Don’t Derive to Market

LawDog has gotten a slim but gut-bustingly funny volume of his police stories off to his editor, and is now oscillating between writing down more tales of Africa, working on an urban fantasy… although, can you call it urban when it’s in small town Texas?

(Picture a satyr before a rural-county Texas judge. “You can’t sentence me! You don’t believe in me! I’m a mythological creature; I can’t exist!” “Boy, I saw weirder things than you in the sixties. Now, you’re up for theft, public intoxication…” )

…anyway, and half a dozen other projects that keep crowding into a writer’s brain. As we were discussing life, the universe, and everything (including him yelling at the “police gear up for a raid” scene on tv, “Why are you loading your weapons? Why are they not already loaded?”) , he paused to ask why certain books in a genre we’ve both read feel so… divorced from reality, and so thin.

Ah, LawDog, says I, the word you’re looking for is “derivative.” The kindliest interpretation is that the true groundbreakers in the field created a field, because the subgenre barely existed, or was still coagulating, when they wrote this weird thing they loved. So they were widely read, and drawing on a lot of different sources, and pulling together many different things. Then came authors who loved the world the first one created, and wanted to put their own spin on it. So they drew on other sources, or re-interpreted the first one’s sources as well as the first author. But then, then came people who loved the second wave of authors, and hadn’t read outside the subgenre… and so their pool of resources and interpretation to draw on is extremely shallow and limited compared to the first or second wave.

This extreme shallowness is often seen in fanfiction, where the inexperienced writer loves their one show, but hasn’t done any digging into the source materials the writers pulled from to create that show and world. If all you know of Meiji period Japan comes from Kenshin, then you’re not going to have a very great pool of knowledge on how and why that world works… and when a writer fills in the gaps with their own world and assumptions as they wander off script, it’s often profoundly wrong (including one fanfic assuming Kenshin was set during Europe’s Dark Ages… because feudal! *facepalm*)

Kris Rusch has a slightly different take; she says the original groundbreaker slipped past the gatekeepers somehow, and when it proved to be a breakout success, the publishers looked around to find similar books that were written on spec by people who just loved the genre. When they started being published, and there was a large demand, then other writers would jump on the bandwagon, briefly read the top books in the genre, and crank out something in a similar style without knowing or loving the genre. This is the sort of “writing to market” that she decries.

With the indies slipping past the gatekeepers, the truth is probably a mix of these, and other reasons. How do you make sure that you’re not falling prey to this?

1: Go Deep. Read the oldest depths from which your genre sprang, not just the last 20 years. Find the good stuff that inspired the books that inspired the books and films that inspired you.

Jeffro Johnson started reading his way through Appendix N – the list of sources Gary Gygax listed as his inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons . Many, many a current fantasy novel treats Dungeons and Dragons as the foundation of their world, upon which you can either build, or try to subvert (with a brief nod to Tolkien, who came before.) The retrospectives are now a category up on the Castalia house blog:
or in kindle book:

What he found was nothing like the “standard fantasy novel” you get now, and nothing like the stereotype of “pulp scifi” that some quarters burn in effigy without ever having actually read. It’s worth reading some of what he found as a transition – but even more so, it’s worth reading everything on Appendix N itself! ( )

(And let me sigh here and note that when following this advice and reading Jack Vance’s Tales of a Dying Earth ( ) I had to keep breaking out the dictionary. I thought I had a fairly good vocabulary, but if this was the stuff “the common man” enjoyed in the 1950’s, my nose has now been painfully rubbed in just how far our education system had fallen by the time I went through.)

2. Go Deeper. Go back to the original legends, myths, histories, trading routes, wars, cultures…

Alma Boykin recently posted a snippet of a fantasy that’s been battening around her brain as the result of reading academic papers and monographs on medieval trade:

When’s the last time you saw something like that, compared to “He paid five copper for the meal, and two silver for a room.”?

3. Go wide. Read about things far outside your field. Orson Scott Card is reputed to have said one of the best ways to get inspiration to is to pick something you don’t care about at all, and then research it in depth.

For example, Peter’s first published book, Take the Star Road ( ), was partially inspired by The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. ( )

Here’s another for you: Rory Miller is the author of the highly interesting book Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence ( ). Last night, as Peter was reorganizing books from one bookshelf to another as he moves the reference books from Things for Westerns to Things For Fantasy, another book by Miller popped up on the couch. Violence: A Writer’s Guide. ( ) I didn’t even know this thing existed. But it is an excellent breakdown on what motivates people to violence – from the office gossip (manipulation to get their way) to the bullying SJW (aggressive posturing and speech to get their way) to assault, to murder… and what those people think of other’s use of different levels of force. It’ll definitely force you to think through the eyes of a character completely unlike yourself, and in doing so, make them more real and alive.

4. Go and do yourself.

There is no perfect substitute for actually going to a place, or doing a thing. Because in the going and in the doing are a thousand sensory details, rhythms, habits, minutiae, large-scale considerations, environments, and people that you can use to make your writing come alive.

If you’ve never shot a gun, go to a range and take a basic pistol course with an instructor. You’re going to find it’s as close to the movies as… as, well, most people’s courtships are to Adam Sandler’s romantic comedies. Many police departments offer citizens academies or ride-a-long programs, which prove that real life is nothing like TV, either.

Go hike the unpaved trails, and discover that moving from point A to point B through different terrains is a while lot different than driving. Take a flying lesson, a sailing lesson, or go whitewater rafting. Get your fishing license and learn to fish, or find a climbing gym and get coached through a climbing wall. Ride a horse, or take a horsedrawn carriage ride. Learn to fence. Hey, it’s research! And it’s learning, growing, stretching yourself in ways you haven’t done before, or done in years. Do a chef’s tasting menu, try a flight of wine, go on a distillery tour… check your local area’s tourist literature, and play tourist in your own home state. You’ll turn up the most random and fun things to do – and if you ask more questions, you’ll find people who are passionate about something love to talk about it, and can tell you more than you dreamed existed.

Art is the synthesis of all our knowledge and worldview, mixed with “what if?”, “and then what happens?”, and a creative spark. So increase your knowledge, enrich your worldview, and throw a lot of new experiences into the mix. What comes out will be all the better for it!


Filed under characterization, FYNBOSSPRESS, Uncategorized, WRITING: CRAFT

76 responses to “Don’t Derive to Market

  1. Draven

    Don’t do calculus while intoxicated either….

    Don’t drink and derive.

  2. Draven

    Gary didn’t stop reading as he wrote, either, which is apparently another mistake the special snowflake division is making…

  3. I am far less knowledgeable about Japanese history than a lot of people on this site – but I’ve seen some pieces that seem to have gotten more of their ideas about the Meiji Era from Samurai Champloo, rather than Rurouni Kenshin. Also some that apparently think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a documentary about the Chinese Qing Dynasty at the height of its power.

    (The one problem with a Kindle is that you can’t throw it against the wall. Not that I think it would make anywhere near as satisfying a sound as a good solid thump.)

    • Its more of a “thap/shatter/tinkle” sound as the case explodes against the wall and the little bits of plastic fly around.

      Much less sweeping up with a book. 😀

  4. paladin3001

    Good thing I am constantly reading. Working on one project that screamed at me to start. Before I knew it I was looking up price lists/comparisons, steam engines, etc. That’s one heck of a rabbit hole by the way. So bookmarked that stuff for reference here and there. As to the ADnD reading list I found it funny to me that by the time I had gotten to that appendix, I had read almost half the books on it. Couldn’t find some at the time due to the state of the bookstores and used bookstores in a small town (early 80’s). So there were some that I did miss. One person informed me that a majority of the magic system was practically ripped entirely from one novel. Other things were picked piece meal from others (trolls for example from Poul Anderson’s “Three Red Hearts….”)

    I have always found it fun to research certain periods of history after reading a piece of historical fiction or fantasy/sci-fi that’s based on that period. Nice to see what was the inspiration for certain things and how authors sometimes mess up. Anyway, should get back to bed. Woke up early here and not exactly alert or ready to start the day.

  5. If someone paid two silver thaler, or imperial marks (various parts of Holy Roman Empire) for a room, for the night, the inn-keeper ought to find out what said traveler ate or drank to get him to pay such wild prices and sell it to all and sundry. That or there is serious bribery and something else in progress.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Well, at least one story I read had a character far from home and paid more than he should mainly because he was an “ivory tower” type so wasn’t used to bargaining and because people were taking advantage of his ignorance.

      Mind you, a later companion took over the “travel finances”.

      Mind you, I agree that too many authors get prices completely wrong.

      • paladin3001

        In the modern era, Google is your friend for stuff like that. Figuring out costs, wages, and typical expenses is easily remedied. If not exact, close enough can count here. Amazing what type of documentation is available out there.

    • Dorothy Grant

      Heck, I’d be happy on some fantasy I’d read if the author could have figured out that coinage has names, and used marks or thalers instead of “gold/silver/coppers”. Let’s not even get into the way that riding from one kingdom to another means a change in coinage…

      • *wags paw back and forth* Depends on the kingdom and the time, and if it was general buying and selling, a pilgrim passing through, or selling at a designated fair. There were some currencies many people recognized as “good” and would accept based on the weight of the metal (if the coin weighed what it was supposed to in your local system, it was good for the value stated). And letters of credit for X pounds, Y livres, J imperial marks, or [city/regional currency] were around from the late 1100s on.

        You’d be surprised to learn that I really don’t care for economic history. I just keep falling into it.

    • Mary

      Perhaps there’s a silver rush nearby and silver’s been devalued.

    • jon spencer

      Read this somewhere.
      “Ladies of the evening” have been charging the same after adjusting for inflation from basically 01 A.D. to the present time. This article was comparing the prices paid in relation from high class escorts to back alley types.
      “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

  6. ” Picture a satyr before a rural-county Texas judge. “You can’t sentence me! You don’t believe in me! I’m a mythological creature; I can’t exist!” “Boy, I saw weirder things than you in the sixties. Now, you’re up for theft, public intoxication…” )”

    Or set it in Austin. Pretty hard to weird out anybody here… unless you show them a Republican.

    • Dorothy Grant

      If it’d been Austin, the satyr probably would have tried a different defense. Because Austin, eh? Now I’m going to poke Lawdog and ask him if he’s got a future passage with someone asking if the kid’s from Austin… 🙂

  7. sabrinachase

    Hooray for LawDog vol. 1! My vote is for “something angry in a sack” and friends next. The world needs to know the glory. Although if LawDog is writing urban fantasy I might have to temporarily suspend my avoidance of the genre. (sorry, too many horny werewolves for me… Why can’t the be more like War for the Oaks? )

    • Dorothy Grant

      No horny werewolves in this one. A stoner satyr who got arrested for shoplifting a bag of burritos, though… This will have a lot less musical references than War for the Oaks (love that book), but so far it’s even funnier, with that same “I could walk down this town’s streets following the book, and it’d be a good guide to which clubs are awful, which cafes are good, and what the parks look like” feel.

      Not that I’m attempting to lure more chapters out of LawDog with caprese salad that includes meyer-lemon-infused olive oil, or French silk pie that you’d never know was low carb…

      Psst! Lawdog! Coconut-“breaded” cod filets with curry mayo for a chapter? Scotch eggs with sundried tomatoes and mustard sauce? I can hook you up!

    • Volume 2 will be my Africa stories, and stories that aren’t full-on Law Enforcement, and it’ll be published through Castalia House, same as the first one.

      The rural fantasy (which Herself refers to as “Oh, it’s LawDog Files with mythological critters!”) will probably be self-published, to dip my toes in the water.


      • Joe in PNG


      • Can’t wait.
        And my Tiny Publishing Bidness has a sideline in assisting authors in setting up as their own Tiny Publishers. I do the editing, formatting, arrange for cover design, and walk you through setting up an account at LSI or Createspace. Everything else is yours, after that point. Email link in nick, if you want more information. PS – the Africa stories are freaking hilarious!

        • Is it worthwhile to publish via LSI? I’m already on Createspace, but I’ve heard people say that the quality from LSI is higher. So I’ve wondered if I should look into it, or not.
          Also, if I were to go with LSI, should I stick to the 6×9 format I use on createspace? Or go to a smaller format?

          • I’ve always been happy with the quality from LSI. They do a lot of the printing services for POD houses anyway, The one trouble with Createspace is that it has all those “self-published” cooties all over it. YMMV. Setting up as your own Teeny Independent Publisher has a bit of an advantage at this point, I believe.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        LawDog, what author name should I look for?

    • Mary

      vampires and werewolves out your ears and every single one of them based on Hollywood’s ideas.

  8. I have written stuff from my personal experience, that I was then told was ‘unrealistic’ even after toning it down some.
    I’ve seen people get obsessed over how many miles a horse can travel in a day in my stories, even though I have a chart (and a little experience) as well as a map to make sure my horses aren’t overridden (and make passing comments about the consequences when they are).
    No matter what you do, someone is always going to complain, and usually loudly in the reviews. Especially if you unintentionally upset their favorite apple cart.
    Mistakes will be made, someone will always know more, or worse yet, someone who thinks they know more will loudly protest about it. As long as you don’t make any huge ones, most readers will forgive you. Remember, in the first Ring World book, Niven had the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. And that got by damn near everybody.

    • Dorothy Grant

      Hey, at least you have some experience and some thought in it, unlike the “horse: the fantasy equivalent of motorcycle” that Diana Wynn Jones used to get snarky about!

    • Apparently, even people who should know better will do the same thing, often because things like safety standards have changed. I’ve heard at least one MilSF writer complain that they were being told, by military personnel, that things in their stories were impossible, even though said writer had done the exact thing they wrote about in real life.

    • Oh so frikkin’ true!!! Sigh…

    • I have a particular distance set in my book, but it is never listed in my book, partly for this reason. I estimated an average ten miles per day limit, even though someone used to walking could get much further, just because that leaves room for digressions, false trails, bargaining for food, and rest breaks. FWIW, ten miles on a paved, level surface is about three hours at a walking pace. Ten miles of a strenuous hike takes most of the day.

      … and now for the digression. Back around 1990 or 1991, when I was twelve or thirteen, my Girl Scout troop decided to do a hike around Folsom Lake. In July. The trail information we had gotten from the Boy Scouts was that the trail was seven miles, both the beginning and the end parking lot were clearly marked and easy to find, and it shouldn’t be hard.

      Some of the girls had never hiked before, evident by the way that they had brought those stupid plastic water bottles with the straws that were popular at the time as their hydration. The temperature got to about 110º-115º that day—I wish I were joking—and I’m sure the sunscreen wore off on more than one person. (Probably me too, though I should have known better; I don’t think I thought about re-application.) Of course everyone ran out of water before the end of the trail, and the trail did end… in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. Seven miles of good trail, and we were still miles from the parking lot. Thank you, Boy Scouts.

      Anyway, it’s not too hard to keep from getting lost when you have a great hulking lake off to one side, so we forged on. And on. And finally spotted the other parking lot… across an acre of sticker grass. Mostly foxtail and burrs, thankfully, since star thistle is basically impassable.

      In the late 80s and early 90s, it was popular for sneakers and high tops to be nice and puffy with cloth and doubled shoelaces, all of which picked up stickers like mad. After part of this field, I stopped, assessed the situation, and realized that the pain I was feeling was entirely from the stickers that were getting caught in my shoes and socks and nothing was catching on my skin, so I did the intelligent thing and took them off, doing the last part barefoot. And even piggybacking a friend whose feet weren’t as tough as mine.

      Amazingly enough, nobody got anything worse than a sunburn from that hike, though it did teach us a number of things Not To Do (one of which was not to trust the word of anybody not official when it comes to trails. Seven miles of good trail, yes. Useful end of trail, NO.)

  9. “Go Deep. Read the oldest depths from which your genre sprang, not just the last 20 years. Find the good stuff that inspired the books that inspired the books and films that inspired you.”

    This is where old fans and old authors have it over you punk kids. I remember the books and shows that came before the 1970s and ’80s. Hell, I read the stuff that Roddenberry read before STOS, my mother had stacks of them cluttering up the place. Ace Doubles.

    Now get off my lawn, whippersnappers. ~:D

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      “But Tolkien stole from Dragons & Dungeons”. 😈 😈 😈 😈

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I remember one of my arguments with the Idiot Trekkie when I pointed out that Roddenberry was inspired by the science-fiction of his day and Idiot kept insisting I was wrong, but couldn’t explain why.

      • IT thinks science fiction started with Trek, can’t process the idea that it was entirely derivative. Nearly a copy, in some cases.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          When I pointed out that Heinlein’s multiracial Federations from his ’50s novels predated Trek, his response was that Heinlein was a racist. When I pointed out how insane that was, he pointed to the Wiki entry for Starship Troopers where it says the Bugs stand in for enemies of the US.

          I could have reminded him of the origins of the Klingons and Romulans, but it would have just bounced off his impenetrable force-field of ignorance.

          • Terry Sanders

            I was solemnly told that the *Enterprise*(tm) had a crew of 430 because Starfleet had determined that was about the minimum size of a “sustainable community.” I kid you not…

          • This is why Trekkies are the Avoided Ones in fandom. You can’t talk to them.

            • Christopher M. Chupik

              Some of them, that’s for sure. The Idiot confines himself mostly to FB, as far as I can tell. Imagining him at a con interacting with people is too terrifying to contemplate.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Back when Babylon 5 was still on, some Trekkies were claiming that it was “established SF” that communicators in the 23rd century would be worn on the uniform shirts not on the hands of the people. 😦

              • Christopher M. Chupik

                I never quite bought wearing it on your hand. Wouldn’t that be uncomfortable? What holds them on? And what if it falls off?

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Nod, there were valid questions about “putting the communicators on the hands” but the Trekkies were thinking “Star Trek did it that way so everybody has to do it that way”. 😦

                • If I recall correctly, the idea was that the communicators were coded to your DNA, so they would only work when you were holding it, and it would only stick to your skin.
                  So having it on your skin was as much a security feature as anything else. Plus if you think about it, the back of your hand is a spot that really doesn’t get in the way.

                • I never liked either one, especially the Trek ones, because they were apparently psychic (Not enough identifying info needed to make a call).

                  • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                    Worse, the NG Star Trek communicators were sometimes shown as being interstellar.

                    IE The Landing Party could contact the Enterprise when it was extremely far away.

                    Of course, I never liked how Star Trek (any generation) handled the Landing Parties.

                    They sent down less than a dozen people to survey a planet leaving a Star Ship with a crew of hundreds just waiting up in orbit.

                    Of course, the landing party had extremely limited supplies if something happened to the Star Ship.

                    I’d have the main exploration ship leaving the “study team” on the planet with a smaller “ship” on the planet while the main ship surveyed the next star system.

                    The smaller “ship” would be used as a base for the study team (with supplies for an extended stay) along with a “subspace communication setup”.

                    Of course, the main exploration ship would be sent out from a main base outside of “settled territory” so somebody would be “near by” if the study team had to call for help and the main exploration ship was lost.

                    Now if the smaller “ship” could also travel faster-than-light, that would be extremely useful. 😉

                    • Christopher M. Chupik

                      That’s probably because it’s cheaper to have 4 people survey a planet than 400.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      At least cheaper in terms of actors on the screen. 😉

                      Of course, having more people on the ground studying a planet means that more “serpents in the grass” would be found before you put settlers on that planet.

                    • Terry Sanders

                      I always figured ENTERPRISE(tm) was the equivalent of Andre Norton’s First-In Scout. You go in, make sure the place is at least marginally safe, and move on. Then ships like the GRISSOM from THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK do the detailed follow-up studies. If they run into something really nasty, they yell for help and ENTERPRISE comes back.

                      Works fine, as long as a Klingon warlord nutcase doesn’t get hold of the classified files. 🙂

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      While, there would be “follow-up” teams after the Enterprise visits systems, IMO they could do better as “First Scouts” than they’ve been shown.

                      For that matter, IMO “First Scouts” are more likely to be smaller FTL ships with a minimum crew. There could be lots that a smaller ship could do from orbit with the sensors available to Star Fleet.

                      Of course, basic “star mapping” and discovery of planetary systems could likely been done by unmanned ships (even lacking true artificial intelligence).

                      Of course, such “drones” would have a “call home” feature if they spotted high tech cultures which the Enterprise type ships might contact.

                    • The original series at least had a rationale for using first-line warships for survey duty, in that they had just recently finished some heavy-duty wars, and rather than go through decommissioning ships that might be needed at any time, they gave them those missions. I really wished NextGen had changed to a true survey ship, albeit a heavily-armed one, since they already knew there were dangerous things out there.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Well, then there was the “problem” even in First Generation that the Enterprise wasn’t always on the Frontier exploring.

                      It gets called back to guard the Neutral Zone and other jobs.

                      Oh well, we could spend weeks talking about the “mistakes” in the Star Trek universe. 😉

                    • Terry Sanders

                      My standard solution for problems in STAR TREK was as follows:

                      The ENTERPRISE never existed. There was never a Captain Kirk, a Commander Spock, et al.

                      And there was never an LAPD Detective Sergeant named Joe Friday.

                      The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. And as a result, things that happened to dozens of ships with wildly varying capabilities over decades were all attributed to one imaginary first-line cruiser during one five-year mission.

                      And you thought Malloy and Reed were overworked…

                  • snelson134

                    Improved voice recognition and better computer power means the computer knows who’s calling and can understand who you want to call.

                    • in many of the situations, i agree, but I am certain, though I can’t remember the exact situations in question, that there were times when a clear delineation simply would not have been possible, given the words used in the opening contact.

                    • Terry Sanders

                      Diane Carey once had Janeway in desperate need of a computer. The whole landing party was racking their brains trying to think what to do. Suddenly she squints thoughtfully, taps her commbadge, and says, `Commbadge, identify yourself.”

                      It promptly tells her its model number, serial number, and date of manufacture.

                      Turns out every crewman is wearing more computer power than Earth used to launch the first interstellar probes. And until that moment, none of them had even thought about it. Of COURSE the badge knew who you wanted to talk to. So what?,,,

                      Sound familiar?

              • Communicators on the shirt were invented by Commando Cody Sky Marshal of the Universe in 1954…or perhaps earlier than that. Wrist Radios were invented by the tech support team for Detective Dick Tracy.

                • Terry Sanders

                  And the guys on C57D (FORBIDDEN PLANET) could strealive video.

                • “The Captain’s finger found a red but-
                  ton on the portable signal panel that made
                  a three-inch medallion on the left breast
                  of his uniform. Throughout the ship
                  there was a flash of red lights ; loudspeak-
                  ers echoed his “Stand by for five gravities.””

                  -Expedition to Pluto
                  By Fletcher Pratt and Laurence Manning
                  Planet Stories November 1939

  10. Go Deep. Read the oldest depths from which your genre sprang, not just the last 20 years. Find the good stuff that inspired the books that inspired the books and films that inspired you.

    That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to read Lord Dunsany’s work. I figure I owe it to myself as a fantasy writer. Also, while it’s unlikely I’ll ever write category romance or period romance, at Sarah’s recommendation I’ve started sprinkling some Georgette Heyer into my reading since my muse keeps insisting on sticking romantic elements into my stories. 😉

    And when it comes to myths and legends so many people stop with Bullfinch, or Larousse at best and don’t go back to the original (or as close as we can get) stories. Watching Jason and the Argonauts on video is not sufficient research.

    Even if your goal is “typical fantasy novel”–my Knights of Aerioch series would qualify as that, I think–putting in a little effort to add depth and richness to the world and will help it stand out from all the other “typical fantasy novels” out there.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      It’s not sufficient research, maybe, but it’s certainly worthwhile.

      • Of course it’s worthwhile. But it’s a starting point. One thing one rapidly learns in studying actual Greek myth is that the Heroes were, in the vast majority, anything but “heroic” in the modern meaning of the word. There’s a reason why the movie stopped where it did. 😉

    • And once you get out of the pretty mythology (or prettied-up folktales), you start finding seriously creepy/disturbing/odd stuff. Like, oh, Elijah the Old Testament prophet becoming an evil saint (responsible for ruining crops with storms and killing people with lightning) in the Russian folk religion.

      • Luke

        Reference, please?
        That sounds so much more interesting than trying to separate the wheat from the chaff through the white noise of neopagans actively try to rewrite myths to conform to their modernist belief system. (And to memoryhole anything inconvenient, of course.)

        • IIRC it was in William Ralston Shedden Ralston’s “A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folklore” Kindle edition. It is in one of the later chapters.

          • He collected things in the late 1800s, so you don’t have the neo-pagan woo of some of the modern, ahem, interpretations.

          • Mary

            Any number of fairy tales slap the names of religious figures on what are clearly only semi-benevolent ogres and ogresses.

  11. snelson134

    Way too many fantasy/historical writers get their pricing guides out of the AD&D Players Handbook. The typical fantasy world is awash in more specie than the real world has EVER seen.

    • The typical fantasy world is awash in more specie than the real world has EVER seen.

      When I was in college I read a number of biographies on Charlemagne (not an assignment–personal interest). There was a scene described in several of them with nobles arriving in court dressed in fancy, expensive, outfits and Charlemagne decides to go hunting and they all have to go out with him dressed exactly as they are. After a day of traipsing through the woods he mocks the bedraggled state of their outfits while his own clothes, costing a mere shilling, were still fine.

      So, one suit of rugged, outdoorsy clothes, one shilling.

  12. Ben Yalow

    The wonderful thing about going deep is that you get to read a lot of really good fiction. The stories that invented the fantasy/SF vocabulary were fun to read, as well as establishing the tropes involved.

    One thing that is very true, however, is that most of the stories were not as genre-bound as current stories tend to be. You can’t even, necessarily, count on a hard split between SF and fantasy, much less all of the subgenres that we tends to divide things into.

    So Zelazny can start Lord of Light with:
    “It is said that fifty-three years after his liberation he returned from the Golden Cloud, to take up once again the gauntlet of Heaven, to oppose the Order of Life and the gods who ordained it so. His followers had prayed for his return, though their prayers were sin. Prayer should not trouble one who has gone on to Nirvana, no matter what the circumstances of his going. The wearers of the saffron robe prayed, however, that He of the Sword, Manjusri, should come again among them, The Boddhisatva is said to have heard…” — and the story is SF (even though you’d think, from the style, that it’s fantasy).

    And the demons, and magic users in Heinlein’s Magic, Inc. sound like characters from a hardboiled detective story, which you can tell from the opening line:
    ‘“Whose spells are you using, buddy?”’.

    And the angels/devils in Sturgeon’s Yesterday Was Monday sound like ordinary working class people from a half century ago, not anything that is stereotypically divine.


    Don’t read the Appendix N stories, or many of the other things of the formative period, and expect them to stick to genre tropes. They’re just wonderful reads, and tell Stories, not Fantasy Stories (or an even more constrained subgenre stories).

    I suspect readers were less worried about which genre a story was when there wasn’t even enough SF/Fantasy being published so that you couldn’t read everything as it came out. Even if you started in the 50s/60s, you could keep up with everything, and have time to read most of the backlist.

  13. In terms of experience, you can do worse than to take a training course in skills your characters might need. I just spent the weekend doing Basic Troop Camping with the Girl Scouts, and you learn a whole host of things you wouldn’t necessarily know were related just because the info is handy and the trainer is in an expansive mood. I heard about the Backpacking Training course that went horribly awry because the students did just about everything they could wrong (including not STOPPING when they figured out they were going wrong, and having a new trainer with them who was insecure and didn’t pipe up with “We didn’t come this way,” all the way through not having their basic survival kit along for a forty-minute night hike, even after being told.) Thankfully, that had a happy ending (as in, they had a cold night and managed to get found JUST before Search & Rescue deployed). Totally off the subject, but hey.

    I also learned how very tasty miner’s lettuce is. Seriously nice salad green.

    Information is everywhere, and it’s often cheap to acquire. Find someone who has worked in a field for a decade or more. Get them talking about work. You’ll learn a lot.

  14. Oh my goodness how did I miss this post? The news about Lawdog coming out with a book? YAAAAY!!! I hope he does the Africa stories. They’re awesome.