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Posts tagged ‘Human Wave’

Story Arc, Marvel Movies, and Human Wave

So on release day, my kids dragged me to watch Captain Marvel. It wasn’t a hard drag, as overall I’ve enjoyed the Avengers movie arc. I have not seen all of the movies, have definitely not watched all of the TV series spin-off, but I’ve seen enough to be Team Cap all the way, and to appreciate the Human Wave story underlying the series as a whole. My takeaway from Captain Marvel? Human Wave. If you’ve enjoyed the previous movies, you should go see it.

That being said, while my review on my blog was about the movie, the message, and the massive missing the point the actress who tried to torpedo the movie was guilty of, this blog post is about storytelling. Read more

Reprint: Happily Ever After

This post was originally published at Cedarwrites on Nov 8, 2014. Sorry about the repeat, guys, but the Daughter-thing has a physical therapy appointment at 7 am on a Saturday. And I was down with a migraine yesterday. Someday I’ll have the eptitude to write the posts ahead further, but this week was not that week. On the other hand, I have been chugging away at fiction…  Read more

Writing Under Duress

No, I don’t mean that anyone is forcing me to write. Frankly, my muse isn’t even talking to me right now, although my Evil Muse has been trying to help. He’s rather good at it, so I have flickers of productivity… Just not enough. Because the duress is outside life stuff interfering with my ability to write fiction. I can do this – non-fiction for a blog, or for a school paper – but creating uses a whole ‘nother part of my brain and I can’t seem to tap into it lately.

So what to do to keep the pipeline open with stress pinching it off? I have been working on peripheral stuff. Plotting for the novel in progress, writing words in it when I can, and working out “what comes next?” in my head when I can’t. It seems like the words start to flow on long car drives but that’s a different challenge.

I can, and probably should, force myself to sit down in the chair, put on music (which helps me. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I need to have the music, or every other sound in the house has me getting up to check on it) and just write X number of words a day. For me, that number would be fairly small right now, like 500.

With mid-terms I let the writing go away. Stress suppresses creativity, and until I made a decision this week, I was enormously stressed, and completely unable to deal with it. I’m better now, and Thursday I made fiction words on a page happen, which was a good start. Now in terms of you, the writer, I can’t say what the stressors are, but you can analyze them, figure out how to alleviate, and how to work around them if you can’t eliminate them.

Next semester, for instance, I have signed up for what I’m calling a “sanity” class. I’m going to take a drawing course, and for three hours a week, I will set aside the whole world and all the burdens of life, and just create. I find drawing, painting, creating to be a good thing for my soul. For you it might be something different. But take a little time to do something that heals you, because that will affect your writing. All the nonsense about having to be depressed to write is total BS.

Really. I have been unable to write for years at a time because of depression. Even if I had written anything (poetry I wouldn’t admit to) I would burn it, bury it, make it go away, because it’s not worth unleashing that sort of pain on the public. You can’t write Human Wave when you have no hope. And there is always hope, even if you can’t see it right now.

I had a bad night last night. Just as I was drifting into sleep, I was awakened by a woman screaming outside our house. I immediately had a flashback, and had to go get my partner to hold me until I could sleep again. Stuff of a story, yes… and it will likely make it into one because I was able to go get help, I have hope, and no matter how bad it was, I got through to the other side. It’s not all rainbows & puppies here (thank g*d, I couldn’t deal with the mess of many young puppies!) but it means I can worry about the little stuff. Like how many words a week I’m getting on paper. And whether Human Wave is about writing hope into stories, that humanity has downsides, but mostly, we’re the only species in the Universe that cares, (that we know about right now) and if we lose hope, what is to become of us?

Why is there so much Gray Goo?

It’s pretty much a given that we Human Wavers (Waving Humans? Only if the human in question doesn’t mind being waved around like a really ratty flag) don’t like Gray Goo. For that matter, declining sales from the mainstream suggest pretty strongly that not many other people like the stuff either. It’s gray, it’s gooey, and it’s bleak, and it’s… well, you get the idea.

So why is there so much of it?

Even allowing for the current fad, why is there so much of the stuff?

Seriously, the last time I dipped a toe into a slush pile, the majority fell into the Gray Goo bucket. A rather substantial majority, at that.

Okay, I admit I’m a substantial minority all by myself, but that’s my issue not yours, and you can have my chocolate when you pry it from my cold dead hands. Or more likely, my dead stomach, since chocolate doesn’t stay in my hands very long.

Anyway. Gray Goo and why it’s everywhere.

No, there has not been an explosion in a goop factory, and no, the coloring agents didn’t go missing (actually, everyone knows where they are. They’re in the Crayola factory, playing with the coloring books. No-one wants to disturb them because they get… upset).

Gray Goo is easier to write.

Seriously. When you’re still a bit unsteady on your writer-feet, and you want to leave some kind of emotional impact, the easiest one to get is despair. It’s much easier to flatten everything in your path and leave everything hopeless and miserable.

Inspirational tends to fall into glurge or the kind of meaningless goodwill that you don’t want to examine too closely because it hides a really nasty sting. Think about 90% of the feel-good posts you see on Facebook, and you get the idea.

Straight-up happy with all-things-go-well-for-the-hero suffers from a tendency to get so corny you could make relish out of it (this is why the dialog in so many movie romantic scenes is so cringe-worthy. It’s bloody hard to write good romantic dialog. Come to think of it, that’s probably also why the move towards sex scenes instead. You don’t need dialog in that, especially if you’re writing for Hollywood. Emphasis on the wood).

Something mixed where there’s good and bad, it’s ridiculously difficult to come up with anything that manages to encapsulate what you’re trying to convey without veering into Everything Is Horrible Gray Goo or sending your readers into diabetic shock from the excessive sweetness.

Then you have the difficulty of conveying characters who need to be a bit larger than life, better than real, and flawed in a way that makes them endearing. Even those of us who get character free can commit Mary Sue/Marty Stu just because that’s easier. And trust me, Mary Sue/Marty Stu in Gray Goo is something no-one needs to see (yes, I have committed this. I’ve committed practically every evil in the writing book, and no, no-one gets to see those. They’ve been consigned to a merciful death. Most of them never got onto a computer. Which is just as well or I’d be exorcising the hard drive).

On top of that, it seems to be built-in that bleak, horrible, dark and so forth is in some way more profound than happy, or uplifting, or… And heaven forbid you should try to convince the average Literature graduate that comedy can be profound (Sarah, be quiet. You’re so far from the average you’re in a class all by yourself. It’s the one with the extra writing implements and the padded walls). It took Terry Pratchett something like twenty (ridiculously best-selling) books before the establishment started getting embarrassed by the man’s incredible sales record and started nominating him for awards. Which of course he won, because the man actually is as brilliant as all that.

Hell, even the Bible says it: “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3, King James Version). In plain language, if you’re laughing you don’t care enough about the proper things. It’s that kind of thinking that leads to the idea that anything enjoyable must be sinful, and from there to the idiocy of banning anything remotely enjoyable.

The currently fading Powers That Be haven’t gone quite that far yet, but they’re trying, by Dog (you can’t call what they’re trying by “God” because they mostly don’t believe in one even when they think they do. You can tell by how they act – people who actually do believe in the Judeo-Christian iteration of God tend to be rather more inclined to leaving judgment to Him – but the moral scolds do believe that Fun Is Bad) they’re trying.

And yes, before the nitpick wagon dumps its load, I am bloody generalizing. If I stopped to qualify every trend statement I made, you’d never see me get to a point. I have enough trouble with that at the best of times without making it worse for myself. So the exceptions really don’t need to point out that they’re exceptions. I know, okay? So should intelligent readers (Sadly, so much intelligence has been beaten out by the school system I no longer feel confident that even the smartest people can figure out that something’s a deliberate generalization even if I put big flashing neon signs in front of it. You would not believe… well, maybe you would).

In view of this, here is the Gospel According To Kate (bear in mind that “Gospel” actually means/meant “good news”). Funny can too be profound, but for $DEITY$’s(*) sake don’t force it. If you force it, it just clunks. Let things happen and funny tends to follow if you’re working in that general vicinity. Even if you think it’s painfully, embarrassingly corny, let someone you trust to give an honest opinion read it. Chances are you’re like 100% of authors (yes, this is a scientific percentage, and I’m not disclosing sample size, so THP!) and can’t judge your own work. If they think it’s too much, they probably have some ideas to tone down the excess sugar and make it work. Don’t fear glurge: again, good beta readers can help clean up the worst messes and help sort the good from the omigodmyEYES.

Above all, don’t be scared to write what you want to see. There are a lot of people out there who can read. No matter how outré your tastes, there will be people who want to read it. If you have any doubts about this, consider that I’m acquiring fans via Overlord fanfiction, and tell your doubting side to just butt out and shut up.

(* $SOMETHING$ is old-school programmer for indicating a variable, so $DEITY$ translates to “insert deity of choice here”)

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.

Surfing the Human Wave

Okay, thanks to the amazingly interesting combination of Lunacon (pico-con-report – fun, membership is declining, the management hopes there’ll be a next time), moving house, and a certain kilted raccoon and his “friends” I’ve been mostly out of touch for a while. And what do you do while I’m gone? You go and start a movement. Not even an honest, prune-generated one, but a literary movement.

Honestly, you people are dangerous.

Okay, I was probably kind of sort of part of that movement before it started. I’m not as overtly anti-authority as Sarah, I’m much more the Australian subversive style that smiles and nods and pretends to pay attention before going off and doing what I always intended to do – while twisting the rules into pretzels to put what I intended into at least a gray zone.

Funnily enough this shows in my writing. I can’t follow genre rules without something twisting. I’m chronically incapable of refraining from the ancient art of taking the piss (although it tends to emerge in ways that leave people scratching their heads wondering what in heck I’m on about now. Or maybe just on (I can answer that question. The narcoleptic’s cocktail gets me all the really good drugs. Meth’s first cousin to wake up, one of the -epams to go to sleep to, antidepressants because being chronically short of sleep causes depression, as well as miscellaneous other stuff to deal with some of the other cascading malfunctions. They’re good drugs. They take me from walking zombie to moderately functional.). Sometimes what happens is funny. Sometimes it’s more like the One True measure of software quality – WTFs per minute. As a tester in the day job, I’m very familiar with that one.).

No matter what, it always ends up not fitting into anyone’s nice, neat marketing categories, and it breaks all those establishment rules about what’s supposed to happen.

I should confess here: I tried to write a grey goo story once. It turned into something else. I’m still not sure what, but it certainly wasn’t gray goo.

Of course, I’ve now guaranteed that I won’t be truly Human Wave either, even though I think the whole concept encapsulates what I end up doing. It’s just that I don’t do it deliberately (no-one ever believes me when I say this). I’m not trying to exclude myself – I just have a sneaking suspicion I was surfing that wave long before it got a name, and once it gets a box, I won’t be able to find the freaking thing (I’ve never been able to find the box – which makes it difficult to think outside it, since you have to know where inside the box is to do that).

Okay. Maybe I should just refrain from posting when brain-dead, overtired, or surrounded by teh kittehs (One of the pair is between me and the screen, the other one is on the top of my chair, looking down on me). Nah. If I did that, I’d never post.

Oh well. It is the Mad Genius Club after all.

Now off to surf that wave. Metaphorically of course. I’m not into actual surfing, what with the wonky sense of balance and all. Besides, just try finding a good wave in rural Pennsylvania.

Welcome to the real world

by Amanda S. Green

For those of you looking for Sarah’s workshop, she sends her apologies. Between not feeling good this past week and having to leave earlier for Denver this weekend than she expected, she wasn’t able to polish her post for today. She said to tell you that she will put the next installment of the workshop up Wednesday and will then get back to the Sunday schedule.

Yesterday I wrote about why I’m a Human Waver. I want to thank everyone who has so whole-heartedly jumped into the conversations this week about the new Human Wave Science Fiction, starting with Sarah’s post, Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, over on According to Hoyt and continuing with What is Human Wave Science Fiction here on MGC.

For me, part of my desire–no, my need–to embrace this new movement, for lack of a better word, goes far beyond just wanting to be able to read books like those I enjoyed so much when I was younger. It is a reaction to the legacy publishing industry, the same industry that has told so many of us that our stories aren’t deep enough or socially relevant enough or don’t carry the right message.

I’ll admit, part of the reason for this post today is because several of us involved with Mad Genius Club have been told that we are getting too serious on the blog. We’ve been asked if we are trying to cut off any chance we might have to work with the NYC publishers. In short, we are questioning the status quo and that just isn’t done.

Then, earlier this evening, I read a comment on a discussion board I frequent–several comments actually–where the posters made sweeping condemnations of authors who are taking paths that don’t lead through legacy publishers. According to them, there is a cache that comes with being published by these folks (And, for the record, I am exempting Baen from this conversation because I know their process and it isn’t that of the “big” publishers). This cache includes things like editing and copy editing and promotion and support for authors, etc., etc., etc.

All of which is bull. But we’ve discussed that before. In fact, I’ve been accused of harping too much on it. So I simply suggest you go back and look at our earlier posts about just how much push and promotion all but a few big name authors get. Compare the level of editing and copy editing and proofreading of books, paper and digital, today as opposed to twenty years ago. Ask most authors about what sort of support they get from their publishers. After they stop laughing, be prepared for a lesson in real life publishing.

Again, Baen does not fall into this category.

No, this post is aimed at those who feel we are being too negative and confrontational in our comments about legacy publishers. What these people don’t understand, mainly because they aren’t living the writer’s life, is that this is how most of us feel.

Publishing is changing and the many of the players are running scared. Publishers are trying to hold onto business models that should have evolved years ago. They are grabbing for rights to books that weren’t even dreamed up at the time contracts were signed. They are refusing to relinquish rights for books that have been out of print without the threat of litigation. They are insisting on non-compete clauses in contracts that can prevent authors from not only submitting work to other publishers but from also self-publishing something, even if it isn’t the sort of book the initial publisher puts out.

Worse, you have publishers fighting for a pricing scheme (agency pricing) that they admit makes them less money than they made under the earlier pricing policy. WTF? At a time when they are struggling to survive, they are fighting to make less money. Why? Because it would, in their minds, screw with Amazon. They aren’t looking at the bottom line for their companies or what this means to authors. And, authors, if the publisher makes less money, you’ll make less money.

Then there are the agents who are now acting as publishers or assisted publishers or whatever. Agents who are supposed to be representing their clients’ best interest are now going into a part of the business that, at least on the surface, looks like it could be a direct conflict of interest.

But it’s worse. There is what I am tempted to call a conspiracy of conformation taking place. We saw some of it last week on Sarah’s post, War is Hell. The trolls came running to the blog to beat her over the head because she wasn’t toeing the correct line. Her facebook page was hijacked when all she did was repost a Heinlein quote.

Folks, like it or not, but there has been a movement to keep writers in line. If you don’t believe me, listen to what editors and agents say at cons when they think they are in “friendly territory”. It hasn’t been more than a month since someone I know overheard an editor talking about having to drop someone because they’d found out this person was, gasp, conservative. If they are dropping friends for not being of the “right” political bent, believe me, they are dropping writers for the same reason.

Why else are writers having series dropped by editors with such questionable reasons as the series never caught on with the readers when that series is still on the shelves in bookstores more than two years after publication? Go ask anyone who works at a bookstore if they keep books in stock, much less on the shelves, if it isn’t moving. They don’t. And yet editors seem to think writers aren’t smart enough to check for themselves if their books are selling.

For years, writers have bitten their tongues and have made changes to their manuscripts in an attempt to keep their editors happy. That ought to be a red flag right there. Keeping the editor happy instead of the buying public. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

Writers are frustrated and, to be honest, we’re just as scared as the publishers. We don’t like change any more than the rest of the world. Worse, we’d really just like to be left alone to write. But we also want, and need, to make a fair wage for our work. That means publishers need to adjust their royalty schemes–or once more give that cachet of benefits that reader thought they still did. It means agents need to adjust their mindsets as well and remember there are legitimate options for their clients that don’t necessarily mean going with a legacy publisher.

Have I wound up severing any chance I had of landing a contract with a big publisher? Possibly. With an agent? Again, possibly. But I couldn’t get one to accept me as a client or author before Naked Reader Press. I’ve had agents forget I’d sent back edits they’d asked for and, when I did finally ask about it, they asked me to send another round of edits, WITHOUT FIRST SEEING THE INITIAL EDITS and without offering representation. I’ve had editors give me great feedback but tell me my books just “weren’t right” for them. That’s fine. I’ve found other outlets and I make pretty good money from these outlets. So, much as part of me would like a contract from a legacy publisher, I’m not going to cry if I never get one. (Of course, I still want a contract with Baen, but that’s because it is the only “major” publisher that consistently publishes books I like to read.)

So, have most of us at Mad Genius Club been negative? You bet. We’re human. We’re writers. And, like so many other writers right now, we have had enough. We want to be able to write the books we want to write. Books and short stories that fall squarely into Human Wave Science Fiction. We want to be able to bring these books and short stories to our fans. More than that, we want to be able to expand the Human Wave from sf to fantasy, mystery, romance, etc. Is that so wrong?

(Cross-posted to According to Hoyt)