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Ain't Nothing Gonna Break-a My Stride

Nobody's gonna slow me down, oh no, I got to keep on moving.

(Muse:  I have no words for what I'm hearing.)

Yeah, I know.  Matthew Wilder doesn't need to lose any sleep.

But that brings me to the point:  what happens when you do slow down, when you can't keep moving?  What happens when your motivation flags and you find yourself in some kind of barren desert of writing, where nothing comes out?  I have no idea what most people do but I found this article on Writetodone.  I don't agree with everything they write bit this one wasn't bad.  It basically says people should break down tasks into what's difficult and what's not, and do the easy stuff on days when they are not motivated.  If they aren't feeling it on a given day, they should send out some queries, outline a blog post, or just do some housekeeping on their version control rather than try to power through the hard stuff.

Interesting take and I thought it would be worth posting.  And in the event that it does help you, my dear reader, then don't slow down.  Keep on moving.

Update on a Burnt House

So....

As I posted a while back, we had a house fire back at the end of January.  Reconstruction has been unbelievably slow, thanks to some less-than-helpful contractors.  But having said all that, things are looking up.  The electric wiring and the sheetrock texture both finished today, which were big steps.  Much of the remaining work is going to be done by yours truly, and his son.  In fact, we've been knocking some of those things out, piece by piece, and the house is almost livable.

This has been an exhausting experience - physically and mentally - but I have come out of it with a new appreciation for just how complex a modern home is.  It is not just a matter of tying hammering nails into the right spots (though that certainly helps) but of planning things out and making sure all of the systems are working in together harmony.  A single mistake can undo days of work as you have to tear things out to make up for it.

What does any of this have to do with writing?  Nothing, other than give me a semi-valid excuse for why I haven't gotten much new writing done this month.

I did get a whole slew of short story submissions out this month and besides 2013, this makes my best short story submission year (by number submitted) since 2009.  So that's something.

Interview up!

Just an FYI:  Lydia Kurnia, one of my fellow authors in the anthologies Trespass and Unburied Treasures (for sale here and here, respectively) put up an interview with me regarding my writing habits and life.

Anyone interested - all three of you - can find the interview over here at her site.

My first interview.   Flattering and nice of her to do.

D&D Player Loses Bet, Summons Satan

Saint Bernie, MN -  A college student at Whatsamatter U was playing Dungeons and Dragons Friday night when apparently a bet went wrong and was forced to summon the Prince of Darkness in a spectacle involving a pentagram, the blood of a freshly-killed cat, and a topless virgin coed.  According to witnesses, the spell was temporarily halted while the campus was scoured for a virgin.  Upon completion of the spell, Satan himself arrived at the dorm room and threatened the players with the most unholy vengeance before stealing the remaining beer and vanishing in a puff of smoke.

The Saint Bernie Police Department was notified about the potential animal abuse and states they have launched an investigation.

No charges will be filed against Satan.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Silly, yes.  But hardly any more so than the feeling I had on reading this article on Tor.com about the "Summer of Sleaze."  The article discusses the foofaraw surrounding the "disappearance" of college student James Egbert, which was blamed on him being a player of Dungeons and Dragons.  Never mind that he was found living in another state months later (though he did tragically commit suicide); having the narrative out there that this fantasy game was poisoning the minds of young people was just too tantalizing for the social crusaders of the day.  Jack Chick (surprise, surprise) had a field day with this.

This was hardly new, of course.  Fred Wertham penned Seduction of the Innocent back in 1954, warning that comic books were corrupting the children of America and right about the same time, Elvis Presley's swinging hips were too risque for that newfangled media of television.  In the '80s, it was about rap music.  More recently, it has been about the violence in video games.  At every turn of cultural development, there is someone waiting to stand up and scream, "Not on my watch!", though it is, of course, debatable how much of it is "their" watch.  After all, culture is a shared experience, not one cuckoo-cloudlander's personal preference.

Back to the point.  Egbert's so-called disappearance spawned a whole series of books regaling people on the evils of role-playing games.  There was an even an atrocious movie based on one of the books, Mazes and Monsters (starring a young Tom Hanks).  For a bit, the whole country was awash with this nonsense.

I played D&D as a kid.  I read comic books.  I read spec fiction now and have read some pretty horrifying stuff, and even written a little.  And you know what?  I turned out okay.


(Muse:  You sure about that?)

Yes.  I didn't turn into an amoral killer.  I don't do drugs.  I don't worship Satan.  I lead a normal life and so do all of the other people I know who engaged in these activities.

It's about the twin dragons of insecurity and need for importance that drives the people to pick up the sword and prattle on.  And they are dangerous as far I am concerned - more dangerous than some teenage rolling dice in a basement somewhere.  This whole type of malarkey puts me in mind of the C.S. Lewis quote:


Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

True dat.

And to anyone who agrees with stemming the tide of moral decay and decadence, I say this:

There is a great thing about living in the western world in the 21st century:  you have the freedom to not give a crap what anyone else is doing.  If you see something annoying on TV, change the channel.  If you read something that is abhorrent to your values, put it down.  If you artwork that offends your spiritual convictions, walk away.

But please spare us the theatrics and righteousness of forcing your "proper" views on the rest of us.  Spend that time doing something nice for yourself, since you, like the rest of us, will be nothing but food for worms in sixty years.  Enjoy your worm-free existence while you can.


(Muse:  Where did that come from?)

Someone pushed one of my censorship buttons today.  Sorry, I'll calm down by the next installment.

I'm Damaged. Love Me!

I've been thinking a lot lately.

(Muse:  This can only end badly.)

Shush.  I've been thinking about damaged and broken protagonists and what makes them appealing to the reader.

Everyone loves the hero:  the knight in shining armor, the Superman, etc.  They embody the best in humanity and are raised up as a shining example of what we should strive for.  But how relatable are they?  Not very, says I; it is very hard to relate to someone who, on the outside, comes off as perfect.  Humans by and large are not perfect, so if the main character is invincible, overly powerful, has no flaws, it can be very hard for the reader to connect with them.

As a personal example, I offer up Richard Rahl in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series (never mind some of the seedier issues in the books).  As the protagonist, Rahl seems unbeatable.  Every woman in the book thinks he is the most handsome man on the planet.  His morals are above reproach.  Everyone finds themselves eventually agreeing with him, even his sworn enemies.  Okay, I get it - author avatar and wish fulfillment, and all that.  But to me, I had a very difficult time connecting with the main character or even worrying about what happened to him.

Now consider Tanis Half-Elven from the Dragonlance series.  His central existence makes him a shattered soul:  born of a sexual assault, wanted by neither the elves nor humans for his "tainted blood," he is essentially banished from either side of his heritage and bears the psychological scars from that upbringing.  Wow, now there is some damage - and some relatability!  Who has never felt unwanted in their lives?  Outcast, or shut out of the cool-kids club?  Instant connection and the I believe the entire series would have been weakened without that facet of the protagonist's development.

When I sent Omega Mage out for beta reads, one of my readers told me that they liked the damage in the main character, who is haunted by the loss of his family and is forced into some unsavory habits that he justifies in the effort of finding his son.  We all have self-doubt, we all have regrets, and we all sometimes make excuses for why we are acting the way we do.  In Pilgrimage to Skara, the protagonist has never accepted the betrayal of the woman he loves and her pulling his puppet strings causes him to question himself through the duration of the story.

And as an aside, I think it is more fun for the author to write about damaged character.  If a character can solve any challenge without problems, loss, or even a little introspection, what's the point?  Too easy.  As writers we should challenge ourselves as well, so trying to work through a broken character's actions and justifications feels like the right thing to do.

So how do we get there?

First, I would consider the character's history.  It doesn't have to be dramatic but we all have trauma in our history that has shaped us.  Maybe it is just a something as simple as falling off a jungle gym and breaking a leg as a kid that makes the character afraid of heights.  Maybe it is something worse.  But mine the backstory for things that can take a character in different directions.

Second, we are all tempted by our baser instincts.  Does the character have an addiction?  Are they lecherous?  Are they enthralled by social media to the detriment of other priorities?  This can be especially effective if it is understated and tweaks the character vice being a story driver, or if in the subtext, the character is actively fighting against their desires.

Third, there is necessity and other actors.  Does the character feel like they are driven to do things by outside forces?  Are they forced to steal to feed a starving family?  Do they live in an environment where it is kill or be killed and they have to murder to survive, even if they don't like it and are haunted by it?  This again can be a fine line to walk without being over the top but I think it is effective.

In the end, the point is to make the character someone with whom the reader can empathize.  The reader needs to feel themselves in the protagonist's shoes, understanding their decisions.  This can be done from a place of strength but I believe, instinctively, we tend to recognize each other's weaknesses just as much, if not more so - and that makes a connection easier and faster.

Anyway, that's my rambling thoughts for this morning.  As always, feedback is most welcome.

(Note:  Author Laurel Dewey offers a useful perspective here on her blog on how to build broken protagonists.)

2014 Hugo Award Winners Announced

2014 Hugo Awards have been announced.  You can read about the winners here on Tor.com.  The Hugo Awards are chosen by the members of Worldcon (the World Science Fiction Convention) at their annual gathering.

I was neutral on this year's nominees and winners.  With all that is going on, I have not kept up on my reading this year so I am embarrassed to say that I haven't read any of the novel nominees - something I shall have to correct.  On the other hand, I did read 3 of the 4 short story nominees and think they picked the right one.

The pro magazine selection was exactly the same as last year's nominations and I was disappointed Beneath Ceaseless Skies did not take it, again, because it is an awesome venue.  Also, the fanzine nominees for the last few years has been all sci-fi based, with few, if any (I didn't see any going back to 2011) fantasy magazines.

I will also add that the winners of the 2014 Chesley Awards, given for the year's best scif-fi or fantasy artwork, were also announced a few days ago but I know little about those.  You can read more here.

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This evening, I read this blog entry about critique groups.  The post makes some very good points about being careful when you get peer feedback.  It's worth it for any author to check it out.

(Hat tip to E.L. Wagner - thanks for pointing this out.)
So ....

Hmmm.  It seems that I have very little to say.


(Muse:  You have been away a long, long time.  Naughty boy.)

I have.  Rebuilding a house has been the biggest challenge of my life, including being married to a firecracker of a wife and 20 years of military service.  Things have subsided a little, so trying to get back in the game here.

Anyway, brief, announcement.  My story, "You Can't Beat the Metal," is out now on Amazon in the werewolf compilation, "Luna's Children:  Stranger Worlds".  The volume contains a wide variety of werewolf stories.  Mine is set just after World War I and has a little steampunk-ish influence on it.

There is a companion book called, "Luna's Children: Full Moon Mayhem" that I have not yet read.  Hopefully, it will be good too.

Anyway, check them out.

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It's Everywhere, Man!

So....

Mrs. Axe is an artist and while her main area of expertise is stained glass, in the last year she's branched out into polymer clay.  Because she kicks ass, she has produced some very neat pieces.  In the course of her research, she's found a ton of clay steampunk jewelry designs.  Trips to the local Hobby Lobby and Michaels stores show lots of accessories:  gears, keys, brass, etc.

Steampunk is everywhere there days and I wonder if that is a good thing.

I have to tread carefully here, as I am not some kind of snob or elitist that stops liking a thing when that thing becomes popular.  Having said that, the multi-media outburst of steampunk is disquieting.

One immediately wonders on the definition of steampunk as well.  Here is the Wikipedia definition. To me, the "steam" seems less important than the "punk."  (There is also this Buzzfeed article about having steampunk without the steam.)  By definition, "punk" is an aggressive clashing of styles with the norm, existing alongside the accepted norms of  culture, style, architecture, technology, and entertainment relevant to a particular era.  So in this case, it is a matter of clashing with the elegance of the Victorian era by being inelegant, or the basic lifestyle of the Wild West by being technologically advanced.  It is more than that, though.  A work of steampunk needs to be faithful to the baseline of the era while still being divergent.

There is also the question of quality control.  Individual products, of course, have been superior (here, I would be thinking of things like Girl Genius, and no, I do not want to devolve into an argument of steampunk vs. gaslamp fantasy).  But when any motif goes popular, there is a bell curve of quality and there is a lot of crappy steampunk out there.  Just throwing in some gears or a heavier-than-air machine doesn't make a work steampunk.  Call me a cynic but I am always annoyed when I see some trying to cash in on a trend.  It's dilution of the genre.

But in the case of steampunk, what happens when that which was considered jarring and anti-establishment itself becomes the norm.  Oh, perhaps not to the surrounding setting in which a story takes place, but the new norm for those of us current and looking back to that Victorian-style past?

In other words, is it really punk when it's saturation?

Steampunk is going to be around for a while, until the next trend.  Maybe good or not.

Any thoughts?
My story, "The Lightning Bears," is out in a new anthology, released today, titled, "Unburied Treasures" (found here on Amazon).  Each story is accompanied by some smart illustrations.

Unburied Treasures consists of nine stories for a mere $1.99, so be sure to check it out.

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