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Help! I’m being repressed.

At least, so sayeth the thoroughly indoctrinated peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He was very well versed in Marxist ideology, that one, if a little hazy on the details of how stuff would actually, you know… work.

Which is a problem with a lot of fiction, particularly fantasy (since it tends to deal a lot in “evil ruler oppressing the peasants” – I AM being repressed by the way. Every time I try to type, a cat wanders over the keyboard and forces me to undo the kitty-typing before redoing what I was trying to say – but the more generic entries and even some very well selling ones seem awfully vague about how the oppression actually happens). Sarah and Dave, of course, completely fail to fall into this trap. As does Terry Pratchett, who uses the stereotypes for laughs in (among others) Lord Vetinari who doesn’t so much oppress (unless you’re a mime, of course, but that’s more an amusing personality quirk) as keep the various factions more interested in beating the other various factions than anything else, the great lords of the Counterweight Continent (Lord Hong, Lord Tang, Lord Fang, Lord Sung and Lord McSweeney (yes, really) – mostly Lord Hong who tends to see other people as being so far beneath him they exist to serve his goals). Not to mention the politest revolutionaries ever, who still think they can make things work better than the people who’ve been living on and farming the land for generations (at one point Rincewind asks one of the local farmer-types what he’d want if he could have it. The man is unable to think of anything beyond a “better water buffalo”.)

So how does repression really work? It’s not something that happens because some watery tart hands some fellow a sword and calls him king. Nor is it something that just magically appears because the king/prince/whatever is eeeevile. Especially not in a fantasy environment where even with relatively common magic communications are somewhat spotty and your average farmer is mostly concerned with what his local lord is doing. More often than not, he doesn’t know or care what the king is doing – unless of course the local lord is telling everyone that the latest round of taxes are the king’s orders (which a smart lord will do even if they’re not – chances are no-one is going to get anywhere they can find out differently for a good long time, much less get back and spread the word). Now the lord’s taxes are a different matter… And the lord had best watch his back if he starts repossessing too many farms for unpaid taxes, or selling people into indentured servitude for unpaid taxes (aka debt slavery – once a common practice just about everywhere that had enough societal organization to have debt). That or he’ll find those productive farms are suddenly empty and the nearest sanctuary town is full of new residents all working their year and a day to be officially part of the town. Or the nearby woods have acquired a sizable population of bandits who show remarkable discernment in who they ambush.

There are still ways… One is to set pay rates and penalties in a way that ensures the unfortunates are drawn into ever-increasing debt. Then publicly pardon all debts every few years – it wins gratitude without ever addressing the underlying reason people were being forced into debt slavery. The ancient Mesopotamians were particularly adept at this. (Yes, history is a very good source for all of this stuff. There’s very little out there that someone hasn’t tried, particularly if it involves doing something unpleasant to someone else. We’re an inventive species that way – which may explain our reluctance as a species to leave everyone else the hell alone. I suspect too many of us are scared of what everyone else will do). Another is the path of the all-consuming religion, particularly effective if said religion involves sacrificing babies. Or virgin maidens (although this is a rather less secure quantity since the maidens in question will aim to cure their virginity as soon as widespread virgin sacrifice starts happening – which of course means that the evil priesthood would need to confiscate the girls and raise them in strict seclusion, preferably monitored by unhappy older women (they make the nastiest enforcers of social mores out) until they were old enough to count as a sacrificial virgin. On reflection, babies are easier). Both have been done, by (among others) the Aztecs and at least one African tribe. The Aztecs are better known, having made something of an art form out of human sacrifice. The Dahomey tribe was known more for quantity than interestingly unpleasant rituals. There’s also the ‘farming’ raid technique, where one raids ones neighbors and carries off the young boys (to be adopted and turned into one’s own warriors) and girls (for slaves, usually, and generally only the ones that are just about ready to start having babies), leaves as many of the women of child-bearing age pregnant as possible, and returns a few years later to repeat the process. Eventually the neighboring society collapses or flees, but until they do, the raiders get a good supply of whatever they need.

What mostly can’t be done is modern-style oppression – the thought police. In a fantasy world, unless everyone is using magic it’s not really possible to have one in four adults informing for the state (as was the case in many of the former communist regimes in Eastern Europe). There isn’t enough specialization to employ the clerks to sift through it all, much less act on it. The closest you can get is the religion that has people scared to think wrong in case they go to whatever version of hell your fantasy world supports.

In science fiction of course, anything goes. You can have an abusive authority controlling all the lines of communication (North Korea). If you’re working with a space station or other artificial habitat you have the added benefit of being able to control access to such necessities as air. What you can’t do is have all of this and an active rebellion on the same space station unless they’re being helped or protected by someone high up in the system. And then you’re getting into sticky politics rather than simply oppression (hint: all politics usually comes down to personal somewhere. Figuring out where and how and what the incentives are is the fun part).

And I’m still being oppressed by my feline masters and mistress. Her Fluffy Highness is cuting me because I haven’t petted her recently enough. That’s oppression, right?

Signs You’re Writing A Difficult Book

Difficult books happen to everyone.  Sometimes books that are difficult to you aren’t difficult to anyone else.  I.e., a book feels difficult to you because you are touching on emotions that were evoked by some terrible incident in your past and therefore catch you on the raw.  Or you write about some concept that’s particularly scary/intense/hot to you, particularly.

 

You might not ever find out why a book is being “difficult” to you – sometimes what it’s touching has been so thoroughly repressed or so thoroughly disguised in the book, that you can’t see it, and will never be able to.  Someone else who knows you well might see it.  Your best friend or (argh) your kid might say “well, of course you’re having trouble writing this.  It’s all about fields in the spring, which is full of rabbits, and you remember you have that fear of rabbits due to the incident of the carnivorous rabbits when you were six.”  (No, I don’t have a fear of rabbits, but this might apply to, say, Jimmy Carter, who knows? [Politics?  Not really.  Don’t expect me to like anyone who shot his neighbor’s cat.  Or any cat.])

 

The thing is, it’s worth fighting to the end of a difficult book, because when you write those, you do tend to invest them with an intensity that makes them WAY more interesting.  Remember, what you’re selling your reader is emotion and catharsis, not words.  The more feeling, the more they’ll like the book.

 

So, how do you figure out if a book is difficult – as opposed to boring –

 

1 – You’re writing and, without transition, you find yourself in the kitchen, cleaning the sink trap or something equally distasteful.

 

2 – You keep thinking “I need to go back and rewrite it from the beginning – and then find yourself scrubbing toilets.

 

3 – when you get near the end, you either get ill or discover about a thousand emergencies.

 

4- You can’t stop thinking of the book – or dreaming of it – but you can’t seem to close it.

 

5 – When you take it to your writers’ group it starts arguments.  Half the people hate it, half love it, no one is indifferent.

 

And 6 – When you finish the book you are suffused with a sort of awe and KNOW it’s good.  You also know it’s still scary.

 

Anyway – these are worth finishing – A Few Good Men, my last difficult book should now be available for pre-order.  It is also, I think, the best thing I’ve ever written.
Of course, as hard as Noah’s Boy is proving to close, I think it might be very, very good. 😉

 

Now stop rotating the cat, and go write.

 

 

It’s Tuesday and I got nothing. . .

Actually, what I have is a deadline for finishing a novel that is long past and, finally, the novel is letting me write it. Add in spending a large chunk of yesterday working on an upcoming author event for our local library, the largest and most exciting one we’ve ever hosted before, and my brain is not in the blogosphere. So, I’m going to throw the floor open to you guys today. If you’ve seen anything about the publishing industry you want to talk about, post it here. If you have a question you want one of us to answer, now’s your chance. If there’s a topic you want one of us to do a post, or series of posts, about, let us know.

The floor is yours. Have fun.

W.I.P.

Okay so I got back late from sea, after a nightmare extraction (AKA getting the boat out of the water and off the beach) so here merely a piece of raw prose. Pre-first draft even. You can all have fun telling me how terrible it is.

CHANGELING’S ISLAND

Dave Freer

CHAPTER 1

“I just can’t cope any more!” she said.
Josh Ryan was used to that. His mother said it at least twice a day.
Usually about him.
Huh. He couldn’t cope with himself either, and he had no escape. He was stuck in his life, she could kinda duck out of it. She didn’t have to be the one who didn’t fit in, didn’t belong anywhere. Situation normal, making like it was her who had a problem that she couldn’t cope with.
But this time she was shouting it down the ‘phone line to his father in Oman. And she normally wouldn’t even speak to him. Kept it to snarky e-mails about money. Josh knew. He’d looked. Her password was so lame.
“He’s a changeling, Tom! He’s not normal!” his mother yelled, as if he wasn’t even in Melbourne, let alone the same room.
Like I can help the weird stuff that happens around me, Josh thought, bitterly, looking out at the dirty sky beyond the high-rise flatland of Williamstown. This poltergeist rubbish they accuse me of causing is all BS. Accidents happen. Just more of them happen around me than anyone else in the whole world.
Josh couldn’t hear his Dad’s answer. But he was ready to bet his mother didn’t even know what a changeling was. He kind of wished he was one. It had to beat ‘loser’. Maybe Faerie glamour let you look taller, cooler, like you had an I-phone. Maybe it let you get away with shoplifting without getting busted, he thought. He was sort of resigned to the consequences now. It could only get worse, but at least he wouldn’t be at St. Dominics. At least he wouldn’t be the new kid in the second hand blazer, that didn’t know any cool people or do any cool stuff.
“That won’t work,” said his mother, angrily. “The school has asked me to remove him. I don’t know what to do, Tom!”
That must be the first time she’s ever admitted that, thought Josh, sourly. He wasn’t too good at it himself, but this time the truth was he didn’t know either. He wished he was dead. Only that would please some people, he muttered to himself. Not mum–it would have upset her, he supposed. And she’d stop getting money from Dad then too, and that would upset her more. But Tiffany. She’d said she’d be delighted if he just dropped dead, along with a whole lot of other stuff. Well, he didn’t feel like making her day. Not after she’d lied and left him to take all the heat. Put on that pretty, innocent little girl look and fluttered her eyelashes at the store security guy and walked out, Scott free.
“I can’t,” said his mother. “I can’t afford it, Tom. The flights cost a fortune.”
For a moment, just a heart-lifting moment, Josh thought his Dad was going to have him in Oman.
Yeah. Likely.
Not. His mind said.
But his heart was still beating faster when his mother said: “All right. But only if you pay for the flights. And only if you call the Old Bat and arrange it. She always gives me hell because you never call. Like it’s my fault.”
When she got to the part about ‘if you call the Old Bat and arrange it’, Josh knew that his Dad had slithered out again. His dad was a champion slitherer-outer, thought Josh, glumly. And everyone always says that I look just like him.
Josh knew then that he was off to the end of the earth. Exile. Transportation. Being got rid of. Being dumped on his grandmother. Being sent to the worst and most boring place on Earth.
Well. Flinders Island, anyway.
***
Áed sat, as was his right, at his master’s feet. Those few who could see him and his kind tended to take them for twisted bits of shadow and angle, which looked oddly like a sharp-faced little manikin with black shards of eyes. There was no flesh or blood or true bone about him, but Áed was stirred by the boy’s anger and fear, and numbed by his resignation. He didn’t understand his master. As one of the lesser spirits of air and darkness he didn’t have to understand. His kind of fae were bound by the blood-line, and only had to obey. Áed was loyal to this one, even if the child carried only little of the old blood of the faerie kings of the aos sí, and neither commanded his sprite, nor gave the traditional rewards and honours to Áed. The sprite knew the old ways and understandings were lost among modern men. That was the way of it, but regretted their passing.
This day he’d served his master well. He’d woken the need-fire in an airconditioning unit. Fortunately it was mostly plastic, aluminium and copper wire, and with little cold iron. Even the iron bones in these buildings caused Áed discomfort. It had been hard to do. Raising fire was an achievement deserving of reward, uisge beatha or at least an bowl of old mellow mead…
It wasn’t going to be forthcoming, Áed knew.
Still, he was loyal.

Mixing up Writing Sessions

Hi, everyone. I have been having fun with another writing-exercise analogy.

Getting back into the exercise after the usual excesses of the Christmas and New Year break, I found myself musing on the best ways to develop body strength. For years I would just attack workouts, pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. That’s great for stamina (and weight loss), but if you really want to increase your strength the key is actually taking your time. The secret to increasing strength is the strategic use of repetitions interspersed with breaks long enough to allow the muscles to recover. The best programs seem to mix things up. Some days there will be 8-9 sets of low reps, other days perhaps a lower number of sets where you push closer to ultimate exhaustion (and take longer breaks). Yet the key is always adequate recovery time between the sets.

Chewing through all of this while I was in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens getting blood to my brain and watching the Ibis’s walk around made me realise I never do this with my writing.

There seems to be a real cultural push toward a static work program. Write so many pages, so may thousands of words. Then get up tomorrow and do it all again, and again. Check back in ten years for result.

But this flies in the face of what I was considering. To use the same analogy, you really should give yourself adequate recovery time between the workouts. And if you really want to improve, you need to mix up the program.

I guess the mechanics of muscle development are a pretty much the same for everyone, whereas there are as many approaches to developing a finished story as there are writers, but still. . .

So how would it translate? Many shorter writing sessions across a day, broken up with deliberate intake of inspiring material? I’m going to contradict myself and say that would probably drive me nuts. It usually takes me 15-20min to break the ice, and I’d be doing it each time. Maybe varying the goal?

Or is writing more like meditation, where consistency of place and time is the key?

Anyone got any ideas?

Mistakes Are Easy

Mistakes are really easy. It’s getting it right that’s difficult.

At the moment I’m thinking that the chapter and a half of book 2 of the new piece is going to need to be rewritten and slowed down massively. Why? Well, so far, my main character has been ambushed, escaped through sewers/drains, emerged in a bath house soaking wet, got caught in a panicked crowd when the enemy oopsed and set the bath house on fire (most places are built of wood), damn near been trampled in said crowd, damn near got crushed in said crowd because for reasons I don’t know yet the authorities had the city gates closed, escaped over roof tops, climbed city walls while fire spread through city (cold, dry, windy day), almost got caught, slid/fell down the other side, sprained or broke one ankle (not sure which) fell into damn cold river, got carried downstream a ways and may have passed out briefly.

Yes, that leaves me breathless as well, and there’s no way I can keep that pace up for a 50k word book. It’s too much. Hell, some authors (better ones than me) could have the 50k book just on what I’ve got so far.

Then there’s the domestic mistakes, like not getting someone in to look at and possibly fix the gas heater in the study. The rest of the house is fine despite temperatures way too low for this tropical brat (although we’re going through heating oil at a rate that makes both of us cringe), but the study, being an add-on without the benefit of 24-inch thick walls to help insulate, gets very little benefit from that – which is why it has the gas heater. I’m seriously wondering if we should have used the teeny second bedroom as a study instead, but the idea of hauling furniture up the stairs doesn’t appeal, funnily enough.

Oh, and it looks like the powder room pipes have frozen. The rest of the house, fine, but no water coming through those pipes. Yes, the powder room is in the add-on.

I have mentioned I’m a tropical brat and cold really isn’t my thing, right? Yes? Good. After 7 years in PA I’m getting better at it, but I still don’t like it, and the teens (Fahrenheit) are a bit bloody much. All you Canadians can start laughing now, but when you grow up somewhere that’s never once had snow, it’s traumatic. Yes I’m complaining. I can’t think to write when I’m trying to thaw out, so those who want to see more of my writing had better hope I get things sorted.

Ain’t No Business Like Writing Business

 

Okay, if you’re reading Mad Genius, you’re probably a reader.  You might also be a writer, but at the very least, you’re likely a reader.

So, how do you read.

(Ah, ah, the gentleman on the second row who just said “from left to right and top to bottom” has earned the duct tape across the mouth prize.  I’m in a good mood, though.  I won’t set his hair on fire)

I mean that seriously.  I suspect most of us have different habits, and some of our habits vary depending on our time of life, and which writer we are talking about.  In my lifetime, I’ve gone through time periods of reading six new books a day, and other time periods (usually when health was wobbly) of reading the same book for a month.

However, Amanda’s post yesterday reminded me that, no matter how different our reading habits, no matter who we are, none of us reads as establishment publishing seems to think we read.  In fact, the only way I can account for their misunderstanding of readers is – when I’m being kind – that they read all that they can read at work, and so don’t understand those of us who pay for our fun.  (When I’m NOT being kind, I just assume they’re illiterate children.)

Here are some of the weird assumptions built into the business as was when I came into it – and which to an extent are still there in the traditional side –

1 – Assumption – No matter how much readers love an author, they don’t want more than one book by him or her a year.

Reality – my dears, if I could get my favorite authors to write a book a week, I’d buy a book a week from them.  Heck, I’d buy a book a day – even if I had to stop eating to do it.  Two books a year?  That’s nothing.  Three?  I’m still shouting more, more.  And most readers I know are like that.  Heck, that’s not even just my top favorite writers, but all the writers I even mildly like.  None of them can write enough to keep me in books.

2 – Assumption – If a book by an author tanks, all other books by that author, regardless of genre, treatment, cover and distribution will tank.

Reality – this is sheer insanity.  Any of us can – before the automation of the book business made it impossible to SELL more of one book than of the previous, because it wouldn’t be printed – point to authors who had some startling stinkers just before a blockbuster.  Or authors who wrote abysmally in a particular subgenre (Agatha Christie thrillers, anyone?  Georgette Heyer mysteries?) and yet write and sell very well in another genre or subgenre.

However the entire “book numbers’ business and dictating orders from the last book’s Nielsen’s (which btw, might be as little as 10% or 5% of sales) is based on the idea that a writer sells a certain number, period, regardless of what the writer wrote.  This is also the reason hat for the last twenty years agents wouldn’t let you submit to editors under an assumed name, because they “had to know how you sell.”

Nuts.

3 – Assumption – If we don’t give them what they want, they’ll read what they don’t want.

Reality – this could only be believed by people who never tried to give healthy food to kids.  Look, if you don’t give your kids something that approaches the same level of tastiness and fun as they can get from a candy bar, they’re going to eat the candy bar.  They’re going to do this even if they have to go a long distance to get the candy bar while the spinach is right there on their plate.  No, trust me on this.  And if you make it impossible for them to get the candy bar because, say, like my mom, you make them sit at the kitchen table, in front of a plate of black-eyed pea salad… they’ll eventually fall asleep face first in the black pea salad, and they’ll go hungry rather than eat.

For years, while the publishers thought they were “educating public taste” readers “went hungry” or re-read stuff they’d read long ago.  Now, they’re finding ways to get their candy bars.

The business meanwhile is still operating on the “if they get hungry enough they’ll come crawling to us and read our worthwhile dystopias which are politically correct and worthwhile and did we mention worthwhile?”

Nuts.

4 – Assumption – people want books to be just as they were in the nineteenth century.  If we ignore this newfangled ebook thing and make it hard to buy them, eventually the readers will come begging us for paper again.

Reality – the truth is that people are reading e and paper, and will read more e in the future.  Our kids are growing up with ebooks.  Paper will be something romantic and archaic for them.  Maybe something to have a few books in, as collectibles, but not “what a book is.”

5- Assumption – We can continue to treat writers as we always have.  They can’t work without us.

Reality – Mwah ah ah ah ah ah ah.  Yeah.

 

The end result is a system that can’t see reality because they’ve bought such a pretty lie.  It will be interesting times for them – and us – as the bubble shatters.