Friday, November 19, 2010

UF: Endless Wars

Dear Diary,

Today I start a short series on unrealistic fantasy. The first point brought up was:

1. The endless war where everyone fights. If everyone is a soldier, how are soldiers being fed?

Endless wars come, unfortunately, straight out of our own history. One need only read the Old Testament to see that one conflict was constantly being traded for another, and that this went on for thousands of years. Egypt, a land rich in resources amid people who were less fortunate, kept a standing army to protect its borders. Rome's economic model was based on the constant growth of the Empire by military means, and funded by the plunder taken from conquored civilizations. The Middle Ages, the basic source for Fantasy, was a time when petty princes tended to enforce their policies on their neighbors violent means. The Vikings raided the coastal areas of Europe for more than a hundred years. Moving into later times, there was the 100 years war and the 30 years war, both in Europe, and frequent flareups of smaller wars in the meantime. And the formative years for modern fantasy took place during the last dredges of the Vietnam War, which wasn't all that long, comparatively, but seemed to drag on forever.

However, this constant state of war which is the backdrop for Medevial-based Sword and Sorcery fantasy was much different from our current concept of warfare. The strongest weapon of mass destruction was fire, which tended to leave the ground more fertile afterwards, not less. battles were fought hand to hand, mostly, with air support coming from arrows. Battles stayed local to the fields on which they were fought, and most of the surrounding fields and farms left untouched. and as far as manpower was concerned, most armies were raised at the time of conflict, not kept standing in readiness. Except for the knights, the warriors were also the farmers and tradesmen of the castle.

In addition, even if _Everyone_ went off to fight, a lot of people stayed behind. Women, children, older men. The typical workforce of the time.

The eternal war works if it is not global, if it's not destructive to the environment, and if the peasants are smart enough to plant potatoes. One good thing about potatoes is that they are not destroyed when the rest of the crops are burned or trampled by an invading army. Unfortunately, there is just one teensy little problem with potatoes in Sword and Sorcery Fantasy. Potatoes came from the Americas, and although some came to Europe in the century following Columbus's famous Renaisance-era, they weren't eaten for food for another hundred years. But that's not an insurmountable problem, for peasants ate the other white tuber -- turnips!

The trick for answering the criticism, I believe, is to acknowledge that even while a war is taking place, much of life is continuing as normal. Or as normal as life in the Fantasy Middle Ages could be, what with all those wizards and female warriors in brass bras running around...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unrealistic Fantasy

Dear Diary,

Today I'm going to send you on a linkquest:

Unrealistic Fantasy. This is a forum I found on where readers, and a few authors, post their gripes about unrealistic fantasy scenarios.

Enjoy, and I'll discuss some of those points in future posts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Car Repairs

Dear Diary,

Pluses and minuses of spending three and a half hours in the lobby of teh car dealership while waiting for a one and half hour service to finish (They had to wait for a part.):

Plus: nothing to do but work on the handwritten story, and no cat to eat my pen while I'm trying to write.

Minus: construction taking place very close to where I was sitting. The people walking about on the roof, and the few times they dropped things, was very disconcerting.

Plus: Guilt-free time for writing, thinking, and reading.

Minus: Five Guys and a Burger is not a good place for a fat-intolerant person to each lunch...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feminist Fiction

Dear Diary,

Sword and Sorceress 25 is coming out this week. It is an anthology of stories featuring strong female heroines. Feminist fantasy, some say. But what, pray tell, is feminist fantasy?

I don't have a scholarly answer. I only have what I observe from reading the stories, from coming of age in the Eighties, and from living life as a woman. So I will tell you what Feminist Fantasy means for me.

It means strong women who achieve. They are stong because they face opposition. Traditionally, in 1980's thinking, that opposition often wears a beard and sports testosterone. Not just men, but manly men, who make it their mission in life to subdue women and keep them pregnant. Whether these men are fathers, husbands, or brothers is moot. A woman's place is in the marriage bed, birthing heirs.

This makes for boring stories, by the way.

The opposition, however, can come from any number of things. Economic problems, war, the cold equations of survival -- a good heroine has to deal with all those things. And she must deal with those things herself. To me, that's the key. The heroine can't sit about whining for a prince, fate, or the sisterhood to rescue her. She might do that at first, but she has to understand that she can't win that way. She has to reach into her own strengths, buck up, and get the job done.

She's gotta show ovaries!

Yep, that's the main thing you need for Feminist Fantasy. Ovaries. And some magic, come to think of it. Can't have fantasy without magic.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing For The Love

This weekend I read about an interesting experiment. The researcher put two groups of people into rooms with a puzzle that they had to assemble as a team. One group was to be paid for each puzzle piece that had been corrected placed. The other group was not paid. After a set amount of time, the researcher called a halt, put some magazines in the room, and told the participants that he was going to go grade their efforts. Instead, he sat down and watched the people in the rooms.

Those that had been paid by the completed puzzle piece went to the magazines and began to read them. Those who had not been paid continued to try to solve the puzzle.

The results don't surprise me. After people have been paid to do something, its hard for them to do it without pay. I see that all the time in writing. Once a person has entertained the idea of writing for pay, the idea of writing for the love becomes objectionable. The work they do must be marketed and sold, must not be given away. No matter how much joy the writing may have brought them when it was just for fun, now it is serious. Now it is work.

Further, they tell Everybody that it is bad to write for free, until Everybody knows it. You don't put work on the web, if you are a serious author. You don't self-publish. You don't, under any circumstance, give it away for free.

I'm not sure I want the joy of creating for creation's sake taken away from me. Sure, I want to make money at this. Who doesn't want to make money? But I also want to keep part of it for fun. Maybe I'll head over to Smashwords, and put up some stories for free. For fun. For the love.

Right after I get this for-pay work done...

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Dear Diary,

As a child growing up among my parent's collections of books, the short story collections were the first I took to reading. They were brief and varied, and each story could be consumed before important plot elements were forgotten. Many of the ideas were quirky and thought-provoking. Books dragged on a bit, a challenge to my elementary school mind. My parents had some magazines, also filled with interesting short stories.

Today, all we hear about is how the magazines are barely holding on and how anthologies really don't make money. This seems odd in our time-pressed culture. One would think that a book that could be consumed in small chunks would be more popular than a novel, not less. And magazines still cost less than a paperback when bought on the newstand. By subscription, they are a huge bargain.

It doesn't make sense. Unless -- is there a reason why people would rather put their money into books than into short stories?

Could it be that I'm not the only person disappointed in the state of short story publications today? I figured I was just being a snob, and that I was only imagining that short stories in magazines are very artsy --but not very thrilling. Not thought-provoking to the hurried mind. Not entertaining in the way that the old stories used to be.

But if it is just me, then why are the magazines getting harder and harder to sell? And themed anthologies -- they should be popular. I like variety, and so do many people I know. We go to buffets and sample all the different foods. An anthology of short stories should be likewise. Unfortunately, I all too often find that the stories in anthologues are monotonous. It's like going to the Chinese buffet and finding twenty different varieties of Fried Rice. I want to try different things, but the editor seems to be working on variations of a single theme.

I wonder if anthologies would sell better if they had more variety, more plots that were tangential to the theme? I wonder if it would excite people to read exciting, non-stylistic stories? I wonder if I'm just weird?

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'm Sure I Had An Idea...

Dear Diary,

I'm sure I had an idea for a topic today. Where did I put it?

Maybe if I clean up this writing room I will find it...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Revise, Rinse, Repeat

Dear Diary,

Today I worked on revising some stuff I had completed and let sit for awhile. Writing is like making soup. The longer it sits, the better it gets. And that which was perfect last month is incomplete today.

One story needs an ending. I was trying to create something short, something flash. It may still stay as a short piece, but it's not going to be flash. In fact, I may only have the beginning.

That's always a disheartening feeling, for some reason. Finished, no. Barely started. Where do I go from here? How does it end? Other, of course, than some time in the future.

Just like housework...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Urban Fantasy

Dear Diary,

You may not know this, but right next to you, right in your own home town, where you take your kids to school and buy your supper, evil is lurking. And not just any evil. Those foul-mouthed punks, that seemingly random violence, and even the the tiny annoyances of the ever-red traffic lights are all part of a supernatural movement that will, quite soon, erupt in demonic flames and fractured reality. But you'll never know it because also sitting next to you, in the guise of a mild-mannered street bum, is a supernatural hero with a hard-boiled past, who will sacrifice almost everything to keep you ignorant.

Welcome to Urban Fantasy.

It takes place in the real world, generally in some troubled city like Detroit or Cleveland, and features the epic battles of good and evil while most everyone notices that nothing unusual is happening. The reason that no one ever seems to notice this varies from the conspiracy of the magical world to keep itself hidden from mundane eyes to the simple reality that most mundanes wouldn't know a dragon if it stepped on their car. They would probably just blame the wreckage on some drunk kids speeding down the street. But the main reason that no one ever knows about this magical world is that the hero almost always wins to keep the bad evil from changing the world. And if he or she fails, a cover story can always be quickly fabricated.

So, the first step in writing an urban fantasy novel is to comb the newspapers for unusual events and then ask yourself, "What supernatural force could have caused this?" And then, "What happens next?"

But whatever you do, don't forget that urban fantasy must also be gritty, dark, and moderately depressed. Why? That's the fashion. It's also the atmosphere of "urban," that land of slums, garbage strikes, graffiti, and the homeless. But urban is also the land of museums, river festivals, parades, and major league ballparks. There should be some fertile ideas in those!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Dear Diary,

In the wide world of writing, Novemeber has been set aside as a month when authors attempt the marathon of writing: an entire novel in thirty days or less. Of course, the novel is to be short, only 50,000 words. And crappy. Yes, the whole point is to write a crappy novel in as little time as possible -- for by telling your brain that it is supposed to be crappy, you short-circuit the internal editor who stands over your shoulder whimpering, "That sentence wasn't good enough. Go back and change it." And the idea is that if you write a short, crappy novel, you will at least have the basic frame down, and can go back and work on it at your leisure.

At the least, this is supposed to be a very fun experience. I don't go for full participation in the event because, even with my internal editor turned off, I wear out after a thousand words a day. That and my habit of not waiting until one particular month to embark on white fire writing. Last year I hit a spell that might have qualified, but it struck in the middle of August.

I have found, however, that not everyone supports the idea of NaNoWriMo. Most, like me, simply feel that the frantic pace is not for them. Not in November, with the holidays breathing down our necks. But there are some interesting alternative to the marathon.

There is, for example, NaQuaWriMo -- or National Quality Writing Month. You turn out a 100 words of highly polished prose every day for a month. I cann imagine that might be of more use to me, as I can write crappy just fine, but writing well is a challenge. Or there is NaPoWriMo -- National Poetry Writing Month. Produce a poem a day. There was even at one point WriSoEvDay -- write something every day.

What has worked best me, however, is a simple challenge. You set the word goal for each day, preferable something that makes you stretch a bit without guaranteering frustration, then report every day whether or not you made the goal. The other people who have picked up the challenge with you also report in the same place. It's not frantic, it's not a heart-pounding. But it's a steady pace that can easily become habit-forming.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Vacuuming The Cat Is A Good Idea

Dear Diary,

I have come with the perfect excuse for why I cannot do NaNoWriMo this year: my cat won't let me.

I admit, freely and without reservation, that I am too slow a writer to achieve NaNoWriMo. I can approximate the experience, however, with something I call a Rough Write. It's hand written, it jumps off the board with no good goal in sight or even a way to get there, it plows ahead without revision, and it taps into a very creative part of my brain. After doing the Rough Write, I can then do the first typed draft. Followed by a serious revison or two, then a serious polish, then another polish, and so on. This November my need to do a Rough Write coincides with the challenge, so I am aiming to finish the section I am Rough Writing by the end of the month. I've got what, fourteen hand-written pages?

However, I have discovered that my opportunities to sit down with notebook and pen are limited. Today I had to flee to Starbucks to get some done. I really thought that I would have more time to sit and write once my children were out of the house, but I found that their place has been taken by the cat.

Pet me! Pet me! Love me! Pet me!

He comes begging for attention every time I install myself on the couch with pen and paper. And if I do not pet him, with my right hand no less, he starts reaching out with his paw and touching me. Pat. Pat. Pat the author. And if I do not respond, then he continues to pat.

With his claws out.

I have a request you can't ignore...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

They Saw What????

Dear Diary,

I am reading a book where the protag remembers going to visit Serpent Mound, in Ohio. She describes what she saw, as a young girl. And I said, "What?"

Now, the author had done her research, I give her that. In fact, I recognized her description from similar ones I had seen while researching the place myself. But I've also been to Serpent Mound, and what she describes the young girl seeing is impossible.

"Anya recalled walking around the edges of the mound with her mother. She hadn't been impressed at the time. The mound wasn't more than three feet high and it seemed to melt into the grass, like a sea serpent sleeping... Anya's mother pointed from the nose to the tail of the effigy. "This is the sleeping place of a great serpent. They all sleep underground."

What's wrong with this description is a small thing, but one which screams out to me. You can't see the entire serpent from the ground. You can't see much at all. To see the serpent, you have to get up in the air. A three-story metal platform was constructed at the turn of the century for just that purpose -- and one would think that climbing such a thing, an open air metal staircase, would itself have made an impression on the narrator. But even from the platform you can't see the head of the serpent very well.

It seems to me that the author has never been to the place her character traveled to. Not that this is a major fault, but it begs the question: If you can't afford to travel to all the places you describe, what's the best way to describe them? How afraid should you be of getting details wrong? If I had never been to Serpent Mound, I would not have caught the error. Still, it makes me more nervous about setting my stories in places I have never been.

Score one for Fantasy. At least the Fantasy lands are all I imagine them to be, and nothing more.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What E-reader are you?

Dear Diary,

You need an e-reader. Everyone needs an e-reader. E-books have taken off this year, due to both the proliferation of reading devices and the proliferation of apps for reading on other devices. You can buy a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony e-reader, and a Kobe e-reader for about the same price for equivalent features. You can read on your phone, your computer, or your Ipad. On your Ipod touch.

Even on your Nintendo DS. www.pocketgamer (But Mom, I am reading a book!)

E-books have gotten so prevalent that sales of them are rising even as physical copy sales are falling. And it is no wonder - e-books are cheaper, much more portable, and easier to store. They can be changed into large print books at a touch of a button. And, thanks to the Guttenburg Project, all the classics of yesteryear are available to us.

I suspect that e-books will play a larger role in the future. Is this good? E-books, having a lower price, bring less per copy to their authors, but the increased volume in sales may make up for this. On the other hand, their far less materials cost means greater money, per copy, to the publishers. And there is the benefit that used books won't make their way to the used book bins, depriving the publishers of the money they would make off of a sale of a new book. No more danger of stripped books being sold or read by a non-paying audience. The pluses pile up for the publishers.

I suspect that this will lead to new books being published only as e-books. This happened to mass-market paperbacks, which were originally low-cost versions of books which originally came out in hardback. Very convienant for soldiers to carry about in their pockets during the war. But as the lower cost books became more popular, publishers began putting out titles exclusively in that form. Hard back books became reserved for the people who could be depended upon to sell large numbers even at the hardback price.

I see publishers trying out new books in the e-book format first, and then if it sells well, bringing out a hardback version that people can keep despite hard-drive and other system failures.

So, even if you are resisting getting an e-reader application or device, you may have to within a few years -- or miss the bulk of the genre fiction being published. You might as well start thinking about it now, and perhaps trying out free versions. The future is coming.