will prove my confidence was not misplaced. Listening to that awesome song has just pumped me even more, hah!

So what were we talking about? Ah yes, writing and pitches.

The weirdly amazing He2etic over at the Bolthole has seen fit to compile this. A list of publishers who are accepting submissions. It is a fairly limited list but I think it is a great idea. I have no interest in any publishers other than Black Library myself.

Once the current BL submission window ends, I will be working on developing my pitches into the full product, whether or not they are accepted. The exercise will be good and as several wise published and unpublished authors say again and again, be prolific with your writing and write, write, write. Truefax.

And in the meantime while I work on those two short stories, to take my mind off things I will also be working on some fanfic for the Bolthole, a Space Marine story that features a DIY chapter fighting against Eldar Corsairs. Perhaps Exodites but not too keen on that stripe of pointy-ears.

My aim by the end of the year is to have completed at least six short stories, which can be anywhere from 45,000-50,000 words all told. Perhaps also start work on a novel idea for BL which I can submit for a window next year. Hopefully there will be one opening up 🙂

I intend to be quite prolific and productive now that I have the impetus and I have my old drive back again. When I was working on The Hunted Prince, the first novel in the Kinth Series trilogy, I had a quarter of a novel and I’d say about 50 pages worth of backstory completed in about half a year. Quite a feat if I say so myself. It was a very good period for me writing wise.

Signing out.

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More Names

To continue with what I talked about in my recent post ‘What’s in a name?‘ I had a discussion via email with the awesome Phalanx, one of Bolthole’s resident story-wizzes. The topic was the name I had chosen for the chapter formerly known as Sons of Corax.

It seems that there is a theory related to the name which ties the chapter, having nothing more than the name itself and a really really short blurb in the 3rd Edition Assassin’s codex, with a legion quite dissimilar to the Raven Guard.

The new name for the chapter is Angels of Retribution. And there are wild, very much IMO, theories out there in fandom that they are a Dark Angels successor chapter. The reasoning is that their name fits the convention for other First Legion successors, such as the Angels of Absolution, Angels of Redemption and the Angels of Vengeance. The unfounded theory has proven a little popular among dark angel fans with fanfic and player armies assembled that way.

Its not a bad thing but I am not a fan of the theory either. While there may have been a proper naming convention in place other than ‘oh these names look really cool for these guys’ that hardly should restrict me from picking it as the name for my Raven Guard successors. I considered a lot of names during the renaming process. Some of the ones that really jumped out were –

  • Absolvers – The idea behind using the name that the chapter seeks to help Corax on his quest for redemption and forgiveness for his experiments with the legion’s gene-seed post-Istvaan.
  • Avengers – The chapter is an active hunter of all the Betrayers of Istvaan. These are the Night Lords, the Alpha Legion, the Word Bearers and the Iron Warriors.
  • Crusaders – The chapter has continued the purpose of the Great Crusade, much like the Black Templars have and actively hunts down Traitor Marines.
  • Angels of Retribution – This somehow just fit all the above themes I wanted to get across. Plus, alone among the four names I shortlisted, it really resonated with him. It was a name I could definitely get behind. Not to mention the nice imagery you get when you read that name, particularly in conjunction with the Space Marines’ informal name – Angels of Death. Expect an updated chapter post soon!

As I have said before, names are very important to me when I am writing something.

An old writing project of mine, sparse details to be found here, spawned a madness that resulted in me inventing hundreds of names for dozens of factions. Everything from characters to planets, factions to organizations, weapons to starships and so on. I was quite prolific for that. Sadly the project never really saw much development beyond two large Excel files and about 140 pages in a regular copybook (that’s what us Indians call it). I still have all those files and the terrible amount of research I had to do to come up with names of starships and uniform designs and military rankings and what not.

Then there is the Angels of Retribution I am submitting to BL next month.

Also, the new project I have started. This one is about Space Marines of the Invictors chapter and Daemons. I’ve made more progress on this pitch in one day then I did on the Sons of Corax/Angels of Retribution in two months of focused efforts. My synopsis and summary are done pending review once the sample (currently at 435 words) is complete. And then the rounds of critiques and all.

I really like this pitch. At the moment it is tentatively titled Temptations although the story so far has nothing do with temptations. It was originally conceived as a marines versus Slaaneshi daemons short. I might even develop it into a novel, although that would be a lot of effort which I may not have the time for. Initial response to the story is that it reads better as a novel. I am hoping I can keep it down to a short and still keep it chock full of action and description and conflict.

Oh and the Invictors will be an Ultramarine successor. Although they have little to no contact with smurfies 🙂

What’s in a name?

This is a question that has been bothering me for the last week quite a bit. Mostly in relation to what the chapter name Sons of Corax really means. Ages ago on warseer when someone was posting their own DIY chapter they had some sort of similar name for a different legion successor. One of the posters said it was quite presumptuous of the chapter to name itself after the primarch, somehow indicating that the particular chapter was more favored by the primarch.

Is that necessarily true?

We already have the Sons of Guilliman, Sons of Dorn, Hammers of Dorn, Angels Sanguine, Disciples of Caliban, Heralds of Ultramar, Emperor’s XYZ, Imperial ABC, Knights of the Raven, other Sons of PQR etc etc. What are the significances of these names? The Heralds of Ultramar aren’t even based anywhere in Ultramar! The Sons of Orar aren’t even Orar’s sons in the sense that the Sons of Guilliman are literally sons of Guilliman! Did Dorn ever really carry a thunderhammer (how does the Fist of Dorn fit in here when the Imperial Fists are the ones using it)? Or the Emperor’s XYZ (loyalist) chapters who have been created after the Emperor ascended the Golden Throne and isn’t even aware of them? Are the Imperial ABC chapters really favoured by the Imperium?

Where does the favoritism being and where does it end? Is there really a question of these chapters being favored as indicated by the names of these chapters?

Two other aspects of the question are A, what is the power of these names and B, what is the real significance of these names? Let’s take it one by one.

A, The Power of Names – Fiction is quite literally littered with references and cases to/of the idea that names have power. These are reminiscent of some of the oldest religions on our planet. Knowing the name of a daemon gives you power over him is a concept particularly emphasised in both Warhammer worlds and in 40K we have the new background stating that the names of Grey Knights are parts of the true names of daemons! It is all the same as knowing the true identity of a spy, which allows you to exert power over him/her.

Why else do Inquisitors in 40k operate in subterfuge, particular examples being Eisenhorn and Ravenor. They don’t think twice about falsifying identities.

In Frank Herbert’s Dune series, the name Muad’Dib is a name of power, a killing name that the Fremen soldiers can use to literally kill their enemies with the aid of their sonic weapons.

Perhaps the Alpha Legion, at least pre-Heresy, exemplified this best of all. All Alpha Legionnaires are Alpharius when questioned in the book Legion. The identity of the primarch is hidden from anyone not of the Twentieth Legion and there is even a bigger secret being kept here.

What is the power of a name in Warhammer 40,000 in your opinion?

B, The Real Significance of Names – If names have power, then they also have a significance, a deeper meaning perhaps.

What does the name Blood Angels mean for that chapter? The chapter often has angelic names for its battle-brothers. The space marines were/are the Emperor’s Angels of Death. Sanguinius was raised in the Baalite tribe ‘Blood’. Post-heresy the Blood Angels and their successors have been cursed with a vampiric heritage and the Red Thirst.

Ultramarines, is it significant only in that Guilliman’s space marines come from Ultramar, or is the significance related to the colour of their name or is it a clever pun on both?

Space Wolves, are they really wolves in space because they have larger canines than is the norm among other marines, or is it a reference to Leman Russ’ upbringing, or is it related to the Wulfen curse, or is it another clever twist on all of them?

Alpha Legion, the last legion to be formed and yet designated in an old dead (in-universe) language as the first. Alpharius, the last primarch to be found yet his name has one (of course there are multiple meanings) meaning of the first. His twin’s name, Omegon, in that same dead language is the last letter of the alphabet.

Among the Raven Guard, a lot of their captains are named after birds, just as Corax is. And they are plays on similar words. Korvydae of the Tenth, Kayvaan Shrike of the Third, Corvane Valar of the Fifth. Go to wikipedia and do a search for the word Corax and see the results that come up.

Perhaps the most telling and important from an in-universe aspect is Horus, primarch of the most accomplished legion during the Heresy, the Warmaster of the Imperium, the Emperor’s most favored son, foremost among all the primarchs. And the one who plunged the entire galaxy into never-ending war. Horus, in egyptian mythology, is one of the oldest and most significant gods. What came to be known during the Heresy as the Eye of Horus, and was previously the Eye of Terra, is an ancient egyptian symbol for protection, royal power and good health. What Horus the primarch did during the Heresy is known to everyone.

Where does this all end?

All of this is something that I’ve been thinking about in this last week. I was quite surprised when I found out that the Corvus Mellori is a species of the crow/raven family Corvidae about two weeks back. The protagonist of my short story is Valerius Mellor. I had accidentally come up with a name that tied my character to the primarch and legion his chapter is descended from. And yes, it was quite unintentional.

All this comes down to the collective fact that Black Library does not want its writers, particularly ones who are aiming to get published through them the first time (established writers might be getting some leeway), to invent new chapters. I can see where they are coming from because there is such a large number of canon chapters we known nothing about. Some of them exist as nothing but names, they have no livery, heraldry, home or any kind of backstory.

This put me in a real bind because even though Sons of Corax was a stopgap measure to name the Raven Guard successor, I have become quite attached to it. And now I have to change it. Mostly because using my own chapter name is quite a bit of risk and could potentially work against my pitch for the upcoming submissions window. And I really want to not have any negative points against the pitch, especially ones that are easily controllable by me.

So I am now changing the name of the chapter. I have a short list of 4 chapters from Lexicanum’s list of canon chapters. I am very undecided at the moment because each of them represent some aspect of the backstory I have created for the Sons of Corax and I am reluctant to just abandon any of it. I tried to roll for these 4 names (about 50 times mind you to get a nice average) but I was still unhappy.

You see, the name of the chapter matters a lot. It ties it to the primarch, to the original legion. The Sons of Corax have a rich history of having collaborated with the Raven Guard over the years and they have kept some legion practices alive in their original form. They are also quite close to Corax in a spiritual way from what I have envisioned. And the name should reflect the traditions they have inherited from the legion, even though they are Third Founding, and an aspect(s) of the primarch that they think is the most appropriate for the direction they want to go in.

Perhaps all of this is a little too much for just one short story that may not even get picked up. But I think that that is where the difference lies. The difference between a writer who is aiming for quality and one who is just doing it because he/she wants to do it. I am not the best writer out there by any means. And the quality of the fanfic I regularly see on the good old Bolthole reminds me of that everyday and pushes me to perfect my own work that much more.

Its all about the effort you want to put in. And I believe that the more you can show that in the pitch, the better your (and my) chances of getting that foot in the door.

I have had three great critiques on my sample. They all attacked it in very different ways. Some did it from a background perspective. Some based on their own ideas on how things work in-universe. Some based on the technical aspects of the writing process. Some based on just pure logic from their own experiences. Combined, their review has resulted in quite a few changes to the sample in ways I had ignored because I wasn’t aware of the significance. Much thanks to Phalanx, Raziel and Narry for their help on this. Particularly Narry for his help with the names. And all the other Boltholers who helped in the entire process as well.

Welcome

Welcome to the Sons of Corax Blog. The Sons of Corax are a successor chapter of the Raven Guard chapter, formerly the XIXth Legiones Astartes. Stay tuned for more information about the chapter as I add more information to my pet chapter.

UPDATE

A little about me, as it relates to the hobby – I was in the hobby for about all of two years from late 2007 to late 2009. In this time I collected quite a few armies – Ultramarines, followed by my own space marine chapter I called the Shadowblades, followed by some dabbling in an Eldar Jetbike army and some Daemons for 40k. I don’t play the game anymore but I am still in it as far as rules theorizing and fluff discussions go. I can be found almost any day, any time of the day, on the warseer 40k forums where I post under the highly unimaginative name of shadowhawk2008. I sometimes dabble in the Black Library forums or the rules development forum or the warhammer fantasy background forums too on warseer but not much. I am much more at home discussing the 40k universe and the good and the bad of it.

I’ve attempted to write short stories and novels over the past eight or nine years but nothing has gone far enough in its development. Concerning 40k my first true attempt was an ambitious trilogy dealing with the proper ‘End of Times’ when the Emperor is resurrected (a billion theories on that one!), the missing primarchs return, the dead/injured ones are whole again and the Imperium has its final battle against Chaos. My aforementioned pet chapter the Shadowblades were going to be a special presence in that. But then I realized that the way I was writing the story was solidifying too many mysteries of the 40k universe, in particular the missing 2 space marine legions, and the whole project was completely over ambitious.

Well then I hit upon the idea of the Mantis Warriors space marines chapter finally ending their penance crusade at the end of the 41st millenium and being a normal chapter. Then I got thinking that I should probably write some shorts first and see where it goes. One of my key ideas in the End of Times trilogy had involved a new founding of the astartes and I was going to feature ten new chapters there. So I started with this idea to come up with some chapters I could use in my shorts. One thing spawned another and another and so on and in the end I finally hit upon the Sons of Corax and their battles in the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40,000.

I’ve been working on the Sons of Corax for about 5-6 months now, mostly developing their background so it can help inform my first true short story. And this short will be submitted to the Black Library for their open submissions in May’11. If it doesn’t get the greenlight then I’ll take it to the next level and develop it into a proper novel and try again next year. I have ideas aplenty in my brain and on paper to last a lifetime so that’s not a problem.

Stay around for some more info on the short story and the background for the Sons of Corax.