Review: The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

The Infernal Devices is a trilogy set in a clockwork punk Victorian setting. Though, I’m sure many would scold me for throwing in the “Victorian” descriptor since this is the most typical time period for such stories and they are almost assumed to be Victorianesque. I do it so I can complain about the misappropriation of the word “punk” for sub-genres like “steam punk”, “diesel punk”, and even “Now punk” to describe “punk” set in a current time frame. The “punk” descriptor was appropriate for “cyberpunk”, but is not usually appropriate for these other subgenres. Indeed, “punk” has practically become synonymous with “subgenre of speculative fiction”, which I find completely annoying. And if you don’t know why “punk” is appropriate for cyberpunk and not for any of these others subgenres, don’t waste my time commenting on my complaint. If you don’t know anything about the punk movement, keep your comments out of my review.

 I decided to read this trilogy (actually, I listened to the audiobooks) because Cassandra Clare was a fan-fic writer turned pro and I wanted to support someone who has gone through alternate publishing routes. After listening to all three books: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess, I can see why she was pushed into publication by her fan support and not picked up in a more traditional manner. The writing itself is mediocre, but it does elicit a strong emotional response, and to the average reader, this is what is most important. Her characters are not complex and indeed, I find them a bit tedious because they are never tested, never put into any real moral quandaries. Well, aside from the classic love triangle between Tessa, Will, and James.

Can they go three full books without two of the three screwing each other while the two guys love each other, and not in a gay way? Well, it turns out they can’t. But they do make it through 2.5 books swooning over the fact that one of the guy’s thumbs happened to brush Tessa’s bare wrist. It seems none of them realized that Tessa’s corset may have been a little too tight (Will and James have no excuse). if this is how they’re getting their jollies, perhaps someone should have suggested auto-erotic asphyxiation. At least one of them would have gotten a pay-off much earlier in the story.

Okay, so I’m not really into the faux Victorian love stuff. If this is how you like your love stories, you’ll love The Infernal Devices trilogy. There is plenty of that tediousness. And I do mean plenty.

Since so much description went into furtive eye glances and Tessa’s navel gazing about being in love with two guys, there wasn’t much room to spare for plot, but the story does manage to travel in a straight line. There’s no surprising twists. No sub-plots of note. Unless you consider filling in character back stories to be sub-plot. These complaints aside, it’s not a bad story. Again, it’s just a simple one, and that’s fine. I actually have no complaints about this, except that once all the crap is thrown out, there is really only one, maybe one-and-a-half, real novels here.

I’ve read through a number of other reviews and this trilogy really does seem to be a love it or hate it type of story. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re into Victorian sensibility love stories where nothing actually happens, then this should work for you. If not, you’ll be wanting to skip around a bit. For me, it was meh. I forced myself to endure each successive book to get to the end hoping for some grand payoff. After all, Cassandra Clare has gotten famous for this type of writing. There had to be some reason she was so popular. Sadly, it’s not because of her rich stories, or her complex characters, it’s because of her ability to elicit an emotional response. If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s okay. We all read for escapism and that means we all read for different reasons. But for my money, I’d prefer something a little more nourishing. I am usually generous with my ratings, but in this case I am truly torn between 2 and 3 stars out of 5. Because each book was narrated by a different person or persons, I think I’ll go with 2 stars because I hate it when a series doesn’t have the same narrator throughout.

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

“In space, no one can hear you scream,… Like a little girl.”

MARK WATNEY

I’ve been listening to a lot of great books of late, and I’m a bit disappointed with myself that I haven’t taken the time to give reviews to any of them. The fact that I’m getting so many hits and so few misses tells me that writers are really sophisticated these days. Even middling authors have some really great stuff out there. This is my first book from Andy Weir, and a quick look through his website, http://www.galactanet.com/ tells me he doesn’t have much out there. Though after reading The Martian, I’m going to have to check out some of the offerings he has on his site.

First, The Martian is part epistolary, as much of the goings on is described through the journal entries of Mark Watson, an astronaut accidentally abandoned on Mars. Other parts of the novel is a standard third person view. Generally, these separations from the main narrative are so the reader knows what attempts NASA is making to save the poor guy. These side ventures sort of broke up the story at times, and I’ll say tolerated, because obviously I was especially interested in what Mark was doing to save himself. However, without knowing who/what/why/when/where/how he was going to be saved, the story would have become meaningless, so I put up with these obvious digressions which created so much tension and drama. I Hope people don’t think that was a spoiler, if Mark had died, very few people would be giving this book such high marks. As of the time of this writing, 1277 ratings give the story an outstanding average of 4.42 on GoodReads. This fact alone says more than I can say in my thousand words on the matter.

What makes this novel so good? Aside from all the wonderful humor, it was the authenticity without being bogged down with too much reality. That may sound a bit strange, but for any work of fiction to be enjoyable, there’s got to be elements of reality put aside. But first, I have to commend Andy Wier on including so much genuine science and weaving it into this work of fiction. I personally found the story so engaging because I’m a mathematician. Hold on, don’t let that dissuade you. I mean that in the context of mathematicians being problem solvers. Most people don’t realize that at their core, this is what mathematicians do. The more practical minded of us become engineers, which seems to have a less scary connotation. The protagonist, Mr. Watney, is a botanist/engineer. (Astronauts always have to pull double duty because of the small crew sizes, another element of authenticity.) These skills make him the perfect candidate for being abandoned on Mars. Of course, if he didn’t have these skills, he would have died, and there’d be no story.

I found the story especially interesting because Watney details (remember these are journal entries) what he had to do to survive, what broke along the way, how he solved the problems, etc. When I say the author didn’t let the story get bogged down with reality, I mean he cut short many of the “calculations” Mark had to do along the way. Often, entries would have Mark detailing what he was doing, throw out some numbers, ending simply, “Trust me on the math.” Everybody knows a person like Mark Watney. Fun, likable, marvelous sense of humor, all these things, Andy Weir was able to embody in Mark Watney.

One of the most annoying things about Sci-Fi writers is that they often get the math waaaaaay wrong. Noticeably wrong. Terribly wrong. Painfully wrong. So wrong that for any Sci-Fi authors out there who do not know what they’re doing mathematically and want a little help. Shoot me an email. I’d rather help people get it “close enough” than be so far off that it’s laughable how much the author doesn’t know what they’re doing. That said, There was nothing Andy Weir wrote that was so far off track that it raised alarm bells. This alone was step one in allowing me to enjoy the story. Anyone who happens to read this review and is swayed enough to read The Martian can feel comfortable ignoring anything they don’t quite get, trust me, it’s good enough for fiction. Which, ironically, makes it better than most government work because in fiction, there’s action meaning things actually get done…

This story takes place in the “not too far future”. For those that don’t know, NASA is shooting to put people on Mars within the next 20 years. In this universe, Mark is stranded on the 3rd Mars mission. Which is an interesting choice because it would be easy to see how someone could end up on Mars alone in the first such mission, but for a 3rd mission, such things become “routine”. One of the more authentic parts of the story was the reaction of earth as a whole. The whole planet is an unspoken minor character in this story and I find the portrayal to be quite believable. In particular, third mission means no one cares anymore. Most people on earth right now don’t care about what’s going on in space, but if we had someone trapped alone on Mars for a good 18 months, I can see where no expense would be too great to go and save him. Publicly, that is. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be politicians and NASA administrators who wouldn’t be willing to cut their losses. This story doesn’t go in depth into that, but it touches on it enough that there’s always an underlying subtext during the Earth-based portions of the story. It really adds to the tension and realism.

For my part, I found the following to be the most unbelievable aspect of the story. Many would probably think I’m just picking nits so you may want to skip this next paragraph: Andy Weir glosses over Mark Watney’s being completely alone and isolated while on Mars. He doesn’t actually skip it, per se. Mark Watney does comment a number of times about missing other people, but supposedly he’s “the type of guy” who’s super-ebullient, funny, brings people together, in short, he’s a positive sociable guy you’d want to be around. In reality, these types of people draw their energy from interacting with others. Mark manages to draw that energy out of himself. So either the reader can skip this basic tendency of human psychology, or they can believe Mark is just a special kind of person. He’s written to be extremely likable and believable. I opted to believe the latter. It makes for a much more interesting story than to whine, “Hey! That’s not what would happen. Deep down, social people don’t act that way.” In reality, most people would get so depressed and despondent they’d probably kill themselves (or more simply, allow themselves to die). But again, there wouldn’t be any story if Mark were this type of person, so this is the one thing for which I felt I had to suspend belief and it is a minor thing to overlook.

As I alluded to above, I didn’t physically read this story, I listened to it as an audiobook. So I feel compelled to comment on R. C. Bray’s reading of the story. Hands down, he was the perfect voice talent for this story. His reading syncopated with Mark Watney’s character voice so well, I think if I ever meet this guy, I’m going to call him Mark. In fact, he was so good, I’m not sure if I want to grab something else he’s read just because he’s read it, or not listen to any of his other work for fear that it may destroy my vision of Mark Watney. Fortunately, I don’t live in fear. I’m definitely, going to have to check something else from this guy.

There you have it. Five stars all around. The more people that don’t read or listen to this, the more my disappointment in humanity grows.

Hopes To One Day Write For Food

The title for this post I stole from myself. It is one the vanity subheadings off a writer’s forum I frequent at Absolutewrite.com. It’s funny how such a simple statement about one’s desire to attain one of the basic necessities of life is so insurmountable in the context of the writing profession. Most of my friends are fairly amazed at what an austere lifestyle I manage to lead. And lot of that can be credited with the amazing set of supportive friends that I do have.

The statement implies I would like to write for a living, so not just write for food, but write as if it were my job that pays all the bills. As cheap as I manage to live, it will still take a whole lot for me to earn a living at writing. In this post, I’ll describe my living expenses and show that even I probably will never be able to earn a living off my writing.

First off, I have been given a house to live in.  It’s a long story, but speaking of one of the basic necessities of life: shelter. I have managed to finagle for free at the moment. Really, it is a perk of my job in helping run a hotel, but even if I were to quit that job, my friends would let me stay in the house if I wanted. So we can pretend that I don’t have a mortgage or have to pay rent. I do have to pay the utilities and for the upkeep and such. Basically my friends own the house without a mortgage, they pay the taxes and that’s it. So as long as they don’t see any other expenses, I can live in the house.

My housing expenses consist of:

Gas & Electric: $100

Cable internet (no TV): $50

Water, sewer, garbage, other town expenses paid on same bill: $100

Or about $250 a month, sometimes a bit more, but why quibble considering how cheap it is? At some point, I will have to invest in some sort of upkeep, but for now the house is not falling apart. Though it c0uld use some carpet in the living room and bedroom. At the moment, it’s just a bare wooden floor. I’ve pulled up all the staples and stuff that could stick in my feet, but it’s pretty ugly. Doesn’t bother me, but most people like their houses to feel cozy or whatever. I mention this only to point out that I wasn’t given a palace to live in. It’s a partially remodeled, one story bedroom; maybe 600-700 square feet. And I haven’t bothered to finish remodeling it.

Next, I have a PhD in Math, so I have student loans. Fortunately, I was paid to go to school in a lot of ways with scholarships, teaching classes, and even some grading assignments. I walked away from 11 years worth of school with about $32,000 in loans. That’s actually amazing. Most people under those circumstances have between 200-300 thousand dollars in loans. More than they can ever pay off with the degree they get, but that’s another story and one of the reasons I am no longer in the field of education. That’s a lot of preface to say my student loans are an extraordinarily low $200/month.

The last category is the actual food category and for good measure I’ll throw in clothing. I probably spend about $350 dollars a month on this. Food itself, I’d guess $200-$300. I honestly don’t keep track. Once or twice a year I’ll buy a new pair of shoes/sneakers for work/play. A couple of cheap Chinese Walmart shirts for work per year. Shorts in the summer. So after all is said and done, I’d say I probably average at least $350 a month for food and clothing. If I were to keep track, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were under estimating and it turned out to be $400, but for now, let’s just go with $350.

So there you have it. I live on about $800/month. I would guess this is atypical for most people not living with their parents. I actually need this money to survive, so to earn a “living” I have to account for taxes, and I’m not going to get into the tax return nonsense, I’m just going to point out that I’d need to gross a little more than $1100 to earn $800 cash. We can pretend that future income tax returns go into the upkeep of the house. Sound fair? For simplicity, I’m sticking with that.

Now the question is, how much does one have to sell to be able to live like the glorious king that I live like?

At the moment, I am selling Dim Speak for 99 cents. Is it worth that? I think so. For an unproven author and a book that was not edited by a professional, I think that price is more than fair in terms of the “risk” a reader incurs for taking a chance on such a novel. If someone orders the book at Smashwords, I get about 79 cents per copy, and if someone orders at Amazon, I get about 35 cents per copy.

Thus for me to earn a “living”, I’d have to sell about 3150 copies at Amazon per month. Clearly, that’s ridiculous. Those are George R. R. Martin type numbers. Even if we pretended that I sold a small percentage from Smashwords, I’d have to sell  around 3000 copies to live like a pauper.

Suppose now, I sold the book for $2.99. At this threshold, Amazon gives the author 70% minus a small fee for the kindle transfer, so I would get about $2 per book (plus a few pennies). At this price the Smashwords royalty rate is comparable to Amazon’s, and I’d get about $2.30 per book. Things are looking up. I would only need to sell about 550 copies at Amazon, or let’s pretend about 500 copies between the two distribution methods.

Though it might not sound like a lot, those kinds of sales would put me in the top 5 or 10 in the fantasy section at Amazon pretty much round the clock. A lot of good authors are not selling at these rates. They might be if they have a backlist with five or ten books to draw from, but if they have one book like me, not so much. This is why I haven’t really pushed Dim Speak. I figure why spend a few hundred in advertising, with only one product to sell. I need to have more to offer readers to justify that sort of expense.

Another common price point is $3.99 retail, or about $2.75 from Amazon and about $3.05 from Smashwords to the author. Monthly sales to earn a living is about 400 copies per month.

This price seems a bit high for my current copy of Dim Speak. As I said, my current work is an amateur endeavor. I wouldn’t feel right about charging such a steep price. Then, again, I spent the better part of three years off and on working on the project, so if someone else said they felt they deserved that much for their work, I wouldn’t argue.

I hope this gives people an idea of how difficult it is for an author to actually earn a living from writing alone. In this context, it seems even more daunting. I guess I’d better get to work!

Meta Thoughts On My Own Novel.

It has taken me a bit longer to get to this post than I would have liked. Actually, I’ve rewritten it a couple of times because it just didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it. Not that I’m saying this post will be a work of art, but it is time to get something out there for April. After all, it is the 7th!

I’ve blogged about genre fiction before in my post where I complain about Pacing and Coincidence. I’m sure the average reader does not agree with me on that one. They might agree with me in principle, but if they’re reading the story, they want the coincidences that make the story snappy. That is, unless they like the exact opposite where a story meanders about going on and on without a whole lot of anything happening. (My complaint with epic fantasy.) In one of the podcasts that I listen to, one of the speakers recently talked about George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. He said one of the subtexts he enjoyed about the first book was that “oh my, winter is coming!” in a world where winters could last a decade this could be important. Then he says, “Now I’m reading book six, and winter’s still coming…”. Mind you, Martin’s books are behemoths and definitely not “snappy” in their presentation. If he’s writing six books before the change of a season, I’m not interested.

In my book Dim Speak, I tried to keep things on the middle ground in terms of pacing and coincidence. Though, Dim Speak is a parody at heart and I’m trying to mock some of the these tropes. I do have some “coincidences” in my plot which I pawn off on one of my characters whose magical Gifts include the ability to read omens. She usually refuses to discuss them, so they become plot coincidences in my eyes. I found this to be the best way to advertise the coincidences that often go unmentioned in other stories. A way of playfully pointing out similar things I have read in other books that made me ask WTF?

In terms of fantasy and its magic, far too often I see characters get into a situation where, they come across problem “X”, if only they had some sort of magical solution “Y” they’d be saved. And of course, it just so happens someone in the group has solution “Y*”. It may not be exactly what they need, but conveniently enough, it’ll do. When it comes to this sort of problem solving in stories, I would prefer Harry Dresden’s “I’ll just burn everything with my fire rod and sort through the ashes later” approach because at least it is honest from a story telling perspective. We know Harry can do this and he does it all the time.

In my opinion, any solution that involves magical means really needs to be set up delicately. Everything my main character, Chip, manages to do with magic is something you saw him practice or happened to him earlier in the book. He’s a beginner, so any solutions he comes up with had better be simplistic. And honestly, this was my thought process as I wrote the story. I put him in a situation and asked, “Okay, based on what he’s learned so far, how can those lessons get him out of this danger?”

On the other hand, I did force my main character into another fantasy trope that annoys me. (Mind you, this complaint is often not true in epic fantasy!)  The protagonist is often an orphan never having known their parents, or their parents passed away while they were young. That’s if the protagonist is young, if the character is older they tend to be estranged from the parents or their relationship is at a point where everyone is ready to move on, “Time to make your own way in the world my son/daughter,” says the father/mother. Either way, there is no parental subplot. They’re just not involved in the story. In epic fantasy, one or more parents are alive and part of the “droning on” of the story.  The relationship between protagonist with both parents becomes added intrigue, subplottings, and so forth.

I wanted to defy this trope, so in one of my earlier drafts, travel was possible with the earth dimension. (In short, when Chip was brought through the barrier, it broke and allowed dimensional travel again.) I wanted Chip to have a relationship with his parents that wasn’t estranged or filled with intrigue. Just two parents dealing with a teenager who he could control plants in another set of worlds. The problem was that there was very little story to be had by adding in these characters with so little dynamic. They bogged down the plot more than I was willing to let it get bogged down, so I had to cut them. In the end, I cut off travel/communication with earth entirely, but not before removing both parents from Chip’s life at an early age.

I guess some tropes are there for a reason and even I can’t find an excuse to avoid them. It took me some time to learn that lesson, and I had to write the story to see why it wouldn’t work, but it was a good lesson to learn.

Phase One: Steal Underpants

After all my talk and meandered musing about how I should release my first novel, I finally sat down for a couple of days and formatted Dim Speak for the meat grinder on SmashWords.  Considering how many hours I spent formatting the manuscript, I am thankful I know the simple tricks to removing all the tabs and double spaces at the end of each sentence using the search and replace feature, or else I’d still be tapping away at all the things that were proper formatting when I was in grade school and high school.  I apparently had 6167 instances of putting two spaces after a period (or other mark) ending a sentence.

I don’t think the process will be too bad the next time around.  It just took a lot of time because I made sure I went through and did everything correctly.  Fortunately, I sat down and re-watched some English dubbed Japanese anime while performing the conversion process.  That way, I only had to pay attention from time to time, yet gave my brain something to do.

The actual hard part of uploading was coming up with a concise, as in 400 character (not words, characters!), description of the book. This took me almost an hour.  I think I finished with 393 characters.  What do you think:

Chip found himself worlds from Earth, attacked by a dragon, prisoner of the Angels, suspected of murder, and suddenly able to “speak” with plants. What would you do? Chip tries to run away, following the omens of Faith, the most dangerous, complicated, maybe-not-fallen Angel in Heaven. Long before Faith is able to forge Chip into a warrior, the fate of the Angels ends up in his shaky hands.

My diligence with the formatting paid off, as my book was accepted the first time around without any errors.  I must now wait for the human check to go through and make sure all is well.  I presume this will take a few days.  After that, I’ll be in the their “premium” catalog which will allow the book to be sold by Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo, along with a handful of other distributors.

After uploading, I fumbled around the dashboard a bit to get a feel for what was going on.  I decided I should sign up for one of SmashWords free ISBNs for ebooks.  By the time I did this, I had my first download.  Within 10 minutes of me uploading my book someone had already checked out the free sample.  I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked, after all, my book is now listed first in the “newest” category under general fantasy.  If I’m lucky, It’ll stay on the first page for a day.

I started to look into the publishing process for the Kindle and less than an hour later I received an email stating that I had made my first sale.  Apparently, whomever checked out the free sample felt it was good enough to blow 99 cents on the rest of the story.  So I made my first sale!  And I don’t even know who it is to thank them, so I will just do that here:

Thank you mystery person!  Every time you buy a book, you become a patron of the arts.  You’re allowing someone to go one step closer to being able to work full time on their passions.  You’re the best!

As for the price, I don’t expect to charge much more than 99 cents ever.  Unless I magically become famous and start selling thousands of copies.  Should that be the case, then I’ll know the story is worth more, until then, I need to do everything I can to encourage people just to check out the free sample.  So yeah, GO HERE for the free sample.  I set it for 20% of the book, so you can get in a fair ways before you have to make a purchase decision.  Though honestly, I think the middle and ending are better than the beginning.

You are, perhaps, wondering about the title to this post.  It references the Underpants Gnomes from the second season of South Park.  (This is back in 1998!)  The Gnomes had the following business plan:

Phase One:  Steal Underpants
Phase Two:  ?????
Phase Three:  Profit

At the time, Matt Stone and Trey Parker were riffing on all the internet companies that were collecting millions in investment dollars with no business plan capable of making a profit.  They were prophets because two years later the internet bust came along and put a stop to all the crazy investing.  Alas, there still exist companies with the above business plan.  Twitter anyone?

How does this relate to me?  Well, I have completed Phase One:  Write Novel.  Next is Phase Three:  Profit.

Oh wait, it’s Phase Two:  Marketing.  This is going to be harder than writing the book.

Progress is Progress: World Building

Some days, I just don’t have it in me to write.  Actually, that describes a lot of days, but I’d like to change that.  When I count up my daily words, I don’t just count the ones that go into the work itself, I count all “support” words as well.  Namely, the words that go into my so-called “world bibles”.  The notes I prepare to remind me about how one culture behaves as opposed to another.

Honestly, I don’t write the bible stuff all that often.  I tend to be very good at keeping such things straight in my head and I can add to them as necessary.  But the last couple of days I’ve been really tortured to get down some words for my current work in progress, Blood Speak.  I think this is because I’ve written up to where my mental outline goes and I’m not sold on how to progress the action.  Thus, my interest in finally writing up a piece of the world bible.

Just writing words get the creative juices flowing.  Even if it’s written rather dry, simple, facts regarding politics, geography, and ecology.  Thinking about the ecology of an archipelago (the geography of where my current story is being told) can help in how I want to shape the story.  Taking a day writing out 1277 words that I had amorphous in my head has helped nail down a few things.  Maybe not precisely where the story is going, but it has helped to flesh out certain motivations of the surrounding cast of people.  Deciding more clearly how a population might think politically and economically is really going to help flesh out my ancillary characters.

Hey, it’s more meat on the bones.  Even if I don’t have the full skeleton as yet, taking this time has certainly benefited the work.  So the next time you’re at a loss as to where your story may be going, try figuring out in more detail how your world actually works.  This might be just the trick you’re looking for in terms of motivating you and your characters.

Talking About My Brand

I really don’t like talking about myself in the “I’m so great” hype type of sense.  If I plan to self-publish, I guess I need to do a little chest thumping every now and again, but it really isn’t me.  One of the things holding me back from getting my work “out there” is I’ve been struggling with my brand.  I’ve been collecting all sorts of information on what I should and shouldn’t do.  All sorts of advice on how to market myself and so on.  I think the best piece of advice I’ve received is the traditional, “be who you are” advice.

I’ve been trying to pigeon-hole my first book in the traditional book way.  I’ve started the sequel and found I’m struggling with the “book” mentality.  I don’t seem to write that way.  I’ve written part one of book two and started part two.  Each of these first five parts taking about 100 pages as a substory all its own.

Let me back track about five years and start where I started writing again.  I started with a space opera that went nowhere.  I wrote 160,000 words in two years and no end was forth coming.  The problem lay in the way I was writing the darn thing.  The first “book” consisted of seven stories (novellas if you will) that were complete (in the first draft sense of complete) on their own.  Each told a mini-story about a series of galactic events.  So I had seven stories that I could put together and call a book, each progressing the over arching story, but the seven stories themselves didn’t tell a story.  That is, there was no reason to call those seven together a book as opposed to six or eight.  Essentially there was a missing layer of story that prevented the first book from being a book.

Then I switched to a fantasy story that I’d been wanting to write for nearly twenty years.  I’ve spent the last (going on) three years writing this story, I’ve found something similar happening.  The first book, while a complete book this time, is broken into three distinct story parts.  Each making sense on their own as a sub-story.

Over this same period of time, I have been getting more and more into Japanese Anime and Manga.  I really like the serialized episodic story telling.  Essentially, that’s the way I’ve been writing.  A story arc, followed by the next arc, and so on.  The nice thing about this type of story telling is that it goes on as long as the story needs.  It doesn’t force itself into a certain size, it doesn’t force itself to wrap up all the loose ends before the next arc begins.  Stories flow one into the next.  Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to write this way, only trying to press the story into a book form as well.

After doing a little research into the way things are being marketed on the Amazon Kindle, I’ve decided to release my work the way it ought to be released, namely, episodically.  More and more serialized fiction has been appearing on the kindle, so it seems there is a market for the stuff.  I had thought about this a lot last fall, but a couple of months ago, I heard an interview with Sean Platt and David Wright (actually the interview was with one of them and I don’t remember which one it was).  They’ve written a post apocalyptic serial that seems to be doing quiet well, and it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about trying myself.

So when considering my so-called “brand” I think I will specialize in episodic fiction.  It just seems to make more sense for the way I write.  The nice thing about this type of writing is that I can take an episode and make it an aside to build the characters that support the protagonist.  A technique I really enjoy in the Japanese Anime/Manga story telling form.  It really gets the reader invested fully in all of the characters, and I want to do the same thing.

Fear and Writing

Writing is a funny thing.  I spent nineteen years with an idea in my head.  Then I spend over 2.5 years writing the story behind that idea and now I feel afraid to release the novel, Dim speak, into the wild.  What’s strange, I don’t fear people not liking it or criticizing it.  I think it’s a bit of an odd duck as far as novels are concerned and such things are always polarizing.  I fully expect it to get wildly differing reviews.

What I think I fear the most is charging money for it.  I fully believe artists should be compensated for their work.  They should be able to make a living at their passion.  I fear taking people’s money and having them find no artistry in the work.

Mind you, I didn’t write a literary novel.  I didn’t write Dim Speak with the intent of, well, whatever intent there is when writing a literary novel.  Depressing the reader and beating them over the head with a singular theme if I’m not mistaken.  Seriously, that’s all I ever get out of the classics, and I wanted to write something completely the opposite of that.

I wrote a fantasy parody. Non-derivative, both in the sense that it is not a parody of another work and it doesn’t spoof for the sake of being silly.  I try to write all the gags in the context of a serious story, which from time to time, does not take itself seriously.  Again, that’s the point, because one of my goals in this work was to write a parody of life itself.  We can’t take it seriously all the time, or we’d all just go bonkers.

My two biggest influences, not surprisingly, come from my teenage years of reading.  Piers Anthony and the first dozen or so Xanth novels, along with another dozen or so of his books.  And Robert Asprin with his Myth series.  Alas, both of these authors loved their puns, while I loathe puns.  They’re what finally made me give up on the Xanth novels; too many puns running around.

Asprin was less prolific with them, allowing me to read just about everything he wrote.  His Myth novels, while a whole lot of fun, suffered from consistency.  However, that wasn’t the point of those stories.  The Myth novels were about friends and their relationships with each other.  I find the friendship between Aahz and Skeeve to be one of the most influential in my real day-to-day friendships.  Those are the type of relationships I personally seek.

Dim Speak has no puns, but I tried to land it squarely in between these two authors’ works.  I like to think the story is serious in the way most of the Xanth novels are serious and fun in the way the Myth novels are fun.  I also like to think I kept the story consistent.  I don’t foresee the savvy of the modern reader forgiving the gaping plot holes for which Mr. Asprin was guilty.  Most importantly of all, the story is about the friendship between Chip and Faith.  Because these two are of the opposite sex, naturally there will be an extra layer of sexual tension, at least for Chip, but my ultimate goal is to create a friendship between the two characters as deep as the one between Aahz and Skeeve.

I think the bulk of my fear comes from my childhood misconceptions about these works.  Twenty-plus years ago, I treated these kinds of books as silly diversions, nothing deep and meant to be fun.  I didn’t recognize the artistry.  As an adult, now that I have written a story like this for myself, I know I am attempting to follow in the steps of giants.  I think my biggest fear is that it will take another twenty years for me to capture the same artistry that Mr. Anthony and Mr. Asprin managed to capture.

The Classics: Apples and Oranges

Yesterday, Mur Lafferty wrote an article entitled My Problem With the Classics In a nutsehell, she said she had a hard time reading the classics in the Sci-Fi genre because of the poor writing, cardboard characters, and its patriarchal nature.  She has since closed comments because they have strayed from her original question:  “How can I appreciate the classics when I run into such painful roadblocks like this? It’s hard to read things I’m not enjoying, even for academic purposes.”

My comment and several others address that question, but very quickly a number of the commenters started comparing her plight about classic books to the watching of classic films, and this is what I want to comment on.

Comparing the reading of classic Sci-Fi genre fiction to classic films is really comparing apples and oranges.  I understand the actual time in history coincide well enough, they were both seeking, finding, and breaking boundaries as a matter of course.  So as intellectual artistic endeavors there are parallels, and I am sure this is what the commenters were attempting to draw from.  The principle distinction lies in the consumption of these classic media.

Watching a classic film, with its own set of foibles, takes between two and three hours.  Even the most craven among us can push ourselves through an evening of classic film watching.  What’s the cost?  One dull evening a week, a month, or whatever you’re looking to invest in your classic film education.

Forcing oneself to read classic literature on the other hand takes a full order of magnitude longer.  How long does it take to read a book?  Naturally it varies on the length of the book and the speed of the reader, but it’s safe to say it probably takes anywhere from 10-30 hours.  Invest 2-3 hours a night and you’re looking at nearly a full week, or two, or three to consume this work.

In this day and age who has that kind of time?  That is, unless you want to sit around and discuss such works academically.  For a modern writer, it is more important to keep up with the current writing trends and boundaries.  A writer has to eat after all.

Of course, I’m not advocating a person skip the classics entirely.  I am not big on the classics myself, but I try to slog through one or two a year.  I recently read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which is supposed to be a Sci-Fi classic.  In my opinion it is more literary than Sci-Fi, but either way, it was repetitive and made me feel like I was being beat over the head with one theme for the entire 200+ pages.  It was not a dynamic or even interesting read at all.  Nevertheless, I dragged myself kicking and screaming to the finish line.

My point is that it is unfair to suggest a modern writer go back and read hundreds of the classics, especially when compared to watching classic films, because they have more important things to read in order to stay relevant.  Quite simply, reading a book takes an investment of time that watching films does not.

Anyone have any thoughts?

I Know What I Write!

I have been having trouble this past month figuring out how I would be marketing my soon to be released novel Dim Speak.  It may sound strange, but it finally hit me last night.  After taking 2.5 years to write it, you would think I would have had that all figured out at least a year ago.

I’ve blogged before about a lot of stories crossing genre and sub-genre boundaries making them hard to classify, especially when making them for sale.  The problem was my book is straight fantasy, or high fantasy if you need to sub-categorize, but it didn’t quite fit that either.

When I started writing, I simply used the sage advice, “Write something you would enjoy reading.”  So I did.  I never consciously thought about how I planned to nichify the darned thing, but I’ve been hemming and hawing all month about the matter.  Mostly, because I don’t want to market the book to a bunch of people not interested in such a story and then get a bunch of bad reviews in return.

Last night I was thinking about an interview where the difference between parody and satire had come up.  As I went through the definitions in my head I suddenly realized what I was doing was parody.  A non-derivative parody, both in the literal and non-literal sense.  By that, I mean the work is not a parody of another work and thus is not a derivative of another work.

In the non-literal sense, I mean the novel is non-derivative in that it doesn’t take itself non-seriously.  One of things I hate about a lot of parody is all the effort that goes into beating the reader over the head to let him or her know that what they’re reading is a parody.  A lot of the time I find parodies are just an exercise in silliness, which gets old pretty quick.

Dim Speak has its own story with an emphasis on the odd friendship between the two main characters.  Throughout the book I take pot shots at the fantasy genre, but the story itself is serious.

Now that I have this in my mind and I know where I’m going to go with it, I better get formatting for the Kindle and Smashwords.