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Titan Slain / The Dreaded Hump

24 Aug

So I was going to post a month ago basically saying, “Yeah, the novel’s basically roughed, I just have the handful of scenes to rewrite and like two to write but I basically know what happens” and here I am, sitting at a 162k rough draft, realizing I’m really going to have to reign in the B Plot (again) but acknowledging it’ll be fine. I’m a better writer than I was even ten years ago. This time, though, I’m not touching the manuscript for at least two weeks short of Ron asking for a swap.

I like setting goals but know that life  happens. If I say, “At this rate, I’ll have it revised and workable by Christmas, plus all the other projects I wanna do.” Yeah – no, probably not. Late March/Early April 2019, my sister and I rented my parent’s time share up near Clear Lake, MB, but they had to go back the day I came (Spring Break), and I was by myself for a few days, and I figured I’d do the writer retreat thing and finish editing the rough draft of Magus’ Gambit. I had to go back a day early for union related stuff, but thought I was finished… just a little tweaking, make sure I got the timelines right. I didn’t submit it until the following fall – part of it, granted, was moving and me getting a shiny new kayak.

So realistically – assuming I don’t get thrown into quarantine for a month – if I leave it alone, let R.J. Hore beta the entire thing, then leave it for an additional few months and start editing it after NaNoWriMo, I’ll have a decentish draft by the end of my January holidays, so aiming to have it edited several times by spring is realistic. Still, happy dance about being done a working draft, my reward is focusing on another project and hopefully gaining the mental distance so I can revisit Titan’s Ascent. Finishing a novel feels great. Getting to finishing always kind of sucks, mostly because of what I call:

 

The Dreaded Hump

Know what feels great when you’re writing? Writing “The End”. At least, it would if I wrote in the book’s intended order – quilter over here typically kind of develops an idea for an end goal relatively early in the book’s creation. I typically do leave “The End” for the very end, but know what doesn’t feel great? Those final scenes, especially when you’re not exactly sure what you want to happen. Because I didn’t write them sequentially, these scenes might take place anywhere in the novel.

How is this different than Writer’s Block? I’ve posted before I’ve written myself into a corner, but it’s not the same as The Dreaded Hump. Writer’s Block is more like, you aren’t sure what to do and how to do it. The Dreaded Hump is soldiering through the muck because you know the general direction – but it’s only after the fact that you realized there was a much nicer, cleaner way, and it’s more scenic, you know? Sort of like midway through the novel, where you are kind of meandering and you write a scene, only to go back and change it because you were like ‘meh’ about it or hated it but knew you needed to just write out a version of events, so you can later write the ‘good’ version. Heck, you might even have written some scenes you like, and you realize that given the size and scope of the novel, you can’t dedicate that much time to the idea. Out those fun, impulsive ideas go – in with a more tame version, grumble grumble  – not saying you’re deleting those scenes completely; if you’re me they go in a file folder and will probably to be explored in another project. It’s different than what I’ve been experiencing in the past few months – even if I’m lying to myself about ‘almost being done’ or that I’ll be done by Day X. Gone is the fire and fun of this new and amazing project, as well as the sense of accomplishment of finishing. You know you’re making progress… sort of. The end’s not in sight, but you’ve sunk in enough time and words to know that you might as well at least finish the project.

It’s the hours you spend in the gym, or practicing your instrument. No one sees the real work you put in here.

The segments that make up The Dreaded Hump sometimes might be a great scene – on draft 4 or 5. How it helps to give yourself permission in your busy schedule is to think of it like you’re sketching out the frame work, and you need to fill in the details. It’s fine if you know it’ll work and you can do some hard research to make sure you fill in the blanks. Realizing you made a critical error and it’s a genuine plot hole and you have no idea how to go about fixing it, without majorly changing the book? That’s hard.

Writing garbage shouldn’t be confused with doing research and, if you just want the project to die already, take a break. Philander with another idea. If you are creative in other ways, it might be the time to dip your toes, or see what other artists have done to get around similar situations. For me, I respond to physical activity, so spending some time in nature if I can definitely helps.

But finish it. Unless you’re under contract, there’s really no time limit to any of this. And it sucks, putting your baby into the world and letting it get rejected time and time again, but let me ask you: Would you rather have a finished project to have rejected, or a bunch of half-finished and barely starts?

To Split or Not To Split?

17 Aug

Growing up I hated cliffhangers. It usually wasn’t a big deal if I could get the next book in the library, but it wasn’t always the case. The best example I can think of was how in this old Conan the Barbarian Comic, Conan, Belit and their sea-faring army are drugged by the leader of the people they just saved, and we’re told that they’re going to be sacrificed. I didn’t know how they got out of it for years, because it was my dad’s old comics and he’d have a good run of sequential issues with maybe just the one missing, and then ten or so would be missing, and then we’d be in a completely different adventure. Comics tended to follow that serial format, basically it was meant so you tuned in the next week or bought the next magazine.

The internet has made life rather comfortable, as we can marathon old tv series as opposed to making it an event for a two-part episode (Provided your VCR worked. I sound old), and I was able to look up how Conan and everyone escaped(it was a real cop out) but I get it. It’s the same when I’m watching bad reality tv shows: They cut to commercials just when we’re about to find out who won or if the offer went through. Make the audience emotionally invested, so we’ll stay tuned.

It’s so freakin’ cheap and books are supposed to be smarter than that.

If you’ve been following along over the course of the last few months, you know I’ve been ‘Got a titan to slay!’ and what not for Rogue Healer 3. I was initially making good progress and figured I’d be done the rough draft before summer. July was a decent month and I hammered out a lot of core parts, and I even gave myself a ‘You’re gonna nail this, go work on something else and let it percolate’ meanwhile we’re in the middle of August and I’m at just over 151k. Is it done? Well… almost all the scenes are written. Almost, because they’re a hodgepodge of me tweaking this and that; the reality of quilting is you think you want turquoise but you really wanted teal, so it doesn’t exactly vibe. I still have a titan rampaging, even if I have the aftermath of it being defeated written. Stuff will be cut, but I’m also thinking to myself that I could easily give myself another 10-30k.

The previous two books were about 135k, and both felt relatively complete and at the same time feeling like that they were segways into the next installment. I didn’t know if I’d ever sell Book One. This time it’s not a last hurrah, I want to write a five book series, and while I know it can be expanded with novellas and shorts, I don’t want to do that other than to supplement.

After I signed Witchslayer’s Scion, besides starting work on Magus’ Gambit, I wrote a novella that basically served as an inbetweequel for Witchslayer’s Scion. There was something I wanted to expand, but I couldn’t legit a flipping detour in an already 135k novel. Fantasy and science fiction already allow a wide swath, with most contemporary novels being around 70-110k, with fantasy allowing for around 120k for a first time author.

So I’m at the novel and a half stage and thinking I could expand things. So Book Three, Working Title Titan’s Ascent, I’m thinking I might cut this into two parts.

I don’t want to do it with a knife. If I was to change the story for say, a tv series, we’d still want there to be mini climaxes and something to look forward to. The framing and the timing of the episodes would change. It would again change if we were going for a three-act film. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, option One, is try to keep the final draft around the 150k mark, and see what the publisher says. She hasn’t signed Book 2 yet, and I figured I wouldn’t ask until I have the follow-up to chuck. Option Two is be a Precious Artist and go as long as I feel the book needs. Option Three, is go with option two, and intend to split it into two parts, and talk to the publisher. Honestly, I could probably give two 80k novels in ‘part one, part two’ but I’d have to reframe so that part one isn’t all the exposition and lame or vice versa.

80K is still a novel, and shoot add a short story or novella and the length is there. I guess I got to finish a draft before I get ahead of myself, but still: provided I’m being honest and telling people that they’re essentially buying half a book? Assume I’ll try not to sacrifice quality and insist that the release happens in short succession.

When Words Collide – Online 2020

14 Aug

So I’m not sure when I’m going to be around for WWC online, because I’m on nights s so I need to rest some time. Yeah yeah, ‘Sometimes you go sometimes you don’t!’ I wasn’t planning on this year because one of the guys in my station has major seniority and he always takes time off in August. The rotation has to really work out or all I get are nights off, and I could go on abut scheduling and how I never get the stats I want, but it’ll sound like kvetching. I don’t mind working through the pandemic, neither.  We’re very lucky in Manitoba to have relatively low numbers and, I’ll be honest, I’ve been able to be ‘socially distant’ on things like playing tennis and kayaking for the nice part of the year. It’ll get cold and we’ll all bunker down again in a few months, so my main complaint is looking through my old pictures of travel and realizing it’s probably not going to happen until around 2022 (*le sob*).

So writers, readers – those who are just interested in learning about smaller publishing houses, even ethical concerns and some science associated with some literary theory – this is an awesome way to reach out and meet likeminded folk as well as generally network.

But as for me, I’m going to be posting a ton of writing related videos on FB, mostly from Youtube. I encourage you to post back.

For tomorrow, R.J. Hore and I will be at Shelmerdine’s Farmer’s Market (weather pending, it looks fine so far) selling books. I still only have the one title in print, working on it. I have two ebooks ready to self-publish, I need to go to the bank and get some info. Lazy lazy. One’s really just a short story, but you get the idea.

 

Focus

29 Jul

Don’t you love memes?

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So despite or maybe perhaps because of quarantine, my niece is writing a book and now she’s told me that she has another idea for a different book. She tells me she’s writing a page a day (sort of) and is torn between what idea she’d like to do.

I’m encouraging her with both projects. That way if one’s feeling dry, she’ll have something else to dabble with. Maybe one’ll spark and she’ll write a ton, then get tired of it and go back to the other one. Maybe she’ll have so many ideas, she’ll have to pull some of them. At her stage, it’s important to just write. And sometimes, it’s important for us writers to do it too – to strike while the iron is hot, and jot down the ideas or a scene or whatever, so we can come back to it.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should be frittering off in endless directions and have five ‘on the go’ novels with no end in sight. Pick one and try to finish it. But is it stagnant? You have writer’s block? You really want to do something else? Obviously this isn’t if your last book ended in a massive cliffhanger or you have a deadline in your series. But, if you’ve been writing for a while and you think you can end the book in reasonable amount of time, by all means philander with another idea. But finish the book you’ve been spending the last few months on, unless you know it’s an absolute dud.

Most writers I know have tons of ideas, and ideas by themselves are important, but there’s more to it. The stick-to-it to make a scene really work. There’s a lot competing for the prospective reader’s attention; the least I can do is ensure I’m providing a certain quality to my writing – so that means I’m going to rework scenes and make the best novel I can. I have ideas I can’t get to for years – the reality is that a book is a long commitment, even if it’s a relatively short book compared to my usual bricks.

My usual way of dealing with a plot issue I can’t solve was to do something repetitive, preferably active, and let my brain sort it out. At the end of all things, passions turn sour simply because it’s no longer fun; I feel great after a workout but believe me, getting motivated to do it some mornings? Hah! You might want to sew an outfit, but you have to go through the tedious process you don’t like – whether that’s restitching something or doing a long, arduous task that seems like zero fun, and will anyone really appreciate and notice all the hard work I’m putting in? Sometimes monotonous tasks are relaxing; my partner at work crochets. When we’re not running calls and have some down time is when we get to chill out. I typically read, write, edit, but some people I know practice musical instruments or do crafts. 85% of the time, she’s relaxed as can be, feet up, enjoying making a blanket or a scarf. When she’s on the home stretch, or she’s wondering if she needs to redo that last segment? I wish I could be more objective and helpful when she wants honest feedback. You can tell when she’s done with something – she gets frustrated and just wants to be done with it – afterall, it’s been freaking months, often times with her undoing weeks worth of work in a single pull if she doesn’t like the way it’s going.

I think that’s part and parcel of being an artist, is that unless you’re being told from on high what to do for money, you typically see the flaws and faults in what you’re doing, and either just want to be done with it, and the next project… well, it’s going to be amazing. Your magnum opus, the project that will define you as a writer. You need to finish what you started, so that your skill level is better for that next project.

Leave it in a desk for a while, start to write the next project, let it breathe, but finish it. You might have abandoned another project for it, once upon a time. Revise, edit, repeat. Do your writer thing. Tower of Obsidian was the seventh book I wrote, and Dreams of Mariposa was under contract after Witchslayer’s Scion. I got nothing on markets and I’m writing a third book for a series the publisher seems kinda meh about.  I’m not abandoning other ideas to work exclusively on the series, the way I see it is that the longer we take to publish the first book, the less time readers have to wait between books should I get the series option.

So by all means dabble in another story. But finish your book. You’ll be glad that you did, instead of having to revisit and relearn the rules you made yourself when you come back to it in a few years. As for me, I need to take better notes for future me.

Summer Holidays and Writing Update

21 Jul

Time flies when you’re on vacation! It wasn’t like the usual where I had the entire block off – I live in an area where I can do On Call from my house, but I’ve also picked up two easy shifts and did a trade to help out a coworker. That being said, I feel like I got a lot accomplished. The first ‘day off’ was pretty much me cleaning my house and getting stuff in order so that I could enjoy the days off, and I’ve been able to keep it mostly clean with maintenance. I’ve been out kayaking at least six or seven times so far this summer; basically if the weather is good I’m outside unless I’m writing. A little behind on the gardening, and I still have some home repairs to do before the fall, but the way I see it is we have six weeks left until September.

Writing is definitely coming along better. I have a bit for a short and it’s finished (the fight scene – fun stuff for me; typically I write the fun stuff first but in this case I worked sort of backwards as compared to where I typically work) thing is, my plan was to finish the draft of Rogue Healer 3 before July, and as per the norm with this series everything’s taking longer than usual, but then things start to work and I’m feeling good about the draft. I beat the dreaded hump. The issue staring me in the face at the moment is that I have several ideas and I know I don’t have enough time to adequately explore them, so it’s picking what I want to emphasize on. I’ll talk about the dreaded hump/finishing a story in another post; right now I could see this easily ballooning up to a 200k novel. The first two are both around 135k, and I’ll go a little over, but I’d rather not go above 150k if I can help it. The publisher will probably want it split into two books, for starters, and the ‘issue’ I see at hand is that the weaving together of multiple character POV’s is if you take too long, it feels like you were invested in what happened to them and then you don’t see them for 100 pages or so. I’ve done it before, and with that novel I ultimately decided I had two real novels in there, so one plot’s been expunged in the rewrite.

Didn’t get any oil painting or even much drawing done; but the way I see it is I’m back for my nights this tour. I probably would have if I didn’t have that ‘home stretch writing itch’ but I also know I’m far from being done.  If I keep up with the pace, I’ll be done with around a 150k novel, and then rewrites after the Beta reads it will involved chopping.

Looking through my reading list: I’m actually ahead this year. It’s because audiobooks and I finally learned a few months ago that I can delay my intake for an ebook. In other words, I want something and it’ll take me say, two months to get it, but someone might finish early and someone else doesn’t want it, so I might get it in say, three weeks. I can delay the hold if it comes because I’m already reading something. Works for me, because the next person in line might as well enjoy it if it’s available.

But yeah: I’m actually taking a stab out of my to-read pile on goodreads. It’s what happens when you haven’t seen your beta reader/book loaner or able to go into a bookstore and pick up something completely different. According to my math, if I do nothing but read the 600+ books on that list at 50ish books a year, that’s 12 years. Eeeee.

Corona honestly isn’t hitting my area as hard as it’s in other places; Manitoba is a relatively low population density area and we’re pretty hardy, self-sufficient people for the most part. It’s pretty much been business as usual for me and my job (paramedic) with a little bit more Body Substance Isolation precautions (fancy terminologies for masks, gloves, eyewear, gowns, etc).

As for the rest of the summer: When Words Collide is online this year. I have no idea how that will play out; I think I’m on nights most of that weekend. R.J. Hore and I will be at the Shelmerdine Farmer’s markets hawking books August 15, so if you’re feeling brave, come on down and see us. I told him if he’s got any concerns to cancel, so that’s our plan. So long as Manitoba numbers are low, we’ll be there.

As for me, back to my daily wordcount. Titan’s still rampaging.

Get your Subgenre Right: IN SPACE

17 Jul

Yeah yeah this took too long to follow up. It’s nice out and I spent the last three days kayaking, camping, and haven’t had my computer on or done any reading besides audiobooks. OTOH, Monday I made big headway in the current WIP; but I’m anxious because I think this one might be a bit longer than the previous two novels. I guess I’ll have to write it then try to knock it down a bit.

This post is shorter, and I’ve mentioned certain science fiction stories already in Part One. I felt like I should do science fiction in part 2 because I think one of the things that really separates science fiction from fantasy is that it seems to be more exclusive than inclusive – in other words, yes, some stories are science fiction in setting, but not really in story. My favourite example are The Riddick Films, which I’ve talked about before. Pitch Black is a horror movie, The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick, and the animated short Dark Fury are basically Conan the Barbarian in Space, minus the fantasy elements. It, like movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy, are an example of science fiction as setting as opposed to the typical themes explored in science fiction.

What are typical themes? Writers like Margaret Atwood famously rejected writing ‘science fiction’ despite typically writing in what everyone would agree is science fiction. I’m told it’s because of the famously bad movies from before my time, and I can see a point if we can’t agree on definitions. Romance as a literary genre is different than romanticism a literary movement.

I’m here to not only point out that while yes, I think science fiction is a little bit more exclusive than fantasy, the lines blur really easy. Are Infinity Stones magic or, because they’re a natural consequence of creation, science? One thing I know for certain: many science fiction writers I’ve read have really done their research an

It might be easier to put science fiction into spectrums as opposed to categories of either/or.

Hard Science Fiction vs. Soft

How much of your science is rooted in what we know, or what we could utilize? Is it explained? The Martian by Weir started out self-publishing on a blog and other scientists, engineers and specialist helping the writer figure out what the MC would have to do to survive and communicate based on what was realistic to have on a Mars Mission. Soft science fiction is we don’t really explain it or go into great detail. For instance, I’d argue that Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro is soft science fiction. The plot couldn’t happen without the science fiction, but it takes for granted the ‘lesser status’ of synthetic humanoids and isn’t dwelling on exactly how the science of making clones works, so much as the emotional and ethical implications of having second-teir human beings. In other words: there’s science fiction for those who want to know how things work, and science fiction who want to explore the meaning behind what the new technology might bring.

Utopia vs. Dystopia

I’ve talked about cyberpunk before, but dystopias have been hot in the last few years. Whether we’re talking Collins Hunger Games or Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale or MacCarthy’s The Road, there’s something about a gritty sense of reality that people like to read about. On the other end, is basically Star Trek. Utopias or at least an improved world where the water is cleaner, humanity lives free of disease and  things are generally pretty awesome for humanity as we go out and explore the universe. Depending on the dystopia, mankind might BE the plague on the universe, especially if you’re reading eco-science fiction.

But isn’t the Original Star Trek a Space Western?

Its not the only one. I described the series Firefly as a Space Western. If you’re not familiar: The original Star Trek was about exploring the unknown parts of the galaxy ‘To Boldly Go where No One has gone before’, whereas Firefly was about a team of smugglers and mercs living in the outskirts of a solar system, away from and thumbing their noses at the powers that be on the main systems.

But there’s plenty of subcategories. You have your Military Science Fiction, your Space Operas. You have your Cyberpunk, and your Steampunk, I’ve even read some dieselpunk. There is so much here to explore, but I will implore you to give the genre of Afrofuturism a try if you haven’t yet. It’s possible to write a blog-style essay on all of these major subgenres, and we haven’t gotten into much speciality niches yet.

But can we at least admit, finally, that while I can go and enjoy a book or a movie outside of my favourite subgenre, that there’s definitely a difference between the genres?

Get Your Subgenre Right

13 Jul

Now I’ll be the first one to point out that fantasy is an incredibly inclusive genre. Not only can stories with magic realism mean that yes, literature can include fantasy, other genres such as romance or western novels often contain supernatural elements, and if you’re honest about what you’re selling, often times you can find mass appeal to different demographics.

Know what bugs me? Someone rejecting, reviewing, or marketing a novel incorrectly on the basis of getting its classification wrong. I’m not talking about how literature tends to look down on genre. If I get rejection letter that’s personalized and call my book a ‘high fantasy’ when I said ‘sword and sorcery’ I assume they didn’t read the submission. When someone gives me feedback and says “You clearly don’t know much about medieval culture” and I’m not writing about a medieval culture, I wanna ask them when and where they think this book is situated. When I’m going through goodreads and getting a few takes on what other people said about a book I’m interested in, if everyone’s calling a title a “YA Urban fantasy Romance” I’m going to be super suspicious about the reviewer calling it an “Adventure novel with a splash of romance”.

Why does it matter? The same reason that Star Wars and Star Trek aren’t the same genre because they feature space ships with faster-than-light travel. I’m not saying those who prefer one wouldn’t like the other – often, there’s plenty of overlap. But, if you’re in the mood for true crime or realistic detective stories, it may feel like a cop out if you’re suddenly dealing with the supernatural. Or, if you’re in the mood for something spicy in the romance section, you may be disappointed if the title is a ‘sweet romance’, no matter how good it is.

But L.T.! Surely you know that not everything fits into boxes! Absolutely I do – and it can be a beautiful thing when genres mix. I’ll talk fantasy here, then I’ll talk about science fiction subgenres in part 2.

Let’s start with the difference in ‘flavor’ between the two fantasy heavyweights: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Notwithstanding that there’s very different publishing demands to this day, Tolkien is the hallmark for high fantasy. That means the ‘regular folk’ are interacting with extremely magical denizens regularly, at least within the context of the story. The fantastical elements are front and center in the story. Now, with ASoIaF, Martin based his story heavily on The War of the Roses. It’s a fantasy world and elements, but a good chunk of the story is grounded in something more realistic; with the exception of some fantastic architecture a lot of it could take place in our world. I wouldn’t quite put it in the category of ‘low fantasy’ but GRRM has said in his fantasy world, magic is much less common.

 

High Fantasy: Magic is either common or the elements are at the forefront. This doesn’t mean it’s all wonder and magic, it can be gritty. I haven’t read the series yet, but I’d put The Witcher here – the main character is a supernatural monster hunter, and he interacts with both mundane and powerful witches, wizards, elves, gnomes on a somewhat regular basis.

Low Fantasy: Magic exists, but it’s almost always in something mysterious or unknown, may only exist in curses, anyway it could be very powerful magic but it’s not as common as the above.  I stick most sword and sorcery in this category, so I’d put Conan The Barbarian here, but not all Wuxia or stories like it would apply.

There’s some blurry lines here, because you can expand or deconstruct also based on some stories that are chosen to be told. For instance, in the Original Star Wars trilogy, The Force is seen as much more mysterious and harder to use as opposed to both the prequel and subsequent sequel trilogies. The former could be explained because we have more jedi with training; the sequels, well, they’re divisive so I’ll shut up. Notice how I haven’t said anything about setting yet? The stereotype is some sort of medievalish castle with dragons and knights. Once again, fantasy stories heavily involve tropes like kings because most of human history had kings, but they weren’t necessarily medieval kings. This isn’t the case moving forward in literature, especially case in point with Star Wars being a futuristic, space adventure setting, but I’ll stop relying on Star Wars for everything and refer to other material for the rest of this post.

Urban Fantasy: Fantasy tropes set in the here and now. Not the ‘I went to a strange land’ like Neverland, Oz or Narnia, though there may be overlap when the white rabbit appears. Perhaps elves walk down the street, or visit here from their parallel dimension. Perhaps you’re off to a secret school to control your powers, known or unknown to the rest of us normies. Harry Potter, Shadowhunters, Harry Dresden fits under here.  It doesn’t mean that the ‘magical’ world is as up to date as the rest of us, or that we normies even know what’s going on in the realm of the fantastic.

Urban Fantasy isn’t the first genre to sort of overlap with fantasy tropes. I think I’ve read one Harry Dresdon book, and he’s a detective. The Dark Tower series by Steven King, to keep it simple, Roland’s world is like a dystopian western with Low Fantasy elements – immensely powerful magic exists, but only for a select few, the gunslingers most seem to be at its mercy. Romance can easily overlap in novels such as The Kushiel’s Legacy Trilogy by Jaqueline Carey. My Beta Reader, R.J. Hore, describes his Dark Lady and Queen’s Pawn trilogies as medieval fantasies and it’s the very familiar tropes: Knights, queens, princesses and dragons.  I would describe the medieval as the setting, and both subsequent trilogies having low fantasy power elements, with the Dark Lady being more character focused and darker in tone than The Queen’s Pawn being more of a fantasy-romance adventure, which is also considerably lighter in tone.

Historical Fantasy: I’ve argued about whether or not this is alternative history; my argument is that it’s like Harry Potter and the magic is so well hidden or ‘goes away’ without record, history would dismiss the fantastic sights of mermaids as delusional sailors. I’ll talk more about Alternative History in the Science Fiction Segment of this post. You’re in merry old England, set in the era of King Arthur, and you’ve got a realistic twist on the familiar elements, at least for the most part. In this version of the story, Merlin’s got actual magic powers, and isn’t just a druid using herbs and psychology, and The Lady of the Lake is a supernatural entity in some capacity. Tower of Obsidian fits into this category, and the story suggests fantasy elements were something of a bygone era, and by novel’s end, at least part of that magical element has left our world. High Fantasy? Low Fantasy? When we’re in the fantasy part of the novel, high fantasy elements all the way – princess in a tower, elf-like beings who should have shoved off centuries ago, and besides all the dragons and immortality, Aaron talks to dead spirits who are stuck there and gets a magic sword. When we’re back in Ireland, everything is relatively historically accurate.

Science Fantasy: Science fiction and fantasy merge! The easiest one to talk about here is Star Wars – and I said I wouldn’t. A comic I read growing up called The Warlord was basically set in Pellucidar, (it was called Skartarish) and was about a fantasy-esque world with unicorns, dinosaurs, and a man from our world discovering lost Atlantean tech along the way. Google it, it’ll say it’s a sword and sorcery series. I have only my dad’s really old comics to go with, so I have no idea how it ends.

Paranormal: Now we’re launching into horror! Werewolves, vampires, things that go bump in the night. Once again, can be based in different eras; whether we’re contemporary having werewolves in school or a historical vampire novel, or set way into the future; if you want vampires in space, check out R.J. Hore’s Housetrap Novella series, his main character fights them regularly. Why is this ‘launching into horror’? Because horror novels don’t need to have fantastical elements. The classic film Psycho is an example of absolutely nothing supernatural happening, and it’s considered a horror classic. While we’re on the subject of film, The Thing is considered to be a perfect movie by many. It’s a brilliant combination of science fiction and horror, and I’ll chat more about it in the second part of this post.

Slipstream/Magic Realism/Those Literary Genres: I’m being a bit of a turd, but this is typically where the ‘real’ authors play. To be fair, if I want to read a sword-swinging adventure, it’s probably not the same as someone who wants to read something that plays around with a person’s mind or explore how one’s culture and beliefs is reflective in how they perceive the world today. I’ll grant them that they’re playing in the big category of ‘fantasy’ but a specialized niche. They play between realistic elements and typically introduce fantastical elements to explore a theme. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger would be an example.

 

Those are the big categories. Clearly, there’s overlap and I for one welcome it, but when you’re reviewing, especially if you’re told in big letters in say, the back blurb or whatever, try to get it right.

But L.T.! You haven’t mentioned things like fairy tales or mythology!

               Absolutely you’re right.

You can take a mythology and update it, like in The Percy Jackson books. You can take a fairy tale and put it in a science fiction setting, like Cinder, or perhaps this famous Tex Avery Cartoon.

The point I’m trying to make is, that it’s okay if you lead with Cinder as a fairy tale or an updated science fiction take on the beloved story of Cinderella. Both of those are right. What is wrong is saying it’s a high fantasy story set in space.

Respect your audience, and your author. Show them you know what you’re talking about. I’ll talk science fiction in part 2.

Retconning and Fleshing Out a Universe

29 Jun

So I’ve been working on Book 3 of the Rogue Healer series and after farting around with some tentative titles for the time being I’m going with Titan’s Ascent. Titles are ultimately up to the publisher, and I might change my mind a dozen times before I submit, let alone worry about marketing. I’ve been more than 100k in for almost a month, if I wasn’t only at around 103k here at month end. I’m having my hump problem, which I’ll rant about in another post. It’ll be solved, unlike Chimera, the novel where I am so stagnant every other stupid idea in the back of my brain looks better even though I want to write a sequel to Chimera. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to philander and play and write a bit of the next book, but it got me to expanding a universe that wasn’t necessarily planned.

In other words, you have an idea that stands alone, but you want to do not just a sequel, but a good sequel. Expand upon the ideas. You might even have something in mind for a series, but you aren’t going to write 8 books when you can’t sell one. The problem I’ve found in this industry is as follows: Rogue Healer already was a spinoff, and I finished the rough draft of the novel eleven years ago. I sold it and it was supposed to be out three years ago, but welcome to the publishing world. Even if we’re being conservative, that’s eight years between finishing (and I’d been working on it for about two years prior) and launch. But I was super excited to get back into the series and wrote Book 2, and am currently working on Book 3. The publisher originally wanted to sign a novella spinoff I wrote to flesh out the world, but now she isn’t sure how to use it because it’s short (20K) my suggestion is I write shorts (other novellas).

Thing is, I love delving into lore and backstory. The Game of Throne Scene Lore? I watched them on Youtube before I watched the tv series, but part of me wanted the books to finish, and then I could watch the show, but I still haven’t seen Season 6&7. I like reading up on concept art and why certain decisions were made, especially when you’re alternating a source material to another medium.

It also got me thinking about things I hate. I was born in the 80’s, so let’s say that I have seen my share of unnecessary and terrible sequels that were essentially a money grab, and some that were surprisingly good.

As for me, I hate retconning. I think most of us do, unless it was kind of a stupid idea to begin with. I’m not counting series that take a few episodes to get good, but when it feels like you’re reading or watching something different than what the first episode was. I enjoy the film Pitch Black, but it feels like a low budget horror film set in a sci fi universe, whereas the following films Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick feel like Conan the Barbarian in Space. I’m cool with and enjoy all of the films, but it’s not like they had a massive shift in audience appeal.

The problem is with writing a series and you know it’ll take a few years, you know that there’s going to be new ideas in the future. Good stories tend to rhyme or have ripples, so setting up ideas for the future is awesome when you’re writing essentially two books at the same time, but I know some series are 20+ books and you can’t tell me that some authors have all of them written at the time of the first book’s completion. Even if it is a completed series, you dont’ know what the future holds and if your publisher wants you to keep a character in or slash its budget.

It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to go back and deal with an issue if you want to change something now. You can get creative and say, ‘Oh, someone got a detail wrong’ but it can feel like a cop out, especially if it feels like it’s trying to hand wave things away. This is especially problematic with genres like fantasy, because oftentimes people hand wave it and say, “It’s just fantasy, we can make up whatever we like.” Wrong – you can make up whatever you want in the development stage. Going against what was established already had better have a solid good explanation.

But with fantasy series that keep expanding, it’s surprisingly fun and interesting to see later writers build on the previous ideas, and if the foundations are strong it can make for excellent. Know how I said you can have whatever rules you want in fantasy? Well, those rules need to be at least implied. Many writers get flack for ripping off of Tolkien, but for me, I kind of like it so long as the author makes it his own, I’m fine with fantasies involving dwarves and elves and men. As a reader, if I read a book set in any ‘real era’ I can look up a detail if the author doesn’t have time to explain Edwardian Society or The Napoleon Wars; if it’s not in the fantasy novel, there’s a certain amount that the reader should be able to make up. Tolkien didn’t tell what happened from the perspective of The Dwarves during the War of the Ring, but he didn’t have to; the world building was strong enough that we assumed that the dwarves behaved like dwarves defending their dwarven cities. Does The Hobbit translate perfectly for The Lord of the Rings? No – but it tells us enough that we can surmise what the dwarves were doing, plus we do have characters like Gimli and Legolas talking a little bit about them, but the focus on the novel is elsewhere.

Do you have any favourite works that were spin offs, or that were ‘rip offs’ of other media? What’s your least favourite ret-con in media? I’d keep going, but I have a titan to take down.

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book? It’s Complicated.

20 May

So a bunch of my coworkers know I write and some times you chat with people who want to write, or who have been writing something for a while, and they’re not sure what to do with it as it’s always sort of a work in progress. An occurring question I get is, “How long does it take to write a book?”

The reason I say “it’s complicated” isn’t that I’m doing experimental work and having to relearn every time. Even if you have bad days, if you’re consistent, generally speaking you’ll eventually get something resembling what you want to make. It may be a really rough version, but it starts to resemble what you want. I’d say I get faster every time, but it also sort of depends. I could argue it took me writing several failed novels before I wrote Tower of Obsidian, but now with Witchslayer’s Scion being contracted (I wrote it prior to ToO) it’s not even that straight forward to say that my first novel took more than a decade of writing . The publishing industry is its own little thing, but the actual writing of a book I consider readable?

My general rule is it probably takes about a year from concept to finished product, but let’s be honest: it still needs an editor. But here’s the factors that go into how ‘long’ a project will take:

What is the length? Typically, shorter books are a faster write than longer ones – this isn’t always the case. With Dreams of Mariposa, Marie’s narration was hard to write. It’s not that she’s overly complicated, it’s more that I didn’t like being in her head for very long. She’s grating, and that’s the reason why it’s a relatively short novel. And, this is assuming that you’re not writing what you assume is a standalone and are told later that you need to break your book into parts.

What is the subgenre? How much research do I have to to? The usual thought is if I’m writing fantasy I get to just make stuff up, whereas science fiction is hard core research. Yeah; Tower of Obsidian was historical fantasy. First draft to Ron, he pointed out there were no Irish Knights during the Viking age.  I researched how far Vikings likely travelled, falconry, Norse Mythology – it was not a novel done without research.

What’s the style? I find that when I do a less dense prose, it’s typically a faster write. But, it needs more subsequent editing, versus a denser style is slower to make a first draft, but it tends to be more consistent.

This is to say nothing of what’s going on with my personal life. Until I was in paramedicine, in addition to jobs I was usually in school, at least part time. I wrote the rough draft of Tower of Obsidian while I was doing my paramedic school and edited during my practicum (long empty transfers as a third = me working on a hard copy) Witchslayer’s Scion was penned over the course of two years, but I didn’t beta it until I was fairly far along, and I’ll be honest: When I beta a project with R.J. Hore I tend to try to keep him with one consistent project, but if there’s an anthology or a contest, a novel can wait. I finished it after I got back from fire bootcamp, and wrote the first part after I wrote the rest of the novel. I had an idea for a sequel, but didn’t get to more than me working on it for more than a page here or there for over eight years. Why? If I can’t sell book 1, how am I supposed to legitimize writing book 2? I have lots of ideas; the hard part is getting your foot through the door.

So the short answer is basically, “I don’t have a proper answer as to how long it takes” but I do have a general purpose strategy. I started making habits before I knew it: I had to be home for my sisters and have supper made for my family after school in junior high. My routine was to go home, work out for 45 minutes, and then I would write for 45 minutes. Then I’d go upstairs, start supper, clean the kitchen, and if I had any homework I’d probably do it while I was watching the stove. My sisters did whatever they wanted, I just needed to be there, they typically watched Oprah or Dr. Phil.

By the time I was in High School, I’d formed a habit. Did I do it every day? Absolutely not – some days we needed to be at the dentist or I had my friends come on over for a project, but it got me into a habit. For me it wasn’t word count, it was time. I had 45-60 minutes in which to make with the prose, and it was up to me to do that as opposed to goof off.

Now, fast forward and I can’t tell you how many hours a week I work (because if the pager goes off ten minutes before shift change, we don’t wait). There’s down time, there’s times where we don’t see the station. I’ve written 50k in a month. I’ve written 50k in a week. I’ve abandoned a project because life happens, and then, because it’s on a word processor, it doesn’t matter that it’s not linear or that I haven’t looked at it in a few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, setting goals and guidelines helps. My goal, for instance, is to be at 110k by month’s end. I have about 11 days left of the month and I’m at 95k. I know there’s no way I can commit to every day, so let’s say I have 5 days to work. That’s about 3k a day. 3k in a row? Sure, if the prose is flowing – but I’m not going to kill myself if it isn’t. The goal then is to finish around the same length as the rest of the novels at about 135k for July – so another 20k in June, but it’s the home stretch, piecing scenes together can be hard. I did officially start this before NANO and I think I only did about 30k in November, so in about 8 months, let Ron look it over, let it breathe… yeah, Novemberish, assuming it’s safe for me to give Ron a hard copy and he looks it over during the summer. Edit edit edit, but in the mean time, another idea will percolate and, I still have Chimera to finish. The shorter, ‘easier’ project that’ll be closer to two years to inception if I spend the summer coming up with an ending. Or rather, how we get to the ending.

My argument is stay consistent, and just write. The magic happens during the editing, anyway.

Dreams of Mariposa (and other titles) on Sale

10 May

1

I know a bunch of authors and publishers are putting offers out. Each titles’ on for like, a buck American. I’m not sure what else is on the docket, but Champagne dos a bunch of different types of fiction. You can go to their website or go to your favorite online bookseller to grab the above titles. This is I think the third week of rotating titles on sale, so now’s not a bad time to give something different a try.