Tag Archives: Surreality

Everyone in the room is a human being

Except for Gleebmork. But even s/he has feelings.

I wrote about 5000 words of the sequel to Surreality a couple of months ago, then put it down to focus on getting the first book out. Coming back to it, I’ve been kicking myself because of where I left the story. Specifically, I’m in the middle of a tough conversation between two characters that’s the setup for many conversations throughout the book. I have a pretty good idea of what the conversation is supposed to accomplish structurally, but have been having a tough time translating that into believable dialogue and body language.

I’m an only child, and we tend to think of the world in relation to ourselves. In the most extreme form, we believe that every conversation has something to do with us, and that everything that is happening is happening to us most of all. Most only children have this notion shaken up by something, be it a good friend, or getting married.

But the attitude can seep into a book without you even realizing it. Surreality and its sequel have a central character, and while it’s a third person narrative, we’re mostly sitting behind one head and one perspective.

It was kind of a simple thing, but part of what got the dialogue flowing better was to think about what the other character was thinking and feeling at the same time. What motivated them to initiate the talk with my character, and what do they hope to get out of it?

Detective novel dialogue can be very objective based, “I am grilling this character for information”, or “I am sorting through my thoughts out loud before having a brilliant insight.” Even in these situations motivations of the other characters are important, particularly if they intend to lie or hold something back.

Some characters will still be flat. We don’t need Willy the drug-dealer’s life story (especially since he isn’t a character in either book). Willy’s just there to tell us what he saw in exchange for us looking the other way on some weed that’ll be legal in the state in a year or two.

But for non-flat characters (i.e. characters not derived from Edwin Abbot’s Flatland), we need to be able to see the scene from their perspective as well as the main character’s. Maybe an exercise in getting that perspective is to write both versions of the scene, one sitting behind your main character’s head, and the other sitting behind the other person in the room. Then blend these two together into a single working scene.

I’ve never tried it, but it sounds like it would work, right?

What I do know that works is to just keep at it. Even if you only add a net 100 words to the scene on evening, you’ve made progress. Because this is a formative scene, I’m probably going to write and revise it several times before moving on, because it will be the basis for a lot of what is to come. I just have to take my own advice and not put it down for another couple of months.

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The Yearly Debate

I think a decent swath of us who consider ourselves independent authors are having a little debate with ourselves right about now. It’s the time of year when we all consider writing a novel, or more specifically, speed writing a novella.

That’s right, it’s soon to be National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo) where a bunch of people around the country take a stab at 50,000 words in 30 days.

November is a busy month for me. Beyond just Thanksgiving, there’s my anniversary and my wife’s birthday in the mix. I’ve tried NaNo a couple of times, and finished it in earnest one year. My NaNo novel still sits on the “to be finished” pile. And there have been other times when I’ve certainly hit the word count, be it working on Dark Matter, or even with my technical writing at work.

NaNo sometimes feels like something only a beginning author would do. Truthfully, I’ve found that, at least for myself, blasting out word count is not the way to good prose. I can easily produce 2500 words a day if I put my mind to it, but lately I’m much more happy to just write 1000 pretty good ones.

My current writing moment is an interesting one. I’m in the middle of promoting a book for publication, preparing the print edition, and potentially writing the sequel. I’ve got several books that have been sitting on the “to be finished” or “to be revised” piles, and I’ve got a half finished serial for this blog I haven’t forgotten about. Certainly adding 50,000 words to one of those areas wouldn’t be a bad thing. But I also don’t want to distract myself too much from the goal of getting Surreality out there (that book is almost across the finish line).

I’ve been contemplating some kind of a reading goal, or a review writing goal. Maybe 1-2 reviews a day (try to knock my NetGalley review percentage into respectable territory), but that seems to be getting a little away from the goals of the month. Ditto for working on fractal book sequel material (another book on the “to be written” pile involving programming and more pictures and research).

I think the best way to think about this month is as a way to kickstart and focus on some aspect of your writing. For a lot of people, that’s rough drafts, revising, plotting or whatever. For me … well, I’m not really sure.

The guy who actually started bugging me about this stuff is my good friend, Brian. And in that spirit, here’s what I’m thinking. Brian, more than just about anyone, has been wanting to read Dark Matter, which needs a complete rewrite before I would even consider it. And considering that it has been a couple of years since I wrote the original draft, I need to reread before I rewrite. So here’s the deal. I am going to try to read all 200,000 words of Dark Matter in a month. And maybe write 10-15K on Surreality 2 (don’t worry, not the actual title). That’s a long way from getting my book into Brian’s hands, but it’s a start.

This is where my commute and a Kindle that can read to me are going to come in handy. I had this bat-crap crazy idea to write Dark Matter with no chapter breaks, with the idea that I’d add them in revision. This first read will be brutal.

How are you using NaNo?


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Surreality – The Caves Of Steel

We’re in week two of the campaign for Surreality, and I need your help more than ever.You can read the first two chapters (which includes the introduction to the character profiled in this post), and nominate at the link below. Help keep Surreality a “hot and trending” book on Kindle Scout. If Kindle Press decides to publish my book, you get a free copy and the satisfaction of helping an independent author. Thanks so much 🙂


Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite authors. He wasn’t exactly a master of prose, but he was definitely a master of ideas. He got more mileage out of three laws of robotics than most authors get out of a whole notebook full of ideas. His later fiction strays into some weird territory (not a big fan of the Gaia sections of the Foundation series or of the direction he takes some of the later robot novels), but one of his early works, The Caves of Steel, is one of my favorite books and an indirect inspiration for one of the characters in Surreality.


The Caves of Steel is a science-fiction mystery. The earth of this world is densely populated, with most of the population living in vast underground cities. Some colonization of outer worlds has begun, but the population of those planets is kept deliberately low to allow for increased wealth and extended lifespans. Robots are all but banned on Earth, whereas for the Spacers (the outer colonists) robots are an essential part of maintaining their lifestyle, and are advanced enough as to have a human-like appearance.

When a Spacer ambassador to Earth is murdered, Elijah Bailey is partnered with spacer robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve the case. Olivaw serves as a guide to Spacer culture and robots for Bailey, who’s a bit of a curmudgeon (his catch phrase is “Jehosophat!”), and doesn’t trust that the three laws are enough to keep a robot from being responsible for the murder. He also doubts R. Daneel’s capabilities as an investigator, since he is merely a program without the instinct or understanding of human emotions of a true detective.

Surreality is what I call a technological-mystery, though one of its characters, an advanced artificial intelligence, borders on science-fiction. Synthia, short for “Synthetic Intelligence-Algorithm”, is assigned to Detective Keenan when he is tasked with investigating a murder in the virtual world of Surreality. She serves as his guide and partner, since Keenan is a man not familiar with computers, or with this game world in particular. Keenan has some of the same doubts about Synthia’s abilities, and building their partnership through the book presented some of the same challenges, ups and downs.

In the world of Surreality we’re presented with three kinds of in-game characters, avatars, or characters controlled by real-life players, NPC’s “non-player characters” that serve as background ornamentation to the game’s environments, and artificial intelligences like Synthia, who live in the game world, but are more than just a few programmed responses.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”


“Are you real?”

“Of course I’m real. I’m as real as everything you see here,” she laughed. “I’m not real in the sense you mean, as in a human controlling a puppet in here, but I am real. My full name is Synthetic Intelligence Algorithm, or Synthia for short. Pleased to meet you.” She gave a little mock salute.

“So . . . you’re a program?”

“Not my preferred term but essentially accurate, though that’s a little like reducing your whole existence down to how you think. I have a body and interact with my environment just like you do. Yes, my thought patterns are determined by complex mathematical algorithms, but yours might be too. After all, you are a detective. Your thought process has to be ordered or you’d never solve a case, right?”

Synthia’s a little feistier than Daneel, and doesn’t have the same explicit restrictions. Truthfully she’s fun to write, and probably one of my favorite characters of the whole book (probably why she made the cover). There are things we’ll trust to computers, journals, blogs, that we might never say to the people in our lives. And characters like Synthia give voice to perspectives outside of the patterns our characters are used to operating in.

PS. Thanks to my mom who suggested I read The Caves of Steel back in the day.

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Surreality – The Author Photo


I’m much more comfortable with avatars, cartoons, or drawings of fractals than I am with pictures of myself. It’s not that I think I look bad. I’m a reasonably handsome, husky ball of joy. I just tend to see the areas in need of improvement when I look at pictures of myself. Not trying to fish here, just being honest.

This is all by way of saying that I wasn’t too thrilled to be doing the author photo for the Surreality Kindle Scout campaign, and I put it off till basically the day before.

My wife took the picture, actually about four dozen of them, and manipulated the final image to get what you see above. That’s my basement library and poker table in the shot and one of the approximately seven computers on which Surreality was written. I’m happy my wife insisted on the nicer shirt, as the just t-shirt shots were only okay, even though the shirt is kinda cool.

One thing I learned is that I apparently do not open my eyes. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired or just have very narrow eyes, but I had to actually work to open them enough to be seen, without looking like I was a crazed psychopath. My eyes “crinkle” when I smile as well, meaning that a full grin would basically leave me blind.

What you see in the shot is pretty typical of my workspace, though with a lot of unseen clutter outside the shot. The open book is my random writing thoughts book, something that I would probably only share with somebody else after I’m dead. My goal right now is simply to fill it with a lot of nonsense that hopefully makes the words I write in books work better.

There were several coffee mugs tried in the shot but ultimately it couldn’t have been anything else but the OSU mug. The handle broke off once and we glued it back on because that is my Saturday game day coffee mug. It’s just that simple.

I’m also happy that my body blocked most of the manga behind me, though you can clearly see Love Hina creeping out from behind my left shoulder. Slightly better is the Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell and Dominion sitting above it. And that is a set of blueprints for the Enterprise-D you see lying on its side on top of a bunch of Star Trek comics trades. It’s research … okay 🙂 The gray box a few shelves up contains a DS9 tie complete with all of the aliens from that show. And trust me, this is nothing compared to the chotskie’s I have on top of my desk.


One week in and the campaign is going strong, but I still need your support. Please vote for Surreality using the link below, and receive a free early copy if Kindle Press decides to publish it. Share your support on Twitter, Facebook or Squirrelbook, the social-media website for squirrels. No chipmunks allowed!



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Surreality – Secret Origins

Hey everybody! Ben here. Right now the Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality is live, and I need your help! Nominate my book for publication and get a free copy if Kindle Press selects it! Vote and read the first two chapters at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2VSHAGFXNJ50T. Thanks so much for your help 🙂

Every year I try to come up with some kind of writing goal, and during college I extended this to specific summer goals, most of which were never actually achieved.

One of the first of these was to write 10-12 short stories in 12 weeks, a story a week. Actually, that still sounds like a pretty good idea. Maybe someday. But I’m not the kind of guy who thinks in short stories. My story ideas tend to inflate into novels, and pretty soon into entire series, and “Murder in Second Life” as I was calling it at the time, started pretty much the same way.

This was around the time when Second Life was coming into its own. It was kind of a weird anomaly at the time, more of a community than a proper game (and it had the crappy graphics to match). Still, people were building relationships, communities, and virtual sci-fi museums or really whatever they wanted. This was more than just a game, it was in truth another world, and I was interested in what form crime would take in this sort of environment, particularly murder.

Me doing some onsite research in Second Life. What's up with that hair?

Me doing some on-site research in Second Life. What’s up with that hair?

Death is a constant in video games, as is resurrection. But not Second Life. The game was designed to not have the objectives or weapons of a third-person shooter, or even the quests of an RPG. It was just a place to hang out, maybe design and sell some stuff, and interact in a more realistic way. Truthfully when I first started looking into this, I don’t think Second Life knew what it was going to be. Certainly the legacy of that space has been more community driven than creator influenced. It evolved, as my own world of Surreality continues to.

I like the mystery form, and I’m a guy who loves technology, but it was important to me to have the main character not be some kind of elite hacker or technology buff. This served both as a challenge to myself to make the material engaging to people who aren’t engineers, and a lot of narrative structures are told from the perspective of the “outsider” who acts as our reader surrogate for exploring our surroundings.

Actually, truthfully, this is a more sophisticated understanding of my main character than I had when I created him. I’m more of a “gut” writer. Keenan was largely born out of a love of classic detectives like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” which still leaves a few fingerprints in the final version of the book. What if a technological crime could not be solved by people good with technology, but only by people good at getting to the truth?

As I’ve written about, everything really started coming together after a suggestion from my wife. Don’t set the story in San Francisco, a place I have only visited once. Instead, move the real-world action to Columbus. We’re a culturally, politically, socio-economically diverse Midwestern city. We’re a growing center for technology, and more importantly, Columbus is my home. Writing about this place has given me an excuse to get to know my city better, and to use my love to really shape the narrative in directions I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

There are a lot of other bumps and jigs along the way, as with any book, more than I probably even remember. Some scenes, particularly those with Garfunkel, were inspired by my first dog, Simon. I was looking through my old notes the other evening, and there are times I have no idea what was going through my head. I think if you work on something long enough, while you can have a narrative as to its origins, there is so much that is simply organic, or even magical.


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Kindle Scout – How It Works

Well … it turns out what I thought would take two weeks, took two days. The Kindle Scout campaign for Surreality is live.

So what does that mean?


Q. What is Surreality again?

My latest mystery, set in the city of Columbus, OH and the virtual world of Surreality.

Business partners turned bitter rivals, a missing hooker, and a death that’s just a preview of things to come… When a man is strangled in the virtual world of Surreality and $80 million is stolen, Detective Dan Keenan must find the missing money and stop a killer from making good on murder.

Q. What is Kindle Scout?

Kindle Scout was introduced by Amazon about a year ago. Prospective authors put their book up for public voting for 30 days during which time Amazon decides whether to publish the book through Kindle Press. If the book is selected the author gets a 5 year publishing contract and a nice advance.

Q. So, what’s in it for me?

If you nominate my book and Kindle Press decides to publish it, you’ll get a free eBook copy. And either way, you’ll have my gratitude. All of the support I get from my fellow bloggers and friends really means a lot to me. This book wouldn’t be ready for publication without your support.

Q. Can I buy it yet?

Not quite yet, but the first two chapters (and a little of chapter three) are available as a sample through the campaign. You can read it online, or have it sent to your Kindle to read for later.

Q. Do I need to sign up for Kindle Scout to vote?

A. Nope. If you have an Amazon.com account, you’ll just sign in with that.

Q. How long do I have to decide?

About a month. The campaign ends November 14th at 12:00AM EDT.

Q. Where do I go?


Q. Is it a long book?

Only about 75K words (maybe 240 pages). Good for a beach read or for those slightly less cold because of El Nino winter nights.

Q. How can I help?

If you like the book, share the campaign on Twitter or Facebook. Tell your friends, your relatives, your dog. Hey, you never know. Maybe he’ll vote by randomly mashing keys. Dogs are very smart.

Q. What if I have more questions?

Kindle Scout has a great FAQ or you could just contact me at bentrubewriter@gmail.com.

Thank you so much and hope to earn your vote!

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Surreality – The Cover Shoot

So here it is, the cover for Surreality:


That’s our friend Jessica serving as our cover model. We did the cover shoot about a month ago in four different locations: Goodale Park, the Scioto Mile (the location that made the cover), in front of City Hall and in the Short North. It was a pretty overcast day, but thankfully the rain you see in the picture is an after effect.

My wife took most of the photos with either her cell phone camera and a couple with the nicer camera. I took a few test shots for angles and recording the process for posterity. It took about 400 shots to get the one we liked over the course of about three hours (we had to get home for the OSU football game after all). Jessica was a real trooper, standing through costume changes, and slight adjustments in pose as my wife tried to get just the right shot.

What’s funny about the whole process is what you like in person doesn’t always match what looks good when you try to play with it. We were working with two wigs, two fedoras, two dresses (though we only shot with one) and two trenchcoats (thanks to Jessica’s Mom for the coats). The black coat was a little shorter (about the length of the dress you see in the cover) and looked good in a lot of the shots but ultimately the longer coat just fit the mood better.

The dress and shoes came from Rag O’Rama, an upscale thrift store on High Street (they don’t just take anything like Goodwill), and we had to look through probably two-thirds of the dresses to find the ones we wanted, even though as you can see, we don’t actually see much of it in the shot. The book is set in modern times but we’re going for a noir 1920’s-30’s sensibility of what is “sexy”. Think Katherine Hepburn or Mary Astor.

We got a “goddess” wig from O’Rama as well, which turned out to be kind of difficult to work with. It had a lot of curls that we tried to tie up or style. Ultimately the wig you see we picked up at Party City the night before (about 15 minutes before close).

Most of the effects work was done in Pixlr by my wife. She really did a wonderful job capturing the mood of the real and virtual world of Surreality. The final composition work was done in Photoshop after only about eight different tries (some of them really bad, like seriously … what was I thinking?).

Of course I sent a copy of the cover to my copy-editor, Brian, who responded with this suggestion:


At least my name is on there somewhere.

What are friends for?

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