The World in the Satin Bag has moved to my new website.  If you want to see what I'm up to, head on over there!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Promo Bits: Arint Saratir by Taylor Beisler

ARINT SARATIR: WARRIOR’S LIGHT

Teen Author’s Debut Novel Takes Flight on a Never-Before-Seen Adventure

Travel into the creative mind of teenage author, Taylor Beisler, as she unravels a world filled with adventure, conflict, mystery and death— Arint Saratir: Warrior’s Light.

Imagine a world beyond any other, where time continues to sift through the hands of a young man, named Airsing. This boy is destined for greatness, but all he wants is to fit in; he does indeed fit, but in something veiled from the present. His fate collides with a young man, called Xavier, who has to make a grave choice to survive, but which path does he take?

Airsing has the same decision when faced with the opportunities to endure or surrender, but which road does he travel? Dare to come across a realm you have never envisioned, as you join them on this life-threatening journey, but be warned: this series doesn’t end as their path would lead you to believe. A dragon rider, a betrayer, and a small company of friendship combine to threaten this evil time where the dark lord, Arkt, is fighting to take over their world. What happens next? The end is never so clear….

About the Author: Taylor Beisler lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she enjoys running and soccer. Miss Beisler coined a phrase that she lives by, “If you can’t find a good book to curl up with, then write one!” and that’s exactly what she did in this skillfully written debut, filled with ingenious adventures.

You can find out more about Arint Saratir at the book's webpage and at the author's website.
For media inquiries, appearances, or other publicity — please contact:
Taylor Beisler - taylorbeisler[at]insightbb[dot]com

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rejection: Catnip Pete and the Case of the Naruto Blanco

I've been looking into trying to sell this little piece to an audio market, so this would be the first rejection thus far. We'll see if it gets picked up, because I can see it as being quite a fun audio drama. But that's me.

So it's off to another market!

Anywho!

SF/F Links: The Last For June

Well, here are a few more for this month to keep things interesting. Enjoy!

Will Literacy Die and Will the Post-Literature World Arrive?

The future of literacy has certainly been on rocky ground in recent years. With the advent of radio, then television, followed by the Internet and cellphones, it would seem that much of the "civilized" world is heading towards a future in which the literate are not necessarily required in order to keep the gears rolling. Of course, this is probably pretty true of most any time following proto-industrialization processes, but it is curious how we have gone from technologies that almost literally (no pun intended) negate the necessity for literate labor, to technologies that actually benefit from laborers having some sort of literacy-related degree or education.

But are we headed to a post-literate world, one in which the dominant mode of communication does not necessitate the use of reading or writing? I don't think we're at a point in our technological society to make such a determination. We're always headed to some sort of proposed future. At some point the Sun will die and take us with it; at some point we will be at war with somebody, or someone else will be at war, or someone will kill someone, etc.

Yes, we will likely reach a point in the future where literacy will not be required, but I don't see that as something around the corner. I don't think we're "headed" there so much as "ending up" there. Right now, literacy is more necessary than it ever was, post-industrialism, even if the forms of literacy are not "official" or "desirable." Textspeak/chatspeak are sort of an alternative, albeit degenerate dialect that has and probably will continue to be a dominant method of communication for young and and adult alike for decades to come. But it is not an indicator of a loss of literacy so much as a loss of connection with a societal language--i.e. English, etc.

And you cannot forget about how the Internet, Twitter, Amazon, iPhones, etc. have all drastically changed how we deal with the written language. How can we possibly say we're at a point now where we can see a logical futural point in which the ability to read and write will die away? I'd argue that more people today are using the skills they learned in school than kids (now adults) from earlier generations predating the Internet. These technologies will continue to exist and dominate the social landscape in the foreseeable future. The modes of transfer may be different (we might, for example, figure out a way to connect the brain to Twitter), but some level of literacy will still be necessary in order for such services to work (you might not write your tweets anymore, but you'll still have to read them unless text-to-speech becomes popular and powerful enough to actually be useful to most people).

A post-literate society would require a drastic shift from technologies dependent upon literate users to technologies that demand visual and/or audio competence. We're not there yet; in fact, we're a long ways away. True, things are changing, but the push by electronic users for electronic means of accessing subjects of literary form has shifted cultural interests in said forms. More people are reading books in 2009 than were in 2008, and 2007, etc. I suspect that reading numbers will continue to increase as the ebook market takes firmer hold, something that I thought might never happen on the same scale we are seeing (even I can be far off the mark).

The real question is whether our schools can adequately prepare the next generation for the kind of world they will deal with culturally, socially, technologically, and politically. I don't think so, but I also have ridiculous requests for the education systems in the U.S. and elsewhere.

What about you? Do you think we're heading towards a post-literate world? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments or fire off an email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Promo Bits: Chaos by Escober

Here's some quick info about a new Underlands Press release.

Cover Copy:
When British Soldier Alex returns home from his tour in Bosnia, he's plagued by blackouts, recurring nightmares, and uncontrollable acts of violence. Escaping to Mexico, Fisher sets off on a globetrotting tour in an attempt to distance himself from the demons in his head. A chance meeting with a mysterious woman named Angela introduces Fisher to a far more passionate-and far more dangerous-life. After a series of life-threatening encounters, Fisher begins to wonder just who Angela really is-or even if she's real at all. With his grip on reality slipping, Fisher's demons return in full force, awakening a flood of suppressed memories. As he attempts to sort through his complicated and half-remembered past, Fisher discovers that the truth is harder to accept than the lies. The first of four books by a popular Dutch writing duo, this tense, psychologically acute thriller marks their American debut.

Title: Chaos
Author: Escober
Published: 05/01/2009
Format: Bound Trade Paper
Page Count: 320
Dimensions: 6X9
ISBN: 978-0-9802260-3-4

More information about the novel and how to buy it can be found at this webpage.

Interview w/ Paul Genesse

Paul Genesse is one of my favorite authors. I've reviewed two of his novels (The Golden Cord and his newest edition to the Iron Dragon Series, The Dragon Hunters) and have interviewed him previously. If you're interested in learning more about Paul, you can check out his website, or see his novels at Amazon here and here (or wherever you get your books). Now to prevent further stalling, here's the interview (this interview will also be in the first issue of Survival By Storytelling, so there are some questions that relate to that):

Thanks for doing this interview. First, could you tell us a bit about yourself? What got you into writing and other biographical goodies?

I’m pretty sure it was a toy castle that sent me over the edge and into madness. I was four years old when I told mom I wanted to be a writer. Dragons and castles gave me reason to live from elementary school through college at Northern Arizona University. I loved my English classes, but pursued my other passion and earned a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science in 1996. I’m a registered nurse in a cardiac unit where I work the night shift keeping the forces of darkness away from my patients. I’ve also worked as a computer game consultant, a copyeditor, and as a proofreader for a small press publisher. My short stories have been published in various large press anthologies from DAW Books, such as: Fellowship Fantastic, The Dimension Next Door, Imaginary Friends, Catopolis, Furry Fantastic, and Terribly Twisted Tales. I’ve also published three of my Pirate Witch stories in the Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms anthologies. The first two novels in my Iron Dragon Series, The Golden Cord and The Dragon Hunters are out now. Book two, The Dragon Hunters released May 15 of 2009, and both books feature covers by world famous fantasy artist, Ciruelo Cabral. I love teaching writing to people of all ages, and I’m the editor of the free Writers’ Symposium Ezine, dedicated to “Helping Writers Write.” To sign up for the ezine or watch a video about the Iron Dragon Hunters, visit me online at www.paulgenesse.com.

The Dragon Hunters is book two in your Iron Dragon series (preceded by The Golden Cord). Could you tell us a bit about this particular book and the series as a whole?

The tag line for The Golden Cord is, “Only some bonds can be broken,” and the description is: “A hunter must leave behind his true love, give up all hope of survival and guide his most hated enemies on a suicidal journey to the lair of the dragon king.” That description does describe the series as a whole, as well as the first book. The novel is for ages 12 (or so) and up, and is considered YA, but I think of it more as a teen to adult novel. Ten and eleven year olds usually love it too, but it’s a little scary for some of them. About book two, The Dragon Hunters, the tag line is: “On this hunt, you give up everything,” and the description: “The last of an order of dragon hunters must track down the Dragon King’s Daughter and stop her from getting the Crystal Eye, an ancient artifact that will cause the destruction of their world.” Book two is such a vicious novel, in my opinion. My fighting gloves, which were on in book one, are now coated in broken glass and feature six-inch long spikes that cause permanent damage. The poor characters have a really hard time in this book, and I’m very proud of the obstacles they have to overcome. The world is much harsher than the main character, Drake, realized. Things are not black and white. Survival may mean giving up any hope that he has of ever returning home.

How do you feel about the YA category? Do you feel that it is misleading to potential readers (i.e. it puts off adult readers because they assume that it is essentially dumbed down for youngins)?

I do feel that the YA category is misleading to most folks, including me. A large amount of very advanced novels get lumped into the YA category, but they’re really not books specifically for Young Adults. They’re books for anyone of any age. The truth is that the specific category books get put in are marketing decisions by the marketing people at the book publishers. YA books sell more and if the books can be put into that category, many publishers put them there. The book industry is driven my marketing.

This particular installment in your Iron Dragon Series expands the scope of the world you began in The Golden Cord ten fold by taking Drake and his two Drobin comrades into new territory, particularly into an expansive desert with its own peoples and cultures. Can you talk about your approach to world building here? What was your inspiration for the people of the Khoram Desert?

I love world building in general, and the world of Ae’leron is a massive world of mountainous interconnected plateaus with sheer cliffs at every edge. When you look off the edge, all you see is an ocean of clouds, the Void. No one can see beneath the mist that obscures the view into the Underworld. Planetary geography, such as Olympus Mons on Mars (it’s 65,000 feet tall and 500 miles in diameter) inspired me. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano and so are the plateaus in Ae’leron. National Geographic Magazine and all the shows about the world in general influence me. Now in book two, the characters get away from the edge of the world (the lip of the Void) and go to the interior, the Khoram Desert. I grew up near Death Valley and spent most of my life in the desert, so living there had a huge influence on me. I was inspired by the Northern African cultures of the Sahara, the ancient Israelites and the ancient Egyptians when I created the Mephitian culture there. However, I wanted to take the Mephitians to a different level of technology. The Mephitians are an amalgam of several different groups from our world, and have become something all their own.

Obviously you can only put so much worldbuilding into one novel. Will we see much more of the Mephitians in the books to come? What about other cultures?

The Mephitians (pronounced: meh-FEE-shuns; sorry, the phonetic spelling looked dumb to me: Mefishuns) will have a huge role in the rest of the series. Books three, four, and the finale, book five will feature them heavily. As far as other cultures, the dragon culture will get more page time. I love the scenes from the dragon’s, Wingataurs, and their other minions' points of view. There will also be some exploration of the lands to the north of Drake’s village, Cliffton. It will become quite obvious why Drake’s people fled those lands and chose to live in the dangerous and deadly, Thornclaw Forest.

Would you say that you put a good amount of research into the real world for the express purpose of sharpening your worldbuilding skills or finding inspiration? Aside from National Geographic, where do you often go to find those unusual tidbits that make fabricated cultures particularly detailed and fascinating?

I put a lot of research into my work. Much of that research is in the books I read, both non-fiction and fiction. The Handbook of Ancient __________ (fill in the culture) are completely awesome, as are many Children’s books about the ancient world. You’d be surprised by how much you can learn from them. I also travel as much as I can and watch TV programs about the ancient world. Reading historical novels about ancient cultures is fun as well as educational. You find something there and then learn more about it through further research, then use it in your own work. Getting out into our world is great too. Experiencing other cultures and meeting people from different walks of life is an important aspect of my method. My trips to Europe, Canada, and across the U.S. have been fabulous. Speaking to my patients in the hospital, where I work as cardiac nurse, gives me a lot of great stories as well. Going on long hikes in difficult terrain is also quite amazing. You begin to understand how difficult traveling long distances on foot truly is. However, just growing up where I grew up, in the middle of nowhere near Death Valley, made a huge impact. One thing that affected the Iron Dragon books and shaped my thinking on why the people in Ae’leron hate birds is this: I remember that my home town was infested with birds. They would haunt the trees, watch you wherever you went, scavenge off the garbage, act in generally annoying ways all the time. I know I imagined they were spies of the enemy, sent to watch me. This influenced my writing a lot, and I think that our experiences growing up creep into our writing whether we like it or not.

I think one of the interesting things about this book is that it tries to inject some ambiguity into the dragon species, which we have largely taken as evil by default. What acted as inspiration for your breed of dragons and would you mind divulging a bit about them (their history, etc.)? What made you want to create dragons that don't necessarily fit into the cliches (as mounts, primarily, or as mindless monstrosities)?

The history of the dragons in Ae’leron is somewhat lost to the ages. What the main characters know, since Bellor is a Dracken Viergur Master, a Dragon Hunter Master, is that the dragons were once in command of the plateaus. Then the Drobin (dwarves) and Nexans (humans) came and changed everything. The dragons lost their dominance and were either killed off by the interlopers or by each other as they struggled for dominance. Where the Mephitians fit into this picture is not known--for now. There’s a lot more in the book about the dragons, but I don’t want to spoil it here. Suffice it to say that I don’t want to write the same old stuff about all dragons being evil. Dragons in the Iron Dragon Books have their own agenda. They do what they want to do and from their point of view, they should be in command. After all, they are the smartest, longest lived, and strongest in might and magic of all the races. Why shouldn’t they be in charge? I enjoy writing about dragons that fit into the gray area of individual motivation and shifting alliances.

What are some particularly memorable dragons for you (in any medium)? Why?

Of course, I love the dragon Smaug, in The Hobbit. He’s my favorite dragon. The scene with him and Bilbo talking is so classic and awesome that I will never forget it. I also love the dragon in the movie, Dragonslayer, which is still a pretty cool movie even today. However, the most awesome dragon in any book I’ve ever read is Black Kalgalath, in Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar novel, Dragondoom. Many fans agree that this is the best Mithgar novel, and Black Kalgalath is a big reason why. Black Kalgalath epitomizes the true power and intelligence of dragons. If you haven’t read Dragondoom, please put it on your list. I have personally chosen to show dragons in a slightly different light in my Iron Dragon Series. There aren’t many of them left, though they were once the dominant power in the world. Now, they must use subversion, rather than overt force to take over the world. Dragl√Ľne is a nasty and scheming mastermind, and his minions are everywhere. They worship him as a god, and why shouldn’t they? He is the Dragon King.

The Dragon Hunters also complicates the romantic relationships between some of your characters, with betrayals, deceit, and more filtering into the story and tearing apart friends and families. Would you say that some of the most important aspects of your novels are centered around the relationships of your characters, whether good or bad? Do you see these sorts of breaks and emergencies of relationships as powerful events that help shape your characters as the story progresses?

I agree with you. The most important aspect of all of my books and short stories is the characters. The bonds between the characters is critical, as it is on the battlefield between soldiers in arms. The breaking of bonds is huge and I love putting the characters in great distress. Book two brings in new characters that test the relationships set in book one. I’m so cruel to Drake and his true love, Jaena. Their love is tested to the extreme.

Why are you so tough on Drake? Do you secretly hate him? Or is this just a thing that writers do (torture their characters emotionally and physically as much as humanly possible)?

I do hate Drake, but I also love him. I hate and love him as I hate and love myself. There’s a lot of me in him, and there’s no way around that. Truly, I am so tough on him because he is experiencing a very difficult situation and I want it to ring true and be real. Also, I want the reader to love him, and they love characters that are made to suffer. As I write scenes my first impulse is to be nice to Drake, and the other characters, but then I remember that if I’m nice to them, the reader can relax--and might put the book down. The world where Drake lives is rough place, but honestly, it’s a pale reflection of the horrible place Earth has been now and in the past.

Who are some of your writing and fantasy influences?

J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, Michael A. Stackpole, Dennis L. McKiernan, Kij Johnson, Frank Herbert, Stephen R. Donaldson, Anne McCaffery, The Thieves World books, and my writing buddies, Brad Beaulieu and Patrick Tracy.

Since SBS is primarily a short fiction and poetry magazine, could you talk about your short fiction writing? What do you like most about the short form and do you have any advice for writing short stories?

I love short stories, though I used to think of myself as strictly a novelist. My advice: GO OUT AND WRITE SHORT STORIES! You can finish them in a couple of weeks or less. Novels go on for years sometimes. I love that you can easily finish a short story and my best advice for writing them is: limit the number of characters. Stick to one character’s point of view and explore that character. You don’t have time to have a big cast.

What other projects do you have in the works and can you tell us a bit about them (short stories, novels, etc.)? What about projects you're thinking of, but haven't started yet?

I’m rewriting book three of the Iron Dragon Series, The Secret Empire, at the moment. I’ve written all five books in the series, but am making the old manuscripts better.

I also want to turn my pirate witch stories into a novel. I think it would be quite cool to write that. Also, my short story in Fellowship Fantastic, Almost Brothers, needs to be chapter one of a novel. That book is going to be so powerful and someday, I’m going to write it.

This year, I’m going to finish two books, The Secret Empire (a rewrite) and Medusa’s Daughter, a manuscript I had to put on hold when the Iron Dragon Series took off. Medusa’s Daughter, an adult fantasy--a dark fantasy love story--set in ancient Greece is about the mythological Medusa. Tag line, “Can true love break the curse?” The description is: Medusa’s daughter has inherited her mother’s terrible curse and longs to escape her lonely life on the shattered island where her mother and aunts have been exiled. But when a mysterious sailor washes ashore she falls in love, then discovers there might be a way for the curse to be broken. She must look into the eyes of her true love, but if he’s not, she will kill the only man she ever loved.

I’ve posted the first draft of chapter one on my website. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and the Medusa myth has always been one that piqued my interest. The story came to me as I was reading up on the actual myth. There is no mention of Medusa having a daughter, but I thought that if she was indeed raped by Poseidon, there could be a child. What would she be like? How would her mother treat her? The story went from there. I’ve approached the tale with a more realistic slant and a dark tone. I really love the novel and can’t wait to finish it. I’ve written 75,000 words, including the beginning, middle and end, but have some interconnecting to do and expanding. I also need to write a little epilogue chapter. Book one is self-contained, but it would be a trilogy called the Gorgon’s Kiss trilogy.

What general writing advice would you give to budding writers out there?

Perseverance is key is you want to get published. You’ve got to want it so bad and then be intelligent in how you go about the process. Becoming a good enough writer (to get published) is a long journey that takes years and never stops. Don’t be afraid to write something down because it’s not perfect. You can’t revise a blank page. Get something down, understand that it probably sucks, then make it better. And keep making it better. Learn as much as you can from books on writing. I have several suggestions on my website in the Writer’s Resources section as well as in my free ezine.

Now for a silly question: If you could put one person into a glass jar to keep as a pet, who would it be and why?

Yoda of course. He’s a freaking Jedi Master.

------------------------------------------

And there you have it. Hope you all enjoyed it!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Promo Bits: Exit Vector by Simon Drax (Underland Press)

Here starts a new feature here on WISB: Promo Bits. I likely won't make personal comments on these every time, since the book or site should speak for itself. Here goes:

EXIT VECTOR
A wovel from Underland Press
by simon drax
Start date: June 22, 2009

Mori Kim Marr’s personal force-field of drugs and drink has worn thin: she’s a burned-out teenager in a burned-out world, an Earth wracked by wars and rumors of wars, plagues and disasters, the hopelessness of every human heart. Mori couldn’t care less; just bring her the next fix, please. But when an artificial woman from the 19th century and a boy with psionic powers wander into the smoke and squalor of Mori’s favorite watering hole, gore-drenched violence and city-wide destruction erupts, catapulting Mori and her new-found “friends” into the thick of a battle that began long ago, a war that has raged since before the dawn of civilization, a blood-feud fought and overseen by the sole-survivor of an ancient, pre-human race: Trista Ska Shearn, last of the Cantarans. Trista has been waiting 65,000 thousand years for this, the final battle; she has waited millennia for the glum, sallow teenager, Mori Kim Marr. For Mori is . . . the Exit Vector.

Ancient enemies will clash. Worlds will crumble. The fate of the very universe will be decided in Exit Vector.

About Simon Drax:
SIMON DRAX was born in Gloomy, Massachusetts in 1965. He began the serious pursuit of writing fiction at 14. Drax has worked as a typesetter, graphic artist, bouncer, steel cutter, counselor to severely handicapped children, building supervisor, film critic, and art director. His stories and essays have been published in The Quarterly, Bonesaw, Midnight Zoo, Fever, After Hours, and VideoScope. His novel, A Very Fast Descent into Hell, will be published in 2010 by Underland Press.

About Underland Press’ Wovel:
Combining the pace of print journalism, the creativity of fiction, and the interactivity of web 2.0, the wovel is a weekly serial with a vote button at the end of each installment. Every Monday, the author posts an installment, usually about five to seven pages in length. At the end of the installment, readers vote on which direction they want the story to take, and the author incorporates the readers' decision into the narrative.

Past wovels by Kealan Patrick Burke and Jemiah Jefferson have drawn more than 1,000 readers and 14,000 page views a month. Read the first installment of EXIT VECTOR on June 22 at Underland Press.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Top 10 Overused Fantasy Cliches

I'm surprised that I haven't done this one before. There are quite a lot of fantasy tropes/cliches, so this list is particularly difficult to put together to my satisfaction. Which ones deserve to be on a top 10 list? Which ones don't? Well, here's what I came up with. If you have suggestions, let me know in the comments!

10. Alternate Worlds/Dimensions (like Narnia)
Mostly an issue in the YA world, but let's be honest, how many more of these alternate worlds can we take before it becomes irritating? They're piling up on one another and it's getting hard to keep track of all the pieces. Aslan is being eaten by a talking toothpick! Good lord! (Yes, that is a Leven Thumps reference.)
9. Schools (of any description)
Harry Potter ruined it. Blame Rowling. Now any time you see a wizard school, you think of HP. And don't forget all the blasted schools that teach eleven-year-old boys how to be great knights. How many knights do we need, anyway? I think we're good with three. Bill, Ted, and King Arthur. That's good enough.
8. Enchanted Weapons, etc.
The sad thing about this entry is that I still like enchanted weapons, but they have become an overused trope. All these magical flutes and swords and crystal balls, it's just too much. Are there any normal things left in fantasy, or is everything magical? Even food is enchanted! Elven bread! It would suck if you were allergic to magic, wouldn't it? Wait...that's a story idea. Ha!
7. Elves
I'm sick of elves. Honestly, I was sick of elves when Tolkien used them for Lord of the Rings. They're all the same. Calm, collected, and slightly mental. They've invaded science fiction too. Someone needs to come up with something less, err, cliche. What about a weird mutant hybrid between an elf and a gerbil?
6. Bearded Wizards
Dumbledore is lovely and likable, and yet one of a long list of cliched figures crammed into the fantasy genre. Bearded wise old men are probably annoying for most people, but they've made a glorious comeback in YA fiction. My question is: why are they always old and bearded? Where are all the young, attractive know-it-alls who hang out in libraries reading dusty manuscripts?
5. Vampires
Technically part of the urban fantasy vein, vampires have pretty much flooded the market with their pointed teeth and thirst for blood. And I do mean flooded. The problem is that now all the vampires seem the same to me. Come on people, you can come up with something else. Where are my urban fantasy tales about talking capybaras? Or vampiric capybaras...ooooooh.
4. Heroes
Fantasy has this thing with heroes. It's like an intentional, seventy-year mating ritual between two siblings...or something like that. There aren't nearly enough stories about villains, and certainly not enough about folks who have no desire to be heroes. It's just about heroes. Black and white. Which brings us to...
3. Good vs. Evil
There's not nearly enough gray in the fantasy genre. Everyone is purely evil or purely good. Thankfully we're seeing a few more novels that highlight the unexpected heroes of the world (thieves, assassins, etc.). But, such novels are overwhelmed by all the cookie-cutter black and white, good vs. evil battles. I get it. It's a human thing. We want easily defined good guys and bad guys, but sometimes reality is more interesting.
2. The Chosen One
It seems weird that there is always a Chosen One. I guess it makes sense when you think about the prevalence of "chosen ones" in the real world, but I still find them grossly overused. Too many fantasy novels with chosen ones and prophecies and all that garbage. I think we need more books where the Chosen One dies and everyone is screwed. That would be interesting.
1. Dragons
Whatever it is about dragons, fantasy writers love to use them. They love them so much that the genre is ridiculously saturated with them. There's Eragon, Naomi Novik's stuff, Funke, Genesse, etc. Everyone is using dragons. Don't get me wrong, some of them are wonderful stories, but it's gotten to the point where if I see a dragon on the cover, I won't pick it up--with rare exception. It's sort of like the vampire thing: there are simply too many novels out there with dragons as a centerpiece, and after seeing it repeated over and over, it gets old and pointless. We need novels about centaurs and ninja unicorns and pirate lawn gnomes...

And there you have it. What overused tropes bug you?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rejection: Little Blue Planet

Well, another one. I love rejections. A little birdie named Ellira told me that Ray Bradbury had over 800 rejections before a single sale. With that thought looming over my head, it's hard to really be all butthurt over rejections, don't you think?

Anywho, I shall send it to another magical place!

RIP: Michael Jackson

According to preliminary reports, Michael Jackson has passed away at the age of 50 as a result of cardiac arrest. No other information other than that, really.

Update: MSNBC and the LA Times are reporting he has passed away as well.
Update 2: Mercury News has a bit more information about where the news of Jackson's death came from.
Update 3: More information from LA Times. Jackson was in a deep coma and died not too long afterwards.

This is perhaps one of the most shocking deaths in a while. He was only 50 years old and one of my favorite musicians. Say what you will about his personal life, his weirdness, his plastic surgery, etc., the guy knew how to be an entertainer. You don't even have to have liked his music or his style to understand what he did almost single-handedly to music. And there has never been someone with as much charisma and power on stage as Michael Jackson--though one could certainly argue that Elvis and Jackson were on equal planes.

In any case, it is unfortunate that Mr. Jackson has left us. He had, apparently, made plans for, a comeback tour in London and now we will never see him in action again. He will be sorely missed, but remembered for the power of his music and his performances.

To say a proper goodbye, I would love to embed a video of my favorite Michael Jackson song, but unfortunately the feature has been disabled on YouTube. So, I'll just link you to the music video for Thriller, one of his most iconic works of musical art.

Goodbye Michael, and may you find piece wherever you are now.

Reality Check: The Average Consumer and Books

Reality: The average consumer spends roughly 8 seconds looking at the cover of a book before deciding to pick it up and 15 seconds reading the back cover (or inside cover) before making the decision to buy it.

Some of you might wonder who this average consumer is. Most of you reading this blog are likely not part of that category. Average consumers are predominately those who engage in impulse buying, who generally browse quite literally by gut and "random" instinct. They are not likely to spend hours deciding if they want a book, because they either don't have the time or the patience to do so. As such, the average consumer does not read loads of reviews, nor do they read excerpts--they may look at reviews briefly to see the star rating, but beyond that, anything considered "extra work" by said consumers is firmly in the realm of the less-than-average.

Knowing this, it's not hard to understand why it is that so many books that become "bestsellers" tend to be of the mainstream vein, and thus, more simplistic in their prose stylings. The fact is that average consumers are not interested in reading as a product of effort; they want to be entertained. These people are the same folks who have, for so long, found television and films to be exceptional objects to spend time on, and also who the majority of the less "serious" film productions are geared towards.

But you shouldn't be put off by this. Average consumers are what keeps the book, radio, TV, film, and music industries alive. Without them there would be no Elvis, no Stephen King, no Howard Stern, and no Star Wars or Star Trek. These individuals, while perhaps now considered in a more critical light, have always been firmly in the realm of the average consumer precisely because they are entertaining. And entertainment isn't a bad thing. Those who think that literature should be only about art are also those who are upset that what has made literature so much more acceptable and popular today and in the past are those genres and prose stylings that are more easily received by average consumers.

The fact is that most book consumers are not those who are likely to read Salman Rushdie or Ernest Hemingway; while some certainly do, perhaps by a stroke of luck in seeing more "literary" works on the bargain shelves or in a pretty new cover, these instances are, more or less, flukes. Salman Rushdie may actually be a poor example here, too, since much of his popularity occurred after writing The Satanic Verses, which earned him the rank of most-hated-man-by-extremist-Muslims for a while, giving him plenty of free press.

But why is any of this important? Because if you expect to do anything within the book industry, such as selling short stories or your first novel, you need to understand how the market works. You can be the best thing since sliced bread, but that means nothing to the average consumer, because ultimately what catches their interest is what will entertain them. This does not mean that you should write to the market; anybody who says to write to the market is essentially mentally defective. What this does mean is that you should be well aware of how the market functions before you become published. Write what you love, but don't pretend that you know who the consumer is, and that you have the right to make demands upon them, or get mad at them when they don't buy your novel in droves. The average consumer doesn't care about you. They control the market. They will not do extra work for your incredibly complex, amazing novel; that work belongs to a different demographic of more astute, cautious readers.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: the consumer is not your bitch, no matter what kind of novel you write. They are not obligated to read excerpts or to go out of their way to do what you want them to do, and most of them won't, ever. The average consumer is far more likely to pick up the next Stephen King novel, knowing that it will suit their needs, than spend twenty minutes or an hour reading up on your fantastic new novel. But, who knows, you might get lucky and become the next Stephen King or Tom Clancy or Dan Brown (or *insert your favorite bestselling author here*). It happens, but only to a handful of authors in a bloated industry of debuts.

(A lot of this is directed to self-publishers, who need to understand the market and why they must always fight tooth and nail to get even a little leeway--and also why it's pretty much impossible for self-publishing to effectively change the course of the industry without essentially altering bookstores; that probably won't happen until there is a way to determine quality and if self-publishers can offer the same guarantees to bookstores as traditional publishers. A lot of folks I talked with before seemed to have a perception of average consumers that is inconsistent with reality. While it's nice to delude oneself with imaginative constructs of consumer culture, such delusions are not reality. This doesn't mean you can't do well self-published or published by a small press, or published with a particularly niche book; it just means that most of the market won't know who you are or care. Trying to change that is probably a losing battle.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rejection: To Paint Lords Green

This rejection came with some good comments, I think. I've got a better understanding of what the market wants. Here are the comments:
Unfortunately, it's not quite right for us. The narrative was quite vivid, but it seemed to me more focused on description and less focused on Caerelyn's character. I wanted to get just as vivid a feel for her core goal as a character, her deepest hopes and fears, as I was getting of the furnishings of the main hall of the King's Castle. I wanted the narrative to go inside her head and give me a feel for what inner yearning was driving her through the story, and this opening didn't provide that as much as I prefer.
That's it. It's off somewhere else!

Writing Prompt #2: 500-word Story Challenge

If you missed my first writing prompt last month, make sure to check it out here and write something for it. This month the writing prompt is:
Tell a steampunk revenge story involving a meerkat and a dog walker.
Interpret that as you want. Steampunk seems to be a repetitive theme these days, though, but I suspect that the next writing prompt will have nothing to do with it, if such a thing can be helped.

I will add my entry later. Remember, you have 500 words to tell a story using the prompt above. Keep it simple! Now have at it and leave your stories in the comments section or post them on your blog and leave a comment with the link. Oh, and have fun!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rejection: King of the Holo

Well, it was rejected a few days ago, but so be it. Not much to say beyond that. It's off to another place already.

Anywho!

Materialism and the Fantasy Genre

Skimming critiques of critiques of capitalism makes you think really interesting things. Take, for example, the concept of materialism and how it relates to the fantasy genre--and more specifically its typical representations found in the big names of the genre. What does magic do to issues of hoarding, to materialism itself, and to general concerns over resources?

I can't think of many examples in which magic is used as the primary method of acquiring, well, everything the kingdom needs, but it is interesting to consider how materialism acts as a dividing force in fantasy. Individuals who hoard and who must own things are seen primarily as the enemy, or are at least on the darker side of the good guys.

Harry Potter, perhaps, is one of the few series that so obviously presents oppositional forces in the world of materialism--a good and evil battle between the kinds of materialism we are familiar with today. The Malfoy family dominates much of the series as the principle nemesis family to Potter and the Weasley's: they are wealthy, pride themselves in said wealth, and spend it with the express purpose of acquiring new and flashy things; they are the pinnacle of materialist families in the Potter universe. Harry, however, is exceptionally anti-materialist. Most of his possessions are those he has acquired not necessarily by intent, but through gift or necessity--and each of those possessions is "special" to him, having something to do with his family or his friends. Potter isn't interested in acquiring things so much as hanging on to his links to those most important to him; the Malfoy family, however, is the opposite. And, of course, Potter is the hero, the good guy, the Chosen One.

These things are seen elsewhere too. Karen Miller's The Innocent Mage/The Awakened Mage series splits society into two distinct groups: those who typically support the King, and those that believe the King's family doesn't deserve to be where they are. While each of these groups are in a position of privilege and power, there is a particularly strong materialist bent in those families that do not typically support the King. These "darker" families want the throne for purely selfish reasons, while the "lighter" families want the throne to protect the Kingdom. Even the King's magic-less son is opposed to materialist formations, rejecting much of what has been forced upon him as the son of the King. There are even splits within the royal family as well, with the princess being particularly arrogant and selfish, despite her parents' level-headed approach to authority.

But what about materialism in fantasy that isn't definitively evil or good? How does magic influence the way the material is perceived? I can't think of any examples, but it seems to me that if a select few individuals in a society were to have magic and were also not inclined towards ruling "normies," wouldn't there be a rejection of materialism in general? Why would you be a materialist if you could create anything you needed out of thin air? What of Gods? Why is it that in fantasies which contain Gods as active participants, that they are often materialist in nature?

Perhaps there's a bit of faulty thinking by fantasy writers in certain instances. It seems illogical to have materialist tendencies in societies in which magic alters the consciousness of select individuals, or even where entire societies are magically inclined.

But maybe this is what fantasy does: it steals from modern society and drags it into the fantasy landscape, even if the analogy doesn't quite compute.

-----------------------------

What do you all think about materialism in fantasy? Let me know in the comments!

Video Found: Buzz Aldrin Raps

Good lord, this is amazing. I mean, it's completely and utterly ridiculous, but amazing nonetheless (thanks to Universe Today). Enjoy:

Question to Readers: Content Again

This question will be quick. I've received a few emails regarding promotional material and what not--obviously about books. Would you all be okay with a post here or there talking about books coming out, etc.? I don't expect it to be a frequent thing, since I only have three or four bits of promotional material sitting in my email, but if that would be interesting to you all, I'll go ahead with it. It will not replace regular programming. It'll become, more or less, like the little extra posts I do for videos, websites, links, etc.

Let me know in the comments.

Thanks!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Rules of Shelving Books: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Their Literary Friends

David Barnett of The Guardian had an interesting post about science fiction as a label and how certain authors of the more "literary" vein see science fiction in general. It was an interesting article that highlighted the three typical responses to science fiction by "literary" authors: it's trashy pulp, it's just a stupid label and all labels are pointless, and there's nothing wrong with writing science fiction, because like anything else, it has its pulpy and more literary sides (which also translates to: if you don't want to be known as a science fiction writer, then don't use science fiction elements in your fiction). Much of what is written in the post isn't really all that new; some of the authors we've heard from before (such as Margaret Atwood), and all that is being said is mostly a repeat or a rehash of an argument genre fans are all too familiar with.

But what interested me most about the post was Barnett's questions about shelving science fiction and fantasy. Winterson, it seems, has some rather radical suggestions:
Is it feasible, as Jeanette Winterson seems to be suggesting, to do away with all categories on novels, and simply file them all in an A-Z of general fiction? It might conceivably give every novel a fighting chance, but would the reader who visits a shop or library looking for the latest crime, war or, indeed, science fiction novel really be well served by such a move?
Personally, I think this is a bad idea. The thing about book buyers is that they often like to sit within their comfort zones. Few people consciously read outside of their "comfort genres" (i.e. the genres they find most enjoyable, which the individual consumer is unlikely to break away from). So, while it might seem like a good idea to dispense with labels and have a big literature section with everything shoved into one place, doing so could be a real deterrent for the consumer. How exactly are they going to find the next big thing in science fiction or fantasy or crime or mystery or "literary" fiction? True, they might pick up a book by someone outside of their typical genres, but what if they do this repeatedly and end up getting so sick of the time and money wasted to find one good book that they give it up altogether? I think we have enough problems getting people to read these days that adding more to the consumptive load of the consumer could be detrimental to reading in general. Personally, I might stop shopping at a story that shelves things like this. I like to look at books, but I'm also unwilling to work my butt off to find something I might enjoy reading. While I do spend a lot of time in stores like Powell's City of Books, it's mainly because of its size (it has about 9 aisles of science fiction and fantasy, plus at least ten more aisles for YA, and a dozen or so other sections that I like to peruse). Quadruple the size and take away the labels and I imagine the store would lose it's value for me.

But what about the problem of shelving books that are both "literary" and science fiction?
Are they right? If you want to buy Oryx and Crake or Stone Gods, should you head for the general fiction section in Waterstone's or the science fiction and fantasy shelves?
Powell's City of Books seems to have this question well addressed: they shelve books that are clearly of two literary veins in both places, allowing such books to be more easily found. For example: You can find novels by Karen Joy Fowler in both the SF/F and literature sections (specifically her novels with a more "fantastic" feel). Granted, Powell's is a special kind of bookstore, but cross-pollinating books seems like a good way to draw readers in from seemingly separate genres.

If we were to come up with a handful of rules bookstores should follow for proper shelving, they would probably be the following:
  • Keep all the labels (science fiction, general fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc.).
  • Shelve books that cross genres in multiple places so as to properly cross-pollinate works that cannot be so easily fixed into the narrowed categories we are familiar with.
  • Don't fall into the ridiculous trap of "quality" that is often argued by "literary" folks. A book with a spaceship is probably just as fantasy as it is "literary." Selling books is important for any author.
  • Offer recommendations (either in the form of "we recommend this book" or "if you like A, you might like B").
  • If possible, have knowledgeable staff in certain genres (optional).
Those rules seem like good ones to follow to me. But what do you all think? Obviously not all bookstores can do this; size is a factor. But a lot of them could follow Powell's example and help drive people out of their comfort zones enough to pursue authors they might never have found because they weren't labeled a certain thing. In any case, if you have an opinion, let me know in the comments section!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reader Question: Colon-oscopies (or How to Use the Colon and Its Cousin)

Tsuki over at Young Writers Online asked:
How the hell do you use a colon or semi-colon correctly?
This should be fairly easy to answer. Here goes:

Colons
The colon is primarily used to attach lists or related statements to an already completed sentence. Here's an example:
Billy wanted to buy three things while he was at the store: bubble gum, bananas, and a new wheel for his hamster.
Obviously that is a very simplistic sentence, but it should give you a good idea of how the colon functions. The thing to realize with a colon is that the sentence that precedes it must necessarily be complete. You can't have a colon preceded by a sentence that cannot stand on its own. What follows the colon must always be an extension of the preceding clause.

Semicolons
These little buggers can be a bit tricky. A semicolon is used to connect two related independent clauses. What that means is that each part of the sentence that houses a semicolon must be complete in and of themselves. Example:
Jill cheered for her husband as he marched to the front lines for war; however, the thought of losing him cut close.
Each part of the sentence must be independent (i.e. can stand by itself as its own sentence) and there has to be a relationship between them. You wouldn't talked about Jill's cheering and then how beer is a wonderful drink, unless somehow you're connecting the two.

As for when to use either of these, that's more a personal choice than anything else. I use semicolons quite a lot in my fiction primarily because I like it, but it is completely unnecessary. It does add a certain flare to your prose--although, to be fair, I think that's more based on my personal preferences than anything else.

The colon is one that you'll be hard-pressed to find an adequate use for in fiction. The reason is that the colon doesn't have much use in fiction is because it isn't exactly designed for the styles of fiction written today. You see it primarily within the more academic realms (essays, journalism, and other non-fiction venues). You can certainly find uses for it in fiction, but it still needs to follow the rules, otherwise you'll look like an amateur.

Hopefully that was useful. If you have more questions on this particular topic, feel free to let me know in the comments.

-----------------------------------

If you have a question related to science fiction, fantasy, writing, or anything related, whether serious or silly, feel free to send it to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, leave it as a comment to this post (or any post), or send it as a twitter message to @shaunduke.

If you liked this post, feel free to stumble it, digg it, or share it on Twitter or wherever! Thanks!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Covers: Misrepresentations?

I was at Powell's City of Books today and while perusing the shelves I noticed that some of books I was forced to read in high school had been redone with flashy new covers. What was disconcerting wasn't so much that the covers were new--that's just part of the "classics" sub-industry--but the kinds of covers. In particular was the cover for this edition of Lord of the Flies. If you click the link you'll see that they've designed the cover with an enormous fly and a caricature of what I assume is an English prep-school boy.

Oh, and did I mention that this book was in the science fiction/fantasy section? It's interesting, because while I can see some "fantastic" elements within this particular novel, I would never consider it to be fantasy or science fiction. Most people don't, actually, and for good reason--it lacks much of what is typical of the genres. But the cover for this particular version gives the impression that the novel itself is perhaps part of the New Weird movement, or at least some sort of fantasy or strange novel. True, Lord of the Flies is certainly strange, but not that strange!

I suppose my problem with this is that the impression given by the cover doesn't reflect well enough the novel itself. Maybe this is an illogical reaction to have. After all, perhaps giving a different impression of this particular book will bring more readers to the classics. That might be a good thing, or it might not (that depends on the reader).

What do you all think about misrepresentations on the covers of books? Are there other books you can think of where the cover did not match the book itself? Am I just being ridiculous?

RIP: Little Buddy

I had to put one of my leopard geckos to sleep today. He acquired a spinal injury in which muscle and tissue were swollen and crushing against his spinal cord, preventing him from feeling or using the lower half of his body. We took him to the vet, got an x-ray, and then gave him some steroids and fluids in hopes that reducing the swelling would bring him around. There was about a 48-hour window in which he had to improve or there was pretty much no hope. Obviously things did not go as planned.

It was a particularly emotional moment not simply because of what was being done, but because of my history with Little Buddy. I actually raised him from the egg. I was there the day his head popped through the shell and even wrote a paper on him. Needless to say, we had a bit of a little relationship and it was extremely heart wrenching to have to put him to sleep.

But he's probably in a better place now. We bought him a beautiful flower to put in the yard where we buried him so he'll always have a place there. I'll try to get some pictures up so you all can know what he looked like.

In any case, he will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Update of Not-So-Epic Proportions

Because things have been quiet around here, I thought it would be a good idea to let you all know what's up. So here goes:

During finals week (last week) I had, well, finals on top of packing to move out of my old place to stay with my family for the remainder of my summer before heading off to graduate school. Needless to say, Saturday was a long day. We packed, moved things to storage, packed some more, moved some more, then had graduation (which I apparently didn't mention before), then had dinner. Then I spent the night at Loopdilou's place.

The following morning things didn't go so smoothly. We had hoped to be out of my old place by 10 AM, but my brother forgot to bring the key for the storage unit, so we had to call my grandma to have her bring it up. But that didn't go according to plan either, and it was only after an hour and a half of trying to get my grandma un-lost did we get things rolling. Needless to say, we ended up about four hours behind schedule.

I was fortunate enough to get an extension on my final paper, though, but only today did I manage to finish it and turn it in. This has been a trying last few weeks, what with four of my lizards now ill (one that is pretty much better now, one that is almost better, one that is looking not quite as bad as before, and one that unfortunately may have to be put down tomorrow due to a sudden case of partial paralysis).

Now that I'm in Oregon, things are moving slowly. I should have the Internet squared away in the next day or so, which will allow me to get back to blogging and doing online things.

That's basically what's going on. Hopefully things will right themselves soon. The good news is that now that school is done I can get back to reading and writing full time. That blasted essay was a pain in the butt...

What has everyone else been up to? Any bad days or interesting things happen while I was away? Let me know in the comments! Communication is a good thing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Video Found: El Ateneo Bookstore (Coolest Bookstore Ever?)

I'll let you be the judge, but this may be one of the greatest bookstores I have ever seen, right up there with Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR. Enjoy:

1000th Post Giveaway Winners!

And the winners are as follows:
  • For the comic/graphic novel pack: Kaolin!
  • For Low Man and Arthas: Blondeswtp!
  • For Where Angels Fear, Into This Mind, and Low Man: dd03!
  • For The Devil's Eye and Princep's Fury: Tina Hunter!
I'll be emailing the winners after the weekend to get their addresses and what not, since I'm graduating and moving and writing papers at the moment. However, if the winners want to email me and show magical intiative, they are more than welcome to. The books will go out around the beginning of next week either way!

Thanks to everyone who entered and congrats to the winners! Hopefully I'll have some more giveaways in the future. And here's to 1,000 more posts!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Giveaway Reminder: Last Day to Enter

If you haven't entered my book/comic giveaway yet, today is your last day to do so. Winners are announced tomorrow! So don't forget to enter. You can better your chances by doing some of the things mentioned in the original post, or you can just enter once and cross your fingers! Four prizes are to be announced, by the way, including some Jim Butcher, Jack McDevitt, Ken Rand, and others!

Anywho!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts On Taking Criticism

These last few days have put a lot of interesting thoughts into my head, particularly on the issue of how to take criticism. I consider this to be a writer's best skill aside from talent, because how you react to what others say about you or your writing will have an influence on how you are perceived by others, and will say a lot about who you are as a writer. Take my recent discussion and criticism of self-publishing and the dozens of responses there (some of which have been removed by one of the authors, which I have saved primarily because they were interesting, particularly in this discussion here).

What is interesting about that particular post are the kinds of reactions taken against what I wrote: some were relatively calm and collected and were more interested in debating the issue, some were vehemently opposed, so much so as to make personal attacks, and then there were some who seemed to be unclear on how they wanted to react, deleting posts or generally making rude comments and then attempting more rational discussions elsewhere (and these are general observations, not hints at particular individuals)

There is only one individual who has had any useful impact on me in this discussion. This person has acted in a way that I think should be a model for people in that particular industry (with some minor exceptions, which are mostly irrelevant). Instead of attacking me personally for my criticisms of an industry s/he ardently supports, s/he debated me on it, seemingly attempting to get at the crux of the issue. To be fair, I find myself agreeing very much with this individual on many points, and disagreeing with her/him on others, and s/he seems more like the kind of person that could change my mind on the issue of self-publishing than many of the others that have been a part of the discussion. Why? The mostly level-headed approach and the ability to tackle the issue without resorting to reducing discussions to the I'm-high-and-mighty form, or feeling the need to make unsubstantiated claims of validation, etc.

And this is interesting, because it says a lot about how this individual was able to take the criticism, and how writers should take criticism in general. The reality is that no matter what kind of writer you are, you are going to get criticized. Even great writers get hit with negative comments. They either shrug them off, get irritated and blast the critic, or let it consume them from the inside out. And published, successful writers have exhibited all of those reactions; some of them get away with the more nasty comments, and others don't.

Those that react negatively, who attack or let criticism consume them, are those who probably shouldn't be attempting to write publicly in the first place. It hints at an insecurity, a deep fissure within the self that suggests how mutable an individual can be in the face of a negative comment. And reactions do have weight on how one is perceived. I think, here, of the Cole A. Adams story, in which an author got so upset about being criticized that he basically goaded the critic into committing suicide. Obviously that hasn't happened here, but there certainly have been some bitter, angry individuals who have seen fit to make personal attacks instead of either ignoring the criticism or tackling it in a more level-headed manner. And like Mr. Adams, these aren't people I could see myself ever working with, even if I were more interested in the industry they support.

But I don't suspect most of them care about that, much like Mr. Adams probably doesn't care that a lot of people no longer want to work with him (or maybe he does). The point is that criticism doesn't go away because you get upset about it; it remains, always. But if you can't take the criticism, why be in a particular industry at all, whether it be music, acting, or writing? You can't avoid it unless you keep yourself private and never let your work be viewed by people who may potentially criticize you for it.

But maybe it's just me. Maybe it's okay to react in the way that some authors have in the past. What do you all think? Where do you draw the line between acceptable behavior and acting childishly?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

SF/F Links: A June Roundup

I have way too many interesting links for you all, but it's been a rather active month (May and June combined). So here goes:
And that's it for this edition. Hope you found them useful!

Reader Question: Video Game Plots and Successful Fantasy Novels

(This question is yet another whose questioner I forgot to write down. Please, if you asked this, let me know in the comments so you can get credit. My apologies for not putting your name in the post as I was working on it.)

The full question was:
Has there ever been a fantasy book series to pull off the "save the world by collecting a group of shiny things" plot, or is that an exclusive video game schtick?
This is a tough one primarily because I have not read enough fantasy novels (as in non-graphic books) to be able to say yes or no with enough certainty to be completely comfortable. My guess is that there has yet to be a fantasy book series that uses a video game plot successfully. I could be wrong, but it seems like those sorts of plots are unfortunately the domain of more visually-based mediums (video games, TV shows, movies, graphic novels, etc.). You could, perhaps, count Harry Potter, which uses the last two books to hunt down what might be considered as "shiny things" (horcruxes are certainly not "shiny" in a traditional sense, but do hold significant value for the characters).

Beyond this, however, I think it is safe to say that a treasure-hunting save-the-world plot is more comfortable in a visual medium. Why do I think this? Because these kinds of plots don't always have strong connections to the characters by default, which means it makes a novelization rather difficult for the reader to connect to. That's not to say it's not possible, just that the stories I am familiar with intentionally place the viewer/player in the center, allowing them to forge their own connections to the world by actually doing the searching and world saving. Novels are, generally speaking, exterior products: the characters are other people (imaginary people, usually) and thus must act as intermediaries in some way for the reader (i.e. they have to be the connecting point to the world).

And these plots do seem to suffer from a sort of ridiculous repetitiveness. So many video games and television shows essentially recycle the same basic plots and simply change the names and maps to make it seem different. They are still entertaining, but that's not really the point. Getting to the point, I don't think that video games own this plot, per se. Graphic novels are quite successful at using similar concepts, and really you wouldn't need to go much farther than Dragonball or Dragonball Z (though their plots do wander quite a bit). Beyond this, though, I don't feel like I know enough to make any logical, (partially) absolutist claims. I fell out of the gaming community at about the same time as I fell out of the graphic novel community, so I've missed quite a lot.

If anyone reading this has any suggestions of either successful or at least interesting fantasy novels which have used the treasure-hunting/save-the-world plot, please leave them here in the comments. I'm curious to see what people identify with this style and whether there are books I'm forgetting. Thanks!

----------------------------

If you have a question for me about science fiction, fantasy, writing, or something related, whether silly or serious, let me know by either leaving a comment here or anywhere, sending an email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, or tweeting me your question to @shaunduke.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to stumble it, digg it, tweet it, or plug it on your blog!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Story Wordle: "To Paint Lords Green"

Yup, I have another one for you all.  Hopefully the blasted image will work!  Here goes:

Wordle: "To Paint Lords Green"

Any wordle creations on your end? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

SF/F Links: A Little Something For June

Well, I have more links for you all. No need to keep you waiting. Here goes:
Thanks goes to Mr. Tan of Bibliophile Stalker and John of SF Signal for pointing me to a handful of the links on this list.

Self-publishing Redux: The Good Books Three

In the aftermath of my criticism of self-publishing I thought it would be a good idea to point out some of those self-published books that I have enjoyed. Since no further introductions are needed, I'll just dig right in:

The Dark Dreamweaver by Nick Ruth
By far one of my favorite self-published fantasy novels. With a cast of bizarre and fascinating characters, this one gripped me when I first read it years ago and it's been in my library every since. It's the kind of book I can see reading to my future children (when or wherever they happen to spring up).
You can find my review of it here (warning: this is an exceptionally old review)

The Tales of Tanglewood: The Lon Dubh Whistle by Scott Kessman
I guess it's somewhat strange that two of the best self-published books I have read also happen to be novels meant for younger audiences. Still, Kessman's work is fun, a bit quirky, and magical; it's another one of those books that I'd love to read to my kids one day. We'll see!
You can find a link to my review here.

Honeycomb by Israel Del Rio
The one adult novel that I found to be quite remarkable. While it's not a perfect book, it's premise is fascinating and the writing is generally pretty strong. Contains some interesting examinations of the afterlife and the complicated relationships between a series of connected individuals. Certainly worthy of a good read, in my opinion.
You can find a link to my review here.

There you have it! Evidence that I don't hate all self-published novels. Have any of you read any particularly good SF/F novels that were self-published? Let me know in the comments!

SF/F Links: Some June Book Giveaways!

Here goes:
That's it for tonight! Enjoy!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Reader Question: Should Writers Have English Degrees?

(For some reason I did not write down the name of the person who asked this question, nor did I write down where it came from. So, if you asked this, please leave me a comment here letting me know so I can give you credit!)

I think at one point people thought that they had to have a creative writing degree or something related in order to be a good writer. Perhaps a lot of people still think this. The reality is that there's no reason that you have to get a degree to be a writer or to even be a successful one. While creative writing programs can be wonderful, they can also be terrible depending on what you write. Most of what you learn about writing comes not from taking a class, but from reading and doing. You can take every college course imaginable and there still will be no guarantee of you learning how to be a better writer, or that you will get published as a result.

This isn't to say that creative writing programs, or English programs, aren't beneficial. You certainly can and probably will learn things from a creative writing class and professors of creative writing can help you develop your craft based on their experiences--the hope is, of course, that these professors have a significant publishing career behind them to add credibility to their advice. But the brutal truth is that having a B.A. in creative writing means diddly squat to most editors, and having one doesn't automatically mean that you're better than all those also trying to get published who don't have such a degree. Creative writing programs tend to be a mixed bag. Some are fantastic, some not so much, but none of them can promise to churn out excellent writers--Iowa Writer's Workshop does have an excellent track record, though, and that might be worth acknowledging if you're interested in a degree.

And then there is the fact that quite a lot of writers who are successful have no degrees whatsoever. Some have degrees not even related to the writing field at all--look at all the scientists who become science fiction writers, etc. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter if you have a degree or not: you can be a writer either way. If you want a degree, however, get it because you want to have a career that isn't necessarily based on something so obviously without guarantee. Creative writing degrees are good, but I've always seen them as being largely pointless unless you pursue them at the M.A. or PhD. levels. A B.A. in creative writing is essentially even more useless than a B.A. in literature or English--and let's face it, a B.A. in almost anything is worth less than the cost of printing the certificate; this is the sad state of affairs in the education world. I'd recommend that those who want to eventually have writing careers should have a fallback plan. There is literally no guarantee that you will ever have a writing career, no matter how much work you put into it, no matter how you do it, whether it be traditionally publishing novels or short stories, or doing it on your own. Being conscious of that when pursuing advanced education will help you make an educated decision about your future. What are you willing to do for a career while you try to develop your fiction skills and get the publishing credits you need to reach that point where you can quit your day job?

Thinking about that can certainly help ground your career goals. But let's not leave it up to me. What do all my readers think about this? Leave a comment.

--------------------

If you have a question about science fiction, fantasy, writing, or anything related you'd like answered here, whether silly or serious, feel free to send it via email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, tweet it via Twitter to @shaunduke, or leave it in the comments here. Questions are always welcome! If you liked this post, consider stumbling, digging, or linking to it!

Friday, June 05, 2009

SF/F Links: June June June

Here are some leftovers from last month to keep June interesting, or informative, or something useful like that.
  • Cinematropolis lists ten 2009 science fiction films with promise. A lot of interesting flicks coming out and hopefully this will be a banner year.
  • Apparently people can't make up their minds. Not too long ago they said that warp was impossible. Now they're saying it's not impossible, just really difficult, as if we didn't already know that. I'm sure everyone has been thinking about how easy it is to make a functioning warp drive and wondering why it is that we don't have them. I mean, come on! It must be a conspiracy, right? Oil companies. Blame them for no warp.
  • Scalzi highlights a rather interesting idea about how we interacted with some of our non-human Neanderthal relatives: we ate them. And it's not cannibalism, according to Scalzi.
  • Here's a lengthy list of science fiction and fantasy writers of African descent, in case you're interested. Some new names in there!
  • Discover Magazine reminds us of some rules for time travelers. Good stuff!
  • The Incurable Disease of Writing recently posted their May edition of the Just Write Blog Carnival, which links to one of my articles and has a whole lot of other stuff you all might want to check out.
  • And then there's the late April Creative Writing Goodies Blog Carnival with a whole lot of other links that might be worth checking out.
  • This blog looks interesting. It's called Toxotai: The Galaxy Project and seems to be one individual's attempt to build an entire galaxy. Sounds cool to me!
  • Jeremiah Tolbert lists five rejection horror stories (meaning instances in which writers now rather famous were horribly rejected in their early careers). This should give those of us still struggling to get published some hope, or at least further our delusions.
  • Apparently that's a documentary coming out called Invisible Universe, which will discuss a history of blackness in speculative fiction. I'm really looking forward to it, actually, because it sounds fantastically informative.
  • Jim Van Pelt has a list of ten science fiction books he recommends. Some excellent stuff in there. (Thanks to SF Signal)
  • And, finally, Listverse lists fifteen influential early works of apocalyptic fiction. Some titles I've never seen in there and now want to read!
And there you have it!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Interview w/ Matthew Wayne Selznick

No need for introductions; the interview speaks for itself. Enjoy!

Thank you for doing this interview with me. First, tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into writing and podcasting, etc.? A brief bio if you will.

Thanks for having me!

What got me into writing and podcasting are two different things, but I suppose they have common roots. For as long as I can remember, I have needed to tell stories. The telling can take different forms, from being a child and making up complicated, multi-day adventures acted out between dozens of toy soldiers, dinosaurs and other action figures to writing and performing songs and, of course, writing
fiction.

I wrote because I read. The earliest things I remember reading are Ray Bradbury's short stories and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels...and comics. Which is kinda of interesting, because Bradbury's early influences are Edgar Rice Burroughs and newspaper comic strip serials. Might be why I've called Bradbury my "story father."

As far as podcasting goes... I've been a DIY (do it yourself) kind of guy since the mid-eighties, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, playing in punk bands. The basic premise of the DIY ethic is this: if you want to make something, make it. If you want to show it to people, put it out there. Don't wait for someone else to offer you a venue, or a deal -- do it yourself.

When I first heard about podcasting in October of 2004, it sounded to me like pure DIY: record a "radio" show, throw it on the Internet where you can say anything and do anything and anyone anywhere can hear it. I was sold. I released my first podcast on October 15, 2004... about a week or so after I discovered the medium.

Your first published novel is Brave Men Run, a novel about a world in which people with extraordinary powers reveal themselves and demand sovereignty, thus changing the social fabric. What exactly made you want to write this kind of novel? Why a superhero novel that isn't really about superheroes or clashes between good and evil, but about people--ordinary and otherwise--dealing with a dramatic shift in how the world operates?

Largely because, as much as I love comics in general and super-hero comics specifically, I know they're not a real representation of how the world would really be if people with superpowers existed. Sure, some authors, like Alan Moore in "Watchmen," for example, have examined the superhero genre in a more realistic setting, but even "Watchmen" is a piece of metafiction -- it's about the genre as much as it is _in_ the genre.

I just don't believe that if a person discovered they could fly, or bend steel in their bare hands, or whatever... I don't think their first inclination would be to dress up in a costume, put on a mask and fight (or cause) crime. It would take a very unique (read: crazy) personality type, and even in a world where superpowers are common, I just don't see a superhero / supervillain culture developing.

As far as clashes between good and evil... again, the world just isn't like that. People are driven by their motivations, their needs and desires. That rarely results in anything so black and white as "good" or "evil." Everyone is a little of both, and just how much of either is in the eye of the beholder.

Finally, I like telling stories about people. Folks call "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" a "superhero book" because that's the easiest way to categorize it, but to me, the Sovereign Era stories are about people, fundamentally just like you and me, trying to make the most of the world they've been given... just like you and me.

Would you say that it might be more possible to have cape-wearing superheroes in a world like ours where superhero culture is so widespread and popular? Or do you see people who found out they had super abilities keeping such things secret?

I think some folks might do it -- in fact, some people without super powers actually do dress up and fight crime: http://www.worldsuperheroregistry.com/

These people are pretty clearly influenced by comics and comic-book culture, and that gives them a little "out" in terms of their own, um, sanity. If there were people with actual super-powers in our world, would they be influenced by comics or would the comics have been influenced by them? Chicken / egg, I guess.

In the Sovereign Era, super-hero comics never had a chance to really be part of western culture, so that archetype doesn't exist.

Brave Men Run is set in the 1980s. What about this era made you want to set a story in it? (Are you secretly into hair bands?)

"Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is set in 1985 for two reasons:

Number one, that was the most volatile era of recent human history. The Cold War was at its hottest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States and the Soviet Union fought wars by proxy in the Middle East, Central and South America and elsewhere. If I'm going to introduce the presence of individuals with remarkable, often dangerous abilities, dramatically there's no better time -- it's one more
burning cigarette to drop in the dry brush of the world stage, a great set-up for global stress and conflict.

Number two, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is a coming of age story. I was a teenager, albeit a little older than the main character, Nate Charters, in 1985. I'm pretty sure my experience as a teenager is different from the experiences of being a teenager today... so, I wrote what I knew.

Setting the book -- and the beginning of the Sovereign Era -- in the middle of the eighties also lets me have fun with cultural references and allows me to use the technical limitations of the time in interesting ways. Remember when you couldn't make or get a phone call whenever and wherever you like? That's the eighties, man!

And, yeah, I Iike hair bands. Long hair and short hair.

(Do you have a favorite 80s band?)

Probably the two bands who had the most lasting influence on me since the eighties (and still) would be X and fIREHOSE.

Your novel is primarily a teenage coming-of-age story that rides over the deep impact of a social upheaval. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write a story that made one young man's almost isolated struggle the central concern rather than the grander, society-rupturing subplot that has been seen in certain forms elsewhere (such as in X-men with the focus on anti-mutant movements, the government's use of the Sentinels to hunt down mutants, etc.)?

I told the story I wanted to tell. Epic summer blockbuster-style plots have their place, and there will be some of that in future Sovereign Era books and stories, but I'm most interested in telling stories about people in difficult situations... and usually the most difficult situations stem from our relationships with one another.

In "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" and, really, in everything I write, the characters come first. The story of a young man finding his place in a world that's suddenly changing both personally and socially is a compelling idea for me, and I'm the first (and pretty much only) person I write for. Fortunately, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" has found favor with tens of thousands all over the world, which is a lucky break for me!

What made you choose to write Brave Men Run in an exceptionally open first person? Was this intended for the podcast, or simply the way the character came to you?

The book wasn't written for podcasting -- the decision to podcast the novel came a few months before I finished writing it, more or less, because I wanted to distribute it in as many forms as possible. When "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" came out in November of 2005, it was the first novel ever to be be simultaneously released in paperback, several DRM-free e-book formats, and free podcast editions.

As far as the first-person point of view, I didn't really give that much thought -- it seemed obvious to me. I don't mean that to sound like I'm a know-it-all; far from it. I just mean that if I'm going to tell the story of a young guy discovering himself, we should discover him, too... and being in his head the entire way just felt natural. It gave me the chance to show the reader just how much of a teenager
Nate Charters was, too -- complete with the frustrated rebellion, the selfishness and the overly-dramatic reactions. It was fun!

What drew you to Swarm Press? Or, how did you get Brave Men Run published as a printed novel (your journey to publication, if you will)?

Similar to my interaction with St. Martin's Press in 2007, the publisher of Swarm Press approached _me_ in 2008. Previous to that, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" had been available as a paperback from my own MWS Media, printed and shipped through Lulu.com. I never sought out traditional publication.

In the spring of 2008, the owner of Permuted Press, a successful horror / zombie house, wanted to launch a second imprint with a greater variety of genre books -- Swarm Press. He wanted to begin with a few "superhero novels." He found "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" through Amazon.com and reached out to me. The
Swarm Press edition of "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" was released on July 13, 2008 with a brand new cover and some minor editorial polish.

What do you think are some advantages of being with a particularly small press like Swarm over a larger press, if any? What about disadvantages?

Well, the biggest advantage to being with a small press is probably the fact that someone else other than myself is taking care of tracking distribution and sales -- which of course is exactly what a large press would do, too.

Another, lesser advantage is that some readers will perceive a book as being higher quality if it is not self-published, even though the text is fundamentally identical to the self-published edition. I've certainly sold more copies of the Swarm Press paperback than I have the self-published edition -- since very little marketing was done by Swarm, I have to assume it's the association with an "established"
publisher, however small, that has helped sell those books.

As far as disadvantages, I think it's easier to talk in terms of a lack of any real advantage, at least in this instance with this book. Swarm Press does not have brick-and-mortar distribution, so "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is available in the same online venues the self-published edition was. While Swarm did purchase a little advertising in print genre publications, this didn't result in
any noticeable bump in sales, and no other marketing was done by the publisher.

This is not uncommon, nor is it unexpected -- small presses have very little budget and are usually run by one or two people, so resources and time are limited, too. Of course most new authors signed to a large press will face the same issues on a different scale: a large publisher is going to dedicate most of their resources to the handful of established authors who will earn the publisher the most money, and
first-time authors will often have to fend for themselves.

In the long run, it may be that the DIY approach is gaining ground. I own the electronic rights to "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era," and the Kindle and Apple App Store (iPhone and iPod Touch) e-book editions routinely outsell the Swarm Press paperback by about three to one.

What one piece of advice would you offer to budding writers out there?

Self-publishing is a viable option that is gaining respectability and market share. However, self-publishing is not a shortcut. Whatever you write, however it's released, you must make it the best it can possibly be. A new writer's goal must be to be at least as good as everyone else out there, including traditionally published work.

Take your time. Three-fourths of writing is revision and editing. Don't say "finished" until you've received critiques and feedback from a few people and you've edited and re-written until you're absolutely sick of it. Then, maybe, you might be ready to submit it to an agent or self-publish.

Would you say that one of self-publishing's biggest problem is that not enough people take it seriously enough to really rip apart their work and get it in the best shape humanly possible?

That's part of it, for sure, and that's one of the factors that has created a bias against self-published fiction. Self-publishing is not a short-cut -- if you put out sub-par stuff, people won't give you much of a second chance.

Do you see that changing in the future, or do you think that people will continue to see self-publishing as a shortcut?

I really can't speak for what people might do. I suspect those folks will always be there, shouting into a vacuum. They don't matter, ultimately, because the readers will filter them out.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming and current projects, such as Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights, etc.?

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is my current and primary project, and I'm very excited about it!

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is a subscription-based ongoing episodic serial fiction webzine. The story follows several friends from near the beginnings of their friendships and through the next twenty years of their lives.

Fans of "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" will be intrigued to know that several supporting characters from that book are the lead characters of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights." Since "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" begins in 1984, that means eventually we'll see the events of "Brave Men Run - A Novel of the Sovereign Era" through the eyes of those characters.

While "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" takes place in the Sovereign Era setting, the characters are rarely directly affected by the events of the larger world -- much the same way you and I are (I assume) rarely on the evening news. The stories of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" are about young people learning to be adults, growing and making mistakes and loving and changing along the way.

The stories of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" are accessible via a paid subscription -- something some say flies in the face of the "everything for free" culture of the Internet. However, I believe plenty of folks are willing to compensate an author for their work, especially when they know their money is going directly to support the
author -- no middleman, no publisher, no intermediary. It's a much more intimate process, a kind of neo-patronage, and that direct connection builds a real relationship between author and reader - something I strongly believe is essential to the future of art.

I hope folks who read this will head over to the Hazy Days website and check it out -- the most economical subscription level gets you a year of content for just $14.99, and there's a free trial if you just want to get you feet wet. Where else can you get twenty five pieces of fiction, a year of entertainment, for the price of a pizza, and know you're helping support independent art to boot?

What are your future plans for your Sovereign Era universe?

Later this year I hope to release "The Sovereign Era: Year One," an small anthology of Sovereign Era fiction written by some of the biggest names in podcast, online and independent fiction. The book will be available in paperback, Amazon Kindle and numerous DRM-free e-book formats. It's in the planning stages as of this writing.

Meanwhile, I occasionally release short stories through my website, and sometimes these are Sovereign Era fiction. I'm also working on the next Sovereign Era novel, "Pilgrimage," and there are other novels in that universe that could be written.

I've also got several short stories and novels I'd like to write that are not associated with the Sovereign Era. Right now, I'm most focused on building up the queue of installments for "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" and getting ahead of schedule there. Since "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is one of my primary sources of income, I'll have time to write more novels, short stories and everything else if "Hazy
Days and Cloudy Nights" attracts a large subscriber base and is successful.

Is there anything else you'd like folks to know that I might not have touched on here?

I think we've hit it all -- I'd just like to encourage folks to give "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" a chance. Together, we can help show that patron-supported fiction can be a viable business model for writers of all kinds. I'd love to say I was part of the serial fiction revival, almost as much as I'd like to say I make my living as a writer directly supported by my readers.

Let's make it happen! I'll bring the words.

Now for a silly question: If you could be any species of marsupial, which would you be and why?

I don't know enough about all the species of marsupial to give a really thoughtful answer. Of the species I do know, I'd have to say opossum. Those guys are nasty, ferocious, practically prehistoric little buggers. I respect 'em.

Thanks for the opportunity and for taking the time! This has been fun.

--------------------------------

Thanks again to Mr. Selznick for doing this interview. Make sure to check out his website for more information about his past and current projects!