Saturday, April 30, 2011
So what now? I'm concentrating on self-publishing a short story (or two), and I'm very excited to be working with a great cover designer. I guess I'm one of those people who just isn't comfortable with doing important things halfway, so I could not tolerate my passable (but only passable) self-produced covers. I'll probably post a sneak preview of the cover here and...
On a new blog I'm working on -- yes, that's besides the Wicked & Tricksy group blog -- to showcase my writing for readers (though you are certainly welcome to nest there as well, my fellows). Let's just keep the craft talk here and and at Wicked & Tricksy.
My time will have to be spread between the three. I've got one post a week at Wicked & Tricksy (Wednesdays), and will probably keep doing MWF here for at least a little while. The posting schedule for the third is still undetermined.
My immediate goal, however, is to get Zen and catch some Z's.
It's been real, people. Peace out.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Y is for Yggdrasil, the greatest of all trees, the axis of the world (of the nine worlds, actually) in Norse myth. It is an ash tree whose name, generally accepted to mean Odin’s Horse, alludes to the possibility that this tree was the one upon which the Norse god Odin hung himself for the shamanic sacrifice that granted him the wisdom of the nine world, including the use of runes.
Yggdrasil is said to have been the source of its own life and the life of the unborn, but it is endangered. The serpent Nidhogg, the Corpse Sucker (ya gotta love a name like that), gnaws at the roots of the tree, causing them to rot. Above, four stags eat off Yggdrasil’s leaves, and the tree groans in the winds that whirl around it. At the foot of the tree (or in some stories, under its roots) is a well where the Nornir (the Norse fates) make their home. The norns gather white mud that they spread upon the tree branches to stem the decay.
When the watchman of the gods, Heimdal, sounds the horn that will call all the gods and giants together for the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok, even Yggdrasil will tremble and all things in heaven and earth will be filled with dread.
So much to work with there!
A tree that connects worlds, that is its own source of life. A writer’s mind could race. Could Yggdrasil be considered a deity in its own right? Is it conscious, or could it become conscious? It does not take humanoid form, so would it think and feel differently and have motives different from the humanoid gods like the Aesir (war gods like Odin) and Vanir (fertility gods like Frey and Freyja)?
What significance is there to the rotting of the tree? The stripping of its leaves? Why do the norns nurse it? The norns are enigmatic figures, not goddesses, probably giant-born, but with powers far beyond gods and giants, figures who set themselves apart from the war between the two and instill fear in both.
I have come up with my own answers for these questions (and more) for an urban fantasy series I’d like to write. While I am plotting the first book in the series, I am writing short stories in this Norse-flavored modern world. Excerpts from the first two stories are posted here on the Pure Fiction page. Reaction from my fellows has thus far been great (and much appreciated). I am probably going to self-publish one or both of these stories next month.
Wish me luck, my fellows.
A good weekend to all.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
I Want To Believe.
Trust No One.
One show, ingrained in pop culture, and for several very good reasons I'd like to talk about today.
Mulder and Scully were a great example of a main character and impact character pairing. No one quite affected Mulder's outlook or challenged his assumptions like Scully. They worked as a team, as a main versus impact character set, because they were opposed in their basic outlook and yet had an appreciation and respect for one another that made them question themselves. One could never be sure which one was going to bring the other around to their way of thinking on an event or a topic.
The show also managed to home in on several high concept ideas, including the basic human fear of the unknown, the timely theme of conspiracies and mistrust of government (including the use of certain imagery and styles reminiscent of the JFK and Watergate eras), and a timeless search for connection and spiritual answers.
And finally, The X-Files creators knew how to give a nod to their predecessor, plugging into the well-established egregore of shows like The Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. When we loved the X-Files, we were loving a whole era of science fiction television.
It certainly wouldn't hurt us, my fellows, to take a few notes.
I'll wrap up with some tragic news. I have been assimilated. To the right of the post you will find the "Follow Me On Twitter" button. Use it at your peril. Really. Use it. I just felt the need to throw in that peril bit.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Please join bloggers Sommer Leigh, Claudie A., S.B. Stewart-Laing, and myself on May 9th, 2011 for the launch of Wicked & Tricksy, a group blog dedicated to writing craft and speculative fiction.
Our mission is to make Wicked & Tricksy a welcoming place where aspiring writers can learn from one another, ask hard questions, have some fun, and be a part of a positive online community, all while being as writergeek cool as the literary world can stand. The four resident bloggers all write speculative fiction (from YA to adult, sci-fi to horror to several flavors of fantasy), but there will be plenty of sustenance for writers of all sorts.
We will have theme weeks, freeform weeks, and a Friday Guest Blogger. For our Launch Week, our theme will be online community, an especially appropriate topic for a group of writers who first connected in the forums of Nathan Bransford’s blog, thriving in its uniquely supportive (flame-free) environment.
Launch Week will also feature a big giveaway, including something you can only get from Wicked & Tricksy itself. Totally collectable if we all become bestselling authors or rob banks, whichever.
We would love it if you would spread the word and the love, my fellows. We even have a press kit for those who would be so kind as to plug Wicked & Tricksy to the innocent and unsuspecting. Just leave a comment here letting me know you’d like to help promote the delinquency of writers, and we will dash off a copy of the kit to you asap.
Did I mention we have ubercool buttons?
You can have one, too, if you promise to be wicked. ;)
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I mentioned in a previous post a anecdotal story from writer/agent Donald Maass about sitting down to lunch with an editor, asking what the editor was looking for in a manuscript at the moment, and hearing, "Something with a really good voice." I was surprised when even Donald laughingly asked what the heck that was. But it was nice to know agents are as confused as writers are about it.
Voice is one of those elements of writing that is really hard to pin down. Is it an aspect of one technique or a combination of them? Is it in the dialogue? Is it in the choice of descriptive details that paint the world and its occupants? Is it the way the POV character reports the events around him?
I have come to believe that voice is the filter -- the colored lens -- through which the story passes. The fine mesh of the filter, the tint of the lens, is determined by the history, views, desires, and fears of the POV character. Her reaction to, her interpretation of, everything around her sets the tone for reader. The emotional context she provides sweeps us into her experience.
Of course, that means maintaining an emotional context. Instead of describing a forest, we describe the forest through the lens of a character who sees a dangerous brutal place or a haven from chaos or a doorway to a realm of primeval power. Even those few phrases -- dangerous and brutal, haven from chaos, primeval power -- carry noticeably different reactions, realities, and possibilities than 'a forest'. When a figure steps out of the forest, the character's choice to draw near in rapt fascination, freeze in apprehension, or draw their sword and issue challenge speaks of the kind of world they live in...especially the kind they make for themselves when interpreting something as simple as a figure emerging from the forest. Does the danger/beauty stem from the world or from the character experiencing it?
Voice blurs that line and makes the reader discover that for himself.
Your turn, my fellows. Your thoughts and theories on voice?
Monday, April 25, 2011
So every once in awhile, someone tells me they want to write a utopian novel. Not a dystopian, which is one of my favorite ice cream flavors. Oh, wait, that's Neapolitan. Anyway, yes, a utopian novel. I then ask something like, "You mean the story of characters overcoming adversity to turn a corrupt or totalitarian or crumbling society into their view of sociopolitical paradise? Or maybe a story of characters watching the decay of a false utopia?" If I am unlucky, they say, "No, a story about what it's like living in a perfect society."
I know what it's like. B.O.R.I.N.G. For a reader anyway.
But there's a deeper answer than one provided by my flippant sense of humor. How about Impossible? This whole idea forgets that one person's utopia is another person's eternity in the dentist's chair having one long root canal.
For example, take Plato's Republic. I'm the first to say I love me some Simile of the Cave. But check out this mention of The Republic in this online dictionary of literary terms and definitions:
The first literary utopia was probably Plato's ideal commonwealth in the Republic, circa 400 BCE, in which a group of debating philosophers seeking to define justice end up as a mental exercise creating a hypothetical perfect polis, or self-governing city of about 8,000 citizens. In this imaginary society, philosophers are the rulers, goods and women are communally owned, slavery is taken for granted, and children are bred eugenically. Artists, actors, and poets are largely exiled.
Wow, nice, yeah. Great utopia, so long as you're not a woman, slave, or creative type. But think about it. How would a pagan perceive life in a Christian utopia? How would a male live in a woman's utopia? Is utopia a shiny metal city with every need met by mechanized servants or pastoral life close to nature? The flaw in the concept of the story that starts and ends with a 'true' utopia is that it assumes people are all alike.
Care to share your personal Utopia, my fellows? Mine involves religious tolerance but a ban on public displays of religion, licensing of procreation, minimum speed limits, free contraceptives, socialized critical services, and me as Ruler for Eternity.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
The main character who agrees to meet a key player in the middle of nowhere at the spur of the moment without telling anyone else where she's going. Who lets the henchman who tried to kill her earlier drive her there in his car instead of taking her own. And is then surprised when it's really a plot on the part of the henchman to kill her without anyone else knowing. Duh.
The sci-fi character who finds an obviously dangerous piece of alien technology. His counterpart being the fantasy character who finds a relic of the most evil god in all of recorded history. And what do they do? Hey, what if I press this button? Oh, look how the surface of this mirror is all liquidy; I think I'll stick my hand in it. Really? Really, really?
No, not really. This is author laziness. This is the writer needing the character to suffer a sudden unexplained loss of 50 IQ points for the sake of a poorly planned plot twist, hoping the reader will accept the main character being a brilliant hero on page 20, an total imbecile on page 75, and a brilliant hero again by page 98. No, not really.
This is the reason I love the television series Firefly. In the pilot episode, the crew of the Firefly has captured the henchmen of the bad guy. They tell the main henchman that they are going to let him (and all the other henchmen) go, and he is to go back to his boss with the money the bad guy had paid the crew to rob a train (which they hadn't realized was carrying critical medical supplies to an impoverished settlement) and they will all leave each other alone. The henchman says he'll never leave them alone. He (the henchman) will hunt them down no matter where they go. So the Firefly captain kicks him into the engine. Splat! Then he goes to the next henchman down in the pecking order with the same offer. Now that's the way to handle a bad guy who promises to come after you.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Not TSTL.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Oh, wait. S didn't start out being for Spam. It's supposed to be Self-Publishing.
I had an offline conversation with someone recently about my choice to go with self-publishing. Hopefully, it won't embarrass her that I'm bringing up the conversation, because I found it a really helpful one. I will, however, not mention who she is, to protect the innocent. :)
Here's the interesting thing about the conversation. She read the sample query pitch I posted, and she really liked it. Basically, she said, "This is really good. Why aren't you going to try to go traditional publishing with this idea?"
The underlying assumption is what caught my attention -- the belief that only stories not good enough for New York end up being self-published. Now, I'm not offended by this assumption (at least not from her), and I am quite aware that many people assume this. But it also made me realize what an odd duck I am in this situation. A writer with some minor creds who has had an agent, could probably get one again, and who stands a fair chance (as chances go in this industry) of getting a good editor to take a look at one of my books. My project hasn't been rejected by 100 agents (or even submitted to any), and I'm not raving bitterly about the ebilness of agents, editors, or the Big 6. Some pretty big assumptions going on just in that description, I might add! What's up with this? And here's where this post comes in.
Why have I decided to invest the next five years in a self-publishing experiment?
-The midlist income. A midlist author from traditional publishing still needs a day job. A midlist self-published author does not. Is it harder to reach midlist in self-publishing than traditional? I don't know. It's not terribly easy living the midlist life in traditional publishing right now, with backlists going out of print and advances dwindling. So this point comes down to a financial consideration. A small fish with a day job or a small fish who stays home and writes and still pays all the bills.
It suddenly occurs to me that some of my fellows might be asking how that is possible. It's a matter of the royalty structure. A traditionally published author with a mass market paperback selling for $7.99 is going to receive (in general) 80 cents for every copy of the first 5,000 books sold, $1 for each of the next 5,000 copies, and $1.20 per copy thereafter. Then 15% off the top goes to their literary agent. A self-published author with a novel priced at $2.99 (about as close to an industry standard as you're going to find in self-publishing) is going to keep about $2 per copy sold. It varies slightly between distributors.
But won't traditional authors sell more books? Some yes, some no. Earning out even a small advance (say, $5000) is becoming harder and harder. Robin Sullivan (wife and business partner of fantasy author Michael Sullivan) pointed out on her blog that it's not uncommon for her to see self-published authors make that kind of money in the first three months without hitting any of the Kindle bestseller lists. Of course, it's also not uncommon to see someone sell three copies in three months.
So who has an easier time reaching midlist? I dunno. That one's a draw for me. But reaching it with self-publishing provides greater financial returns.
-The schedules in traditional publishing. It usually takes months to find an agent. It's not uncommon for a publisher to sit on a manuscript for six months or more before making a decision - and a longer wait does not indicate a better chance. The contracts are taking forever to come back, longer than normal these days. I'm guessing it's staffing cuts and morale problems. Then the book gets scheduled for publication about a year out (sometimes more). In many cases, the publisher won't want to put out more than one title per year from an author (unless maybe they are using more than one name). None of this holds true for self-publishing, obviously. And I'd kind of like to get this show on the road sooner rather than later.
-Traditional publishing has its own tastes and cycles. Urban fantasy might be a hot read right now, but the buying at the houses has slowed down. There's also the waxing and waning of personal taste among agents and editors. How many now say on their website or blog that they don't want to see anymore vampire or faery or demon characters? As it happens, I have a faery project I'd like to put out. Generally speaking, agents and editors are just not very interested in seeing that right now. I could hang onto it and wait for the cycle to shift, but there's no telling when that might happen. Are readers as tired of faeries as editors are? Maybe I'll find out.
-And finally, because I think I have this weird thing about being the odd duck. I'm the girl who didn't wear a prom dress to prom. Who didn't enter the school writing contest in my junior year because everyone knew I would win. Who kinda likes not doing what is expected of me. At least when my choices are all more or less equally viable. I like the idea of being the writer who is good enough to go traditional and instead becomes a part of the evolution and elevation of self-publishing, breaking the expectations that only the washouts go that direction.
You might notice, my fellows, that none of those reasons involve demonizing agents and editors or predicting the end of print books by next Tuesday or rants about how the reader will prove that my oft-rejected book is actually the foremost of all Great American Novels.
Of course it might be. I am a leo. :P
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I'm afraid I feel a rant coming on, and it's not even one I haven't indulged before in a variety of forms. However, I think some of this really bears repeating.
I'm going to use prologues for this example, but I could just as easily have picked said-bookisms, head-hopping, big opening battle scenes (sorry, SB, not picking on you and Michael), dream openings, flashbacks, etc.
So we as aspiring writers go to a writing forum and post a message entitled something like this: What's so bad about prologues? First of all, let's note that the language here indicates we are not unaware that agents and editors and a good number of our fellow writers have indicated in blogs and interviews and at conferences that prologues will usually get us rejected. But but but we want to put a prologue in our novels.
So we post this plea for validation on a writing forum and this is what happens (more or less). A dozen or so people will respond and maybe debate a little. Two of these people will point us in the direction of two or three agent blogs or interviews wherein the agent lists backstory prologues (*cough*allofthem*cough*) as one of their top 3/5/10 reasons for rejection. They are assuming we don't already know it will add significantly to the rejection risk. Eight of these people will get out their pom-poms and their South Park Michael Jackson voices (Blanket, let's play. Not playing is bad. That's ignorant. Yay, let's play.) and commence to validate our decision based on the fact that they like prologues and agents are mean and ignorant and they also have prologues in their books. And they also have prologues in their books. Mutual validation, anyone? Then two people will actually explain that there's nothing wrong with prologues in theory but they are a problem when the writer does [insert pitfalls] and very few people actually do them well because they are very difficult but we can pull it off if we are careful to [insert technique for overcoming the clearly stated drawbacks]. Notice I used the 'insert-an-explanation' format here, because this also applies to the other types of pitfalls I listed earlier.
But back to my point...
When we knowingly break a writing rule, guideline, expectation it boils down to taking a risk. The cheer squad might want to paint the practice as some sort of exercise in integrity (cue "Wind Beneath My Wings") driven by our muse/heart/divine writing guide aimed at the dark and evil heart of the Ebil Heartless Agent Gatekeeper, but it comes down to playing the odds. How many Don'ts can we fit in this novel before it's a rejection by the middle of page 2? How many can we have and still make it to a partial request? How many can we have and make it to a full? How many can we have and still... I said it before in another post. We rolls the dice, we takes our chances. If we do it, we have to own it. Validation be damned.
If the dice come up snake eyes, it's not the agent's fault or the editor's fault. We knew the rules of the game before we rolled the dice, and we even knew the dice were weighted against us - by the small odds of getting published in the first place, but also because we might have loaded the dice ourselves by doing several of the things agents, editors, and writers (the ones who can actually fill in the blanks in that explanation template) warned us not to do. We cannot now cry about losing the game. Well, we can, and plenty of people do. See bitter whining and railing against traditional publishing, found on any writing forum. But it's a pretty silly, pointless thing to do. Am I saying we should never roll the dice, even a little, even once? Nope. I'm saying we need to own our choice and not blame others when the risk doesn't pay off.
RAH! RAH! RAH!
I've posted before about an insidious kind of writing frenemy, the clueless cheerleader, the super nice person (there are several on every forum) who supports every winge we have about writing. Why can't we...? And she's there to say (cue voiceover from Glenda the Good Witch) oh yes we can and it's beautiful and follow your heart and click your heels and you'll be in New York in no time. But we want to... And he will say of course you should and so do I and so did this writer a hundred years ago and agents just want to suck the life out of you anyway and I hate them even though I'm still querying them but I will probably self-publish because agents and editors are such ebil bastards. But they will not explain the pitfalls or caution us as to the risk or advise us to weigh the risk against the potential reward.
For the love of God, don't be this person. Consider the pain the other writer will feel when they send off that manuscript (with the big opening battle scene prologue that turns out to be a dream, followed by an immediate flashback to a scene depicting how the battle really happened with the story head-hopping between 37 main characters), licking the envelope (or perhaps the Enter key) with strains of "Wind Beneath My Wings" still playing in the back of their head, and dissolving into total identity meltdown when the books is (predictably) rejected for doing all those things we have all heard they probably shouldn't have done in the first place. Be mindful of the fact that it's someone else's risk, someone else's heart on the line, and mix cheerleading with a liberal dose of caveat. If we can't provide the explanation for why a practice is frowned upon and preferably some ideas for how to navigate the pitfalls, we probably don't know enough about the topic to be dishing out advice, let alone cheers of unequivocal validation.
Repeat it with me, my fellows. Own the risk. Own the rejection.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I'm not going to provide query tips this time around. Or make the case for writing the query before the novel. I thought I'd just share one of my queries. I took this to a couple of workshops, never intending to make an actual pitch since the book was still in the planning stages, but I ended up with partial requests off it (never actually submitted the partials). Anyone who has spent some time reading my fiction page will recognize the main character.
Colbie Moss is a frustrated artist, working as an assistant curator for a boss she can’t stand, living in an upright middle class neighborhood with a husband she likes but doesn’t love. She’d never admit it’s all been her choice. But when her husband leaves her, the museum fires her, a masked figure snatches her off the street for a bizarre sacrifice that includes hanging her upside down from an ash tree, and she wakes up without a pulse, all within twenty-four hours, Colbie faces a life-in-death that’s anything but rigid.
Now inflexible, stubborn Colbie has to figure out why strangers keep calling her a norn and how to dodge government assassins tasked with the extermination of supernaturals she never knew existed before becoming one herself. That’s besides tracking down the serial killer who sacrificed her so she can prevent the creation of more norns. If the killer succeeds in bringing just three of these spirits of fate into existence, it will set off a convergence of worlds that will start the clock on Norse mythology’s world-ending battle, Ragnarok.
But it’s choosing her allies among the people thrust suddenly into her life that could decide everyone’s fate. Can she trust the pushy GQ yuppie cum mentor who insists he’s a god? Or the handsome dark elf who offers her protection from the supernatural forces trying to use her as a pawn? Or the tormented young man on the run with her, haunted by violent impulses he doesn’t understand, hunted by the same assassins? If she fails to unravel how they all fit together she could find herself dead – for good this time.
Using this method - a description of who the main character is, a description of the main dangers, and a description of a pivotal choice or conflict - worked well for me and actually made writing the query fun. I highly recommend trying to do it in ten to twelve sentences, which is easier before writing the novel, before we know too many of the details of our story. It's harder to pare them down to the essentials with too many of them floating around in our heads. (So much for not including query tips or pushing the query-before-novel method.)
And on a side note, if anyone is interested, I've updated the fiction page with a different (longer) sample of the story "Dis". This version is one revision earlier than the previous, and I admit I like it better. Perhaps a good example of how one too many revisions can make a big difference.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
This is really not very different than the idea of giving a character two opposing, mutually exclusive desires, and it is very closely related to the idea that human life is the struggle to reconcile contradictions. You recall me going on about that, my fellows, I'm sure.
I'm beating the horse carcass here to stress the multi-layered nature of a novel. Well, actually, the multi-layered nature a novel can possess if we want to take the time and make the effort. A paradox can express itself in the internal conflict of POV character, in the conflict between characters, in the conflict between the character and the setting, and the conflict writ large - in a philosophical sense.
Layering good. Dissonance good. Conflict good. Did I mention I'm still ridiculously sleep deprived?
And now for something completely different... I direct your attention, ladies and gentlemen, to the new tabs at the top of the page. I'm sharing some of my writing on the Touch of Fiction Page. Kick back and enjoy (hopefully). I'm considering releasing these in their entirety in e-story format (yeah, that means self-publishing them) in a couple of weeks or so.
Monday, April 18, 2011
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept (in this terminology anyway), it refers to the process groups of humans use to isolate another human or group of humans from the mass, emphasizing that the Other does not belong to the greater society and is, by implication, less human. Before we can commit violence or other atrocities on another person, we must justify it by making them different -- less of a person, maybe not even a real person at all. Maybe they have no soul. Maybe they are from evil racial stock. Maybe they were only created by God to serve our people or to tempt real people into sin. Maybe they are genetically, technologically, or culturally 'inferior'. That covers the large-scale Otherness used for everything from gender oppression to genocide.
But let's not forget individual Otherness. Before you can make fun of the fat kid or the science geek in school, you must make it clear they are the Other, or the ostracism will feel too inhumane and pose a danger of tarring the hand that holds the brush. Before you can run a con on the elderly to dupe them out of their home equity, you must separate yourself from them to establish the safe emotional distance assuring you that you will never be in their place and they somehow deserve this. Before you can take that political bribe to let a developer tear out a community garden, you must make yourself believe the poor are a scourge of lazy parasites. Perhaps you are even doing them a favor by taking away the crutch they are using that helps them live in poverty. Then they will go out and better themselves.
Why do humans do this? In part, I think it has to do with our natural fear of the stranger, of someone we don't know or don't understand, of someone who has different values and makes different choices. Might they turn on all that we hold dear, because they do not value it as we do? It is also an ingrained human tendency that smart people in important positions know they can play on when they need to manipulate public opinion over a war or a cause or when they need a convenient distraction/scapegoat to keep the public at large entertained while they go off doing things they shouldn't.
In our writing, how is the concept of the Other at play? Is one group oppressing another for their Otherness? Is there a character lashing out at society for making him an Other? Do we have a character unable to move beyond seeing someone else as an Other? What are we saying with the use of an Other? And, perhaps even more interesting, do we have a character who has realized his opposition is not so Other after all? What would that look like, feel like...knowing the person you are fighting is just like you? Will your character have that moment of realization when he sees he could have made the same decisions as the villain under slightly different circumstances? How do you go about the messy and sometimes violent business of defeating the opposition when they have ceased to be the Other? Or, to reverse it, is the story a process of realizing a dear friend or relative has become an Other, someone who no longer considers the hero one of his own?
Other thoughts? (teehee)
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Deirdra at A Storybook World generously gave me a Fantastic Fantasy Award. Check out her blog; the interviews are great.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to use one of my non-A to Z Challenge days to thank her and promote some other wonderful blogs I’ve discovered this month.
- Elizabeth Twist. When I was studying History in college, Medieval was my favorite, and part of the reason I loved Medieval Irish History was those fabulous illuminated manuscripts like The Book of Kells. No wonder I love an illuminated blog with a ton of interesting historical facts woven into the posts. And what a tag line - "Writer, Plague Enthusiast".
- Bards and Prophets. Another spec fic writer who gets as uber-geeky as I do about things like maps. What’s not to love?
- Weaving a Tale or Two . Posts about Ireland, Dobby, Sucker Punch, and Ireland. Did I mention Ireland?
- TL Conway writes here. A newer blogger who’s off to an amazing start.
I also want to mention that one of my fellow Viable Paradise VII alums, Brad Beaulieu, had his debut fantasy Winds of Khalakovo released this month by Night Shade Books. Check out that cover! I'm experiencing some serious cover envy right now. I predicted waaay back in 2003 that I'd see Brad's books on the shelves. [Brainy Smurf voice] I was right. I was riiight!
Oh, and I totally missed mentioning that last Friday was my 100th post. How anti-climactic to mention it two days later. *Sigh*
Saturday, April 16, 2011
So, the noble savage. We probably all have a pretty good feel for what this term means and how it expresses itself in stories, from classics to modern Hollywood blockbusters. The set-up for such a story is always a more 'primitive' tribe coming into contact (and usually conflict) with a more modern 'civilized' people. The undertone of the story will generally run in one of two directions. Either the tribe is a group of vicious heathens (savage), or they are pure and wise from living close to the motherly beauty of nature (noble). In either case, we have to have the hero from the civilized counterpart to either defeat the savages or rescue the technologically inferior noble tribesmen.
So here is my question to you, my fellows. Is it possible to write about two groups like this encountering one another without playing into the noble savage cliche?
Friday, April 15, 2011
My favorite example of the 'no perfect hero/no perfect solution' mindset is actually a work of fiction by Mark Twain, intended as an indictment of blind religious and patriotic fervor. It went unpublished in his lifetime because of its controversial nature. Perhaps some of you are familiar with it, my fellows -- The War Prayer.
I recommend reading it in its entirety, but the basic story is this. On the eve of war, a community gathers in its church, and the pastor offers up a prayer to God asking for victory. A stranger enters the church immediately and tells the congregation that God has heard their prayer and will grant their request, provided they understand the full import of it. The stranger then repeats the prayer with the unspoken meaning made clear, and that prayer is this:
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."
After the stranger's departure, the congregation agrees the man must have been a lunatic.
What could be more natural than waging a battle against what we believe to be an evil? And yet, no action is without consequence. No challenges are that clear and neat. No villain or oppressor or ancient evil is ever defeated without collateral damage in innocents. No hero is ever blameless -- indeed our heroes should be the cause of the majority of their own problems and their flaws an endless source of complication.
That means the community revitalization effort that pours money into redeveloping a poor neighborhood ends up driving out longtime residents and businesses with gentrification.
That means closing down that evil corporation making clothing in sweatshops also means putting secretaries and mail clerks and office managers out of jobs they needed to feed their families and pay their mortgages.
That means helping starving, poverty-stricken farmers clear forest land for new farms results in degradation of soil and loss of critical habitat.
That means killing that corner drug dealer opens the neighborhood for a ruthless new gang.
It means supporting the corrupt politician because he is the least corrupt option.
Others might suggest that what the world needs right now is a return to good old-fashioned good versus evil. The Lord of the Rings is, after all, such a tale. I go the other way because this is not that world, and because I think the worst thing we can do is try to pretend that the choices we make in our personal lives, as a community, and as a species have no consequences extending beyond our own front door.
Did I get too heavy on you guys for a Friday?
Let's end with a game then. How would any of your favorite authors answer the following question?
Why did the chicken cross the road?
I'm stealing a Hemingway answer I read online somewhere.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Hemingway: To die. Alone. In the rain.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
-"Call a Rabbit a Smeerp"
-"White Room Syndrome"
-"Abbess Phone Home" (a personal favorite)
For my fellows who have been around the block a few times, there are old favorites like "Show, Don't Tell", and "Deus ex Machina".
What are you guys still doing here? Get thee to the lexicon.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Kennings in Viking poetry, especially, are frequently used in place of other words. Instead of saying 'Thor's hammer', a poet might use 'Thor-weapon'. Instead of 'amber', one might use 'Freya's tears' (she cried gold that turned to amber). Used in this fashion kennings are a poetic tool used to vary word choice for the sake of meter and artistic expression. It could also be used to add subtext. Choosing 'Freya's tears' over just using 'amber' might also allow the poet to incorporate a religious or monetary subtext (Freya's role as a fertility goddess being geared more toward financial prosperity than reproduction -- it's complicated).
In modern fantasy, it's also common to see a writer use kennings as world-building tools. Take a common word, like 'bear', and add a modifying term, like 'snow', and you have a fantasy term for polar bear, a snow bear (or snow-bear or snowbear). A writer can also combine terms that don't seem to go together to help define an object that is similiar to something in the real world...but only up to a point. I have a dangerous sort of grass in one of my epic fantasy worlds. Yes, I said dangerous grass. It's a vicious world. Walking through this grass, listening to the sound of wind rustling through the long blade, can generate madness that will turn a person against his companions and cause him to attack them in a frenzy of blood lust. I called this bloodgrass. The term 'grass' provides some familiar imagery, and the term 'blood' takes it back out of familiar territory and into a realm of exotic dangers. Another example would be Seanan McGuire term 'ghostroads' from her Sparrow Hill Road story series.
However, like everything else, this tool can be overused. I've seen one of the Tor acquisitions editors wince at the idea of kennings in modern usage. If they appear on every page, or even several times on every page, it can come off melodramatic or silly. I recently did a beta-read on an epic fantasy that I think used kennings well. There were three or four kennings used in the novel. They were, of course, used more than once, but having a small number of the terms to start with also meant I could go a whole chapter and not see a kenning. They slid into the story naturally instead of obtrusively.
I'll wrap up by mentioning that K is also for knee and knee surgery. If I disappear for a few days near the end of the month, you will know why, my fellows. I will try to write my posts ahead of time and schedule them to appear -- I have a very special post planned for April 27th -- but I might not be able to keep up with comments. It's not because I don't love you anymore, my fellows.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Actually knowing the correct jargon in the first place will require either firsthand knowledge of the industry or some careful research. Think about all of your work experience and the jobs your friends and family have had, and you will see the low-hanging fruit, the experience you can draw upon with the least effort and the highest level of confidence. Print or online sources can also be very good, but we can't ask them questions when we need clarification.
That clarification can be really important, because few things will raise as many reader complaints as getting details like this wrong. I venture to say it's better to leave out the jargon and risk the story having a less concrete feel to it than to get the jargon wrong and jerk readers out of the story. This is a major pet peeve of mine with cop shows, especially Law & Order, which I otherwise love. I grit my teeth whenever the detectives call for backup or an ambulance -- without identifying themselves by their unit call sign. Considering the number of consultants on this show, and the fact that it would add one or two seconds of dialogue, it's a snag in realism that just appears pointless and lazy.
If we are including jargon in a story, I think it's important to have someone inside the industry read it for errors and someone outside the industry read it for layman's clarity.
Here's what you get...
With too much jargon:
The uni screamed over the air for ET and a code 3 fill.
With too little:
The police officer screamed over the radio for everyone to shut up and another officer to assist, with lights and sirens.
And with something in between:
The beat unit screamed over the air for emergency traffic and a backup unit running lights and sirens.
The first example could easily lose readers, meaning the rest of the paragraph will have to work harder to provide context. The second example could have been written by someone whose only understanding of emergency police procedures came from police television shows (Law & Order, not COPS). The third example sticks with jargon that will be clear to most people from context and replaces code words with short 'clear-speak' versions. Of course, all this assumes the POV character is someone with police experience, not a seven-year-old standing on the corner watching black and white police cars race past him.
Your turn, my fellows. What kind of jargon could you bring to a story to add that touch of realism to your character's life and how it bears upon his view of the story's events?
Monday, April 11, 2011
Ahem, well...not so much. Plenty of agents (Kristin Nelson springs to mind as one of the more recent) have cautioned writers that one of the most common reasons for rejecting fantasy is the big opening battle scene. Why? Because no one cares about a battle fought by people we don't know or like.
Which, of course, is not to say it's back to the 'warm up the engines' technique of starting the story ten years before anything pertinent to the story happens. The truth, as usual, hovers somewhere in between these extremes.
At this point, someone is reading this and cursing at the screen and ranting about aspiring writers being told by books and agents and editors to start with a hook, grab the reader, start in media res. What we have here, my fellows, is a failure to communicate. A hook, a grab, in media res doesn't really mean in the middle of action. I've blogged before about the confusion between action and conflict, and therein lies the rub. Action means nothing without conflict, but conflict comes from opposing goals and desires. It comes from what characters do to protect what they have at stake.
Ah, there it is. What they have at stake. Not what happened ten years ago (*cough*backstory prologue*cough*). Not the battle over undefined stakes belonging to undefined characters. It is the breath before the fall, before the events of the story whir into motion, when we see the main character(s) mired amid the moment of conflict caused by their greatest flaw, when we can give the reader a glimpse of what is valuable and worth saving in the character's life.
Ideally, the scenes prior to the Inciting Incident will establish the main character's defining heroic trait, greatest flaw, and current stakes (in other words, not backstory). In general, in a 90k-word novel, we're talking about 30 pages, give or take. We're not talking 30 pages of coffee drinking and car driving and washing dishes while thinking about stuff. I mean 30 pages of the character in conflict with the people around him and the current situation, the situation that is about to go to Hell in a hand basket with the arrival of the Inciting Incident (and arrive on the actual outskirts of Damnation by the First Plot Point).
In short, think less in media res and more in media conflictus, and we have the idea of the modern usage people actually want to see.
Before I sign off I want to encourage people to head over to Robyn Lucas, Writer, where I have a guest post appearing today. She is a fabulous person to know, an upbeat and encouraging counterpoint to my dour little self, so please show the lady some love. :)
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Teaches nothing of triumph
A poor excuse for Japanese haiku but a passable stab at an English one, I think. For those who don't recall this from grade school, a haiku is a specific type of Japanese poems, consisting of three lines containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. Of course in the Japanese form, there are even rules for the length of the words and the consonant-vowel order, but that's beside the point.
Yes, there is actually a point. The haiku is a great example of writing bound by the limitation of form. We have a very specific amount of space and very specific rules for creating a particular kind of experience. Not unlike the issues we as writers face with word count, genre/reader expectations, and the detested 'rules of writing'.
Some would argue that writing should have no rules, no limits, no expectations. As I have expressed before, I find this position extreme and utterly lacking in what I call the zen of writing, the understanding that only by experiencing and comprehending the nature of limitation (rules) do we learn to use or overcome those limitations, as the situation may require.
A rule understood
Guards cautious steps and fosters
(*Blogger formatting tool sucks this morning. Yay.)
Friday, April 8, 2011
My fellow blogger S.B. beat me to the punch with his recent post on how writers are doing feminism wrong. Please, read my comment on his blog under this topic to see what makes me irate about the angry sword-wielding feminist fantasy heroine (the medieval equivalent of the angry chick in leather from urban fantasy).
So we have a speculative WIP. Huzzah! Perhaps it is epic fantasy, or steampunk, or (my new favorite, thanks to Sommer Leigh over at Tell Great Stories) atompunk. We get to build worlds and whole new races of creatures and make up laborious new card game rules to inflict upon the audience. Oh, wait, strike that last part.
However, while we are doing that, let us take a moment to consider the gender role decisions we are making about our new creatures and alien cultures. I mean, we are making reasoned decisions about this rather than random assumptions that 'they is us with blue skin' or arbitrary coin-tosses on whether a culture is matriarchal or patriarchal, right? Because that actually makes a difference to plot and even setting. It has, or should have, a ripple effect touching every aspect of the original culture.
For instance, I seriously suggest that speculative writers who will be creating new cultures take a look at the first half dozen chapters of a book called THE CITY IN HISTORY: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects by Lewis Mumford. One of the most interesting thing this book points out is how the influence of the women in ancient villages, communally raising children while the men were hunting, shaped everything from the pottery to early architecture. And how the shift to agriculture and domestication of livestock led to the rise of the male-centric city, with its very particular purposes and shapes. After all, we don't want to create our (arbitrarily) matriarchal kingdom by just slapping breasts on a thinly veiled Julius Caesar in a badly disguised rip-off of the Roman Empire and calling it good, right?
We should also consider, in any world featuring humans, that the male and female brains are wired a little differently, and I don't just mean by societal pressures. One of the reasons females tend to be stronger on empathy is the lack of emotional and experiential compartmentalization in the female brain. Guys, have you ever wondered why, when you have those arguments with your wife, she brings up an incident from three years ago and is every bit as upset about it today? Because she may very well be experiencing those emotions as if it were yesterday. Men, on the other hand, tend to compartmentalize emotions and experiences, effectively shutting them away in a drawer like thermal underwear in summer. It has been theorized that this is an adaptation from our days as hunter gatherers, when the male hunters had to be able to shut out all distractions and focus on the dangers of the hunt. Women, on the other hand, engaged in the strongly interpersonal tasks of communal life, made good use of the ability to draw from personal experience to read the emotional feedback of those around them.
So...let's take a look at that matriarchal tribal society we had been planning to use in the next epic fantasy. They aren't a cheap imitation of the (already caricatured) Amazon warrior women, right? They aren't wuvvy fwuffy priestesses of a nature goddess, just waiting to swoon for the viril male hero from his powerful patriarchal society, right? I mean, that would just be the gender equivalent of the white hero who shows up to save the (brown) native tribe. How did our cultures get to be patriarchal or matriarchal? And what effect has that had on government, social class, education, transportation, inheritance, mating, war, religion? Instead of making the women empathetic, did the inability to compartmentalize make them bitter and vengeful, unable to forget old grudges? I wonder, what would a whole culture of Boudicca's or Medea's look like? Not every female character, of course, but the ideal female valued and immulated and held up as a true paragon for little girls.
If the culture is patriarchal, do they worship women, oppress them, see them as soulless livestock, lust after them as the pinnacle of fertility, revile them as the temptresses of principled men, hide them away like the greatest treasure, hide them like shameful creatures? But most importantly, why?
How is a wo/man supposed to act in this culture, and what happens to those who do not act that way? Do they get scolded or burned at the stake? Does being a cultural rebel have consequences, and if not, why isn't everyone a rebel out doing their own thing?
In closing I would underscore three themes:
- Our choices as speculative writers should never be random;
- Our decisions should be based on more than perpetuating thoughtless stereotypes or overly simplistic reversals of gender roles and politics;
- And our decisions should shape the cultures and pertain to the actual story.
Happy Friday, my fellows.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
- Epic...like George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books;
- Adventure...lots of movies spring to mind -- Pan's Labyrinth, The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Never Ending Story -- but books are a little harder. Perhaps the Chosen of the Changeling books by Greg Keyes;
- Sword and Sorcery...Conan, totally Conan;
- Contemporary...Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman (two of my personal favorites);
- Urban (sometimes used interchangeably with contemporary)...Jim Butcher;
- Angry Chicks in Leather (nods to writer Lilith Saintcrow for that term), which is a subsubgenre of Urban that I mention because of its current dominance in the genre...Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, many others (probably the most popular kind of fantasy right now because of the crossover audience it has captured from romance and mystery);
- Authurian/Celtic...that whole Mists of Avalon thingy (I'm one of the few people I know who couldn't get through that book) -- you'll note I list those two together, as Arthurian legend is Celtic, but that's a historical discussion for another day;
- Humorous...do I even need to list the name? We're all thinking Mr. P, aren't we?
- Low...having trouble coming up with an example for this gritty subgenre intentionally lacking in the wonder and glamour of epic/high fantasy;
- Dark...Moorecock, a thousand times Moorecock. I had a lovely discussion with someone once about Elric being the anti-Conan. Think about it.
This list could be considerably longer, as many of those listed have certain specialty flavors that could be broken out separately. But that isn't the point.
The point is to highlight the great breadth of fantasy out there and all the opportunities it provides. Why write fantasy? Or more specifically, why do I write fantasy? Because I am wicked and tricky and false. Because I am devious and underhanded. Because I saw long ago the possibility provided by a genre that would let me take something figurative and make it literal. What a lovely, back alley way to make a point and slide it past the doorman of the subconscious.
Your turn, my fellows. Why do you write in the specific genre(s) and subgenre(s) you do? I know quite a few of you write in fantasy or another speculative genre, but don't feel excluded if you don't. Chime in anyway. Go ahead, emote a little. Wax poetic. :)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
An ellipsis was traditionally a rhetorial device signifying that a word or words had been omitted from a quote, possibly because they were superfulous to the point or because part of the quote had been lost. In modern usage it can signify a pause, an unfinished thought, a sentence trailing off into dramatic silence.
Agent Donald Maass once told me that a book I was working on was doing too much work for the reader. They didn't need so much stage direction and hand-holding. Too often, I think, we fall into this trap with the ellipsis. Will the reader know there is a dramatic pause here without one? Will they understand this is an unfinished thought?
Well, actually, yes, they will. And if they don't, do we really want to fix it with the punctuation rather than the prose itself?
The problem with letting the punctuation stand in for the prose is, first, the distraction factor. Punctuation beyond periods and commas comes up pretty rarely, meaning every other kind of puncuation is more noticable. It stands out. But what exactly is it we want standing out in a story? The ideas, the characters, the dialogue, the theme, the moral, the story arc, the punctuation?
I don't mean to say we should never use an ellipsis, but I do think we need to realize they are distracting and weigh the risk against the gain. When tempted to use the ellipsis, I suggest we ask ourselves this:
Am I trying to hand-hold my reader to make them notice my nuances?
Could I accomplish the same thing with better dialogue or a more compelling parting line?
What does this line really lose without the ellipsis?
Is it possible that this use of an ellipsis will come off as melodramatic (dum dum dum!)
So, my fellows, your thoughts...
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
I remember one of my philosophy professors saying that human life was about reconciling conflicting truths. This comes up in some of our more pensive sayings. If you love something you must let it go. If that which you seek you do not first find within, you will never find it without. Not all those who wander are lost. Being alone in a crowd. Or the idea that war preserves future peace. I could come up with these all day. What I really want to point out, though, is how these ideas stick with us.
The human brain is uncomfortable with dissonance. It wants to realign -- reconcile -- conflicting truths, to understand how opposite ideas can still both be correct. Present the human mind with dissonance, and we have its attention. The conflict becomes a sliver in the mind, sore, nagging, discomfiting. The mind can even come to a point of obsessing over the conflicting truths, determined to understand how both can be correct, how they can be drawn inward from their points of extreme disagreement to a mid-point of congruence.
But how does this relate to writers? I suggest that it is dissonance that draws the reader in, pulling them into the story in a visceral and emotional way, transforming them from a casual observer to a participant who feels something of theirs is at stake in the story. And something of theirs is at stake - their view of truth, rightness, congruence.
There are two ways I would suggest bringing cognitive dissonance to bear in a story. First, another idea I am borrowing from author/agent Donald Maass, is the practice of giving our characters (protagonist, antagonist, important secondary characters) conflicting, mutually exclusive desires. Internal conflict at its best. A hero who wants to save the world, who believes he was born to save the world, yet finds himself wanting to put all that responsibility down and walk away and have a blissful, normal family life filled with holiday barbecues and children's music recitals. There are good reasons to want both, but (at the very least) opportunity costs will make this impossible.
Second is the use of the unexpected emotion. I got into the use of emotion a little more in a post about primary, secondary, and tertiary emotions. What I hinted at but didn't go into outright was the practice of choosing an unexpected emotion for characters. If your character has just found a dead body (and isn't used to that sort of thing), the reader will expect shock and horror. Give them something they don't expect, that on the surface doesn't make sense, and we engage that part of their brain that wants to make it all make sense. The idea is to make them keep reading in anticipation of turning that dissonance to congruence, something our minds hunger for.
I will wrap up by stressing that dissonance is not about making nonsensical character and story choices. The reader still needs to see why the hero would have both of these mutually exclusive desires. The unexpected emotion still has to be something we might remotely believe that character would feel -- then we have to explain in a believable way why it is indeed what they are feeling. What we introduce with dissonance we must eventually resolve into congruence.
That idea is a little bit dissonant itself, isn't it? :)
Monday, April 4, 2011
So for writers, what am I talking about? Writers of just about any genre can fall into the habit of borrowing pretty, cosmetic aspects of foreign cultures and using them to dress up otherwise generic characters. It doesn't seem to occur to some writers that this could be considered offensive, a riff on a culture the writer can't be bothered to understand, a rip-off of something important to someone else for the purpose of cheap exploitation. I see this most often with Native American and Celtic culture, because there are lots of pretty pretty sexy exciting aspects of these cultures.
Oh, let's make a sexy half-Native American heroine and put a couple of braids in her hair and maybe a feather as code that she is 'very spiritual'. Even better, let's make her blue-eyed and maybe even blond-haired and a shaman! Never mind what it might mean in Tribal culture to be a shaman, what makes a shaman, the responsibilities of a shaman, or even the proper terminology. And, of course, we won't go into the real spiritual aspects of shamanism, because that might make the character too non-Christian and minority-ish. If we did that, we might have to get into how the character feels about Native American history (early and recent), the economic forces at work on Tribal lands, her views on cultural assimilation, Native American religion, intergovernmental distrust, racial issues, etc etc etc. When really, all we wanted to do was borrow a couple of visual elements to create a mystique to dress up our character.
Which leads me to the urban fantasy trend that probably makes me the most irate. I've blogged about this before -- treating the mythology of other cultures as a playground we can trash, because these beliefs and stories don't actually mean anything to anyone, right? They don't represent a history of cultural development, right? They don't say anything about the principles still ingrained in certain cultures even today, right?
Lately it's Celtic culture I've seen taking the hit on this one. To fantasy writers out there who might be delving into fairy culture, I'd like to point out that there is a huuuge body of scholarly work on real fairy lore. That lore is, in large part, inseparable from the history and values of Celtic culture. Separating the creatures from the lore from the history from the values is a delicate task that few perform well. That sort of thing requires careful setting of background and explanation of events. Well, at least it does if respecting the culture means anything to the writer. Judging from the number of Celtic-themed fantasy books that have hit the walls of my home and the homes of my friends, it seems many a writer is not concerned with respect. Alien fairy phone home? Demon fairy goes to Hell? *facepalm*
I will admit, it bothers me when I see even respected agents telling writers that controversy (from making fun of another's religion or exploiting their culture) for the sake of selling books is good. I have a hard time with this attitude. Questioning -- doubting, dissecting -- a belief or culture we might disagree with...that I can understand. Controversy is a byproduct. Can all of us say we'd be comfortable if it was our religion and our culture being twisted for commercial purposes?
The most common complaint I hear from fantasy writers when it comes to cultural -- and religious/mythical -- appropriation is that having to stick to the beliefs and values of the myths they are using is limiting to their creativity. My response is that there's nothing limiting about a mythical framework once we've done our research into it. The myths of our world are deeper, larger, more detailed, more wondrous than most of us realize. The existing body of lore need not be a limit so much as an opportunity to see the world from another frame of mind.
Seeing the world from another frame of mind... In fantasy (urban or otherwise) could anything be better than that?
Saturday, April 2, 2011
So how does all this add up to a celebration of Barnes & Noble? When Amazon censored those books, the author I mentioned, Selena Kitt, saw her sales on Barnes & Noble surge above her Amazon sales for the first time ever. B&N, in choosing not to follow Amazon's lead, became the first major distributor to display enough wit to capitalize on an Amazon mistake.
Barnes & Noble was also sharp enough to see the e-wave building and recognize it not only needed to get in, it had to provide something Amazon was not already providing. And thus was born the Nook, able to claim some share of the ebook dollars out there, certainly, but known for marketing itself for its color display. B&N positioned the Nook as the ereader for the magazine crowd who wanted to see their fashion layouts in vivid hues and the children's book buyers who wanted to provide their children with a full color experience.
In the end, do I really think one company is eeebil and the other good? No, Amazon and B&N are both corporations out to make money, serving their shareholders first and foremost. In the American corporate structure it is unethical not to cut the throats (figuratively, of course) of anyone who gets in the way of profit and can actually be grounds for removing a CEO. I celebrate B&N as an essential component in the balance of power, the preservation of competition.
That competition just might be the vital to the survival of the independent author.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Thanks to everyone who entered. Sometime in future I think I'll give away some James Scott Bell books, so stay tuned. If you like Donald Maass writing books, I think you'll like Bell's. He is one of Donald's clients and has blogged about how the two of them brainstorm together about writing.
I suspect I know, my fellows, what you think I am going to say. [using Mr. Mackey voice] Alliteration is bad, mkay? But! that's not quite where I'm going with this. More precisely, I would say doing alliteration well is hard. Doing alliteration poorly is bad. Mkay?
What the heck am I talking about? Okay, let's back up a few steps. What is alliteration? It's the repeated use of a sound in a phrase or sentence. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. Tranquil turtles tarry too long. Of course, we're not writing sentences like that, I'm sure (children's authors being the possible exception).
For most of us, alliteration is more about a pretty turn of phrase, usually more subtle. Here is a really nice online resource for literary terms and definitions. I especially like this example: I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of grass. - Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" Not particularly glaring or in-your-face, right?
So what's the issue with alliteration? Why might we need to take care in its use? Well there are a couple of reasons.
First, it can come off as sing-songy, because it establishes a certain rhythm or meter that might sound lovely in verse but stilted in prose. Verse lends itself well to dramatic pause and rhythm, but in prose that rhythm can distract from the guided meditation of a full-fledged world-immersion reader experience (in IMAX!). An example? I once stopped reading a book because the author was going on about the jade shade of the glade. It's hard to stay immersed in the author's world with intrusions like that. It's like an actor pausing in the best monologue evah to point out how cool it is. Ack, audience interruptus!
Secondly, it can come off as being too heavy-handed and melodramatic, resulting in a imagery that falls flat and feels forced (hehe). For instance, I started a novel once with a line about timeless twilight over the fog-bound waves of winter. Catch the double alliteration there with the t-l-t-l pattern, followed by the o and w repetitions? Could you hear the made-for-television fantasy music in the background? Would we expect to find a line like this in, say, a novel called Dragonsword Gem of the Elven Wolf Warriors, Book One of the Saga of Lady Soultear Windmusic? :)
Ah, but I said alliteration didn't have to be bad, didn't I? When would I suggest using alliteration? It can, for instance, be good for kicking up the pace in a passage that is meant to come off in a bit of a flurry. Several people mentioned liking the sample I posted (here) of a descriptive passage I wrote in a workshop. Did you notice this, my fellows: Better to feel the ripple pattern of the road pavement, grated and graveled and oiled a few times too many to hide the fact that this damn town and half the people in it never had the money to repave or reroof or replace anything that broke around here, everything that broke around here.
The overall effect was to propel the reader through the passage as the character's emotions began to rush in on her. Initially, I had a couple more instances of alliteration in the sentence, writing as I was, under the gun in a classroom setting and not knowing if I had five minutes to write this or twenty. That's okay. I say let the alliterative dogs loose when you choose and go back to clean up their mess afterward. Overall, they can do good work -- when it's intentional, crafted, controlled.