2012-10-11

“You Just Keep Pushing”

“It’s the same with this idea of a literate public, and also of a democracy in which people have access to and really read the best books. It turns out that even when you create this kind of environment, maybe only 10 percent of the people want to read those books. What does it mean? It means to me what Simone Weil said politics has meant all along, which means that you fight for 11 percent, 12 percent, 13 percent, that you avoid golden-age thinking and romantic melancholy and you just keep pushing.”

— Robert Hass

2012-08-29

Blog Tour 2012 — The Writing Trip

A Q&A at David L. Shutter’s Writing Trip talks process! Passion! Publishing! Prose vs. film! Other things, only some of which begin with P!

It would take a full frontal lobotomy or some manner of alien brain parasite for me to ever take on the services of an agent again, but that’s just one guy’s opinion. Like many writers, I think the advantages of indie author-publishing are pretty clear — but maybe better than some, I also understand how much work is involved in publishing properly…


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2012-08-27

Blog Tour 2012 — Pure Textuality

The August/September Blog Tour continues at Pure Textuality, where Scott talks about the fine art of tricking your writer’s mind.

Being a dedicated editor involves a very different set of creative muscles than being a dedicated writer, and it’s certainly not the case that all writers need to be as good at editing as a dedicated editor. A lot of writers find editing about as exciting as warm yogurt, and if that’s the camp you’re in, that’s totally fine. Here’s the thing, though. The writer’s mind is really, really good about hiding the mistakes that the editor’s mind needs to catch…

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2012-08-24

Blog Tour 2012 — Indie Book Blog

The Blog Tour stops in at the Indie Book Blog to talk philosophies of world building in fantasy and speculative fiction.

I like a starting point to my fiction that’s tied down firmly by rules. I like the idea of consistency in fantasy worlds. I like the idea that magic works the same way for everyone in a fantasy world, and thus should be theoretically accessible to everyone in some way — not just the exclusive province of a small number of extremely powerful background characters…


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2012-08-22

Blog Tour — The Eagle’s Aerial Perspective

Scott talks speculative fiction, indie publishing, and hanging out with Joseph Conrad up in the aerie of the Golden Eagle.

It’s been said before by people smarter than me, but working within a fictional world limited only by your own imagination is both a blessing a curse. A blessing because you can tell literally any story that comes to mind; a curse because it gets very easy to tell stories that disconnect from the core essentials of dramatic storytelling — morality, the struggle for survival, and what William Faulkner famously called "the human heart in conflict with itself”…


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2012-08-20

Blog Tour 2012 — McAfee Land

Horror author David McAfee invites Scott to hang out and talk about his publishing journey.

My publishing journey is a little bit different than many self- and indie-publishing authors, because my journey has taken me on a grand tour of the publishing industry through all the years that I’ve been bashing away getting better as a writer. And because I was fortunate enough to work in publishing for a long while, and because I was doubly fortunate to work with some incredibly talented people, my sense of what’s involved in being an indie publisher begins and ends with two simple facts:

Publishing is a complex process. Publishing is hard work…


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2012-08-17

Blog Tour 2012 — Lisa Mondello

As the 2012 Blog Tour clocks into the second quarter, Scott drops in on author and screenwriter Lisa Mondello to talk screen v. prose and aesthetic separation.

The problem is, workshops don’t function the way most writers (and a lot of instructors) think they do. In a workshop, the feedback you get from other people is much less important than the feedback you give to other people — because the point of workshopping is to learn how to spot problems in your own work as easily as you can spot problems in other people’s…


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2012-08-15

Blog Tour 2012 — Tonya Kappes

Mystery writer Tonya Kappes opens up her site to the 2012 Blog Tour today, where Scott does a rousing cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”.

Writing is hard. Everyone who’s ever written knows this. Everyone who’s ever written knows the adage attributed to Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing. I love having written.” Writing is hard. But stopping writing is dead easy, and therein lies the problem… 


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2012-08-13

Blog Tour 2012 — Greg Hamerton

The 2012 Blog Tour continues at the site of fantasy author Greg Hamerton, who asked about collaboration.

For me, there’s something special about worlds crafted through collaboration, because there’s something special about the process of collaboration — and of how that process sharpens, rather than dulls, individual creativity…


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2012-08-10

“I Mourn With Such Dismay”

When I recall that nevermore, alas!
That lady shall I see
On whose account I mourn with such dismay,
My grieving thoughts about my heart amass
Such sorrow that I say:
“My soul, why dost thou not depart from me…?”

— Danté Alighieri

2012-08-08

Blog Tour 2012 — Christopher Bunn

Fantasy author Christopher Bunn’s site rings out today with thoughts on writing and worldview for the 2012 Blog Tour!

For me, the most important stories — the best stories — are about the struggles of real people to define their place in the world. Characters alone, cut off. Driven to question and forced to discover the meaning in their lives. And my problem with fantasy built on a rich cosmology of living gods is simply that it undercuts those questions and that process of discovery where so much of the best fiction is made…


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2012-08-06

Blog Tour 2012 — Guerrilla Wordfare

The 2012 Blog Tour swings by Lizzy Ford’s Guerrilla Wordfare, for some discussion of the connections between story and the person the writer used to be.

Above and below that level of conscious creative possibility, all writers collect bits of information and ephemera. Things we know, things we wonder about. Stray thoughts that never manage to percolate up into consciousness, but which embed themselves into the strata foundations of our creativity like layers in the fossil record…

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2012-08-03

Blog Tour 2012 — Darrin Drader

Author and game designer Darrin Drader opens up his guest blog to the 2012 Insane Angel Studios Tour of the World*, for a Q&A talking about We Can Be Heroes, “Heroes of Gracia,” and the Endlands.

Looking away from the mechanics, though, I think there are narrative threads in the new book that resonate in most of what I write. Even going back to the work I’ve done as a screenwriter in years past, the stories I gravitate toward tend to be focused around characters who end up in over their heads and are forced to rethink who they are and what they’re capable of as a result…

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*Entire tour of any entire world, real or imaginary, not actually implied or suggested.

2012-08-01

Blog Tour 2012 — Ty Johnston


The Insane Angel Studios August/September Blog Tour rolls into its first stop at the online home of author Ty Johnston: Life on the Written Page, with an essay on technology, fiction, and character in SF.

The one thing that all my own favorite writers of science fiction and speculative fiction do is to look not only at the narrative possibilities inherent in technology, but at the interface line where technology impacts on and resonates in the human world…

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2012-07-25

Blog Tour 2012 — Michael K. Rose’s SpecFicPick

Throughout August and September, Scott will be diligently avoiding real work by laying down a couple of dozen guest posts, essays, and interviews at various stops across the blogosphere. (It’s still cool to say “blogosphere,” right?) The 2012 blog tour is mostly in support of the release of We Can Be Heroes, but also because Scott really just likes to hear himself talk and thinks you all should, too.

Even though it’s not even August yet, check out a blog tour sneak preview with a quick Q&A with Michael Rose at the SpecFicPick blog, wherein Scott talks fictional philosophy, yo.

MKR: What was your biggest challenge in writing [We Can Be Heroes]?

SFG: Trying to tell myself that I could shape a story incorporating so many personal touchstones into something universal. And at the risk of trying to make myself sound like a person of any skill or talent, I think this is really the essential challenge of all speculative fiction and fantasy…

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2012-07-06

“It is Not the Actual World…"

“I have made at worst some neat, precise and joyous little tales which prevaricate tenderly about the universe and veil the pettiness of human nature with screens of verbal jewelwork. It is not the actual world they tell about, but a vastly superior place where the Dream is realized and everything which in youth we knew was possible comes true. It is a world we have all glimpsed, just once, and have not ever entered, and have not ever forgotten. So people like my little tales… Do they induce delusions? Oh, well, you must give people what they want, and literature is a vast bazaar where customers come to purchase everything except mirrors.”

— James Branch Cabell

2012-06-27

Genre and the Subconscious Toolkit

[Cross-posted from amwriting.org]

I’m a genre writer and proud of it. But here’s a thing that I came to realize a long time ago, right around the point where I was reading almost exclusively within the genres I loved and couldn’t figure out what was holding me back from becoming the writer I really wanted to be. The joys and pleasures of working within a genre you love come with a downside. Reading exclusively within your chosen genre as a writer can help to focus your creativity in ways that make you a better writer up to a point. But the focus you gain can eventually produce a kind of tunnel vision — an over-focus of the mind that makes it impossible to see beyond genre.

Every writer has had the experience of being hung up on a particular story problem — a plot bottleneck that won’t break, a character that isn’t working, a convoluted collapse of story logic that seems ready to force you back to page one. But most writers have also had the experience of having the solution to a problem suddenly pop into his or her mind fully formed, from out of left field. Unlooked for, unthought of, the answer is just suddenly there because the brain often does its best work when we’re not focused exclusively on the problem at hand. The best inspiration, the best creativity, comes in the act of not focusing, because the moment of not focusing lets us see beyond what we normally see.

The thing is, all writing by its very nature is a focused activity. The genre and styles we choose to write in are a huge and important part of that focus, and an important part of the process of becoming better writers as each word, each paragraph, each story is shaped and honed. But in the act of loving the genres we write in, that process of focus-turned-to-tunnel-vision begins to limit us to what I would call “expected inspiration.” When we engage with the familiar, when we surround ourselves with what we know, we let our imaginations loose only inside comfortable and preset constraints. We know all the variables going into the fictional equation, and so the outcomes can never truly surprise us. But the ability to be surprised by our own work — to seek and find the unexpected inspiration — is where the best fiction lives.

As a writer of genre fiction, whatever your genre happens to be, it’s necessary to find inspiration in the mechanics of genre. For fantasy and speculative fiction writers, the joy of mechanics lies largely in world building. From our imaginations, we sketch out foundational parameters of whole civilizations and cultures, the pantheons of gods, the hordes of evil, and the histories of nations that rose and fell without ever actually existing. For mystery writers, mechanics are largely the machinations of plot and puzzle — the pacing of events and irony that create the emotional and intellectual map that mystery demands. Romance as a genre focuses on the mechanics of emotion and relationships, whose rules are less rigid but still require a necessary amount of predictability in the end.

The thing is, no good genre writer can write only in ingenious isolation. We talk about creating our worlds from the whole cloth of imagination, but that imagination is always filtered through layers of knowledge from outside the genre. Scratch the surface of a great romance writer and you’re likely to find an anthropsychologist yearning to break free. The ranks of great fantasy writers are populated with fanatics for history and mythology, just as the best SF writers live and breathe the clockwork storm that is technology and sociology feeding on each other. The best mystery writers understand the processes of inductive and deductive reasoning down cold, as they do the equally distant dispassion of logic and psychopathy on which the most memorable mysteries are often based.

All great genre writers know this need for foundation; all writers who yearn to be great genre writers understand it. Less obvious, however, is the idea that embracing and consuming fiction outside our chosen genres is just as essential a foundational mechanical tool. And you can look to what a specific genre does best in search of particular narrative devices, to be sure — reading mysteries to add a little intrigue to your science fiction; reading romance to make the relationships in your fantasy feel more believable. But more important in my own experience is how reading outside genre adds in the most general way to the writer’s subconscious toolkit of creativity.

When we stop focusing, when we look away from the familiar — that’s the point at which the ideas and the inspiration truly come alive. We look away from the problem at hand in the hope and expectation that the solution will come out of left field. We push ourselves to read outside our chosen genres in order to break the focus that can too easily constrain the energy of imagination. No matter what your chosen genre, reading a great mystery can show you storytelling built around the relentless tightness of pure plot. Reading a great epic fantasy can bring the relationship between character and setting into the sharpest possible relief. Reading great science fiction can show you the art of extrapolating possibility to reality, even as it shows how not even the most drastic changes in environment can alter the essential qualities of the human spirit. Reading a great romance can expose you to the basic foundations of archetypal emotion. Reading beyond genre and into the realm of straight-up literary fiction can show you story at its most primal inside a single character’s heart and mind (notwithstanding the fact that you can find that kind of fiction within any of the so-called genres; but that’s another post for another time).

Loving a genre is a necessary part of writing great genre fiction. Being drawn to hammer and hone the particular sorts of narratives, characters, and drama inherent in a genre is fine. But if you realize at some point that you’re doing most of your reading only in that chosen genre, you’re the metaphorical equivalent of the writer who focuses on the problem at hand so intently that he or she can’t ever get past it. Reading only in limited genres narrows your focus. It turns your creativity into something homogenous — a straight line of thought and intellectual energy; a surface of smooth constraints and limitations. But the best creativity is fractious and fractured. The best creativity runs in a dozen different directions all at once. It has rough edges and cracks along all its seams, and those cracks are where the light of new inspiration flares, waiting to be seen from the corner of your eye.

2012-06-20

“The Summer Rain”

My books I’d fain cast off, I cannot read,
  ’Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large
Down in the meadow, where is richer feed,
  And will not mind to hit their proper targe.

Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too,
  Our Shakespeare’s life were rich to live again,
What Plutarch read, that was not good nor true,
  Nor Shakespeare’s books, unless his books were men.

Here while I lie beneath this walnut bough,
  What care I for the Greeks or for Troy town,
If juster battles are enacted now
  Between the ants upon this hummock’s crown?

Bid Homer wait till I the issue learn,
  If red or black the gods will favor most,
Or yonder Ajax will the phalanx turn,
  Struggling to heave some rock against the host.

Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour,
  For now I’ve business with this drop of dew,
And see you not, the clouds prepare a shower—
  I’ll meet him shortly when the sky is blue.

This bed of herd’s grass and wild oats was spread
  Last year with nicer skill than monarchs use.
A clover tuft is pillow for my head,
  And violets quite overtop my shoes.

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in,
  And gently swells the wind to say all’s well;
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin,
  Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell.

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats;
  But see that globe come rolling down its stem,
Now like a lonely planet there it floats,
  And now it sinks into my garment’s hem.

Drip drip the trees for all the country round,
  And richness rare distills from every bough;
The wind alone it is makes every sound,
  Shaking down crystals on the leaves below.

For shame the sun will never show himself,
  Who could not with his beams e’er melt me so;
My dripping locks—they would become an elf,
  Who in a beaded coat does gayly go.

— Henry David Thoreau

2012-06-13

Freshly Wakened

Appendix S: Dandelion Wine

I’ve been wracking my brain since last week, digging through the depths of melancholy to try to sum up in some kind of cogent fashion exactly what Ray Bradbury means to me. And i realize today that i can’t.

Because Bradbury is magic. Bradbury did things that no other writer i’m familiar with could do, and that’s a rare freaking gift. With other writers — even the best writers, the writers that mean the most to me and have influenced, challenged, and inspired me — i see patterns and reflections of greatness. I read Harlan Ellison and I read Neil Gaiman (as arbitrary examples), and i think to myself, “These are like minds, whose views of the world complement and even mirror each other’s from time to time.” I’m not saying that one is simply following in the footsteps of the second or that A is the more refined version of B. Just that in the way those two authors’ works resonate in my own mind, i can feel layers of comfortable connections.

Ray Bradbury’s work is bereft of comfortable connections for me. His work stands alone — and at the apex of an era of speculative fiction and fantasy when no single person should have been able to accomplish that feat.

And so i realize that there’s nothing i can say about Ray Bradbury that will do justice to his work. So instead, i’m just going to let his work say it for me.

What follows is the opening to Dandelion Wine, courtesy of (which is to say, stolen from) the raybradbury.com website. Dandelion Wine is a book that everyone needs to read. It’s a book that i’m ashamed to say it took me a relatively long to get to reading, insofar as i consumed all of Bradbury’s fantasy and speculative fiction well before the end of high school but kind of ignored Dandelion Wine until well into college. Because it was “realist” fiction. Autobiographical fiction. A 1920s period piece, for crying out loud, and no Mr. Dark in sight.

A lot of Bradbury’s books play around with what might be called “magic”. The dark supernatural uncertainty of Something Wicked This Way Comes; the aching mythology of The Martian Chronicles. And sure, Dandelion Wine does have a touch of elemental enchantment to it, in its hints of witchcraft and the way that the connections between people and the world play out in the young protagonist’s eyes. Even so, it would be a stretch to call it a fantasy novel — but in the end, that doesn’t matter.

Because in the end, Dandelion Wine doesn’t just explore magic. Dandelion Wine is magic. And i know i’m going to spend the rest of my life looking for another book like it, and i’m pretty sure i’m going to fail.

• • •

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now…

“Boy,” whispered Douglas.

A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. Like the goddess Siva in the travel books, he saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers. He would freeze, gladly, in the hoarfrosted icehouse door. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen.

But now — a familiar task awaited him.

One night each week he was allowed to leave his father, his mother, and his younger brother Tom asleep in their small house next door and run here, up the dark spiral stairs to his grandparents’ cupola, and in this sorcerer’s tower sleep with thunders and visions, to wake before the crystal jingle of milk bottles and perform his ritual magic. He stood at the open window in the dark, took a deep breath and exhaled.

The street lights, like candles on a black cake, went out. He exhaled again and again and the stars began to vanish.

Douglas smiled. He pointed a finger.

There, and there. Now over here, and here…

Yellow squares were cut in the dim morning earth as house lights winked slowly on. A sprinkle of windows came suddenly alight miles off in dawn country.

“Everyone yawn. Everyone up.”

The great house stirred below.

“Grandpa, get your teeth from the water glass!” He waited a decent interval. “Grandma and Great-grandma, fry hot cakes!”

The warm scent of fried batter rose in the drafty halls to stir the boarders, the aunts, the uncles, the visiting cousins, in their rooms.

“Street where all the Old People live, wake up! Miss Helen Loomis, Colonel Freeleigh, Miss Bentley! Cough, get up, take pills, move around! Mr. Jonas, hitch up your horse, get your junk wagon out and around!”

The bleak mansions across the town ravine opened baleful dragon eyes. Soon, in the morning avenues below, two old women would glide their electric Green Machine, waving at all the dogs. “Mr. Tridden, run to the carbarn!” Soon, scattering hot blue sparks above it, the town trolley would sail the rivering brick streets.

“Ready John Huff, Charlie Woodman?” whispered Douglas to the Street of Children. “Ready!” to baseballssponged deep in wet lawns, to rope swings hung empty in trees.

“Mom, Dad, Tom, wake up.”

Clock alarms tinkled faintly. The courthouse clock boomed. Birds leaped from trees like a net thrown by his hand, singing. Douglas, conducting an orchestra, pointed to the eastern sky.

The sun began to rise.

He folded his arms and smiled a magician’s smile. Yes, sir, he thought, everyone jumps, everyone runs when I yell. It’ll be a fine season.

He gave the town a last snap of his fingers.

Doors slammed open; people stepped out.

Summer 1928 began.

2012-06-09

Three Thoughts on “Prometheus”

1) H.R. Giger gets a thank-you nod at the top of the end credits but Dan O’Bannon doesn’t? Not fucking cool.

2) I have to assume that Jon Spaihts’ original script was filled with little things like nuanced character, and layered exposition, and biomorphic consistency, and small moments of mystery slowly building to inevitable yet surprising revelations, and then Damon Lindeloff came in and said, “Kid, let me show you how we dealt with that kind of crap on LOST…”

3) Not really a SPOILER ALERT, but: Why the holy hell was the alien mound-complex a) called a pyramid when it wasn’t in any way, and b) lifted wholesale from the Castle Harkonnen design for Jodorowsky’s Dune? Like, what?

2012-06-06

“Myths Have Staying Power”

“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time — because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”

— Ray Bradbury
1920–2012

2012-06-05

My Mission Statement

                                                      Be whores still,
And he whose pious breath seeks to convert you,
Be strong in whore, allure him, burn him up.
Let your close fire predominate his smoke,
And be no turncoats. Yet may your pains, six months,
Be quite contrary, and thatch your poor thin roofs
With burdens of the dead — some that were hang’d,
No matter. Wear them, betray with them. Whore still…

— Shakespeare, Timon of Athens.

2012-05-25

The Finality


I don’t like death. I don’t like the reality of it. I don’t like the finality. I try not to pass judgement on other people’s beliefs, at least not when they’re in a position to respond. But I think that if there is a god, death would make an excellent basis for a massive class-action suit.


That’s me, quoting myself quoting myself. I wrote a book where i’m kind of the main character, and that kind-of me said the above in the book, except that when he does he’s quoting me, because that’s a sentiment i’ve expressed a fair number of times over the years. If you’re one of the rare few people who actually knows me, you might have actually heard it at some point. So lucky you.

The reason those words are in my mind right now is that Colleen’s mom passed away very early this Thursday morning (aka late Wednesday night). Colleen’s mom had cancer (which i think would make an equally excellent subject for a class-action suit against god, as i can imagine the death case falling through on technicalities). Though she had been getting progressively weaker even before entering hospice two weeks ago, her condition took a sharp turn for the worse over the previous weekend (as was expected) and she faded pretty quickly thereafter (as was also expected). Though scared, she stayed focused and in good spirits right up until the point where the pain meds become all there is, and she had a number of old friends and family with her right up until the end. Colleen, myself, Colleen’s dad, and our girls were with her pretty much constantly most of the previous week, but in the end, she seemed to want to wait until she was alone briefly in the deep night to let herself go.

Louise was a fairly irascible person throughout the twenty-one years i’ve known her — overly opinionated, far too sharp-tempered for her own good, and carrying a ton of anger and animosity that she’d picked up over a long and often thankless life. And though i should have known better, i admit that i was surprised at how all of that stopped mattering to me over her last weeks with us.

Though she was an intensely creative person from a crafting perspective, Louise never cared much for the power of words. Her taste in reading began and ended with romance novels, and being a Canucks fan all her life was about as close as she ever got to appreciating drama. She was as completely irreligious as they come, and carried no secret hope of spiritual salvation to occlude the full understanding of what was happening to her, or the acceptance of where it would lead. And as such, i was surprised for a second time when Colleen and i were sitting with her Wednesday, and coming in and out of focus through the pain meds, she said the following to Colleen:

“I’m going to sleep forever, but I want ten more minutes with you before I go."

I dislike death a little more strongly this morning than i did when i first wrote the words above, or any of the times before that when i said them. But i confess that right here, right now, i’m finding some small amount of half-assed comfort in those words. Not just because they seemed to represent that in the end, Louise finally understood how important it is to be able to leave the anger and the animosity behind. But because i’d like to believe that in some small way, death makes poets of us all.

2012-05-04

Free Fiction — We Can Be Heroes

Each Friday in May, Parts 1 through 4 of the new novel (roughly the first third of the book) will be posted online and available as a free downloadable PDF.

Click on the cover to go to the Insane Angel Studios site.

We Can Be Heroes

2012-05-02

Every Writer Has a Particular Story

Every writer has a particular story locked up inside them that on some level, at some point, becomes the most personally important thing they’ve ever written. Here’s mine.

–––––––––––––––––––––

Death and Friendship. Love and Gaming. Mind and Machine. The Meaning of Life. High School Graduation. The End of the World. That Kind of Stuff.

If you press them, anyone who games will admit to some variation on the idea of how they’d love to be the hero for real, just once. Just for one day. But right now, I’m on an empty street five hundred kilometers from home, barely able to walk. I’m soaked and shivering, wearing someone else’s clothes, and with way too many memories of almost dying rattling around in my head. And right here, right now, all I can think about is what I’d say if anybody asked me how much I want to be a hero…


We Can Be Heroes

2012-04-22

Here’s the Deal

I don’t really care which side of the digital/traditional line you’re on in terms of what types of books you like to read, and i don’t care which side of the indie/traditional line you’re on in terms of where you think the future of publishing lies, and i don’t think paper books are going away anytime soon, and i don’t think it would be a good idea for Amazon to rule the world but i don’t lose any sleep over that because i don’t think they’re ever likely to.

But speaking exclusively as a writer and editor for a moment, i’m getting tired of two things. 1) Having to listen to many writers talk about how traditional publishing is the best and only means of access to proper editing and cover design; and 2) The much more annoying flip side of the same coin, having to listen to many writers talk about how they reject indie writer/publishing because they don’t want to deal with the additional things an indie publisher has to deal with. I just want to write, they say. Let other people deal with the rest of the shit.

(When i say “many writers”, i’m talking about people talking about the publishing industry. If you’re someone i know who happens to be a writer who happens to be reading this, i’m not talking about you, because for the most part, the writers i know are more forward-thinking than the “many writers” i am talking about.)

So here’s the deal.

Saying “I reject indie writer/publishing because it involves things other than just writing” is like saying “I reject the baseline idea of being a writer because writers work on computers, and if my computer breaks down, I don’t know how to fix it.”

If you’re a writer, your computer is a means to that end. If your computer breaks, you don’t give up writing. You pay someone to fix it.

If you’re a writer, having your work edited is a means to that end. Having a cover for your book is a means to that end. And finding someone to edit your work and design your cover is the same fucking process as getting your laptop fixed when you drop that third latte of the morning straight into the keyboard.

You pick up the phone. You compose an email. You say, “This is what I need you to do for me.”

Here’s the deal.

When the outline is done, you hire a story editor to analyze the mechanics of story, helping you take the outline apart and see things in it that you can’t see because you’re too close to it.

When the draft is done, you hire a line editor to analyze the mechanics of the writing, helping you clean things up that you glossed over because you know the story in your head so well that you sometimes disengage with the story that’s on the page.

When the page proofs are done, you hire a proofreader to check for the last little glitches that always show up on paper to someone else’s eyes, but which will always unfailingly hide from you on the screen.

While the line editing and the proofreading are being done, you hire a cover designer to create the icongraphy that will capture the story and create the vanguard imagery of your promotional effort.

Every part of the publishing process consists of specialized, professional work that not everyone can do. But your access to that specialized, professional work is the easiest thing in the world.

Writing a great book? That’s the hard part. If you’ve already done that, you own the fucking world. So why are you balking at the easy stuff that comes afterward?

2012-04-13

On Knowing Whether a Film is Working

“Sometimes. Most of the time. It’s easy to get lost when you’re shooting a film. That’s why it’s so important to have a great script and just stick to that script. Once you start changing stuff, you’re fucked. My experience has been that when the script’s good, and they stick to the script, you’ll be okay. 12 Monkeys was shot exactly how it was written. In Pulp Fiction, the places where you laughed when you read the script were the same places you laughed when you saw the movie. But I’ve had those other experiences where they just chuck the script out the window, and those movies are always trouble.”

— Bruce Willis

2012-04-02

Would I Lie?

I haven’t taught a fiction workshop in a while, but one of my favorite exercises when i did teach was the following. On the first day of most workshops, there’s the inevitable “Go around the table and introduce yourselves” exercise, which i liked to mix up by saying:

Go around the table and introduce yourselves by speaking for approximately one minute, during which time you’ll share two anecdotes from your own life that are true, and one anecdote from your life that’s completely made up. The false anecdote must be believable, and you need to give no hints or clues as to which anecdotes are true and which is false. Then when you’re done, everybody else around the table is going to try to guess which anecdote was the lie.

The point of this exercise is twofold. First, if you’re leading a workshop, you should be aware of the fact that everyone taking the workshop absolutely freaking hates having to go around the table and introduce themselves, so anything you can do to jazz that up will be appreciated.

Second, and more importantly: Fiction writers are people who turn lies into truth for a living. And as such, we need to be good at it. Writers need to embrace the complex boundary between truth, lies, and believability. We need to understand better than anyone else the warped-mirror relationship between the truth and the best-told lies.

Now, if you’re the sort of writer who does any reading about writing (which is to say, if you’re a writer), you know that nothing said above is particularly original. Virtually every fictionalist who’s ever written about the process has made this point, including my own favorite variations from Charles de Lint (“I’ve always believed the lies we use to make our fictions reveal the truth with far more honesty than any history or herstory or life story.”), Italo Calvino (“Novelists tell that piece of truth hidden at the bottom of every lie.”), and Stephen King (“Kids, the fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.”).

But what does all that actually mean? It sounds like sage advice, but in the same manner as a lot of writing koans, it doesn’t actually grant any insight in how to apply the rule to your own work. Hence, the value in the exercise in lying at the top of the page. Because for most of the people attempting the exercise, the one lie is almost immediately spotted by those listening — but in way that can put truth, lie, and believability into sharper focus.

As most of us discover as children, lying is easy. As most of us learn a minute or two later (if we’re lying to our parents, at any rate), lying believably is hard. But being forced to lay down a spontaneous lie alongside true details from our own lives points out an important fact about lying. For the most part, it’s not the specific details of what happened that make a lie believable. Most people doing the exercise have no trouble coming up with details, because they’re writers. Lying well isn’t about the accuracy of events. It’s about the sensation and resonance that events produce — the qualities of a story that anchor it in the living world, and the echo of those qualities that create a sense of empathetic induction in the listener.

When told a bad lie, most people will react with “I don’t believe that could happen.” An average lie provokes a reaction of “I guess that could have happened.” But in response to the best lies, a listener has no choice but to say “I need to believe that did happen.” And this sense of empathic connection is the key to crafting the true lies that make up the best fiction.

All writers know what empathy means in the narrative sense — the ability of an audience to get inside the skin of a character. An empathic connection between character and audience is the single most important factor in creating believable fiction. The idea that if we’re engaged in reading or watching a character’s story, it’s not important to be able to say “Yeah, the same thing happened to me and that’s exactly what I did.” But the reader should always be able to say “If that had happened to me, that’s exactly what I would have done.”

Our experiences and memories are grafted onto a framework of sensation and resonance. Details are what we remember. Sensation is what we relive. We can repeat back to ourselves the details of some tumultuous event in our own lives easily enough. We recall the events, we know what was said, what was done. But those events and words always stay at a safe distance. We remember in a detached fashion — at least until we hear the song that accompanied those past events, at which point, we’re back in that past whether we want to be or not. We feel a specific chill in the morning air that shifts us back to some other morning when everything changed in our lives. We catch a scent worn by a person lost to us now, and suddenly we’re living through that loss all over again.

When we write, we tend to spend a lot of time on details. Especially for those of us who sail the narrative waters of fantasy and speculative fiction, the details of our fictional worlds can take on huge importance as we worry about making those details believable. But as with any lie, the details of fiction aren’t where believability is made or lost. If we look at the books that mean the most to us individually as writers — not necessarily the classics of our chosen genres, but the stories that we carry with us — it’s not the events, not the words that stick with us. It’s the sensations. The dark scent and gritty feel of a specific place, the soft or callused touch of the characters who inhabit that place, the unique music that the lives of those characters create.

The truth that lurks in the heart of every fictional lie isn’t about the details of the world as the characters see it. It’s not about the details of the plot as the characters engage in it. The truth of fiction resides in the sensations that the world and its events create in the characters. It’s about how sensation and emotion resonate in your readers, pushing them past “That could have happened” and into “I need to believe.”

2012-03-21

“What Hollywood Seems to Want…"

“What Hollywood seems to want is a writer who is prepared to commit suicide in every story conference. What it actually gets is the fellow who screams like a stallion in heat and then stuffs his throat with a banana. The scream demonstrates the artistic purity of his soul and he can eat the banana while someone is answering a telephone call about some other picture.”
— Raymond Chandler

2012-03-15

Control, Control — You Must Learn Control!

(Because Yoda is my main man. The old Yoda, i mean. The new one’s a bit of a prat.)

A thoughtful post on Future eBook, which i found courtesy of the Passive Voice bog. Mark Edwards talks about the experience that he and Louise Voss have been through as self-publishers who have leveraged their success in that venue. First courted by, then embraced by, mainstream publishing, the pair are republishing their originally self-pubbed titles through HarperCollins. It’s a good piece, and Edwards sounds like a very smart writer who treats all the various modes of publishing as a means to an end, which is as it should be. From what he writes, it’s clear that he and Voss made their decision to go with a big house based on what they thought was best for them as writers, and at the end of the day, that’s how every writer needs to approach such decisions.

But one thing that Edwards said struck me as odd when i read it, in the bit where he’s talking about the advantages that he and Voss see in working with a traditional publisher:
The final reason is the big one; the most important one. Quality. Publishers make books better. Having an enthusiastic editor, who can help you shape your work, is hugely important and Catch Your Death is a far better book in its HarperCollins version than in the original self-published version, despite the enormous amount of editing and re-writing Louise and I did originally.
And Edwards is absolutely right regarding the outcome. As writers, we want our books to be as good as they can be, and we need to be willing to do everything we can to make that happen. And he’s absolutely right that a good editor can make a world of difference to a book, and i have no doubt that the editors at HarperCollins are as good as they come.

But the question that jumped out at me when i read that is one that’s still nagging at me, and is posed here not to be directed at Edwards or Voss but just generically:

When you were indie-publishing, what the hell stopped you from hiring your own editor?

In a lot of the discussion about the pros and cons of indie-publishing versus contemporary (most of it conducted by people a lot smarter than me), this same undercurrent constantly works its way into the discussion. At the front end, all of the things that a publishing company can do for a writer — story editors, line editors and proofreaders, cover and design, layout and formatting — are things that a writer can simply hire out for on his or her own. The back-end stuff — promotion, reviews, and bookstore distribution — are different stories, and i fully acknowledge the advantage that traditional publishers continue to have in those areas. But there are plenty of good editors and story editors out there (full disclosure: I’m one of them; writers: call me), and so i’ve wasted a lot of time thinking about why so many indie-publishing writers — even the successful ones — are so seemingly terrified about taking on even the minimal amount of control involved in hiring someone to do a straightforward job.

Here’s the conclusion i’ve come to. Writers are afraid of control, because the very act and art of writing has conditioned us to feel like we’re at our best when we have no control.

There’s a moment that comes in the process of writing. It’s a point when you’re deep in the story, deep in the lives of the characters and tearing into the heart of whatever it is your narrative is about. It’s an experience where no matter what the source of the tale, no matter how well you know it, no matter how much time you’ve spent outlining and note-taking and breaking things down and dreaming of this fictional world, all you can is madly transcribe the events and action and dialogue that you see and hear unfolding in your mind — because you have no earthly idea where any of it’s coming from or where it’s going to go.

This is the best part of the writing process, for me anyway. It’s the point at which we lose control of the story because the story has taken over, and i think we subconsciously come to value this part of the process more than any other. We crave the out-of-left-field insights and moments of character that surprise us even though we’re the ones who created those characters in the first place. And as a result of that, we become used to the paradigm that the less direct, overt control we can exert over our work, the purer that work will be.

So i’m led to wonder if it’s not so much the fact that certain writers are afraid to exert the kind of control over our own work that indie publishing entails, but that we’re actually incapable of exerting that kind of control. Because to take that control means having to question who we are, what we do, and how we actually do it in the end.

This lack of control seems intrinsic to the art and craft of writing — the sense of not really knowing where the muse comes from, or how our ideas come together, or how we’re able to ultimately render our dubious insights in dramatic form on the page. And so i wonder if our having gotten used to this lack of control explains why writers as a group seem so consistently anxious to give up control at every opportunity — even in an age when it’s never been easier to step up to the responsibility of taking control of what we do.

We resist taking control because for a certain type of writer, gaining control means giving up the sense that our work is somehow greater that what we put into it. And as a result, we end up putting less into our work, waiting and hoping that we can let things like editing and design happen to us, just as we wait for the story to happen to us in the end.

2012-03-05

"The Stamping Out of the Artist…"

“The stamping out of the artist is one of the blind goals of every civilization. When a civilization becomes so standardized that the individual can no longer make an imprint on it, then that civilization is dying.  The ‘mass mind’ has taken over and another set of national glories is heading for history’s scrap heap.”
— Elie Faure

2012-03-03

Free Fiction — The Game of Heart and Light

She smiles to see him because she must smile. Because she is a piece in the game of Heart and Light, feeling the tug of the dance her song makes, that her love makes as she watches the movement of other milling figures bright upon their shimmering sea.

This much she knows. The game of Heart and Light is a game that she must win…

Click on the cover to read this short story at the Insane Angel Studios site.


2012-02-27

"As You Get Older…"

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”
— David Bowie

2012-02-16

This Must Be Thursday

Appendix S: And Another Thing

Like a lot of people, i reacted to the news that Eoin Colfer had been tapped to write a follow-on to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quintrilogy with equal amounts of “That might be cool” and “What the holy heck?” Having finally worked up the courage to approach And Another Thing with what I hoped was an open mind, my status report changes to “That was definitely cool” and  “What the holy heck?”

Colfer does a fairly amazing job of channeling the spirit and storytelling style of Adams, creating a tale that nicely balances the funny with the self-referential absurdism that raised Adams’ work above the level of mere comedy. There’s no question that And Another Thing fits well into the the ongoing series, and the open ending leaves hope that Colfer has more to say regarding Adams’ characters (and that Adams’ estate wants to let him say it). However, a part of that fit stems from the book being of a piece with Adams’ last two HHG efforts, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless — which means that it holds up less well in comparison to the original Hitchhiker’s Guide and Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and positively pales in comparison to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

That third book in the series marked the first time that Adams delved into original storyline for the HHG saga, and it remains the best and freshest of the books for that reason. With books four and five, Adams seemed to be working from the perspective of being afraid to continue to push in the wholly new directions of LtUaE, creating amazing new ideas but then scaling them back from some apparent lack of trust of his own instincts. And Another Thing carries that feeling of uncertainty, and though the book is funny and enjoyable at every turn, it feels a little too familiar in the end.

2012-02-08

“Each makes this cosmos…”

“Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientists do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way peace and security which he can not find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

— Albert Einstein

2012-02-06

Guest Blog — Ty Johnston Q&A

Ty Johnston’s name and his works in epic fantasy had crossed my radar even before I was fortunate enough to make his virtual acquaintance in the fantasist’s collective Monumental Works GroupA prolific writer, Ty’s Amazon author pages runs to 30 entries, and his words can be found gracing the pages of a half-dozen different anthologies. Though his novel and novella cycles The Kobalos Trilogy and the Sword of Bayne are both epic fantasy in their broad strokes, they show off a refreshing diversity of storytelling style — a diversity brought into even sharper focus in his horror and mainstream works.


In this email Q&A, Ty shares some thoughts on writing, genre, and indie publishing as a means to an end.


Your life story in five hundred words or less — can you tell us a little about who you are, where you’re from, and what forces have conspired to trap you in this dark fate we call “writing”?

I grew up in Lexington in central Kentucky, my parents having moved there from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I eventually earned a degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky and spent the next 20 years working as an editor and graphic designer at newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. That’s my basic resume, and like all resumes, it doesn’t say much about who I am as an individual, though it does lay out my professional background.

There is no simple answer as to what drew me to writing, though I can say I do not remember a time when I did not want to be a writer, even at an early age. Comic books of the early 1970s were a huge influence upon me in my youngest days, and then I discovered fantasy literature in the mid-70s, starting with Tolkien. The phenomenon that was Star Wars in the late 70s opened up the speculative genres to a much wider audience, and I was sucked in right along with every other five- to twelve-year-old male of the time.

Part of what tugs me toward writing is the simple act of creation, of having control over entire worlds and peoples. It’s not so much that I feel this innate need for control, but that I get to revel in discovery as I myself am creating. More than anything, writing is discovery for me, I suppose part of my own inner journey in which I get to explore all facets of humanity and the universe. I realize this explanation possibly sounds overly literary, but I find aspects of the human condition in all literature, including the most action-driven pulp fiction.

You’re an indie writer/publisher with a healthy number of works published and some great reviews. When did you make the decision that independent publishing was the way to go, and how have you found the process?

I decided to become an indie writer about three years ago, soon after I realized the capabilities and possibilities of the e-book market. At the time I was trying to become traditionally published, but the economy forced my hand. I lost two jobs in a matter of months right before Christmas, then my wife lost her job, and there was no way I had the time to write a novel then sit around and wait for months or years for publishers to make a decision. Frankly, I needed income rolling in. That was the final push for me. At the time I had a handful of novels and plenty of short stories available, and I saw little reason for me not to publish my own works when I could be making money at it.

At first the money only trickled in, and I’m not getting rich to this day, but the bills are being paid, I get to work from home, and I don’t have to worry so much about losing my job again.

As far as the process goes of being an independent writer/publisher, I’ve actually found it quite easy. Beginning writers tend to fret over details that they’ll eventually find old hat, and I was fortunate enough to be beyond that stage when I stepped out on my own. Formatting digital text has its own quirks, but most of it I find no more difficult than formatting a manuscript for a traditional publisher.

Finding readers is not easy and sometimes frustrating, but at least this is something I control. With traditional publishers, I feel there would have been a loss of that control, and my fate as a writer would have been left to the fates and the whims of a publisher and the bookstores.

On your blog, you describe yourself as writing in “the fantasy and horror genres, but [also having] strong interests in literary writing and criticism.” What is that first attracted you to fantasy as a means of expression, and what aspects of epic-fantasy in particular appeal to you as a storyteller?

I mentioned above that writing is about exploring for me, and I mean that more philosophically and emotionally than literally. But one great thing about fantasy literature is the writer and reader can do both — explore strange worlds while also exploring the inner recesses of our deepest thoughts. I believe this drew me more to fantasy than most other genres. Mainstream literature and often modern science fiction are usually too literal for my regular emotional needs as a writer and reader. Having been a journalist for so many years, I feel I’ve explored the literal world as much as I need or want to, thus fantasy offers escapism while also allowing that mental exploration I love.

Epic fantasy, for me, is the opposite of horror literature. In horror, we often see the worst of humanity or the worst that can happen to humanity. While bad things also happen in epic fantasy, in the end the reader usually gets to see at least an element of what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” That is oversimplifying those two genres, obviously, because not all horror literature is so nihilistic and not all epic fantasy has a positive outcome. Another huge difference between horror and epic fantasy is I find epic fantasy characters tend to act while horror characters tend to react. Again, this is an overgeneralization, but I think it basically fits the two genres. This dichotomy draws me to both genres, allowing me as a writer to look into differing emotional depths, and sometimes to mix the genres to see where it will take me.

Of the numerous works you’ve published, what are your favorites, and why?

Ye gads! That’s a tough one. My favorites? I can tell you I feel my Appalachian literary novel More Than Kin is the best novel I’ve written. I can also say I think my best short story is “Beneath a Persian Sun.” So far, I find Ghosts of the Asylum is the best epic fantasy novel of mine, though I love my characters from my City of Rogues novel more, especially my Belgad the Liar character. That being said, I think my Sword of Bayne series is the most philosophical tale I’ve written, though I do have concerns readers will not see this because it is an epic fantasy story mixed with some allegory.

What sorts of projects are pending for you right now, and do you see yourself continuing to focus on indie publishing?

As I write this, I’m winding up my own edits on my next epic fantasy novel, Demon Chains, after having received feedback from my beta readers/editors.

My next project is up in the air at the moment, which is the way I prefer it. I usually don’t give serious thought about what I’m going to write next until I finish the last project, though I will have a hundred ideas rolling around in my head. Much of my writing, especially my short story writing, depends upon my mood at any given time, so I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into writing something I’m frankly not as interested in at the moment. That being said, I’m pretty sure my next project will not be epic fantasy. I’ve spent the last year and more than 300,000 words writing only epic fantasy, and I’m feeling a need for something else, something different, though I will eventually get back to epic fantasy.

Indie publishing, to me, is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. I would gladly work with traditional publishers, but I have to admit my expectations of a contract would be much higher than they were even a few years ago. I kind of feel I don’t need them, so if they want me, they’re going to have to make a damn good case of it. I’m mainly talking about larger publishers. There are a handful of smaller presses I work with from time to time and will likely continue doing so, and to them I’m not quite so strict about what I will accept in a contract. These are generally publishers I highly respect and have been friends with for some period of time. There’s also the matter that I don’t mind giving a little more to smaller presses because I know who is behind them, and when it comes to finances I feel we are working together as a team. I don’t quite have that feeling of trust for larger publishers, mainly because I’ve worked for the corporate world and I know how they work. Let’s just say, I’m really tired of working to make other people rich — people who don’t bring much or anything to the table, as far as I’m concerned.

Many other writers, even the most hardcore indie writer/publishers, express similar attitudes about working with small press houses. You talk about working as a team within a small-press scenario, which is something hard to come by in the “big leagues” of writing, whether traditional fiction publishing, film and television, or even mainstream comics. Do you think that forging partnerships is a difficult task for some writers, given the solitary nature of what we do? And do you think the rising influence and ease of access to independent publishing is likely to change that?

Writers as a group tend to have a mystique about them. People seem to think we all hunker down in a dark hole somewhere while pecking away at an old Underwood typewriter, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey off to one side. This is an old image of writers, and I do believe it is wavering, but there are still so many expectations of what a writer “is” or does. Writers are individuals, and we all work in different manners. We all think differently. However, the days of the complete introvert writer are over. Salinger couldn’t survive today, for example, though one blockbuster novel might keep him going for a few years (instead of a few decades, as in the past).

I myself am an introvert for the most part, but I feel  interaction is one big key to success nowadays, in large part due to digital publishing but also because of widening expectations of readers and those who enjoy the various entertainment mediums. Over the last couple of decades, the Internet has connected viewers and readers with the creators of entertainment products. Nowadays, those viewers and readers expect interaction, at least until one reaches the lofty heights of an Oprah or a Spielberg, maybe even a George R.R. Martin; once one becomes so famous, the fanboys and the like seem to cut the creator a little slack, as if the fans realize the creator is too busy to talk with everyone.

In other words, writing is becoming less and less solitary. Yes, we still write on our own, but we also have this great big world out there we need to keep in touch with on a regular basis or we will be forgotten. Or, at least, that seems to be the fear of many writers. Instead of introverted writers, I feel today we have a growing number of extroverted writers and those who feel they must be extroverts, which is not an easy thing for everyone to pull off.

So, for some writers, yes, it will be difficult to forge alliances with others, whether other writers or publishers, editors, agents, etc. On the flip side, it is easier now more than ever to build such relationships, which means those who do not fear putting themselves out there will find a smoother road to publication, if not success.

Readers not only want to be entertained by the fiction they read, but they want to like the writers, as well. I think this makes the readers feel connected, maybe even makes them feel as if they are part of some inner circle.

Ha! I’m not sure any of that answers your question, at least not directly. I tend to ramble sometimes.

Talking about “literary writing” versus fantasy and other “genre writing,” do you approach different types of stories with different goals as a writer? Does the process of writing fantasy or horror feel different than the process of writing mainstream or realist fiction, or is genre more about the world than the story itself in your experience?

I most definitely approach the genres from different viewpoints.

With epic fantasy, the story is the thing for me — the plot first and the characters second and everything else third, including setting. That’s just me and how I prefer to work in this genre. I might sneak in a little philosophy here and there, but for the most part I’m telling a straightforward tale of action and adventure. The exception to this is my Sword of Bayne series, which is the most linear story I’ve ever told while also being the most exploratory one. In that tale, I intentionally set out to mix a somewhat straight-ahead literary style with several of the tropes of epic fantasy, all while keeping the story within the world and larger plot of my much broader epic fantasy world.

When I set out to write a more literary story, I begin my working process by thinking about what I want to say with a particular project. What thoughtful elements do I want to focus upon? But then I intentionally set out to make that element of the story somewhat obscure. I do this because I don’t want to beat the reader over the head with my own explorations and my own opinions. I suppose one could say “theme” is most important to me when writing literary fiction, with other elements like characters coming in second, followed up by setting and plot — almost the opposite of how I approach my more action-oriented fiction.

As for horror, I tend to start with the plot and characters, then work out the setting and other basics. I probably have the most fun writing horror and dark fantasy, which is somewhat surprising since I write more epic fantasy than anything. I love those “gotcha” moments in horror, and often when I’m reading good horror I will find myself giggling at how awful something is in the plot, just the notion that the author was willing to go so far or to reveal something so horrible. Yes, I can be one sick puppy at times.

As fantasy fiction increases in popularity and pushes ever-further into the mainstream, do you think that popularity strengthens the idea of fantasy as literature? Or does it potentially weaken the brand by making fantasy seem run-of-the-mill?

I’m split on this subject. While I’m thrilled the growing popularity of fantasy has brought it more into the mainstream, thus making it more accessible, I’m also concerned at what the entertainment media will do with the genre. In my opinion, for the most part, the entertainment media as a whole is not run by those who are creative, but by those who count the money. Unfortunately, those who count the money tend to assert their control, as if anyone can guess what “the next big thing” is going to be. That type of thinking tends to stifle storytelling more than urging it toward new heights, which often enough leads to watered down material. Let’s just say my expectations are not high, though there will be a few gems to be found.

Your blog offers some great personal insights and anecdotes (I particularly liked your recent post “Only in America Will a Stranger Hand You a Loaded Gun”). However, your writer-focused content is always front and center. Last year, you logged one hundred of the best websites for fiction writers; you’re currently doing a “Books Read in 2012” series, as you have for years now. Do you find that your work as a writer naturally lends itself to wanting to share resources, inspiration, goal-setting, and the like? Or is blogging a creative outlet unto itself for you?

Ha! I had to laugh because I’m actually quite selfish when it comes to my blogging. I mostly don’t blog for others, but for myself. I have an awful memory, so I tend to be a list maker. I love making lists of my favorite things, such as books read and useful websites. This is a big reason I blog in the first place, and if one takes a look around my blog, they’ll notice I have a lot of lists, such as my 100 Web Sites for Fiction Writers.

Sometimes I’ll post something funny or anecdotal, and I do hope others find such posts of interest, but I do that more to remind myself or to keep certain memories alive by having them written down somewhere.

I do some blogging about my own writing, but mostly that’s just to let my regular blog readers know what I’m up to with my fiction.

I love guest bloggers, and need to work on asking others more often to appear on my blog (by the way, Scott, thanks for your recent appearance). Guest bloggers often bring a viewpoint new to me, or offer ideas about writing which I had not thought of before.

Still, I do hope others enjoy my blog and find it useful. I try not to get overly technical or preachy about my blogging topics, because I myself prefer a human approach that’s more down to Earth.

Winding up my answers here, there is one more thing I would like to add. Looking back over many of my answers concerning questions about my own writing, I realize to some I might come off as overly literary, which is a shame for several reasons. While I do enjoy literary fiction, writing and reading it, I also have a strong love for pulp-like fiction. Sometimes it’s just fun to write about clashing swords or scary monsters and bug-eyed creatures, without going too deep mentally. Most who take part in criticism tend to separate genre and literary fiction, and I try not do this, at least not consciously. To my way of thought, the most action-oriented pulp thriller can have much to say about humanity, sometimes as much as more famous literary works. Pulp fiction is often plot or character driven, and these can tell us a lot about ourselves, about our humanity.

2012-02-03

Free Fiction — The Moonsign Scar

Sharyna is a Sister of Sorrow, charged by her animyst order with making the dread archmage Skos Andarost fall in love with her — and then using the power of that bond to destroy him in spirit and mind. But when she discovers the truth behind the torturous experiments conducted in Andarost’s dark laboratories, Sharyna finds herself at the center of an ancient mystery and fighting against a creature whose hunger threatens her very soul…

Click on the cover to read this short story at the Insane Angel Studios site.



2012-01-31

A Place Where Tales Are Told

The always-lovable Chuck Wendig shared a most useful seize-the-New-Year’s-Day-kind-of-thing on his blog at the beginning of the month. I was rereading it again a little while back and was struck by #6 (“Stop Waiting”), because “waiting” has always been my own biggest problem as far as creative endeavors go. Like most people, i think about stuff i want to work on to a degree that inevitably eats up the time i should be spending working on stuff, and the list of books i know i want to write is getting dangerously long as compared to my probable lifespan. However, even beyond that, i’m one of those people who occasionally needs to kick himself in the ass even once i’m ready and committed to starting something. Because as i learned long, long ago, the period before you start something is the last time you can safely not worry about failing at that particular thing.

Thus, i want to announce a thing that i’ve been seriously thinking about doing ever since i entertained my first notions of self-publishing a little over a year ago, and which i’ve dreamed of doing since long before that, and which has been waiting all that long while for me to figure out what to do about it.

I love all kinds of fantasy and SF. However, heroic/epic fantasy (from J.R.R. Tolkien to C.S. Lewis, from George R.R. Martin to R.A. Salvatore, from Robert E. Howard to people without initials) will always have a unique place in my reader’s heart. Epic and heroic fantasy, for me, straddles the perfect line of defining worlds different enough from ours that they can accommodate the wildest extents of storytelling imagination, but similar enough to ours that we can easily see ourselves in the characters inhabiting those worlds. Not to say that all good fantasy and SF doesn’t do that, but epic fantasy for whatever reason has always seemed a kind of Jungian tabula rasa onto which story can be almost effortlessly inscribed. (For me, at least, this is the reason that Dungeons & Dragons has always been the most popular RPG, and that the most successful contemporary MMORPGs share a similar epic-fantasy pedigree. However, your mileage may vary in that regard.)

At this point in time, fantasy and speculative fiction are better represented in popular culture than at probably any point in contemporary cultural history. F&SF not only sit front and center in any discussion of popular fiction, films, and TV; they drive the “next big thing” trends at the highest levels of those media. From Twilight to Trylle on the real and virtual bookshelves, from Batman to The Avengers on-screen, from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones going both ways, we have slowly and thankfully lost the apologetic sense with which F&SF once hung its head and shamefully said, “This is a great genre story.” Rather, the readers who embrace the genres now say, “This is a great story,” and that’s all that matters.

However, this immersive popularity has the inevitable and unavoidable downside of “diluting” (for lack of a better word) the “fantasy brand” (for lack of a better phrase). When fantasy is everywhere, the concept of genre disappears quickly into a sea of subgenres, and then subsubgenres, all of them dedicated to making sure that your paranormal urban fantasy and my magical-realist arcanepunk don’t accidentally cross the streams or anything. And that’s all well and good — except that as fantasy takes over the world of literature one subgenre at a time, the iconic place at the center of the genre once occupied by epic and heroic fantasy faces more competition to be taken seriously than ever before.

I say taken seriously because i think epic and heroic fantasy should be taken seriously. I love sword-and-sorcery. I love action-adventure. I love a magical-medievalesque yarn that’s only and sincerely about white-knuckle excitement and nothing else. But it’s always been my belief that heroic and epic fantasy can and should be literature at every opportunity, and that the foundations of heroic fantasy offer a dramatic palette that’s perfect for stories built around what Faulkner famously and perfectly called “The human heart in conflict with itself.”

As such, i want to create an anthology specifically dedicated to serious, literary heroic and epic fiction. I want to create a vehicle through which writers can drive the heroic fantasy genre to the absolute limits of dramatic storytelling. I want to do this in a way that takes full advantage of the new world of publishing to redefine the paradigm of the anthology magazine.

(No, nothing overly ambitious there.)

Now, i know and understand that there are plenty of great periodical fantasy anthologies out there. Some (like Black Gate) even focus on epic/heroic fantasy. However, even as venerable institutions like Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction tentatively embrace the present by offering e-subscriptions through Amazon, they still essentially remain a product of the way things used to be. I want to produce a periodical anthology that embraces the way things are going to be — an ebook-only magazine with up-front pro rates plus full profit-sharing for the writers and artists involved in each issue. I want it to showcase both the best established talent and the freshest voices entering the genre. I want it to especially and specifically be a vehicle for stories that push the envelope of what heroic and epic fantasy can do. I want it to be a venue for works to which the only response can be, “This is a great story.”

For reasons that some of you will understand, i want it to be called
— a name that (for me, at least) hearkens to a place out of time, deep in mind, where stories of loss and sacrifice, of honor and betrayal, of love and vengeance, of heroism and villainy are told by firelight in the company of friends.

The reason i'm rambling on here is because i know that actually going public with this is one surefire way to get me to stop waiting to open the Green Griffon’s doors, and to actually start pushing this project to fruition. Because at my advanced state of middle age, the dexterity needed to actually kick myself in the ass is sadly long gone.

More details to come. Anyone who feels like dropping in before then, leave a message with Dave behind the bar.

2012-01-30

"Read, Every Day, Something No One Else is Reading…"

“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.”

— Christopher Morley

2012-01-24

“Fuck, Fuck, Fuck and Maybe Even Fuck.”

Appendix S: The Goblin Corps

I finished Ari Marmell’s The Goblin Corps months ago, but have been hemming and hawing ever since then about whether i wanted to drop something like a review on an unsuspecting internet. The reason i was hemming and hawing is that Ari and i have crossed professional paths on more than one occasion, most “Hell, yeah, i wrote that!” recently in 2010’s Tomb of Horrors super-adventure for Wizards of the Coast. As such, and because i’m a writer and thus suffer from rampant feelings of self-loathing and personal inadequacy, i worry about whether my really liking this book will be seen as some kind of shill job for a friend, despite the fact that Ari and i have never actually even met.

But after said hemming and hawing, i’ve decided to adopt the forthright attitude of any of the characters in The Goblin Corps and say… well, you’ve seen the quotation titling this post; you can probably figure it out.

The Goblin Corps is a dark, dirty, messy, foul-tempered, unruly, and below-the-belt junk shot of a novel — and one of the freshest books i read last year, for all the points cited above. It’s the story of an unlikely group of unlikelier anti-heroes — all members of the monstrous goblin races of the dark land of Kirol Syrreth. Morthûl is the Charnel King who rules that land — an undead-and-loving-it dark lord who keeps one part of his fiendish gaze on world domination, another on the efforts of the Allied Kingdoms to destroy him, and yet another on the mysterious plots of his ambitious and vivacious (in the literal sense) queen. Cræosh is an embittered orc put in charge of a Demon Squad — a war-band of goblins in the service of Morthûl, and who are inexplicably the most inept-seeming group of warriors ever tasked with taking care of the dark lord’s business.

That business is uniformly foul, running the gamut from retrieving lost relics of magic to infiltrating a human city on a mission of kidnapping and assassination (a mission featuring an escape plan whose reading makes a most effective appetite suppressant; you’ll know it when you get there). At the center of things, Cræosh is an antihero with a really bad attitude. Think Elric of Melniboné as played by Denis Leary in Rescue Me. And though the amoral antihero isn’t a new concept for fantasy fiction, Ari Marmell cruises past the Moorcock Avenue off-ramp at high speed to push The Goblin Corps beyond dramatic nihilism and into stomach-churning, violently dark comedy. (At a couple of points, when the Demon Squad find themselves dealing with the court of the duplicitous Queen Anne, Marmell manages to write a stomach-churning, violently dark comedy of manners, which is an interesting feat.)

As i much as i was pretty sure that i would enjoy The Goblin Corps, i was pleasantly knocked out by Ari’s ability to do something that i’m not sure i could have pulled off in the same milieu — solidly empathetic characters. The deft touch displayed in the handling of his uniformly self-centered, self-serving, and objectively unlikable cast ultimately makes the book. Given a narrative that announces its intention from the get-go to avoid any kind of center of morality, engaging the reader becomes a matter of creating a substitute center of ethics — a character story rich enough that even as we see the characters’ actions and respond with a shuddering “You have got to be freaking kidding me…” over and over again, the depth of the story creates the connection to character on which every great novel is built.

In the end, the book wasn’t without minor quibbles for me (chief among them some of the details of the ending, which i won’t get into for their massive “spoiler alert” potential). As well, as with a lot of fantasy novels, the story of The Goblin Corps is two parts narrative and one part setup for more narrative to come. However, despite crafting an awesomely cliffhanger ending, Ari manages to tie the variously important narrative threads of the book together nicely before all is said and done.

This is not a book for those who feel compelled to skip the icky bits in Game of Thrones, or who are put off by profanity (because the novel contains an awful fucking lot of it). But likewise, prospective readers shouldn’t be put off by The Goblin Corps’ dark tone, because the story that tone wraps is funny, exhilarating, and frantically memorable in equal measure.

2012-01-23

A Writer’s Guide to Surviving the Internet

A guest post this morning at Ty Johnston’s blog:

A Writer’s Guide to Surviving the Internet

I got my first high-speed internet access when I upgraded from dial-up (ask your parents) back in about 1994. And while I’d love to be able to say that I immediately noticed a huge upturn in my productivity as a result of instant access to resources, references, and current events, the reality is that I wasn’t keeping track of my productivity because I was spending every waking hour on Yahoo (ask your parents), deoxy.org, and the Internet Movie Database.

The World Wide Web is both a blessing and a curse for the working writer. It offers up a wealth of resources for research, inspiration, and communication — but at the same time, the critical mass of those resources constantly eclipses the number of free hours in which we can take advantage of them. In years gone by, you’d have to be a specifically serious type of academic wonk to do so much writing research that you never had time to actually do any writing. These days, you can accidentally click on a link to tvtropes.org or start checking out the comments at the Passive Voice blog, and the next thing you know, your family hasn’t seen you in so long that they’ve had you declared legally dead.

Presented here are a few tips that have served me well at the times when I’ve felt my internet habit getting the upper hand on my writing habit. Some are technical, sort of; some are philosophical. All reflect the fact that for better or worse, the internet has changed the way we function as writers, and that understanding the best and worst parts of those changes is the only way to make sure our writing doesn’t suffer as a result…

Check out the entire piece at Ty’s site.