Uncharitable Thoughts About Other Writers

March 9th, 2012  |  Published in writing

Some things that have occurred to me recently:

  1. In attempts to make books “Adult” writers often seem to mistake graphic sex and violence for maturity. Making a book suitable for only adults does not make it mature, it is more like an adolescent trapped in an adult’s body. I realized this while reading Crystal Rain and realizing that the characters actually felt like adults (this shouldn’t be so rare, but it is). Remember, sex and violence are tools, and to use them in service to something other than the story is to waste them.
  2. Science fiction writers can be like raccoons. Sometimes they write about concepts and technology so shiny that they get transfixed, and forget that they are supposed to be, you know, telling a story.
  3. A story needs to be anchored in time and space. This isn’t to say that a story needs to begin with a timestamp and GPS coordinates, but that the story’s environment should be defined in some way early on, as should the main character’s attitude towards it.

Enough of that. I’ll stop complaining now.

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On Perfection

February 27th, 2012  |  Published in writing

If you spend enough time going through writing advice, you will eventually come to something about not allowing the need for perfection to prevent you from actually finishing anything. Or “Never let the perfect become the enemy of the good”. Perfection is, after all, something that we strive towards rather than something we achieve. What has me thinking, on the other hand, is the flip side.

Back in July of 2011, I had finally finished The Root of All Things. It wasn’t perfect, in fact I think that it was probably the weakest of the Broken Shores stories, but it was good I had reached the point where I wasn’t sure what needed to be done to improve it. So I posted it and started working on the next story, Trust and Vulnerability (which was about a different character so there was no continuity to worry about), which turned out much better. Then I posted The Forked Path late last week, which continues the story begun in The Root of All Things.

Only after looking at the site stats over the weekend and seeing a bunch of hits on The Root of All Things but none on The Forked Path did I realize my mistake. Of course there’s nothing to be done about it now (perhaps I should have just put in a link for The Forked Path and noted that it was a continuation but could stand alone, who knows). I guess that the take-away from all of this whinging is that when it comes to perfection, like in so many things, the Middle Path is what we should hope to achieve. A prospect more difficult than it sounds, I am sure. Back to writing.

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February 14th, 2012  |  Published in announcement

Today I’m spending my time on Broken Shores (which you should totally check out if you haven’t already, its a nontraditional fantasy, closer to Modesitt than Tolkien), which is sorely in need of some attention, so there won’t be too much going on here. I do plan on having a new Cover Design article for you either on Friday morning or sometime Tuesday. If you’re looking for something good to read, I’m reading Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, which is interesting so far, and a welcome change from Western fantasy (the fact that one of the main characters is a chubby old guy is fantastic).

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“I Guarantee” and other news

January 9th, 2012  |  Published in announcement, Fiction

In December, I decided to take part of the Reddit Fantasy Writers December Writing Challenge (which was to start a short story with the line: “I guarantee you won’t find the same quality for a cheaper price,” the merchant insisted.). All was going well, I had an idea, and finished a first draft by the sixteenth, but then forgot all about it and missed the deadline for submission. In any case, I went ahead and revised it this morning and have posted it. It’s only about 1250 words, so it shouldn’t take long to read. Enjoy!

In other news, I hope to make some more progress on restoring this site tomorrow and Wednesday, focusing on redoing the sidebar and fixing the RSS links (I try to run everything through my feedburner feed). In addition, I plan on fixing the Soapbox page so that it once again has the complete story.

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Cliche and the Use of Language

November 22nd, 2011  |  Published in writing

The dictionary on my computer defines cliche as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought”. I’ve never heard it used in a positive way, it is always a criticism. There is a good reason for this, prose that relies on cliches is flat, stale, dead on the page. Another way to define cliche is a phrase that is so familiar that it has lost virtually all meaning, it no longer engages the reader in any meaningful way and the work would most likely be better served by a direct statement. In short, avoid cliches.

The opposite end of this is purple prose in which the writing is so ornate as to distract from any point that it might otherwise make. This has traditionally happened in pulp novels, but has also started to happen in literary fiction. When you remove Plot, your only recourse is character and style, and there are only so many books about dysfunctional families that one can read, so it becomes easy to abuse style. (Yes, I do realize that I am painting with a very broad brush here. I am not saying that all literary fiction suffers from this, just some.)

As a general rule, I believe that the effect of any flourish, be it vulgarity or flowery prose, is inversely related to the frequency of its use. Which is really just a long way of saying that the more uncommon an element, the more impact it will have.

All of that being said, I now get to my real reason for writing this post. In my last weeks at Borders, I found an excellent book for adding a little freshness to prose: Merriam-Webster’s Easy Learning Spanish Idioms. It contains common Spanish idioms along with their direct translations and explanations. For example: “ser como en un entierro” which means “to be like a guitar at a funeral” and is analogous to “stick out like a sore thumb”. Obviously some of the phrases can be used verbatim, but I think that to do so exclusively would be to miss an opportunity. Through something like this, you can see how idioms arise from culture and history, which should get you thinking about what idioms arise from the culture and history that you are writing about (I’m thinking of the fantasy genre here, but I think that it applies equally well to the idioms that arise out of something even as small as a town or a family). If you don’t like that one, there are plenty of books about the subject, like I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World.

The point is, if you want to write fresh and engaging fiction, there is a whole world of diverse and fascinating people out there to draw on. Just do so sparingly.

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Caldera Reboot

November 3rd, 2011  |  Published in Fiction

Here is a (very) rough draft of the Caldera reboot that I’m working on this month. Keep in mind that it hasn’t been revised and so there are likely problems with the prose (like bad dialogue and weak description), and there will almost certainly be major changes to the story by the time I am done with it. In any case, here you go:

Caldera Reboot

Rough Draft / 1050 words / 11.3.2011

Caden‘s felt his age in his legs as he climbed the steps carved into the vertical sides of Crest Island. Twenty years prior he would have ran up the steps, and the awareness of his spent youth brought rekindled the doubts that had been smoldering since the beginning of his quest.

Read the rest of this entry »

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OWS and Uprising

October 25th, 2011  |  Published in announcement

The advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement has gotten me to thinking about a piece of flash fiction that I wrote back in early 2008, Uprising. Basically, it’s about a guy watching a massive protest over the internet, and how volatile those things can be. I had always wanted to write more in this storyline, but had never quite gotten around to it. I had all sorts of ideas: protesters using Pykrete fortifications, an activist blogger being silently replaced with a counter intelligence agent who gradually comes to sympathize with the enemy, a single air force officer in charge of a squadron of drones that are guided by GameI (using networked video games to get players to unknowingly guide drones through their actions in aggregate). But nothing ever seemed to gel.

Well, three and a half years later, it seems as though reality has leapfrogged me. The OWS movement has managed to change the conversation, and may even be the beginning of something bigger. So maybe it is time to start writing about Uprising again. Honestly, I’ve wanted to try to tell a story through flash fiction, maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. I do have other stuff going on, but keep an eye out (or your RSS reader tuned), I’ll have something new for you soon.

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Drop the Na, which leaves us with ShoStoWriMo

April 26th, 2011  |  Published in announcement

I realized that I didn’t like the idea of something being National, so I dropped it. In any case, it looks like I’ll actually be doing this, and maybe some other people will, too. If you’re interested, head over to shostowrimo.pawnstorm.net and get registered. I’ll try to keep everyone updated as I go.

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Hold Me Closer, Necromancer Review

October 9th, 2010  |  Published in review, writing

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is a Young Adult novel by Lish McBride (who appears to have a temporary site up at lishmcbride.com). At first it seems like it might fall too well into the oversaturated subgenre of teen-paranormal-romance, but fortunately she takes it in a different direction (much like the fun Dust of 100 Dogs).

The story follows Sam, a college dropout who begins the book working in fast food, and appropriately snarky about it. Then he learns that there is something special about him, something special that draws the attention of a very scary man (as you might guess from the title, the book has a strong supernatural element to it). Action, drama, comedy, and romance all ensue.

The short version is that this is an extremely entertaining book. It was well written, and would appeal to anyone with a sense of humor. It is clearly intended as the first book in a series, and I look forward to the next one. The very short version is this: go read it.

All of that being said, there are a couple of rough edges that I want to point out. I am doing this primarily for my own benefit (as a writer it is important to be able to critique), but I thought that the wider world might benefit from this too. If the author happens to read this post, I don’t mean to be overly harsh, and I would hope that she in no way took this as a sign that she shouldn’t go on producing awesome fiction (and heck if she’s just totally pissed off at what I say, she (or anyone else (yes, I know I’m nesting parentheses, sue me)) can drop me a line and tell me so (if it makes them feel better)).

Here There Be Spoilers

My first issue with the book was the inclusion of Douglas Montgomery’s backstory early on. Basically, chapter three was a flashback to his childhood. The chapter was well written, but it really didn’t serve much purpose. Douglas’s actions throughout the book did a great job of showing what an asshole he was. The only real bit of information that we gained was that he was able to suck the power out of other necromancers, and that is what he was planning on doing to Sam, which could have been worked in just about anywhere else. And normally this sort of thing wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but the story basically stopped moving forward for a chapter, squandering momentum (sure, it showed him planning on killing Brooke, but the reader would have figured it out by the end of the next chapter anyway, at the latest). Since this is a novel, it does have to have a minimum length, so the argument could be made that this chapter couldn’t be cut. The flashback could be moved to a more appropriate spot or more time could have been spent developing Brid’s character, which brings me to my second point.

Brid first shows up in chapter five, which takes the reader away from Sam’s story again, but it wouldn’t have been so bad if chapter three hadn’t been spent with Douglas (after chapter five, the reader has spent about 40% of the book so far with characters who are not the primary viewpoint character). My issue with Brid, though, is her lack of development. She is shown only in the context of her relationship to the pack, she has no life outside of it, there is no tension between the two worlds in which she lives. I would much preferred to learn more about her than Douglas. Second, her character felt a bit like fanservice, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but bothered me nonetheless. Were-hound or no, I just don’t buy her being ok with being naked, especially while being held prisoner in a cage.

Finally, the sex. It was tastefully done, which is more than many books can say, but I felt that it wasn’t used to its fullest effect. I understand the whole “it’s the end of the world, let’s get it on” thing, but again, it felt a bit like fanservice. I would have been much happier if the author had played it for more tension at the end, when Sam was in the hospital. If he had done more second guessing their relationship, when he didn’t hear from her immediately, it would have totally been worth it, but to me there was no tension in it, no worry that she had only jumped his bones out of desperation or that her father was going to tear his throat out.

All in all, the main issues wasn’t that anything was wrong, but rather that there were missed opportunities, all of which amounted to little more than annoyances for me. The author didn’t seem hesitant or timid, and I especially appreciated that she was willing to kill off likeable characters (Brooke’s death was a surprise, and used to great effect). The characterizations, description, dialogue, were all great, and the storytelling never felt heavy handed. I’m looking forward to him dealing with his uncle, the pack, Ramon, his half-siblings, the big-ass raven, and the fact that he might have a darkness at the very core of his being.

All in all, a great read.

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September 23rd, 2010  |  Published in writing

The excitement possible from an action sequence is inversely proportional to its length.  Just saying.

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