Superversive Human Waves out of Darkness

By now everyone here has to know that my imagination tends to the dark. Although that may be a tad understated, since even in the fluffiest, silliest thing I’ve ever written (Knights in Tarnished Armor, for those who are wondering) there’s a really broad streak of darkness under all the fluff.

So how does someone that dark get to be all Human-Wavey and superversive?

To start with I refuse to write horror. If I tried I’d either drive myself insane or go so grimdark it would make Lumley look like a wimp. Yes, that Lumley. Yes, that vampire series. This is why I Do Not Do Horror. My imagination goes there all by itself. I don’t bloody well need to wallow in it.

Instead, I deliberately aim for the lighter side of things. I focus on the characters and how they deal with whatever crapsack world my imagination decided to throw them into – and mostly my characters are fighters. They get beaten flat and pick up and keep trying. They have hope, even if they have to make it themselves out of leftover straw.

Um. Oh, dear. That does rather echo a lot of how I feel and act about my own life. It’s not crapsack, but there have been times. And I do keep on picking myself up after I’ve been knocked flat and wading back into whatever the hell I’m fighting for. And hoping. And… Shit. I didn’t think I was that bloody autobiographical.

Oh, well. Writing does that to a person. Since my usual method is something along the lines of “sit in front of keyboard, try to put conscious mind on hold and let the story do it’s think”, I tend to find my subconscious leaving me pointed messages in what I write. Sneaky bastard makes them fit the story, too, so they’re not obviously Messages From Bob.

The conscious side of thing is largely shaping and the later editing phase where I catch as many of the klutzy phrasings and other weird grammar glitches that find their way into what I write (because yeah, I have a rather distinct voice that tends to drop several favorite phrases in all the bloody time, then I have to go and find the damn things and make sure I don’t have a dozen or more on every page).

So anyway. Leaving that little diversion aside, it’s a human trait to find things to enjoy no matter how much things have gone to shit. For evidence, babies are still born in places like North Korea, Zimbabwe, the middle of war zones, you name it. Weddings still happen. People live their lives as best they can.

So naturally, characters in the lowest pit of Hell are going to do the same things. When they’re not fighting for their lives or whatever, they’ll have the normal kind of responses to life, the universe, and everything. They’ll make friends, catch up with old friends, bicker, relax, and do normal people things. And that, even if everything else is bleak and grim and dark, is where the hope lives.

A character can be struggling along with his soul eaten, everyone he’s ever loved murdered brutally before his eyes, and if you leave him with the possibility that things will improve and he’ll find a happy place (no, not that happy place. That’s for the porn. Which I do not write. Because every time I try to write anything erotica-ish my brain goes “oh god that’s so silly” and switches off. Damn it. The stuff sells by the buck-load) it’s going to feel like a happy ending (no, not… Oh bugger it. Think what you will. You will anyway).

The other technique I use is – as I mentioned before – keeping the tone light. Which is how the Hello Kitty gay bondage scene in ConVent happened. Seriously gruesome sacrifice, check. Victims clearly suffered rather a lot before dying, check. Hysterically funny (or so I’ve been told by people I trust), er… wait, what?

The thing is, this works. I’m certainly not the only author to use it (Pratchett does, quite a lot. So do Sarah, and Dave, and Amanda, and…). It pisses off the self-righteous brand of Feminist Glittery Hoo Haas something fierce, which is an added bonus. They don’t like people making jokes about Things That Should Be Serious (which is a big reason why most of the Interchangeable Feminist Authors write gray goo – if you try to take Things That Should Be Serious seriously, you either get gray goo or grimdark). The thing is, humans cope with big scary frightening things by making jokes. It helps us wrap our heads around them and accept them. Why else would there be so many jokes about X dies and… It’s a way we tell ourselves that things will probably be okay when we die. Even though death is probably the biggest scariest thing out there, at least on a personal level.

So, yeah, when the Big Bad is trying to destroy the universe, someone is going to make off-color jokes about this being the Big Bad’s way of compensating for something. And that is how a really broad streak of darkness doesn’t stop me writing human wavy and superversive things.

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Novel writing Workshop 2, Mapping the Territory

*Sorry if this post is a little scattered.  I’m having stomach flu.  This to shall pass.  It just makes concentrating HARD.*

Mapping the Territory

 

The map is not the territory. How many times have you heard this?

And yet in writing many people are wholly sold on the idea that the map IS the territory and that if you don’t have a map, you’ll never find the territory.

There are two general ways of writing a novel – and right there, you should throw something at me for lying, because it seems with every book I find a new way. But there are two general paths, which then bifurcate into a multitude of paths.

Look, it’s like when you come to a completely new city. Dan and I, who did quite a bit of moving around when we were young. There are two ways of dealing with being in a completely different city, where you don’t know where to buy a cup of flour. Or there were two, back in the day (now there’s GPSs but they’re not part of this metaphor.)

The first one is to buy a map first day out, get out the phone book, figure out where each place you’re interested in is, and then go to those places using the map. You’ll end up knowing your area of the city really well, and branching out from it little by little, to know other areas that come up: a new bookstore, the other library which has the book you want, a place to buy rugs. That sort of thing. After two years or so, you’ll know the city really well, anyway, but you’ll spend some months knowing only where you’re going.

The second one is to drive around erratically until you get lost, then try to find your way back, all the while taking note of interesting things along the way. This will occasion many moments of sheer panic, but not only will you get to know the city in no time at all, but you’ll discover many places you didn’t know were there and would never think of looking for, because it was just not logical. (For instance, would you ever think there would be a Portuguese bakery in Columbia, SC? And yet, there was and we found it.)

Dan and I used a modified method to get to know a place relatively fast and without too many panic attacks. First thing off in a new city, we bought a map and went to a phone book and made a list of places we were interested in. We learned to hit the essential ones easily. Like “Where’s the nearest library.” This is particularly good since I hate driving.

(“Went to a phone book” – we often didn’t yet have one. Fortunately there were phone booths with books hanging from them. Another way was to go to a hotel and ask if they’d recycled the old phone book yet. Often they hadn’t, so we got one. Until recently we had the Denver and Colorado Springs phone books under the seats of my car.)

But in addition, when we had a free hour or two we had a pastime called “Let’s go get lost.” This is where we drove around randomly, taking note of good and bad areas of town; finding places like the Portuguese bakery (“Portuguese? Did we read that right? Yay. We did. Rolls and Semea and Broa and…”) until we were thoroughly lost. Then we whipped out the map.

So, what does this have to do with writing a novel?

Everything.

The process is surprisingly similar.

There are two camps when it comes to the wisdom/unwisdom of plotting a book in advance. There are the plotters and the pantsers.

The plotters will tell you it’s impossible to write a coherent book without plotting. That is not true. It’s impossible to write a coherent book without plotting if you odn’t revise extensively afterwards AND if you’re not experienced enough.

This is like going out without a map or a phone book to find that grocery store you really need. We’ve done this too, usually the middle of the night the day after arriving in town, short on sleep and trying to find either meds for the baby or cat food. You end up totally lost and screaming at each other, and it’s all a mess.

BUT this is not a controlled “let’s get lost and find neat places.” It’s a “Need to find this fast.”

If you’re writing a novel really fast – say three days – you’d best know that whole plot in advance, by heart.

Then you can write it and ship it with no revision.

The pantsers tell you that plotting in advance robs the books of interesting side trips. This tends to be true, unless you’re someone who is really good at taking the side trip anyway.

However some books (thrillers for instance) are mostly focused on the main point and side excursions are obnoxious.

So, it depends on the type of trip you’re taking, whether you should stick to the map or not. It also depends on how well you know the territory. These days in Denver, even venturing to little known areas, we don’t need a map. The map only comes out if we did something wrong and get confused. “Wait, what are we doing on this side of Wadsworth? Weren’t we supposed…” (These days the GPS comes out, of course.)

So on whether to plot or fly by the seat of your pants, it’s your call. If you’re inexperienced it’s possible you’ll choose a method that ends up not working for you. Give it a try anyway. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up needing it later on. Or maybe you’ll never do it.

I advise having a general idea of how the story is going to go, even if you don’t plot. You know, sort of “we’re driving around aimlessly, but I’d like to hit a grocery store, the library and ooh if we pass that place with the cat furniture, I want to look at it.”

OTOH I’ve had plots that only let me see a chapter ahead. (I hates them my precious.) So I’m not going to say you MUST have a list of places to hit. I’m just saying it makes it easier.

Next up: Something Must Happen! – what plot is and isn’t.

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I Was Going to Write This Post The Day Before

And have it all ready, but there has been the issue of the stomach flu resurgence.  (What? No, it’s not ebola.  ebola is more merciful  It just kills you and puts you out of your misery.)

 

So this is a post to say the post will be late and this writer is going to bed.

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“Real” books, contracts and “evil” Amazon

I’m neck deep in final edits for Duty from Ashes, the second book in the Honor & Duty series written under the pen name Sam Schall. Because of that, my brain has been steeped in space marines, bad guys and things that go boom and not necessarily at night. As a result, I forgot that it is Tuesday and my day to blog. Fortunately — I think — the demon kitten oh-so-helpfully got me up. After extricating my hand from his claws and staggering into the kitchen in search of coffee, I started scanning my usual sources for topics for today’s post. Oh my, did I find some.

Let’s start with this article from USA Today. I knew from reading the headline that it was probably something that would have my blood pressure rising. After all, how else would I react to “Real books can defeat Amazon and e-books”?

Wait! What? Real books?

Then I started reading and I realize the headline was only the beginning.

The book business believes that Amazon is unfair in the way it sells books. It believes, in fact, that Amazon in its sales practices — pressuring the book publishers to lower their prices and profits — is the enemy. Amazon’s ultimate design, publishers believe, is to ruin them or to wholly shift the center of gravity in the business from the creators of books to Amazon, the dominant seller.

Oookay, yet another journalist — and I use that term loosely — who believes that the publisher is the creator of books. It always amazes me when someone who writes for a living is so willing to hand over the title of creator to the entity that simply distributes the created work. Folks, think about it. Publishers publish. They arrange for distribution and sales channels. They do NOT create the book unless you are looking solely at the printing or conversion into digital format.

But let’s continue.

The book business response has been to protest hotly and try to wage a moral war against what it sees as an immoral competitor — having, for instance, its writers sign petitions and ads.

Moral? Huh? I’m not even sure where to start here. It is moral to keep royalties low and to manipulate royalty reports through the use of BookScan, which does not report every sale or even every sales outlet? It is moral to have their authors sign petitions and ads and then deny that they, the publisher, had anything to do with it? Funny, that isn’t exactly my definition of moral.

I am not surprised that Amazon’s attempt to maximize its profit is seen as immoral. Clearly the article’s author is of the ilk that believes capitalism is evil and succesful businesses should give up their profits in an attempt to prop up the business practices of other commercial enterprises that are killing themselves through poor decision making.

Need you more proof that the author is anything but unbiased in his belief that Amazon is evil and publishers pure?

The curious thing is that while Amazon is undercutting publishers (suggesting, in the case of Hachette, its most forceful antagonist, that both Hachette and Amazon forgo e-book profits, handing them directly to writers), publishers actually have much greater leeway to undercut Amazon.

Funny how he fails to note that this suggestion was made by Amazon in an attempt to help the authors Hachette has been accusing it of hurting. Note also that the author of the article fails to say how Amazon then, when Hachette refused this proposal, offered to pay the authors directly, without any funds coming from Hachette. That, too, was refused by the publisher. But it is Amazon that is evil and trying to “undercut” the publishers.

I will admit, the article does make one or two good points. But my real complaint is its basic premise that only publisher can save books and that e-books aren’t real books and anything coming from anyone but a traditional publisher is not a real book. It is time the article’s author, like so many publishers, come out of the cave and look around. The world has changed and product demand has changed. If publishers are to survive, they have to adapt. All the protestations against Amazon and e-books aren’t going to help.

On a related note, Hachette may have dug its heels in too deeply where Amazon is concerned. While no official announcement has been made — that I have found — sources in the know say that Amazon and Simon & Schuster have inked a new deal with puts in place a modified version of the agency pricing model. According to Publishers Weekly, the new deal will take effect the beginning of next year. The deal will allow S&S to set the price for both hard copy and e-books but will, apparently, also give Amazon some leeway to discount prices. That is the big difference between the agency pricing model that was struck down by the courts. If the story is true, then Hachette has lost some of its advantage by being the first to negotiate a new contract with Amazon. How long it will now take them to reach an agreement probably depends on how much crow Hachette and, to a lesser extent, Amazon are willing to eat.

So we are, again, at situation normal. Traditional publishing — with a few exceptions — and their proponents want to lay all of publishing’s ills at the feet of Amazon. It wants to continue the myth that there would be no books without publishers and anything but a “real” printed book is not a book. I don’t know about you, but I can read an e-book just as easily — sometimes more easily — than I can a “real” book. I can certainly enjoy them the same as I can a “real” book. More to the point, unlike those cave dwelling publishers, I know that there would be no books without the authors. THEY are the creators. Publishers are, at best, distributors these days.

And now, it’s time for me to get back to my not-book. Go write and, better yet, read a book. The author will thank you.

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Changeling’s Island

Well, first the bad news. It’s Monday and you’re stuck with me. I will forgo the obligatory Mwhahahaa. Oh, what the the heck. MWHAHAHAAA!
Now the good news, it will probably be Tuesday one day relatively soon (and that is one day closer to Friday).

On other news, for those of you who delighted in my ‘ordinary’ a while back – in the excerpt I posted of CHANGELING’S ISLAND – the YA novel I have set on Flinders Island — About a city-raised kid who gets into trouble and gets sent off to live with his crazy grandmother on a remote farm on the island.

The wind flurry brought angry drops of rain hissing down the blue-grey wall of the surging swell. It roared up the ramp in a seething ravel of white water and rolling stones. The inky blackness across the water devoured the outer islands, and the horizon had vanished into the rain haze. Suddenly it was back-lit by a tracery of jagged lightnings showing every black billow of the vast, stark, roiling mountains of cloud above the white-capped grey sea.

“It looks a bit ordinary out there,” said Tim, zipping up the red life-jacket. “I’m going to a get little wet.”

The book has been bought by Baen. Tony Daniel asked to see it when I mentioned it in a podcast I did with Eric, and it appears Baen are venturing on a YA line. I said it would be too Australian for them but he seems to think it adds to the book’s exotic charm. I can’t wait for Kate’s take on that. (and yes, that is what sheep say too. It’s too late. We’ve heard all the sheep jokes, and besides, we tell them about new Zealanders.)

I have decided to go with the trad route on this one, firstly, because it is Baen, and secondly because it is YA. I think this is going to change, but it and MG are still areas where authors are going to struggle going Indy. I’ve got a soft spot for Baen and I think, to be honest with you guys that they’re bucking stacked deck here. The SJW brigade have largely taken over YA, and books-in-schools. They’re outright not going to like CHANGELING’S ISLAND, it has a strong male hero (strike 1), with a perfectly good claim on victimhood who utterly fails to whine and blame anyone (strike 2), and makes and shapes his own destiny (strike 3). Oh yeah, and to add insult to injury it lets a battler country hick be an honorable hero, and deals with the very non vegetarian reality of where food comes from and how hard it is, and how valuable that is. And there is complete absence of kinky sex, but an abundance of rugged outdoor adventure. And entirely the wrong attitude to tools.

She looked at the sea. Shook her fist at it. “And yer be off. Don’t yer be coming anywhere near here, or I’ll stick a pitch-fork in you.”

“Who? Who are you talking to?” asked Tim looking at the gray, angry water.

“The seal woman. She’s nothing but trouble.” She pulled a face. “Have you got a knife?”

“Uh. No.” Knives had caused one of the boys at St. Dominic’s to get expelled only the term before. Pupils were not allowed to carry them, and while it had been tempting… Tim had not ever had the spare money, or really been… well, bad enough to get one. He’d wanted… sort of to be bad, to get a bit of respect and to make up for being small and really not much good at ball sports. His life was too full of people who thought he was bad, and trouble and didn’t give him any of that respect, back in Melbourne anyway. Did his gran think he was a mugger and a shoplifter? Why did she think he had a knife?

“Yer need one. Yer never to go near the sea without steel. I’m a fool. I didn’t even think of that,” muttered his grandmother. “Well, she’ll not come near while I’m here.”

They gathered armfuls and then carried loads of stinking seaweed up to the ute. Crabs scuttled away. Little bugs ran out of it. March flies bit at them if they stopped…

And then, when the ute tray was full, piled high, his grandmother said: “I hope yer can move the seat. It hasn’t bin moved since yer father was a boy.”

Tim noticed she never mentioned his father’s name. Hardly ever even talked about him. If she did talk about anyone, it was ‘My John’ and even that didn’t happen too often.

They wrestled with the seat, and got it to move slightly. Then it stuck. “Can yer push the pedals all the way down?”

Tim tried. The ute lurched forward. “Foot off the clutch, on the brake,” said his grandmother.

He got the part about taking his foot off the pedal. “Which is the brake!?” he asked in in panic.

It was rather a long trip back with the sea-weed. Tim was exhausted, but quite pleased with himself. He’d found the concentration of driving a strain. He’d stared hard ahead so much that he imagined he saw all sorts of things out of the corner of his eye that just weren’t there when he looked properly: Potholes, logs, a small hairy manikin in a hat clinging to the outside mirror. That, on a second glance that nearly sent them off the road and into the bog, was a bunch of weeds.

When they got home his grandmother said: “I need a pot of tea. And they deserve some beer. I don’t think we’re ready to try taking the ute into the shed yet. Just stop.”

Tim had got used to his grandmother’s ways by now, or at least the beer for the fairies idea. He set out the bowls. There were two of them to be put out, one in the barn, and one in the corner of the kitchen, each with a quarter inch of beer in them. A bottle lasted a couple of weeks or more. The mice or something must love it.

Only this time he was tired enough to just sit there in the kitchen, and happened to be looking at the bowl. The flat beer was a limpid brown pool in the bowl… and then it began to ripple, as if something was lapping at it. And then, all by itself, the bowl tipped a little. Tim blinked. Rubbed his eyes.

Looked. Rubbed them again.

The bowl was empty. Drained of the last drop.

It must have been a mouse he couldn’t see at this angle… or something. It was enough to creep him out. But Gran decided they’d sat about idle for long enough, so she said: “Come. We’ve got a Ute to offload.” She hesitated for a second. Went to the drawer of the kitchen dresser and rummaged about. “Here,” she said, holding a flat, yellowed object out to him. “It was yer great granddad’s penknife. Useful on the farm. I thought yer must have one.”
It was a solid, heavy piece of steel, with the outside casing made of a yellow, scratched… something.

“It’s supposed to be walrus tooth. Sailor’s knife, been in my family a long time. Must have come from Scotland, somewhere. We don’t have walrus here.”
Tim opened the knife warily. It had obviously been sharpened many times. Once it must have been quite a broad blade. Now it was narrow. He tested it against his finger, and cut himself. “Ouch. It’s sharp,” he said, looking at it.

“Yer keep it that way,” said his grandmother. “What use is a blunt knife? It’s not this new stainless steel, boy. It’ll rust. Yer oil it, clean it after yer use it, and keep it sharp.” She took a deep breath. “And yer keep it with yer all the time. Especially at the sea, or near it. That seal woman doesn’t like iron. I didn’t know she was still around. Yer don’t ever go into the sea without a knife. You wash it in fresh water and oil it after, as soon as you can.”

“But… it’s dangerous. I…I’m not allowed to have a knife.” He could just imagine his mother finding it. Or someone at St Dominic’s. Or the store where he’d been caught.

His grandmother snorted. “Townie nonsense. They got nothing they need a knife for, except to try and pretend they’re tough, and cut each other. It’s different here, Tim, working on the farm. A knife ain’t dangerous, any more than a spade. It’s laid there in that drawer for 40 years and not hurt anyone. It’s what you do with it that’s dangerous, if you’re a fool or child. It’s a tool, not a toy. Don’t play with it. And never test it on yer thumb.”

Tim felt quite peculiar about the old knife. He wanted it, badly. But he was scared about being in trouble because of it. “They won’t let me have it at school.”

His grandmother rubbed her chin, a sign, Tim had learned, that she was considering something. “Fair enough. It’s far from the sea. But the minute you get back here it goes in yer pocket. No going near the water without it.”

Let’s hope there are lots of parents and grandparents who don’t want their kids reading SJW decreed pap, but books with adventure, honor and courange… and responsibility. Baen might be better at reaching them than I am.

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Fantastic Journey through Time

a century of fantasy

Some of the titles I pulled for this post.

We were talking, my First Reader and I, about what to write for you Mad Geniuses. He suggested writing about old hats. Not literal hats, although it is a lot of fun to look at costume through the ages and see how fashions have changed. But what about writing? he asked, how can you pick up something that is old hat, knock the dust off, and create something fresh and new?

I’m not entirely sure you can, but it sparked another thought. Prose styles have changed over the years. What was once eminently readable and made for a book you could curl up with and while away an afternoon now reads leadenly, making it more work to read than it is worth.

I walked from the office into the library (well, sitting room, but it’s where the books are kept in our house) and called for him to follow me. I opened the hutch where I keep my antique books and started trying to decide where to start. The First Reader reached over my shoulder and tapped a spine. “Fantasy,” he suggested.

So we begin with a century-long voyage through time with fantastic tales, to see how prose has changed, and remember fondly stories that we may have outgrown, but affect us to this very day. Before the genre we call Fantasy came into being, there were fairy tales and folklore, like the collected tales that Andrew Lang put into the ‘color’ fairy books. I have a couple of these, and pulled The Red Fairy Book off my shelf. This was originally published in 1890.

“Well, I can’t stand it.’ says Koshchei the Deathless.  ‘I will pursue.’

After a time he came up with Prince Ivan, lighted on the ground, and was going to chop him up with his sharp sword. But at that moment Prince Ivan’s horse smote Koshchei the Deathless full swing with its hoof, and cracked his skull, and the Prince made and end of him with a club. Afterwards the Prince heaped up a pile of wood, set fire to it, burnt Koshchei the Deathless on the pyre, and scattered his ashes to the wind. Then Marya Morevna mounted Koshchei’s horse and Prince Ivan got on his own, and they rode away to visit first the Raven, and then the Eagle, and then the Falcon. Wherever they went they met with a joyful greeting. 

‘Ah, Prince Ivan! why, we never expected to see you again. Well, it wasn’t for nothing you gave yourself so much trouble. Such a beauty as Marya Morevna one might search for all the world over – ad never find one like her!'”

I have in my hands a 1920 edition of Arabian Nights. (If you’d like to see some of the illustrations from these two oldest books in the post, look here).

“The captain of the thieves, with a bag on his shoulder, came close to a rock, at the roots of the tree in which Ali Baba had hidden himself. Then he called out, “Open, Sesame!” Instantly a door in the rock opened; and the captain and all his men quickly passed in, and the door closed again. They stayed there for a long time. Meanwhile, Ali Baba was compelled to wait in the tree, as he was afraid some of them might see him if he left his hiding-place. 

“At length the door opened, and the forty thieves came out. The captain stood at the door until all his men had passed out. Then Ali Baba heard him say, “Shut, Sesame!” Each man then bridled his horse and rode away. 

“Ali Baba did not come down from the tree at once, because he thought the robbers might have forgotten something, and come back. He watched them for as long as he could, and did not leave the tree for a long time after he had lost sight of them. Then, remembering the words the captain had used to open and shut the door, he made his way to it, and called out, “Open, Sesame!” Instantly the door flew wide open!”

Now, despite the rather stiff writing style, I love that later in the story Ali Baba’s clever friend Morgiana boils the thieves in oil, but then again, I’ve been known to be a bit bloodthirsty.

In 1937 a little book called The Hobbit appeared in print for the first time, and the genre we now call epic, or classic, fantasy was born.

“So they laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves or course. Soon Bilbo caught glimpses of them as the darkness deepened. He loved elves, though he seldom met them; but he was a little frightened of them too. Dwarves don’t get on well with them. Even decent enough dwarves like Thorin and his friends think them foolish (which is a foolish thing to think), or get annoyed with them. For some elves tease them and laugh at them, and most of all their beards.”

I don’t know when the crossover genre of science fiction so far advanced as to become fantasy was born, but I know my favorite example of it is Glory Road by Robert A Heinlein, which originally appeared in 1963. I’ve quoted the roc’s egg passage recently, so here is a little more playful passage.

“Singing birds are better than alarm clocks, and Barsoom was never like this. I stretched happily and smelled coffee and wondered if there was time for a dip before breakfast. It was another perfect day, blue and clear and the sun just up, and I felt like killing dragons before lunch. Small ones, that is.

I smothered a yawn and rolled to my feet. The lovely pavilion was gone and the black box mostly repacked; it was no bigger than a piano box. Star was kneeling before a fire, encouraging that coffee. She was a cave-woman this morning, dressed in a hide that was fancy but not as fancy as her own. From an ocelot, maybe. Or from Du Pont. 

‘Howdy, Princess,’ I said. “What’s for breakfast?”

Here we see that the prose and story-telling begin to become more informal, more natural to the way people spoke and interacted on a daily basis. Or maybe they really did talk like that back in the turn of the century, but somehow I doubt it.

Bringing the stories up to a much more modern, and funny, standard, I have Terry Pratchett’s Mort in my hand now.This was published in 1987, but his tales of Ankh-Morporkh are somehow timeless, as they capture humanity with all its warts, and sometimes regret that capture, as you will see; his characters are not always housebroken.

“‘And they was kings in those days, real kings, not like the sort you get now. They was monarchs,”continued Albert, carefully pouring some tea into his saucer and fanning it primly with the end of his muffler. “I mean, they was wise and fair, well, fairly wise. And they wouldn’t think twice about cutting your head off soon as look at you,” he nodded approvingly. “And the queens were tall and pale and wore them balaclava helmet things -“

“Wimples?” Mort asked. 

“Yeah, them, and the princesses were beautiful as the day is long, and so noble they, they could pee through a dozen mattresses -” 

Marching forward with time, we come to the book published in , a random one of my Dresden File books, Proven Guilty. Urban fantasy, as Butcher writes it, is night to the day of Tolkein, but still, as you will see, with common threads drawing them together in the genre tapestry.

She prowled across the room to us, all hips and lips and fascinating eyes, looking far too young to move with such wanton sensuality. I knew better. She could have been a century old. She chose to look the way she did because of what she was: the Winter Lady, youngest Queen of Unseelie Court, Mab’s understudy in wickedness and power. When she walked by the flowers that bloomed in Lily’s presence, they froze over, withered, and died. She gave them no more notice than Lily had. 

“Harry Dresden,” she said, her voice low, lulling, and sweet.”

And I said, “Hello, Maeve.”

So what do you all think? Is the old worn out and needing to be discarded? I don’t believe so. Rejuvenated with modern language, perhaps. Retellings of old stories are something I enjoy, as I have done a version of Little Red Riding Hood which I really ought to expand on. And I could keep pulling books off my shelf for hours, but the First Reader is sitting here patiently reading Daniel Hood’s A Familiar Dragon and waiting for my attention. Time to spend some real-life time outside the covers of a book, methinks.

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Don’t Get All Hurt About It!

Don’t Get All Butt Hurt About It!
Pam Uphoff

So you got a bad review? Big deal. Bad reviews come in three flavors. (1) Readers who don’t like your book, (2) People who don’t like you and trash your stuff automatically, and (3) Professionals who have dissected your book.

The first thing you should do is calm down and think. Stop being a fragile flower, and stop taking it personally. Settle down, imitate Spock by turning off your emotions (you can have them back later, none the worse for wear), and take a good hard look at all your reviews.

The first type of review? See if there’s any meat to the critiques, see what specifically they didn’t like. If it is the type of book, check your tags and make sure you aren’t accidentally flagging down readers who won’t like your stuff. Don’t tag it as a romance unless the romance is a very large part of the story.
Do you have multiple reviews that all complain about the same thing? Make note of it. I wouldn’t recommend making major changes to a published book, but it could be something to avoid in the next one. If you are getting constant complaints about typos, commas, and missing words, go check your file. Maybe you need to hire a professional copy editor, or lure in a beta reader with grammar nazi tendencies. But keep in mind that some regular Amazon commenter always complain about typos in Indie ebooks, even when they are at a reasonable level.

Is it only one reader who disliked your book? Forget about it! You will never please everyone.

The second type of bad review? Someone doesn’t like you, or took an instant dislike to the book and just ripped it up in a huge long Amazon review? Ignore them. Do not reply to them. There is nothing to your advantage in doing anything else. You will only call attention to the negative review. Do not whine about it on facebook, it will only call attention to it. Really. Just shrug off the personal animus or pity the obviously unbalanced creature.

It’s really the third type of critique or review that I want to look at today. Because this sort of professional critique can be very useful. I got one of these, last month. And (apart from the relief of having something to blog about) I think it will be useful to me.

Jefferson Smith is doing a study on reader immersion, and what breaks it. His analysis here is really interesting, and I failed altogether to resist sending in a book. His methodology is simple. He reads until his immersion has been broken three times, notes the length of time he read, and the three reasons he stopped. That first report was on his first fifty books, now he’s going for a hundred.

_Fancy Free_ died at the ten minute mark. Here’s his report on it specifically: Fancy Free

This is really useful to me. No point at all in getting butt hurt about it, at all.

It’s clear from his take on the book that I was not very clear who the characters were working for, but he had enough of an idea about it to go on.
The first fail point–I thought I was mentioning a few things so they didn’t pop up out of nowhere later. But it was a distracting data dump, for that reader.

The second fail point? I was being cute, using “it” before my sentient computer consciously realized her mortality and desire to continue, and “she” after. And I had beta readers mention it too me, and I ignored them. OK, so being cute is not a good idea. I will remember that in the future. And if I reload the text file, I’ll probably change that.

And then I hit his internal time check. Ten minutes and he wasn’t immersed in the book.

Bzzzt! Test over.

OK, the first two are dead easy to check stories for. It’s the third one that I’m going to have to really study. Was it just the way I started this book? Or is the hook something I really need to work on?

Keep in mind that these are not anguished heart rending rhetorical questions. These are simply the sorts of questions you have to ask yourself and think about, if you are going to improve at the craft of writing.

OK, I know that as writers go, I’m very thick-skinned. (I have a thick skull as well, but things do, eventually, get through.) I have a pretty inflated healthy ego, so I know I have the Art part of writing hard wired in my soul. The craft, you know, the practical stuff that will carry the fruits of my imagination out to where it is comprehensible to other people? Yeah, the craft still needs some work. (Please, just loose the critiques of my typos its old.)

And that may be the way you need to think about it, to benefit from critiques of your work. Tell yourself that the art, the idea, is brilliant. It’s just the mere craftsmanship that is being critiqued, and everyone knows craftsmanship is a learned skilled, not an innate part of oneself. Constantly honed.
So listen and learn.

But also keep in mind that critiques are not always right, or valid, or useful. You can read them and say “Oh Hell no!”
The least useful critique or review is the one where the reader expected a different genre. If you don’t recognize this class of comment, especially from an alpha or beta reader, before you publish, it can really mess up your rewrite. Genre expectations vary greatly from genre to genre. Learn them. Use them. Check your tags and make sure you’re flagging down the readers who like your genre.

Some professional reviewers have biases. My worst review was from a professional reviewer with a strong Christian background. Again, no point in arguing. No point in getting all tangled up about it. Make a note to not send books there for reviews, because they probably won’t like any of my books.
Likewise, make note of favorable reviews, and why the reviewers seemed to like that particular book, and send more with that same quality to them. Some reviews come out of nowhere, as on Amazon’s customer reviews. If it’s negative, you shouldn’t make a spectacle of yourself trying to get it to go away. But do try to encourage the readers who like your books to post reviews on Amazon and anywhere else that allows comments.

If you want a professional opinion on your book’s starting hook, start here: http://creativityhacker.ca/immerseordie-submissions/

And don’t get all emotionally involved. This is a professional opinion, that will help hone your craft.

How about it? Have you guys had any good or bad or both reviews? Have you learned to toughen your skin, or do you still let them get to you?

 

And let’s not forget the usual push:

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