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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sometimes life gets in the way of writing. It's okay.

One of the "rules" of writing you hear over and over is that you have to write every day. I'm here to tell you that it isn't always a possibility. And that's okay.

Any writer who feels bold enough to pronounce "rules" of any type is, I think, a bit full of shit. Some of the greatest writers in history made their mark precisely by breaking the rules. But the "rule" of writing every day is one that is repeated all the way from bestselling authors to unpublished writers aspiring to be like those gurus.

Stephen King, for instance, in his much-lauded book, On Writing, prescribes that you write at least 1000 words a day at least six days a week. Well good for him, but remember that he is a full-time author who makes buckets of money at it. I’ve found that a lot of writers who hand out this advice, particularly if they declare you should write X thousand words/day or some number of hours every day, are actually full time writers.

Yes, if you are committed to writing as a career or are serious about putting words on paper and getting it into the hands of readers, then you should write as regularly as possible and as much as your muse can manage. But let's get real, okay? We're human and most of us who write are not full-time writers. We have messy lives. We have kids to raise. We have dayjobs (sometimes more than one) demanding our full attention. We have groceries to shop for, lawns to mow, friends and family to nurture. And gods forbid we actually want a little "me" time just to entertain ourselves with a movie or a good book. After all, you HAVE to be in touch with your life and your culture or your own writing will seem less “real.”

Lives are messy. I'm no exception. After I finished my second novel, I actually stopped writing fiction for over eight years as I raised two special needs babies and worked a career. I found other outlets (blogging and job-related writing), but trying to write quality fiction while exhausted, in maybe 15-minute increments, was simply not do-able. Eventually my kids became a bit more self-sufficient and my dayjob calmed down, and I found myself with enough time and energy to get back to my fiction. It was such a relief to finally exercise that part of my identity! That was several years ago. Happily, I'm back at it.

These days, I'm hitting it harder, with lots of projects coming together in rewarding ways. I find much more time now for writing, editing, and marketing my books. But LIFE is still messy. I'm just coming out of a divorce. I'm buying a house. I'm having kid issues. I'm preparing for a move. And, let's not forget, we're all in the middle of a worldwide pandemic while socially isolating and, at least in my case, working from home for the dayjob. Throw in there a surprise (!) root canal the other day, too. Whew! That's a hell of a lot to deal with!

Many of you reading this may have similar craziness in your lives. It's okay. Really. It's okay.

And if you feel you need permission to attend to life and write later, here it is: You have permission to write when you can, whenever or for however long that may be. We'll wait. It'll be brilliant, because you'll be able to focus better knowing that your life's basic needs are also being met.

And the silver lining? All those crazy things in our lives will color our writing, too. Life experience is the number one best thing to bring your writing to life. It pops up in unexpected ways, breathing essence into your characters and the way they deal with their own lives. And because our readers are human and have crazy lives, too, they can relate better to your writing as a result.

I know your keyboard is calling to you. But go ahead and deal with your car appointment or child's recital or your work report, or whatever. The words will come when you get that chance. Your mind will be clearer. And we'll eagerly await to read what comes out of it!

Cheers and happy writing!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review of Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot

Edge of the Breach (Rift Cycle, #1)Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edge of the Breach is a deep and fascinating delve into darkness. Behold the birth of monsters and the redemption of the unredeemable.

Set far into the future in a cross-genre sci-fi/fantasy, after civilization has fallen and humanity has fled to the now-hot Antarctica, people struggle to keep society together by utilizing a brutal underbelly. At some point in the past, an interdimensional breach appeared in the heavens, introducing new gods and granting people magical powers based on the season.

The story is told from the point of view of a boy, Kyder, and a girl, Rune, who each fight their own demons and manage to survive at their wits end, both powerful in their respective magic, and both growing to adulthood and surviving on the streets to command their own groups. This is no story for the fainthearted! It is a "grimdark" story, and Halo Scot doesn't flinch from showing us the details of torture, pain, S&M, and forbidden sex. The gritty details lend a dark and realistic bent until, drawn along the current, you are pulled through the rapids of the streams of their lives until, at last, they join into a raging river.

The story is the beginning of a series that revolves around an interdimensional war. But that war only really comes into play at the end of this volume. That didn't matter to me. I was enthralled with story of the two characters and how the darkness and violence of their lives shaped them into terrifying yet relatable people just trying to climb to the top of the dogpile. Highly recommended.

Cheers and happy reading!

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Results from my poll on what scares you the most

What scares you the most?

I ran a Twitter poll asking which of these things scares horror book fans the most: creepy clowns, evil children, manipulative demons, or shadowy ghosts.

I find it fascinating that people find evil children the scariest, followed by creepy clowns.

If you look at mythology, eerie folk tales, or real-world accounts, it's usually the opposite; demons and ghosts seem to prevail.

I have a couple theories around this. First, mythology and folk tales reflect the more religious nature of older societies. I think, in the modern Western world, we are less apt to fall back on religion, and thus are less likely to dwell on demons and the devil, and maybe also less fearful of an afterlife and ghosts.

Second, real-world stories of ghosts, and even "demonic hauntings", are now relatively common, thanks in part to reality TV ghosthunter and paranormal shows and a long publication history over the decades. Maybe we've become used to them?

A third theory I have is that we may find more fearful those things that we would normally presume are harmless, like small children and babies, or clowns, but which have been perverted by supernatural forces. I'm convinced this is the most important of my theories.

I once turned harmless little rabbits into vengeful spirits, in my novelette "Rabbit Cry" (a story in my my book, Around the Corner from Sanity). I think it's the creepiest story in the anthology.

I wonder... what other seemingly "harmless" beings I could pervert into a good horror story?

What do you think? What other harmless creatures/entities/forces do you think could be a source of fear?

Cheers and happy reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review of Edge of the Flame by James Aichinger

Edge of The FlameEdge of The Flame by James Aichinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Edge of the Flame is a scifi re-telling of the "chosen one" sort of story. Aichinger has a good writing method and an imaginitive worldbuilding, spanning three worlds. The characters have complex backstories and stand out well from one another. The main villain is fairly unique with a power that is awe-striking and seemingly un-defeatable, and you find yourself wondering how they can manage to overcome him.

A young man who lacks memory of his childhood, Adanis, realizes his home town is in flames and all are destroyed, the result of an attack by powerful creatures (ironically) called "angels" at the behest of a villain named Arek, but he is quickly rescued by two brothers and arms experts, a techie named Rascelot and his powerful "malachi" brother Raphael. A malachi is like a mutant with superpowers. Adanis learns he isn't just a malachi, but a "valkiran" who is the fated chosen one to destroy Arek. But Adanis is naive and must quickly learn all he needs from the brothers in order to fulfill his role. What follows is a chase between worlds as they run from Arek and his minions to Earth, then try to be recognized as the valkiran in the coming battle for Earth. But all is not what it seems, and who can Adanis trust?

Personally, I'm not a fan of "chosen one" stories, and this story follows the (tired) traditional "Hero with a thousand faces" story progression... *but* there is a significant twist at the very end of the book, which has to do with his lack of memory and identity crisis. Unfortunately you have to read nearly all of the 160K words to get to it. Part of the reason for the length is that there are no less than 20 major characters, most of whom have point-of-view sections and side plots of their own, not all of which really seemed to be necessary for the main storyline, such as diplomats and their personal relationships to other diplomats, or an arms dealer and his shady history. I found the story got bogged down in these side plots by around 2/3 the way through the book. Also, despite the length of the book, the ending wraps up very quickly and I found myself a bit confused by the convenient manner in which it ended. Plus, some of those many side plots were not wrapped up at all. But it's not all bad. The side plots ARE interesting on their own, even if they don't lend much to the central storyline.

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Cheers and happy reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

How Much Bloodshed Is Tolerated in Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels?

It goes without saying that many fiction genres have little or no tolerance for bloodshed and pain: certainly children's and middle grade books, most romance or erotica (there's nothing sexy about being cut open and bleeding... I'm raising an eyebrow at you BDSM lovers!), humor and absurdist literature, and so forth. You might see a bloody nose or brief mention of wounds in literary fiction, cozy mysteries (like Agatha Cristie), legal thrillers (think John Grisham), and social commentary pieces, but almost never anything detailed.

giving bloody heartThe level of tolerance increases significantly when you consider thrillers of any sort. You can't have gunfights and martial arts duels without at least some pain and bloodshed, reserved mostly for the bad guys, of course. The range of tolerance here is very wide, so as a writer and a reader you have to have an idea of the subgenre and the author beforehand. And then there's horror, which takes a giant, blood-splattering leap upward on the scale. Even with authors like Stephen King you expect some grisly scenery and description, and that's not even the sort of "body horror" or "grimdark" subgenres that I think is increasingly popular. (As an aside, it's strange to me that this kind of severe bloodshed is more popular in horror movies than in books, but then maybe it's because those who find satisfaction or entertainment in such imagery are more visual than imaginative?). The stories in my horror anthology, Around the Corner from Sanity, run the full range from no blood to gore-fest.

But what about science fiction and fantasy? It seems to me that these genres fall into a sort of gray zone. I read and write in these genres, but even I have a hard time putting a finger on the preferences of the reading public. Again, there's a wide scale and as a reader you sort of have to know the author beforehand. I can't remember any reference to blood at all in Tolkien's books, despite all the battle scenes, for instance. Frank Herbert described brutal acts in Dune but only in a few scenes did he go into details. But other, more modern authors I've read, such as Dan Simmons, don't shy away from it (the creature known as the Shrike in his Hyperion novels still elicits a tantalizing shiver for me).

So I put a poll on Twitter to get some feedback on this. I asked, "#fantasy and #scifi #book fans, What level of bloodshed to you tolerate in your novels?" I expected most answers to fall somewhere in the middle, maybe skewing slightly toward the more violent end. 

As you can see, there is, indeed, the sort of distribution that I thought, with only about 5% voting "none", then increasing to 33% and 43% for "some bloodshed's fine" and "there can be heavy scenes," respectively. I was surprised by the number of people who voted for "full-on gore fest!" (19%). I figured it would be down around 10%.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, I personally have a very high tolerance and sometimes prefer the more bloody violence, as long as it fits the tone of the overall book and the plot. 

In the fantasy novels I've written, there are only a few scenes that get bloody, in a PG way, and no real "gore", though I allow myself freer space with some of my fantasy short stories. But in my space opera novel, which is written with a sort of pulp-fiction tone, some action scenes are pretty graphic and would be R-rated if made into a movie (not to mention some X-rated sex scenes!).

As a writer, I'll say that the guiding principles related to the violence to include are: what is the interest of your target audience, and is it necessary for the plot and characterization?

How do you feel about bloodshed in sci-fi and fantasy books? Leave a comment!

Cheers and happy reading!

Monday, April 27, 2020

My Review of The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey

The Unstrung HarpThe Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poor Mr. Earbrass, facing the eccentricities and foibles of the creative process that all of us writers must endure, the endless editing, and the excruciating process of getting published!

This little book is a delight and a must-read for anyone who loves books or, particularly, is involved in making them. Gorey's illustrations are delightful, and though this is a quick read and an old-style writing (as is the setting), his wit is spot-on. Perhaps my favorite part is when he is nearing the end of his creation, where "the characters have one and all become thoroughly tiresome, as though he had been trapped at the same party with them since the day before; neglected sections of the plot loom on every hand, waiting to be disposed of; his verbs seem to have withered away and his adjectives to be proliferating past control."

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Cheers and happy reading!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

10 Cheesy Pick-Up Lines for Writers

There's one in very nightclub. You know the type. That creepy pick-up artist who eyes you from across the bar, cocktail in hand, then sidles up to you, looks you up and down, and says .... 

(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)
But no, lose the nightclub. Now you're in a cafe next to a bookstore. And everything about you says "WRITER." That introverted way about you. Glasses. Unassuming clothes. And, of course, an open book or laptop next to your pumpkin spice latte.

And up walks another writer, but instead of a cocktail in his hand it's a cappuccino, and in the other a copy of something pretension enough to worthy deep discussion. Maybe Tolstoy. Maybe The New Yorker. He's got a man bun and an ironic but neatly trimmed beard. A real hipster. The sort who boasts about his Great American Novel but is still searching for that bit of inspiration to get it started.

Then he invites himself to sit at your table, looks you up and down, and says...

10. "I like the curves of your story arc, baby."

9. "This is one conjugation guaranteed to make you comma." 

8. “You’re my climax.” 

7. "If you show, I won't tell."

6. "Ooh! I haven't seen a 'plot' that big since War and Peace."

5. "I've got some Great Expectations for you, with an Oliver Twist!"

4. "I'm plotting a way into your heart."

3. "Wanna see where I put my apostrophe?"

2. "How about we start with some foreshadowing?"

1. "Hey, girl, wanna see what's between my covers?"

and a bonus!

"Baby, if you were words on a page, you’d be fine print."

Do you have another great "writer pick-up line" to contribute? Leave a comment!

Cheers and happy reading!

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