Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Frankenstein's Monsters

When they heard what Frankenstein was up to the town put up quite a ruckus. Anyone without a flashlight (and there were quite a few, as they hadn’t been invented yet) lit a stick on fire and called it a torch. Dozens of howling fire-bearers in jockey shorts hustled up to the gates of Castle Frankenstein and beat on the doors until the Doctor showed his face.

“There is no—” he started to lie, but was cut off by the town Point Guard.

“Germany hasn’t won the gold medal in basketball in years and we hear you’ve got a seven-foot undead countryman up there. Can he come out and play?”

“You can’t…” The Doctor paused. “Wait, you want to what?”

“We want to see if he can slam dunk. We’ve never had a player who could reach the net without a step-ladder, and that’s illegal in the Olympics.”

Dr. Frankenstein kept most of his body braced behind the door, but poked his face out to stare at the jockey-shorted rioters.

“You don’t want to kill him?”

“Listen,” said the Point Guard, “we aren’t very tall and we don’t bathe often, but we’re very technically sound.”

The Doctor put a hand on his hip. “I didn’t know there was a local basketball team.”

“Yes, advertising is difficult without moveable type. We’re buying a machine on lay-away, but all we have right now is the letter A, and eventually get bored of stamping everything with the same vowel.”

“So you don’t want to kill my creation?”

“Heavens no! We want to kill that insipid American team that wins all the time. President James Monroe drives the lane like it’s his doctrine. It’s terribly frustrating. That’s why we need your giant. Let’s see him bowl over a man stitched together from the best German bodies available.”

The Doctor laughed nervously. “Here I thought you were coming to kill the Monster…”

“Monster?” the Point Guard exclaimed and look back at the crowd. Their faces lit up in unison.

Another in the crowd cried, “That’s brilliant! We needed a team name.”

The Point Guard thrust his arm in the air. “Here’s to Frankenstein’s Monsters!”

Then the jockey-shorted peasants began pumping their torches and chanting, “Mon-sters! Mon-sters!” Except in German.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Crippling Doubts in the Rough Draft

On Monday I began my next novel, The Last House in the Sky. During my previous novel I tried to stay as open as possible about how I worked, whether it was stumbling, marking what would need changing later, or what I was proud of that day. I was surprised by the warm public reception, particularly to the post breaking down how much I wrote and when.

Because I believe one person’s transparency can help another person’s process, I wanted to list the anxieties I had during that day. There were a lot – so many that I opened a Notepad file to jot them down. It became funny to compare them against each other over time. Anxiety kills more worthwhile projects than anything else I know, and often it’s a process of learning what to disregard.

It started with the two things I feel on most projects, and have long since come to suppress because neither has ever been right.

1. The novel won’t be long enough.
-I haven’t planned enough events! A novel needs way more to happen.
-The plot points I have planned will all go too short. If each only winds up needing a few pages, this sucker won’t even make it to a novella, and novellas are hard to sell.

It’s interesting to note that within minutes of this, I felt …

2. The novel will be way too long.
-I only think the plot is scrawny. Some of these events will balloon unexpectedly to ten thousand words and I’ll wind up with a novel that’s unsellably huge. Half the stories I’ve ever written had plot points that exploded. Why am I not prepared for it to happen here?
-I know it’s only a skeleton with the first few chapters coming up right now, but what things am I willing to cut?

3. These jokes are only funny to me.
-The character quirks will offend somebody. If not at Chambers showing up shamelessly naked, then at the other guy endlessly courting a lesbian.
-The jokes are too contextual to quote. How can the novel go viral if the quips can’t be tweeted? Why does all the humor have to build up?
-I’m a horrible writer and everyone will misread the tone as serious and find no whimsy in land-squid chasing a rust Volkswagen Beetle across a desert.
-Nobody else wants to read about a backstabbing decapitated gremlin or land-squid chasing cars. I’m simply too deranged to market.

4. There’s no hook!
-I mean, you don’t know the whole plot on page one. Who reads books that don’t spill the plot on page one?
-Okay, everyone does, but there’s nothing interesting on page one. Only a guy in a tuxedo and sword wading through a monster-infested fog to turn himself in at a prison. I need to get to the premise faster.

5. There are too many hooks!
-The monsters in the fog, and all the criminals turning themselves in for no apparent reason, and the guards at the jail plainly not being real guards, and The Boss being missing, and why they drew signs in orange paint… the reader will be too confused. Sensory overload. I can envision them putting the book back on the shelf.

As I rounded out the second chapter that afternoon, I had ample opportunities to reflect on the opening. Oh, the opening…

6. The opening…
-…is too straightforward. I need more exposition.
-…has too much dialogue containing exposition.
-…is too nebulous and people will get confused and give up.
-…takes too long to reveal what they’re all planning.
-…has so many moving parts that only a couple will have punch, and readers won’t understand any of the others when they come to fruition.

I hope you realize there is not one item above that is worth stopping over. Once you have experience, you know when to course-correct and experiment. Otherwise, these are the kinds of momentary doubts that exist solely to annoy the writer. I came in with a good guideline, I bolded things that weren’t working to massage later, and post-completion editing will catch any stylistic or structural problems that I don’t alter on the fly.

Do any of those doubts sound familiar to you?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Evil is Back

He sprang from the disembodied womb of a yeti, and was weaned on the flesh of a million virgins. Before he could walk, he had slain his first crusaders. Before he could run, he had slain the first-born of all known kings. His footsteps make seas boil, and his wings send up such a hurricane of dust that generations forget what the sun looked like. Beneath each of his sundry wings is sheltered an army of nightmares and fel shadows. He is the drowner of whales, the defiler of angels, and no matter how many heroes have risen and struck him down, he has always returned when the publisher needed a sequel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Consumed Episode 5: Cabin in the Woods, Fez and The Warded Man

Consumed Episode 5 is out today! It’s a free MP3 download with some of the farthest-reaching discussions on any of our podcasts yet.

For me, the most interesting conversation came from Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man. It's a rare Fantasy novel that hits the ground running, in its case opening with a nocturnal demon attack. It led me to ask my co-hosts why Speculative Fiction prose usually starts out so slow, low-action and thick with exposition. We considered George R.R. Martin, N.K. Jemisin, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling, and explored why films and videogames in the same genres usually start off much faster. We’d love your thoughts on this topic in the Comments over there.

We also discussed the mind-bending puzzle game, Fez, and why so many people either adore it or walk away from it (us podcasters were split on the love it/leave it). We wrapped up with Cabin in the Woods, the meta-Horror film which seems destined to be overlooked this year. While the conversation eventually devolves into self-censorship to avoid spoilers, I recommend listening just to hear me embarrass myself trying to describe Anna Hutchinson making out with a stuffed wolf head, and whether we can talk actor-host Nat Sylva into doing the same.

You can download the episode and leave feedback right through this link.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: He Walked in on the Wrong Reality

"I expected a cabaret. A cabaret full of hookers. Or, a castle, and you’d be Dr. Doom. I could definitely see you programming a virtual reality where you wore a cape. But this…?

"What is with all the pre-teens, dude?

"A virtual reality all-girls Junior High? What? You come home from work to two-hundred kids in school uniforms? And why are you bald in your fantasy? Never would I have imagined you to program yourself as a balding, middle-aged principal. You’re, like, forty imaginary years older than them. That’s so creepy I want to avoid having kids just so you can’t go near them.

"That all these relationships seem platonic and chaste and adorable? I think that’s actually creepier than if you were a pedophile. If you were a pedo, I don’t know, I’ve been on 4chan. I’ve seen that. I can deal with that. What crazy fetish makes you tie a little virtual girl’s shoes and settle playground fights? What the fuck was with that kid crying on your shoulder about a B- for half an hour? What the fuck hobby is this?

"Some people watch trains. Some people collect doll houses. Is this like doll houses? Is this your version of little porcelain shoes and balsa dining tables? Please tell me that’s what this is, because if this has a seedy dimension, I think I’ll have an aneurysm.

"Please let me log back out to the real world. I promise I will never look in here again."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Brutal 2,000-Word Day

Last week the New York Times ran an article suggesting that authors only writing one book a year is slacking. Nowadays indy authors have a better chance of building an audience if they write multiple books a year, and big publishing houses view additional output as useful promotion. To write less might just mean we’re lazy. Lisa Scottoline has received particular bile on social networks for being described as struggling to write 2,000 words per day.

How do I write so much per year? Bubble baths.
 Twitter whipped out the ballistics-grade snark. Writing is easy! Anyone can bang out a thousand words in an hour. That’s just a long blog post. I didn’t work that hard on NaNoWriMo! Get back into the salt mines, authors!

What rankled me was the number of mediocre writers espousing this condescension. Many were hacks whose e-books aren’t worth 99-cents and whose blog posts run over 2,000 words because they don’t know how to edit. Of course it’s easy to fluff up word count if you don’t care about craft. 

It rankled worse with rush-pundits who actually show raw talent that, with the time and reflection they insist you eschew, could develop into something great. What they’d learn from experience will be stifled by the positive feedback loop of rushing adequate chunks of text to market. Traditional publishing has nearly killed the Max Perkins style that gave us Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Hemingway. God save us if the next wave of publishing kills taking your time.

Slacker! He'll never go anywhere.

John Scalzi was particularly level-headed. He advised folks to calm down and recognize that everyone has his or her own writing speed. And he was right. Many of us grew up on Stephen King, who seems to write at the speed of sound. Amanda Hocking and Seanan McGuire do multiple novels per year, and Jim Butcher has at least one door stopper a year. Meanwhile Jo Walton and Justin Cronin take about two years to release one book a-piece, and Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin can run even longer.

In a better world those authors who were at ease with promotion and speedy production would use their platforms to help the slower. I stump for talented authors of all paces routinely and have been lucky to find like-minded folks. But while Scalzi was correct, I still ran hot.

Last night Jo Walton’s Among Others took the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and it took her at least two years to release it. This should remind us of great works that make that schedule seem liberal: it took Harper Lee decades to give us To Kill a Mockingbird, and just as long for Larry McMurtry to produce Lonesome Dove. Imagine an editor yelling at J.R.R. Tolkien to meet his deadline on Lord of the Rings. Imagine the next genre luminary getting the same browbeating while she tries to puzzle out world-building we haven't conceived of yet.

Or imagine some blowhard on Twitter screeching that she's not working hard enough.

Among Others by Jo Walton
A great work, but also one of privilege.

The self-publishing world, and particularly the Locke-and-Hocking world of cranking out as many e-books as possible, is not delivering such works. The best of these books I've read were passably entertaining and couldn't strive for more in their production cycles. In a market where a large catalog and frequent releases are your best shots at a career, it really can’t, and if you want to make a living, that two-year cycle of a Jo Walton or Justin Cronin seems implausible barring a very lucky hit. And when Amanda Hocking got that hit? It was having her sizable catalog that helped her become a millionaire.

Since I see something like this self-publishing model dominating the industry in a few years, this is disturbing for the future of an art form. We can’t stop the price cycling that Amazon, Apple and the Big Six have steered us toward. We can alter how we interact and help each other. That novel Harper Lee spent so long on owed a debt to Truman Capote’s assistance. Those who succeed in the speedy new market can help not just teach and critique, but to promote talents that have different paces.

The rebuttal is that the market doesn’t want great literature. It wants twists and thrills and titillation, and little else. It’s too dumb to recognize exposition and formula, and authors are fooling themselves for caring about more than dollars. This "market" would become a race to the bottom of both price and ambition, allowing The Novel to survive a few more years by imitating reality television’s innovations. If the future of publishing really is who can write the most blood-and-smut the fastest, then I might as well kill myself now.

You may notice I haven’t committed suicide today. Like yesterday and last week and last month, I’m taking exactly as long as my novels require. I will not sell you something that is unworthy of your time, regardless of whether it’s through HarperCollins, Tor or Kindle Direct Publishing. And when I read something great, hailing from any country, creed or composition cycle, I’ll share it. If the next Lord of the Rings emerges from self-publishing, I’ll grin through my humiliation and help its author out. Whoever it is will probably need the help.
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