Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Friday, September 28, 2012

Never famous, redux

I thought I'd better explain the last post a little more fully.

Quick, name three famous fantasy writers.

The three that sprang to my mind were George RR Martin, Tolkien and Terry Goodkind. Of course there are tons of others who might qualify as famous, both living and dead, bother deservedly and otherwise. The point being, for anyone who partakes of fantasy on at least a semi-regular basis, these names are familiar. All of them have had their works translated to the screen, big or small. They have entered the wider sphere, breaking out of the genre 'ghetto'.

I don't expect that will ever happen to me. And I'm fine with that.

Now quick, name three important fantasy writers.

The ones I thought of right off were Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and Ursula Leguin. Each of them contributed something to the genre (and since Ursula is still kicking, she may well contribute more) that no one else could have. Their voices, their works, are singular, irreproducible (despite many, many attempts in Howard's case). But they aren't especially famous to the wider world in the same sense that the first three are. Sure, if you go to a Sf/F convention, virtually everyone would know who they were. But if you did a survey at your local pub? Not so much.

So what's my point? It's that I'm never going to be famous in the way that Tolkien, or Martin, or even Goodkind is. Would I like to be? Well, sure. But not enough to try and emulate them, writing-wise. I would much rather be Fritz Leiber, nearly broke and typing next to my kitchen sink in my waning years, and having a roaring good time writing what the hell I wanted to, than churning out derivative doorstoppers because that's what the market wants. Never fear. I'll tell you a secret: I've tried to write Generic Fantasy(tm) and failed miserably because I was miserable doing it. Other people can (kofDavidDalglishkof) and good for them. They've got a huge work ethic that I envy. But I come to my writing as an avocation rather than a vocation. And while I've no particular hope of impinging upon the greater cultural gestalt, I would very much like to be remembered, after I am gone, as someone who contributed something unique, or at least worthy, to the genre. it's a lesser fame, certainly, but one that is more durable and, to me at least, more worthwhile.

All this is not to say I long to die in penury. If I could have, say, the success of Glen Cook or even Steven Brust (two writers I admire greatly), I'd be a happy, happy man.

So, why was I complaining? What exactly was I complaining about then? That's not so simple. It has to do with my writing process, which while vastly interesting to me, is about as exciting as holiday photos to others. To try and explain briefly, there's an inherent tension between giving the reader what they want when they go shopping in the Epic Fantasy section, and the way that my stories tend to play out. I do feel a responsibility to deliver a close approximation to what's on the tin. Sadly, there is no "1st Person POV Sword & Sorcery That Toys With Genre Conventions" section in any bookstore I've ever visited, online or otherwise. So yes, as much as I can, as much as I feel comfortable with, I do try and put some of my more rebellious writing tics under a blanket of the familiar. Perhaps as I become a stronger writer, or as readers respond positively to what they find in my writing, I won't feel compelled to do so quite so much- but it is a compulsion, or at least a deeply ingrained worry. It doesn't have to do with wanting to be 'famous' though. It has to do with meeting readers' expectations as much as I can, within the framework of the genre.

To try and give an example: If I'm paying for a cheeseburger, and the cook is a frustrated chef, I might be quite happy if he does some amazing thing with the spices and preparation of the meat, or if he chooses to serve it on a sourdough bun, or if he uses arugula and rocket instead of iceberg lettuce. I would be less pleased if the cheese is Limburger, there are avocado and papaya slices, and the meat is cow tongue.

The point being I know I can make a burger that's properly cooked, with fresh ingredients. Nobody's going to get sick off it. The tension comes in restraining my more creative impulses, because at this point in my writing life, I feel beholden to the reader to give them a product that is within the boundaries of the genre. I simply cannot go and start messing with fundamental underpinnings such as story arc (and yes, I have had such urges). Not for Amra and Holgren's tales, at least.

Speaking of which, The Blade That Whispers Hate isn't gonna write itself.

Peace, y'all.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

I am so never going to be a famous writer

I know my genre conventions. I know them inside and out, back to front, up down and sideways.

And yet I can't make myself follow them.

The crazy thing is, even though I can't make myself follow them, I go to incredible lengths to disguise the fact that I didn't follow them. Which is just sick.

What the hell is wrong with me?

(yes, I am talking about The Blade That Whispers Hate. No, I'm not going to get into specifics.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fantasy & Feminism, a few personal thoughts

Been thinking a lot lately about feminism, misogyny, chauvinism, and just what it is that differentiates men from women, literarily speaking. Part of this springs from writing a female point of view character, part of it from my personal life, and part from various dust ups on the internet, savaging male fantasy writers as all kinds of bad when it comes to portraying women in a realistic light.

When I first wrote Thagoth, ten years ago now, making the POV character female was not a conscious decision. I mean, I've always been contrarian to a certain degree with my writing; I would be miserable if I had to write like Salvatore or Brooks. But that book started with just an image: a thief trapped in a ruined city in a rainstorm. She was starving. Why? That's it, that's how it began. The thief was a she, and that was that.

Now I admit to naming her Amra knowing it was a name, an alias, that Conan the Barbarian had used for a time. That was both as a nod to my sword & sorcery roots and a sort of dig- my hero was a heroine, not muscular, not a sword master, but just as tough and stubborn in her way as Howard's Conan was in his. Only one or two people have ever picked up on the name, which I attribute to my awesome powers of subtlety. Or something.

Anyway, I wish I could say I have labored mightily to ensure Amra is not just a male fantasy hero with lady parts, so to speak, but the truth is I haven't labored all that much. Amra is Amra. Her history has informed her personality much more, by and large, than her gender. Poverty, domestic violence, murder, homelessness- all before her teens. In Amra's world, gender equality doesn't exist, generally speaking, except interstitially. Her fence doesn't care if she has breasts; he cares if she brings him a profit. Only the very rich and those who operate outside the law can ignore the social mores regarding gender in her world. So Amra operates generally free of much of the patriarchal nonsense other women deal with by virtue of not being fully immersed in that society.

Am I avoiding gender roles and issues by having Amra hold a special, 'other' place in a male-dominated society? Yes, in part. But I'm not avoiding it because I'm afraid to discuss or explore it. I'm avoiding it because these books are not about that, except in a very tangential way.

If you want to know the truth, I'm much more interested in exploring what poverty, privation, domestic abuse and class oppression does to those who labor under these disadvantages. Whether that person is female is a factor, of course, but as a writer I feel I have far bigger fish to fry in my small, genre way than to explore the patriarchal oppression of females.

I leave that to those who are more passionate about the subject. As for my female POV character, she is an individual with strengths and weaknesses, faults and foibles, aspirations and morals (however tarnished, however dented). That's enough for me to try and write convincingly without worrying whether some contributor to Jezebel one day accuses me of being a creep/neckbeard/man'splainer.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Smashwords update

Well.

All but one of my titles has now gone back to their regularly scheduled price at the Apple store.

I still don't know why my titles were free for 30 days. I don't know what kind of jiggery-pokery went on behind the scenes to make it happen, or to make it stop. I only know that I have never experienced such a black hole of customer 'service' in my entire life.

Until Smashwords gets its act together on the customer service side, I can only urge any writer considering self-publishing to steer clear of this company. Mistakes (and there have been many over the last year) I can take in stride. Having to wait nearly two weeks for a response to an urgent issue, and having that response be essentially useless? No. No, I can't accept that from a service provider.

Never mind that I've lost the lion's share of a month's revenue. I'm not making so much that I count on my writing income for anything. I just sock it away and forget about it. The point is, what if this happens when it does matter? What if I was making enough that I'd quit my day job and was relying on my writing income?

I'd have been well and truly screwed, that's what. And if you were in that position, so would you.

I hope you're listening, Mr. Coker. You really need to get your house in order.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing update: The Blade That Whispers Hate, or, how chapter 22 almost killed me*

As of this morning, the word count for BWH stands at 48,260.

The last month or so has not been as fruitful, writing-wise, as I might have hoped. Deadlines at work and real-life stress have conspired to keep me from staying on track with this book. The particular chapter that I'd become stuck on (chapter 22, for those keeping score) wasn't a terribly long one. None of the chapters in BWH are terribly long. But chapter 22 was rather involved. Getting all the characters from point A to point B was a lot more difficult, and tiresome, than I had expected.

Writing this chapter was a lot like digging a ditch. Not much in the way of inspiration, but a whole lot of perspiration. I honestly took no joy in it, which is rare for me. I'm not saying I always rise up singing to face the keyboard, but usually I find satisfaction in some portion of the work at hand, be it a turn of phrase, a nice little fillip of characterization or description, what have you.

The only satisfying thing about chapter 22 was finishing it.

But it is finished. That's the good news.

The bad news is, there are about five chapters left to write, and they're the ones (like cursed 22) that I have so far avoided because I wasn't sure exactly what happened in them, plot-wise.

Did I mention that in this book I've skipped around and wrote the bits I knew first? I didn't do that for Thagoth/Thief Who Spat. That one I had a rough and ready outline for, and knew more or less what happened in each chapter. For BWH, since I knew how it ended (yes, I have the ending written), I figured it would be easy to just write all the stuff that was clear in my mind, and that would make those dark areas in the plot more illuminated.

It hasn't turned out that way. Well I mean it has, but it hasn't been painless.

*pure hyperbole