Yeah, that seems to be a bit of a problem

fireside

 

The original article can be found at Fireside Fiction Company.

I do wonder if this has less to do with systemic racism and more to do with money and the generalized fear of change people experience.

Editors of short story magazines are human, presumably, and as such these editors (in general) have an ingrained sense of right and wrong in regards to the stories that should appear in their magazines. It is this very ethos, that governs story choices, that editors are chosen and employed; for the pieces they pick, presumably, keep the eyeballs coming back to their magazine.

Now, while this may appear to be a culturing of anti-POC dispositions amongst the SFF editors of the world; in reality the likely driver behind this maintaining of the status quo is…money.

Every company in the world has a desire to make money, if for different reasons. For-profits companies, your Apples and Walmarts, want to make money simply so they can make more money. Non-profit organizations (legitimate ones) want to make money as well, if only so they can continue offering the services they provide; for if they made no money they couldn’t operate. SFF magazines are no different; they have to make money. At the very least, so they can keep their website running; and in a better world so they can pay authors and a full-time staff of employees.

So as money the ultimate guiding hand, coupled with peoples fear of change, choosing the same type of story, month after month, for publication becomes the norm. Yes, many magazines will publish stories that are radically different from what they normally publish, but that is done only once or twice a year, normally in a planned featurette. And those magazines are not in the majority, making once or twice a year to read a change in storytelling (from a minority of publications) woefully inadequate. So, it is wonderful, studies like these get done. They put the onus on the editors to go outside their comfort zone of stories and not just for a planned featurette, removing the argument that readers just don’t to read something different.

And why should the task of giving readers a wide variety in stories not fall onto the shoulders of editors? Why should these short story publishers not hire a group of editors with wildly different views on what makes a great story?

Truth be told every SFF magazine should have their editors make a quarter of published stories be from writers with strong technical writing in a style of prose that doesn’t mesh finely with every other story picked. Now this is not an affirmative action type call to SFF publishing; rather it would present to readers a highly varying degree of writing styles that, while the editor may not like the style of, the audience will (at least with some of the stories). Then since the editor stuck to only strong writing, it’s a win-win; high standards are upheld, stories available to read begin to spread away from a nexus of indistinguishability, the possibility of more incoming money presents itself, and changing to new styles of prose feels less daunting.

The folly of making a story as “cool” as can be

Made by Joel Cardboard Cutouts 1

Back in high school I knew of a kid in the graduating class ahead of me who would get to school early so he could be seen standing in front of his Mazda RX-7. A car his parents very obviously bought for him. Come time to go home, he would stand next to his car and…regale kids with stories of his parent’s wealth? I’m not entirely sure what he talked about. In my graduating class there was a kid who went a different route. A lull in a conversation? Good time for him to bring up the latest gadget he supposedly got to play with. He’d quote the price, rattle off the name of some wealthy person no one else knew who had that gadget, then tell how amazing it was. While both acted in different ways, each yearned for the same end result: to be viewed as “cool”.

A recent book I read reminds me of those two kids.

Now, I understand the urge to make a story as cool as can be. People like cool stuff. Fonzi is still brought up in conversation. People buy posters of James Dean to this day. Buddy Holly has a song named after him. Each would have ended up as obscure pop culture references if people didn’t like “cool”.

So yes, adding a little “coolness” to a story is just fine, however there is a point when that “coolness” takes on a life of its own; eclipsing the story it is part of.

This recent story, in the effort to make a totally cool, bad ass story, forgot three key elements which allowed the desired end-point to eclipse the actual story.

  1. Characters that have some sort of growth. ANY GROWTH.
  2. A plot that actually does something.
  3. Suspension of disbelief.

I probably shouldn’t have to explain this, but readers expect characters to not be static. Now, the word “static” is tricky; for how can a character that does stuff be static? When we say something is static, we generally mean it’s the same, has not changed, or has done anything. A character who is talking and running around is doing something, so they can’t be that word.

Wrong.

If characters simply do stuff and go places, doing the same stuff in these new places as they did in the old places, they are static characters in a static plot. Nothing more. But wait, you say, action isn’t the only part of a book! There’s those middle squishy areas in between the doing of stuff. True, there are those areas, but if the characters only talk/have internal monologue about the previous and future doings of stuff, then they go do more stuff; they are static/cardboard/not fleshed out.

Let’s put it another way.

If a reader can read 5 pages, skip a good 30 pages, read a few more pages and not miss anything (no matter how many times a reader does that), you have a plot and characters more static and cardboard than cardboard sent through the dryer without a dyer sheet.

Which brings us to the point about the plot actually doing something. A story that is just a bunch of psychopaths running around murdering people and bitching about the other psychopaths, is not a plot. It’s just a long action scene. And yes, if a character runs around killing people because they get in their way, that person is a psychopath.

Murdering—okay, fine, killing people to achieve a story goal is shoddy writing. It shows lack of imagination or lack of skill or both. Sure, just about every book has violence and killing in it. However, most books (at least the ones that are well written) use the trope only in action sequences to ramp up the tension, not to resolve issues/achieve goals.

Violence that solves issues and progresses the plot works in videogames. Those things can get away with plots and characters that are weak and a gratuitous amount of violence if the gameplay is super fun, because in the end that is why people play videogames, TO PLAY. Books are different. It’s the same reason why movies and TV shows don’t follow books exactly. What works in one medium rarely translates well to a different medium. What is “cool” in videogames is not the same type of “cool” in books.

Books are literary in nature. They should be written to engage the mind and imagination, not pretend to be videogames, eschewing the mind engagement in favor of balls-to-the-wall action. Read the Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach if you think books can’t engage the mind and imagination and be as frantic as a Call of Duty session on speed.

Stories shouldn’t be able to be read and forgotten as easily as the names of the “cool” kids we all knew back in our teenage years.

 

YOU’RE WELCOME. 5 BINGE-READING WORTHY SERIES

Lots-of-books

 

It’s Friday afternoon, management told everyone to talk a halfday because the universe took a sudden liking to you. Traffic is light on the way home, every green light caught; everyone you know is off doing something for the weekend; your calendar is as empty as the pie plates at The Golden Corral; and your bookshelf is proudly displaying wonderful works of fiction in all their glory. Or it’s reality and you’d rather read than talk to people.

Whatever the reason, these book series will keep you so entertained you’ll wish a weekend is a year longer than it is.

 

THE PARADOX TRILOGY

fortunes pawn (Small)

What do you get when you combine Frank Castle, Black Widow, Jason Bourne, Joan of Arc, and Achilles? Answer: Devi Morris, the badass of all badasses.

The Paradox Trilogy follows the mercenary Devi Morris in a story with such tightly paced action you’ll give yourself papercuts flipping the pages as you follow her through a conspiracy, that if solved, could have horrific consequences for the human race.

This is action upon action set in a science fiction setting. Think: Expendables (if it were a good movie) + Star Wars.

 

THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY

Abercrombie_BladeItself-TP-300x463 (Small)

Welcome to grimdark fantasy, authored by none other than Lord Grimdark himself. Visceral style of storytelling that reimagines classic tropes, protagonists and antagonists who walk a moral gray line, bloody battles, raw animalistic magic, dead gods, a grim rather than romantic epic quest, and political backstabbing create a story that will go down in the annals as one of the finest fantasy series ever written.

At three books—hence, trilogy—if you start late afternoon on a Friday, you could finish Paradox and The First Law, and by saddened by how boring your life suddenly seems on Monday.

 

THE WHEEL OF TIME

eye of the world

The genre of fantasy is known for epics, so much so that there are entire blog entries dedicated to finding those fantasy books that happen to be standalone or not epic. And when it comes to epic people may automatically think of J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings, but it’s Robert Jordan’s successful The Wheel of Time that set has set the bar for what an epic fantasy series can be.

Wondering how that can be since LoTR is so well known, the movies so popular? Take a gander at these statistics:

10,188 pages. 1,379 POVs. 147 unique POVs. 23 nations.

The Wheel of Time is so epic, it redifines the the very word; and while a few of the books may seem like fluff, there just to make Tor Books and Jordan more money, the payout comes in the form of a jackpot with the last book, Memory of Light. The finale to the greatest epic fantasy ever written is so great, you better talk a month off when you begin on Eye of the World, to finish this classic struggle of good versus evil.

 

REVELATION SPACE

Revelation_Space_cover_(Amazon)

The Revelation Space books are not a series in the classic definition, but rather five books set in a shared universe. STOP! Don’t skip to the next series to binge on, now that you know this isn’t a series like a TV show. To do so would have catastrophic consequences to your imagination, as the books set in the Revelation Space universe are so amazing that they are the gold standard for hard sci-fi space opera.

What’s that? You don’t like hard sci-fi? I hear you, I’m not a big fan of the genre either. But the Revelation Space books are so marvelously written, to read them and not be entertained is all but an impossibility.

 

FIREFALL

echopraxia (Small)

Ahh the challenge of reading. For many, if they are told a storyline is so original it doesn’t follow normal tropes, and ideas are so…different the entire series reads like a piece of experimental fiction, those many would shake their heads and move on.

To do so with Blindsight and Echopraxia—books of Firefall—would be a disservice to your brain.

Yes, Blindsight has botany terminology that is difficult to wrap your head around and sometimes requires the use of a dictionary. True, Echopraxia has a plot arc that is, at best, challenging to wrap your mind around. However, the writing, plotting, pace, and original story are so wonderfully produced that very few authors alive—or dead—can match the superb results Peter Watts has achieved.

 

 

4 Detrimental Effects Of Reading On Ereaders

book-863418_640

History is full of epic battles; David and Goliath, Axis and Allies, Rocky and Apollo; but there is one battle more epic, more divisive, than any other:

Paper books versus Ebooks

Find someone who reads (more than just emails), and ask them if they prefer to do their reading on a real book or on a fake book like Kindles, and you’re guaranteed to get a response that does not straddle the fence. And even though the answer—which is better—is obvious, some people still choose wrong and say a fake (ebook) book is better.

The next time you hear such heresy, you now have four direct hits for why ebooks are the loser in this battle.

 

YOU’LL FORGET HOW TO READ LONG SENTENCES

Reading long literary sentences is a skill you can actually lose if you don’t use it. A study in 2006 shows that reading on screens changes the linear fashion in which we are taught to read, to an “F” pattern, where we read the first line then skim the left side looking for keywords. Good luck enjoying a novel by only reading thirty words on every page.

 

LACK OF ABSORBTION

Quick, name the first three significant plot points in the latest book you read. If you read the story on paper, you’re likely able to rattle them off; if you chose to read it on a Kindle or other ereader you’re “significantly” less likely to accurately answer that.

 

PAPER BOOKS ARE MORE COHERENT AND NAVIGABLE

By halving the topography of a novel—rather than eight corners and two clearly defined domains that help you navigate the terrain of words, an ebook gives you just a single page of text with no way to orient yourself—you are turning a joyful reading experience into an incoherent mess. Oh, and that literary map the domains—left and right pages—create also helps with reading comprehension.

 

YOU’RE HURTING YOURSELF

You heard reading can prevent mental decline and increase your empathy so you don’t come off as such a jerk to people, so you started reading with vigor. Good for you! Fantastic! I just hope you didn’t choose a screen to read that book on, or you may end up damaging your health more than helping it.

 

 

 

 

 

Hooray for book lights!

wp-1460685057439.jpg

Got these two little beauties with a Barnes and Noble gift card by daughter got me for my birthday. Now I can lay in bed and read while my wife sleeps, rather than sit up on an uncomfortable couch.

Great book so far too.

Oh man, I gotta read a book?

READING

Reading [ˈrēdiNG]

NOUN

  1. the action or skill of reading written or printed matter silently or aloud

 

Three years ago when I was still writing ANDROID HUNTERS, a coworker told me something that shocked me so intensely I just sat down—a little bummed truth be told. He said, “I don’t read books, just watch TV. I don’t have enough time to read.”

How was I to respond to that?

  • “I hate you, because my dream relies on people reading.”?
  • “Can you at least buy my book?”?
  • “Uhh, stop watching TV and you’ll have more time to read.”?

I didn’t have a clue how to respond, so I sat down and began responding to emails like he had said nothing. It’s been at least three years since I’ve heard those words, and they still haunt me; so much so that I passively look for research into reading that I can share with a person I will likely never see again.

INCREASE THAT VOCAB OF YOURS

TV relies on imagery and sound to get across most of the points the show is making, in turn exposing you to precious few words. What words are said are catered to the lowest common denominator so everyone can understand.

Why do you need a larger vocabulary when a TV show doesn’t need it? Well a TV show doesn’t need confidence to talk to a supervisor at work. A TV show doesn’t need to sound articulate in a professional setting. So, crack open those books, expose yourself to some new words, and start speaking with new found confidence with articulation that stuns even you.

STOP SPENDING ALL LUNCH BREAK READING THAT TWO PARAGRAPH EMAIL

Without exposing yourself to the written word, automaticity and word recognition speed are greatly delayed. Not recognizing leads to less involvement in reading, which leads to less word recognition, until you’re communicating in grunts and hand gestures. *

*Okay, maybe not grunts, but you won’t have to spend ten minutes reading a two sentence email.

ANALYTICAL SKILLS, YAY!

We all love solving puzzles, being able to spot a pattern someone else can, winning at games. Hooray for competition! How about improving your odds of beating that total stranger/friend/coworker by showing off mad analytical skillz gained by reading.

WRITE BETTER

Do you like writing? Do you want to one day write the next great American novel? Do you just want your emails to not sound like a five year old wrote them? Good luck doing that without reading. A LOT.

DON’T BE THAT PERSON

It’s easier to talk to someone who is empathetic, something everyone learns eventually.

Studies have shown that by broadening your horizon through reading, your mind will open and be more receiving to lives outside your insular one. In other words, you may never have known someone who suffered through cancer, but by reading books with people going through sickness, you will literally increase your empathy for a real person suffering from an illness. And be realistic, at least one time in your life someone will look to you for empathy; do you really want to have to give them the cold shoulder because you don’t understand?

ENTERTAINMENT

Books can be consumed in more areas than watching a TV show. You don’t have to worry about putting away a book on an airplane before departure and landing. A book can be read in an area without cell signal. It doesn’t need to be charged. You don’t need to wait for a company to throw tons of money at a show just so you can see something different, because there’s a never-ending barrage of new and interesting content waiting to increase your vocabulary and make you a better friend.

BEST OF ALL, READING IS FREE

Go into a library (for free), get a library card (for free), and start entertaining yourself without waiting for a computer that has a timer (for free).

 

 

 

 

 

Goddamn writing doubts. Don’t listen to them.

I finished my latest novel. Edited it, which went a hell of a lot smoother than I anticipated, and then sent it to my agent. If you have ever submitted a manuscript to someone you know I am now on the roller coaster of emotions. It doesn’t matter that I have an agent and am not sending out query letters. This is a pride and joy of mine I am letting someone else read.

Right now I love what I sent to him. Think it’s an amazing first book in a two book series. In approximately one minute I will want to recall the email I sent him in order to put more stuff in. An hour after that, I will love everything about the story and think recalling the email to edit the MS more will result in no additions. I love roller coasters but not this one.

The thing about this story, LORDES is the tentative title, is that I actually stopped writing it with about 14,000 words left.

I talked myself out of it actually.

When I began writing LORDES, I of course thought it was the most original thing ever done. Wonderful. Amazing. No one has ever thought of doing this. I’m a genius. Some days I wrote 3000 words. Other days I wrote only 800. I wrote until I hit a point that I felt if I continued for the day I would just be vomiting words onto the page. It was a wonderful time.

Roughly halfway through at one of the major turning points in the story, my thoughts on the entire thing begin to change, but all within the range pretty much every author goes through. I’m thinking, yeah, okay, not as original as I thought but it’s still damn good. Fun to read. Best thing I have ever written, without a doubt. Maybe not the best thing ever written though, but the best in my stable.

The train of doubts arrive. I am three quarters of the way through, right about 47,000 words in, and I start to tell myself I’m ripping off Neal Asher. At that time I was reading one of the Polity books. Now his books rely heavily on AI. It’s the crux of the universe he’s created. Major characters are robotic AIs. The human government is run by AIs. One entire book of his, Brass Man, centers on an AI. I have AIs in my universe, but make only offhanded mentions of them. Only one AI in my story has a speaking part, and it’s only like 8 sentences long. I don’t even have aliens in the story, and yet here I am explaining to myself that I am ripping off Neal Asher because what I’m writing looks like a science fiction book. I’m sure if I was reading another author I would have inserted their name into my doubt-fueled excuses.

With 14,000 words to go I completely talk myself out of writing this story. A story I have absolutely loved up until a little past the halfway mark. I talk myself out of it by telling myself I am copying the Polity books. While the only things my story shares with Asher’s is that it has characters and it’s science fiction, but I’m really good at talking myself out of doing or finishing things. So, I put the book aside with no desire to ever finish it, and begin the start of another story I know I’ll never come anywhere close to completing. But why should I continue with LORDES? It’s just a hack work. It’s no good. I suck at writing original stories.

I would say pretty close to a month goes by, and I read the last 30 pages I wrote in LORDES. You know what happens? I FALL IN LOVE WITH THE STORY I WROTE. I’m talking head over fucking heels. It is positively wonderful.

I went back to LORDES. Strange, when I went through so much trouble to talk myself out of finishing it. Why did I finally go back to it, fall in love with it again and finish it? Personal reasons. Though not to get too personal, I finally told myself that, “I am a good fucking writer.”

Acknowledging that I am a good fucking writer, and it’s my hard work that has made me such a great writer helped me me realize what I knew all along but didn’t want to believe for insanity reasons:

I’m not copying another writer because I put spaceships and crazy technology in my story. It’s called science fiction. Spaceships are crazy tech are supposed to be in it.

I guess the moral of the story is this:

Write because you enjoy it. Your story is not all that original, but how you tell it is. Humans have been telling stories for tens of thousands of years (however long speech has been around). Every type of story has been told, but not in the way you can tell it. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. And when that demon comes up and whispers to you that your story is not good enough and you should put it aside; stab it, shoot it, set it on fire, put it through a wood chipper, and then finish your goddamn story.