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Posts tagged ‘fiction’

That’s Entertainment–Or It Should Be

Wow, the last few weeks have been anything but calm for the industry. We have the continuing saga of the RWA/Courtney Milan debacle. Social media, which my mother calls the worst thing ever to be invented, has seen some of the woke scolds doing their best to dance on the graves of some of the biggest names in SFF. All this and we are only two weeks into the new year. Let’s hope this is not a portent of the year to come.

I’m not going to spend much time on the controversies. There’s been enough written a bout them already. But if you want to see how the MSM is handling the RWA situation, check out the updated article over at CNN. To say it does some hand-wavium to avoid any real research into what’s been going on is putting it mildly. The sad thing in all this is, like what we saw with SFWA a few years ago, RWA is going to be lessened by this controversy and the way it’s been handled. When any organization allows a few folks who know how to leverage social media to set policy, to drive off long-time members and fans, you have a problem.

As for the social media idiocy, there have been a cadre of woke scolds creeping out of the shadows to diss Isaac Asimov for daring to put his arm around a woman years before his death. An action the woman in question said was consensual. Others have been doing their best to drag Mike Resnick, one of the nicest men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, through the mud over comments he made decades ago. They do this just days after Mike’s passing. They don’t give a fuck about his family and friends. Nothing matters to these folks except their own “feelz” and they don’t care if their attacks are well-founded or not. Read more

Rude Awakening

Can I just say I’m really looking forward to school starting next month? Growing up, I always thought summer was a glorious time of play and adventure. I can’t help but think I drove my parents as nuts as the Wee Horde make me. Still, I’m managing to progress on projects, which’ll see write-ups elsewhere when the time comes. Regardless, here’s part two of what I started last week.
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The Long Fall

It’s Tuesday, and while that means I’m here, this Tuesday is not like other Tuesdays. My own stress is reaching a fever pitch. The Lesser Unknown is pissing me right off, and so are Wee Dave and Wee-er Dave. The usual sitter has appointments out of town, today, so my DARLING CHILDREN are spending their energy working to distract me from, well, anything productive. In addition, we had a long, full weekend full of good and (very) tiring things, and I’m fighting a headache and fatigue. So I’m going to try a thing, and see where it gets us.
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In Defense of Fiction

I asked Amie Gibbons for a guest post after I saw a short thing she’d written indignantly defending fiction: “Don’t tell me fiction is a waste of time. You don’t learn empathy, foster imagination or a sense of wonder, or play pretend in non fiction. Those are the realm of fiction and engage the heart as well as the mind.”. Could you expand on that? I asked her. I don’t know if she’s seen my earlier post on Bibliotherapy, but this is a great defense of fiction: what is it good for? Amie is also newly inducted into this mad world of professional authors as she has just published her first title, so give her a warm welcome in the comments. 

I have a friend who doesn’t read fiction.  No really, he actually said that.  And it’s not like he’s your average dolt who only reads tweets and tabloids and hasn’t cracked a book since high school.  He’s probably the smartest person I know, is getting his masters at Harvard, and he reads all the time, but it’s biographies, textbooks, news, er, whatever other non-fiction stuff there is clogging the shelves.

When he told me he didn’t read fiction, I asked why and he said it was a waste of time, like sitting around watching TV, and he’d prefer spending his time on more worthy pursuits.

Say whaaaaaat?

I didn’t even know how to respond to that.  If it’s a stupid person who doesn’t read at all, I have responses, but an educated person who grew up reading and doesn’t see the point of reading fiction, ummmmmm.

It brought up a question I’d never really thought about, which I probably should’ve considered before now since I write fiction.  Why do you read fiction?

Off the top of my head, I read for entertainment.  It’s fun!  I’ve read non-fiction for school, obviously, and for work as a lawyer, written by people with varying degrees of writing talent, but nobody reads case law for fun (no matter how entertaining Scalia in full sarcastic form is).

Fun and entertainment are all well and good, and those are the primary purposes of reading (and writing) according to me.  But that’s what you could get out of TV and movies.

What makes reading fiction different, special, important, is its ability to stimulate imagination and foster empathy while you’re entertained.

Reading fiction is not like watching TV because it engages the brain far more.  You aren’t just watching a story play out, you’re painting the story in your head as it does.  You’re exercising your brain just as much reading fiction as non-fiction, because you’re using the same reading skills.  So reading fiction, which you would probably prefer to non-fiction since it’s actually fun, builds the skills and brain power you use in the real world, like for reading that non-fiction stuff when it’s required.

It’s the difference between running on a track and running after an actor playing a zombie with a paintball gun.  One sounds a hell of a lot more fun, huh?  And either way, you’re getting your exercise.

But on top of that, even the well-written, entertaining non-fiction doesn’t engage the heart at the same level well-written fiction does.  You learn facts from non-fiction, but you learn empathy, imagination and explore all realms of possibility in fiction, because it engages the heart as well as the mind.

That’s because at its heart, non-fiction is meant to educate.  Its raison d’etre is to convey information.  Fiction, at its heart, is meant to engage.

Engage the part of the mind that deals in facts, yes, but more importantly, it is meant to engage the imagination and the emotions.  You explore new worlds, situations and feelings through fiction.  Speculative fiction takes it a step further because it makes you experience things that don’t exist in our reality.  Your brain learns to take situations and synthesis creative solutions because it’s been doing it for years through reading and trying to put together the pieces to figure out what happens next.

Through reading, you learn to see the world through many different kinds of people’s eyes.  You don’t just read about someone facing down a bad guy and being terrified, you are the person facing him down and feeling that way.  So when you see someone scared in real life, you can understand it even if you haven’t been in that situation yourself.  Because you’ve felt it.

Men who have read my short stories and books have come back saying they had more insight into the female mind, or at least that type of female, and understood some of the crazy things girls had done more, because they were put behind the eyes of a female either doing those things and talking herself out of doing them.

I have learned how men tick through male authors.  I’ve walked the streets of Victorian London and fought vampires in Atlanta.  I’ve had my heart broken by a lover’s betrayal and learned how to grow and recover from it too.

And fiction doesn’t just show you life through others’ eyes, it shows you that you aren’t alone in your feelings, and shows you the possible paths to take to recovery, sometimes when you need it the most.

So don’t tell me fiction is a waste of time. You don’t learn empathy, foster imagination or a sense of wonder, or play pretend in non-fiction. Those are the realm of fiction and engage the heart as well as the mind.

evie jonesYou can find Amie’s debut title here, Evie Jones and the Crazy Exes, and I will tell you that I was a beta reader for her. This is a fun tale, with a deeply sweet heart at the center of it. The plot isn’t about saving the world, but there are few things, I think, more important than risking one’s life in defense of the young and helpless. 

 

Talking to the other side

And no, I don’t mean dead people. I mean non-writers and writers whose usual fields aren’t the ones we frequent.

Why? Well, between the furor that seems to have finally died over Sarah’s analysis (and anger) over a non-fiction author’s assumption that fiction is easy – just making things up (and therefore more amenable to self-publishing and not getting destroyed by changing times), and the non-fiction author’s response (and challenge) I realized that yeah, we do tend to get wound up in our own universe and frame of reference and forget that there are other people out there with other points of view.

For those who choose to read the comments, especially on Sarah’s blog (things got rather… ahem… animated – I had fun playing with the guy who was either criminally dense or deliberately obfuscating, and may have crossed a few lines there, but that’s me for you. I like playing whackatroll, and seeing how much it takes before the brains splatter everywhere or they start flapping and frothing and contradicting themselves… What? I never said I was nice). Um. Anyway, I realized that between the Mad Genius Club and Sarah’s blog, there’s been quite the evolution of views and development of a new paradigm.

So here’s where I see it. Apologies if this is way too obvious for anyone: I’m trying to look at where we are here from the perspective of someone outside.

Essential vocabulary:

  • Heinleining: fitting the salient details seamlessly into the narrative and action, without overloading the reader with details
  • Good research: in the fiction world, especially genre, this is research that’s mostly or entirely invisible but makes the whole piece feel solid and ‘real’. Even if it’s about cyborg zombies.
  • Time: a mysterious entity no author has enough of.
  • Money: see ‘Time’.

Where we stand: in the middle of an ever-widening chasm, trying to keep enough appendages (virtual or otherwise) attached to something so we don’t plummet to our metaphorical deaths-as-writers in the gaping pit that used to be traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is the corpse kind of sort of straddling the gap. I know it’s still twitching: ignore that. Some kind of parasitic outgrowth could still find roots in there and produce something, but for all bar the uber-bestsellers and the industry daaaaahlings (they’re the ones who got gifted with the numbers that should have been credited to the midlisters – visit The Business Rusch for details – that thing is deader than dead, the serious kind of dead that doesn’t get up and start lurching around. There may be a bridge somewhere off in the distance but most of us are right here near that corpse, since it used to be what fed/kept/chained us. Us in this case not including me personally. I’m generalizing here, okay?

Where we’re going: sod if we know, but we’re trying anything that looks good in case it works. Most of us figure that the more different tactics we can get into the mix, the more likely we’ll find one that lets us survive as writers, and maybe even thrive. We’re all banking on the long tail concept – our potential audience is now everyone in the world who can read English (say about a billion people), so we can do well with a really tiny proportion of those people as fans – and cumulative volume – twenty books or more at $5 apiece, which nets an independent $3.50 a sale from Amazon (I’ll use them as the example), each selling 100 copies a month is $350 x 20 – $7000 a month. And since the independent is the one controlling what’s there, those books never go out of print. The first one starts earning a few sales a month when it’s put up, and it’s still earning five years later when the author’s entire trunk list has gone up and there’s now a good, solid income stream. Length doesn’t matter – independents can put up short pieces (short stories, or for the non-fiction minded, monographs) that take a lot less time to write, and have a fat-looking list, all of it selling for not too much, but continuing to sell for as long as there’s an internet.

The catch – and there’s always a catch – is that it takes time for all of this to build. A young writer doesn’t have as much to publish as a more established writer, and none of us have enough money or time. It takes time to properly format anything for ebook reading, and money to get a cover that won’t scream “stock art” or “amateur” (Ask Amanda if you want info on her epublishing online course – she’ll let you in and give you the website. Or just scroll back through the history here until you find it.). Unless you’re one of those fortunate individuals who are good artists as well, in which case you’re going to need more time. So it’s slow. Most of us are holding two or more jobs. Some of us the “day job” is writing for traditional publishing houses, for others it’s a salaried thing. It’s still a time sink.

The key thing – and probably the only thing keeping all of us going – is that there’s hope where there wasn’t before. Within the last couple of years, self-publishing has become both possible and a viable way to enter the market as a writer. We’re not limited to the stale old “just like the last big hit, only different” that’s all mainstream’s managed for years. We’re not having our books – and careers – killed by editors who think we’re not “sexy” or “interesting” enough to justify selling. We’re not being nixed by glorified accountants who reward meeting the sales prediction even if it’s bad and penalize not meeting it when it’s good. (You outside the field, you’ve wondered why there’s so little that interests you in the bookstores now? That’s why. You’re not jaded. Fiction’s been murdered by glorified accountants who think one book is just like any other book. Sarah’s posted about that, too.)

So, give us time. Give us patience. We’re figuring this out as we go, and many of us are escaping an abusive relationship (with the publishing houses) as well, so the process is going to be a little (okay, a lot) messy. But we’ll get there in the end. We might even figure out where ‘there’ is.

In which Kate rambles about fiction vs real life

Well. I was going to write something thoughtful and profound and all of that, then the day job intervened. Most people aren’t all that much use after an 11.5 hour work day, and I’m even less use than that, being narcoleptic and prone to sleep-anything (Yes, I’ve dozed while working out. I don’t recommend it).

This kind of not terribly focused rambling is why I try to write my posts a day or two ahead. Sometimes though… It might not be tornadoes dancing in downtown Dallas (Hi, Amanda! Glad nothing really serious got you), but when life happens, it happens but good.

And you know the absolute worst thing about it? You can’t put this kind of thing in a story because it would seem too much like beating on the character for the sake of beating on the character. Rules of story aren’t like rules of life. Life has hordes of people all desperately trying to make their own personal story happen and being thwarted, helped, tangled up in and otherwise impacted by everyone else’s attempts to maketheir story happen. When you write something there’s a small number of people who the thing follows, and everything that happens has to relate to those people and move their challenges somewhere.

Unless you’re writing slice-of-life or gray goo, anyway.

In fiction-land at least one of the conspiracies has to be real. It might be the one where you the author are manipulating all the characters to reach the desired ending, but there’s a conspiracy happening. Real-world will give you the same result through nothing more than human perversity (This is why I subscribe to the notion that whenever there’s a choice between stupidity and conspiracy, go with stupid every time. Even intelligent people can lock themselves into perverse thought patterns and do the most insanely stupid things, but very few people are smart enough for long enough to carry out a conspiracy. Not least because they’re people. They want to tell someone).

Real world is also capable of a lot of people making the best and smartest decisions as they go, leading to an end result that totally messes them around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one happen in fiction. I’m not sure I’ve got the skill to write it, either.

Oh, yes, and the biggest difference between real-world and fiction is that real-world enforces inconvenient breaks for things like food, sleep, and eliminatory functions (part of medieval warfare that I doubt will ever find its way into fiction because it’s just so ew – and this is the woman who was raised on dinner time conversation that focused on potty humor). With the need for sleep (it being Wednesday night as I write this) making inroads into the pigheaded stubborn, I’ll leave it at that before I start sleep-typoing at people and leave them to try to make sense of the results.