Saturday, December 10, 2011

Development of Taste

How has your reading taste changed over time?

I was always a voracious reader, ever since I realized I was pretty good at it. Funnily enough, I was in remedial reading at the beginning of my first grade year-I distinctly remember my correctly reading the word “world” was the trigger that convinced the teacher to move me up a level. By the end of that year, I was in advanced. Just goes to show-sometimes kids just need time.

But I digress. What did I like to read as a kid? What were my favorite books?

I started with the classics-Boxcar Kids, Hardy Boys, Beverly Clearly, and the like. Typical contemporary middle grade. I also admit reading a lot of the Sweet Valley High novels, which even back then I realized were a bit ridiculous-there was one novel where there is another set of twins, except they have black hair, who tried to steal Jessica and Elizabeth’s identity. It was soap opera stuff. I also read a lot of silly horror novels, like Goosebumps, and I did read Animorphs.

Around 4th and 5th grade I moved on to animal fantasy, which was the bulk of my reading for a while, especially considering I got all my books from my school’s library. Redwall, Martin’s Mice, any book with talking animal protagonists-I devoured them. I wish Warriors had been out then, because I would have loved it. That was also when I read my favorite book of all time-TailChaser’s Song.

Around 6th and 7th grade I started branching out a bit. I gave horror a try, trying and failing to find books with cool vampires. Even back then, I wasn’t that into paranormal. I also got my first taste of good historical fiction with A Separate Peace.

High school was where my tastes focused-when I read Wheel of Time. I became a fantasy fan, not limiting myself to animal fantasy. I also learned to enjoy science fiction when I read the Otherland series.

Since high school my tastes haven’t changed much. I’m open to nearly any genre, but my favorites are fantasy and science fiction. Naturally I insert gay romance into a lot of my writing, as that is my preference, but romance alone doesn’t do much for me-there has to be something otherworldly or fantastical in a story for me to really get sucked in.

I’m trying to find a pattern in my reading over time, but quite honestly I just think being open minded is what led to my reading patterns now. Also, being impressionable helps-if enough people say something is good, I’ll usually give it a try.  

I think having a good memory of the books you liked as a kid helps in writing, especially if you write for a younger audience. Childhood is where you discover what you like, and often it’s easier for children to  simply get sucked into a story and a world. When I write, I try to evoke that easy feeling of discovery.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Traditional vs E-Publishing

So I’ve been a published E-author for a while now, with two books released. It’s been an overall positive experience.

I have not yet been published traditionally-going the agent to big-6 publisher route. 

So, from my experiences with both types of publishing, what have I noticed?

First, E-publishing is easier. I spent a while trying to get various novels published with a legitimate E-publisher, with some false starts, but now I’m comfortable. I had to brush up on my writing after some rejections pointed out flaws, but I made it.

Traditional publishing? Tougher. It’s recommended that people go through agents first, and not directly to publishers. Agents are the first gatekeepers to the publishing world, and they are difficult to impress. No matter how unique you think your premise is, they’ve probably seen something similar before, and every agent may find something different wrong with your manuscript. 

Keep in mind, though, that my experiences are from writing as a hobby while working 9-5 (or 8-6 in some cases) every day. If you have plentiful free time to submit to agents and publishers, you may find that things move much faster.

Another major difference is how your materials are submitted. E-publishers take query letters, but will often look at part of or the entire manuscript, and often give you pointers even if they reject it.

With agents? You have one query letter with which to impress them. Make it count. Some will let you paste a few pages into the email, but it’s the query letter that really matters. And your rejections will typically be standard form rejections, so don’t expect anything helpful. Even rejections of partial and full manuscripts can take the form of “this is great, but not for me/this agency.” If two different agents reject something and do give you feedback, the feedback will often be contradictory. All you can do is keep trying.

So what about once you do get something out? The major difference here-and the biggest benefit of E-publishing-is turnaround time. I’ve heard agents say that if they sold a book tomorrow, it would be published in two years. E-publishers? 6 months. E-books are a great way to ride a fad, and if as a reader if you decide you like a certain genre, you can expect more soon. As an author, you can see your work available on Amazon less than a year after finishing your book if you edit quickly. E-publishers are often more willing to take shorter, novella length works, too, expanding an author’s shelf and providing quick, cheap reads.

So why bother with traditional publishing at all? It’s harder, slower, and often must create fads rather than fit into them.

The answer is obvious-sales and recognition. E-publishing is getting there, but for the moment sales can’t compare to a traditionally published book. On top of that, some genres do better as traditional books-middle grade kids typically can’t afford E-readers. Plus, most E-publishers don’t offer advances, so your money will depend entirely on how well your book does.

Both routes of publishing are valid and can lead to rewards. But keep the differences in mind when planning your future in writing. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cover released!

Check out the completed works page for the cover of Perils of Forgotten Pain, to be released in January!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


 We are well into November, which is National Novel Writing Month-a month where people around the world decide to bang out a novel in 30 days, which apparently means 50k words.

I’m not a huge fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t outright dislike it, and I have been tempted to join in the fun in the past. NaNo is a good thing in general, in some respects. For those people who need to overcome the fear of writing a large piece of work, or who think they can’t do it, NaNo serves as a fantastic motivator. And discussion of stories on forums can serve as a fertile breeding ground for ideas.

Personally, I don’t NaNo because I already have a writing system set up. I can’t bang out 50k words in 30 days, but I can write a 70k story in five months, or a 30k story in two. I set my goals in terms of story accomplished, not word count. I don't really feel the need to participate.

But there is a dark side to NaNo, that always bothers me-50k words of a story written in 30 days will almost never be a complete story. Most of the time, it won’t even be any good.

There are many skills a writer needs, but two very important ones are the ability to perceive flaws in writing, and the knowledge to fix them. Writing a story blisteringly fast does nothing to promote those two skills. Instead it forces you to shove them aside as you strive to make your word count and ignore any warning bells in your head that say “maybe this scene is pointless” or “where am I going with this?”
Edit? Bah. Who has time for that? I need more words!

Many experienced writers already know this. They know the rigorous editing that will come after a NaNo story is completed. But the newbie writers who are just learning that they can, indeed, write a real story? They don’t.

I’ve heard dark tales of agents and editors besieged with unedited work after NaNo is over, newbie writers glowing with their accomplishment. But finishing a story is not finishing a story. The mass of bloated words that comes out of a NaNo project is not ready for the experienced public eye. People who receive praise on their blogs for their NaNo stories get falsely puffed up with the expectation that agents and publishers will want it the day after it’s finished.

They don’t. Agents and publishers want to look at something that has been edited to perfection, and they do have the ability to tell when something has been rushed prematurely out the door. And if it’s been posted on a blog? Don’t expect publishers to want to publish something that has already been available for free.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Alpha's world

Like my bio says, I write exclusively science fiction and fantasy. One of the most enjoyable things that comes out of those genres is constructing a new world-but even fantasy and sci fi worlds have elements of reality to them.

Let’s look at Alpha. In this world, those with money can basically pay to increase their child’s intelligence. This results in a society where the difference between rich and poor is taken to extremes. Rich children are given intelligence and success, while the poor are left to fend for themselves.

But when you think about it, that’s not so incredibly different from what we see today. IQ is more elastic than people think-it’s not solely what you’re born with. Kids given opportunities, who have their good health maintained, and who are supported by their parents, end up with higher intelligence than those who are less fortunate. Taking IQ out of the equation, the rich have vastly more opportunities than the poor, and are able to get better educations and have more access to healthcare-which are important factors to future success.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Those with both natural intelligence and resilience still make a name for themselves, regardless of their background. But too many are getting left behind, and there doesn’t seem to be any easy solutions forthcoming. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tips on Writing a Fiction Book part 3-Structuring the Story

So you've got a great idea, and you're going to dedicate yourself to getting this book done. Congrats! So what structure is your story going to take? How fast paced is your story? 
These are things that people typically don't think about consciously, but the actual structuring of your story is one that you should spend some time on. What POV are you in-first or third? How many characters are you following, and how deep into their thoughts are you willing to go? How soon do you launch into your main plot, or introduce us to the conflict? Even seat of the pants writers should have some idea of these things, either before they start or soon after starting.
Deciding these things is often a delicate balancing act, and the more you write the more the experience will benefit you. Unfortunately, the experience of writing an entire book is the only thing that will prepare you for writing the next one, and the next, and then maybe, finally the one that will actually be good enough to publish. Pacing and execution are not easy, and can break an otherwise fantastic story.
First, the structure. Try to decide early on how many main characters you have and the best POV to take, or consider it as you write. There are several ways to tell a story, but some are better for certain types of stories than others, and only you can decide what is best for yours.
Are you following one person or many? Does the villain in your story get a say in anything? How will all of these POVs interact, and how does each one actually advance the story?
There are a few traps here to avoid. Don't write from a character's POV if they don't actually have an important role. Not only will it slow your story down, but people will resent the character. Also, if your story is only going to follow one person in a limited third person POV or from first person, make sure to make them very interesting characters and have them develop throughout the story, or your readers may start getting bored. If you're writing from an omniscient narrator's perspective, make sure it's clear who the lens is focused on at the moment. Head hopping without a clear indication of when it occurs (like with a chapter break) will do nothing but confuse your readers.
Secondly, we have pacing. How soon does the important part of your story begin? How long do you spend setting it up?
I would recommend not taking too long to introduce the main conflict. Have an idea of what the conflict is early on, and don't try to keep main plot points in suspense when they don't matter that much to the overall plot. I made that mistake in my first novel-I wrote thirty thousand words to introduce a plot point that was taken for granted in the grand scheme of the story. If the plot point you're trying to keep mysterious and spending a lot of time on is something that would ordinarily show up on the plot description on the back of the book, don't bother spending so many words on it. Introducing it earlier will make your book more exciting and save you editing later.
On the flipside, of course, don't rush into conflict so quickly that you sacrifice everything else. If your character is rushing out of the inn he works at to follow some mysterious wizard, that sounds like a great plot introduction-unless it's happening on page two, in which case I'm not sure I care about him enough yet to want to continue.
Make sure everything you write matters to the story. This is basically just avoiding filler. Every scene should advance something that is important to the story you are writing or the world you are building. Don't waste time on details that don't matter; people don't really care what your main character had for breakfast.
Of course, don't skip things that are necessary, either. If your character was gravely injured in a fight, don't make him recover after a day just to keep the story moving. Keep things fast paced, but keep them realistic as well. If you aren't writing an action scene, use the space to develop the character. The order things should be addressed in terms of importance, especially after the story has begun, should be plot advancement, character advancement, and finally worldbuilding. If the scene you're writing is not addressing any of those things, think about it further before writing it.
To sum up, pacing and structuring your story is vastly important. It's also the hardest thing to learn and the hardest to teach, because it is so dependent on experience and on the exact story you are writing. The best thing to do, especially when you are uncertain, is to write far more than you think you need. If you're not sure if you want an extra character POV, write them both and decide later based on what you've written. It is easier to delete than to add. This also makes editing easier, which is what I will talk about next time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Alpha is released!

My M/M erotic novella, Alpha, has been released by Extasy books! Check out the blurb on the completed works page!

You can purchase it here!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fantastical humans and creatures in writing

Ever since Twilight came out, there have been undercurrents of discussion in the unpublished writing world (and maybe the published one too, who knows?) about how effective supernatural or modified humans and creatures are in creating tension in a story. Unlike talking animal characters, supernatural and fantastical creatures are human enough for readers to relate to, but fantastic enough and with enough paranormal background to create an interesting fantasy (or romantic) world.

This is just a list of ones I see most often or would like to see more of, from most to least favorite.

Cyborgs: Ok, these aren’t really supernatural at all, but they are certainly on the fantastic side. A human, given robotic implants to make them, if I can borrow a phrase, stronger, better, faster. I love them-who doesn’t like an otherwise vulnerable guy with overwhelming physical strength? I’ve said this before, but I haven’t seen as many stories featuring cyborgs as I would like, and very few of them explore the effect that such modifications would have on a character’s humanity.

Faeries: Faeries are neat because of the variability with which they are portrayed. They can be tiny things with insect like wings, or human sized. They can be elements of nature or almost contemporary. They can be good, evil, or just like to play tricks. There is a ton of classic literature on fairies that is begging to be addressed in future work, and there is also a ton of recent novels that explore fairies and the fairy realm in interesting ways. For a quick read, check out War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.

Shifters/ Werewolves: Humans that can turn into animals, and of course, the classic werewolf. Shifter books are practically their own genre in a lot of romance, with the classic alpha pack leader serving as a status symbol for the hero/heroine to fall in love with. Werewolves are often a subset of shifter books, with many liberties taken on how shifter society works and which animals shifters turn into (it’s 99% of the time a large predator). Classic werewolf fiction has fallen off a little bit, however-being a werewolf is no longer the curse it once was in the literary world.

Animal Hybrids- If the characters are truly anthropomorphic animals, then it is probably furry fiction, but animal hybrids are a bit different. I classify animal hybrids as stories where a character looks mostly human, but has animal like traits or abilities-think catgirls from anime, or perhaps a human with wings or claws. Usually these stories have a society of animal people, or several different societies of people who have different species traits, who coexist with humans. Typically there is a romance subplot between two different “species.”  This is a huge genre in unpublished fiction, and I’m surprised it hasn’t taken off in the legit publishing world yet. Characters that are human enough to be attractive and yet have innate, cool abilities based on an animal, with no shifting required? That sounds interesting to me.

Aliens: UFOs, abductions, and creative takes on otherworldly species-Aliens can be a lot of fun. Most of the time, unfortunately, they aren’t put to good use, and are the ambiguous enemy that must be defeated or are mere background players in the human space opera. There is a lot of potential for aliens, though, and good science fiction takes advantage of the many intergalactic species humans may encounter. For a good MG book series with interesting aliens, check out Animorphs. For a great TV show with interesting alien races, check out Babylon 5.

Vampires: Blood totally skeeves me out. So do needles. Combine needle sharp teeth and sucking blood and just…ugh.  That said, vampires can be very interesting, and their lore is intriguing. The thinly veiled sexual innuendo of blood sucking can even titillate if done well. However, vampires are getting a lot of knocks, chief among them that lately, they are extremely overdone.

Elves: Can we please have elves in a story that aren’t stuck up assholes? Everyone steals Tolkien’s elves, who are always fair haired, long lived, wise nature loving creatures who look down on humans. I don’t like elves because they’re typically portrayed as misanthropic, and being human, I kind of love humans. Societal commentary is great in fantasy, but a writer doesn’t typically need an entire perfect race that exists just to make the humans in the story look bad. It’s not realistic.

That’s just a few of my opinions on fantastical character types I see in the publishing world. There are others that have been popular at some time or another-ghost stories are classic, and there are a few angel or demon stories out there that I’m not familiar with, I’m sure. Zombies have been big for quite a while, though I would be loathe to truly call them “characters.” If someone can make a sympathetic zombie character, I would love to see it.

Tips on Writing a Fiction Book Part 2-Keeping up Motivation

So you have a fantastic idea plot idea, and your muses are singing in your ears. So how do you actually get it down on paper?

Obviously, there are the given tropes- “Just write!” “Set aside time everyday!” But these don't work for everybody, and if you don't feel motivated at all, then doing those things becomes hard. It may be more helpful to try to figure out what kind of writer you are, and then understand what motivates you. From my observation, there are two major styles of writing.

First, there are the “Seat of the Pants” writers. I classify myself as one of these. These are people who do no revising as they write and don't plan out the course of the story when they begin much further than the setting, the characters, and the overall plot. Often, their story can get away from them, and they will add things as they get inspired. It is very difficult for them to write a synopsis without referring back to the original story because they don't remember exactly how they got where they did.

The drawbacks to this type of writing are many-you end up with a very unorganized mess of what may be loosely connected scenes that need to be divided into chapter chunks after the fact, or you may have scenes that just don't belong at all. Editing is a huge pain for this type of writer.

The plus side is that this type of writing is very easy to continue. Your momentum snowballs on itself. It doesn't feel like a chore, or an English writing assignment (now I must write the scene where Bob buys some staples). You're driving a very fast, very hard to control car, but it never really stops.

Of course, it's not all easy. The car can slow down. Seat of the Pants writers can write themselves into a corner and not realize it until they end up having to delete a good portion of their progress. When this happens, they feel the urge to give up. Also, if you end up writing too many scenes on a whim that don't fit the story, your desire to write can get choked.

If you're this type of writer, it's usually easy to start writing, but finishing can be hard. If you notice you have to struggle to keep writing, it may be because of the reasons above. Make sure you like where you story is going, and keep your characters the way you prefer them. A lack of enthusiasm may signify that you wrote something that doesn't really fit your story.

Also, Seat of the Pants writers often have several ideas that are in their head at once. As a result, they often don't finish anything. If this describes you, then really try to apply those basic tropes-write something every day. Have a schedule of a certain number of words per day, or at the very least a schedule of when you want to finish your novel. I solved this problem by specifying that I wanted a 75k novel done in a certain time. As a result I had to write 400 words a day. I let myself take breaks, however, and sometimes would write four times that amount in a day when the inspiration struck so I could take a break when I needed to. All the while I did battle other ideas that screamed to be worked on, but the urge wasn't as strong when I was focused so intently on the one story.

Another problem this type of writer has-often your idea stemmed from one really cool scene, or one really cool idea. If you really want to write that exciting scene in your head but you have to slog through a bunch of boring stuff first, don't just write the exciting scene and leave yourself with nothing but boring ones-lead up to it! Go in order. Don't let your excitement control you completely. Make that exciting scene something to strive toward, and reward yourself by writing it.

Now for the second type of writer-the organized writer. I am not one of these, so my advice to you guys may not be as helpful, but I'll try.

Organized writers tend to plan out their story in advance. They may write out a synopsis beforehand, or a chapter by chapter plan. Even if they don't, they know each twist and turn before they start. They often write out extensive character backgrounds so they know the reasoning behind every character choice. They think over every sentence. Their finished product typically requires less editing.
However, as a result of planning out everything, nothing new is left by the time they sit down to write. This kills motivation.

How to fix this? Some organized writers try to see the joy in the actual craft of writing. The fun is not in discovering the story, the fun is finding the best way to tell it. If you are having trouble staying motivated, try to think that way. Enjoy the craft, and keep the progress steady.

The set schedule for writing often works best for these guys too, and by that I mean sitting down at a specified time each day and writing for a certain duration. You already have your story planned, so there's no need to take advantage of bursts of inspiration.

Sometimes, though, those bursts of inspiration are needed, and it can be daunting to change a thoroughly planned idea. Look on those as a way to fit new ideas in a story, as a puzzle on how to make them fit. Control is good, but don't control the story so much that there is no wiggle room.

In sum, it is best to incorporate both elements of the two types of writing. Don't fly ahead with no plan at all and then give up when it's too hard, but on the flip side, don't over plan to the point that it's no longer fun anymore. Writing is a process, and it is by nature flexible. But it is also a structured art. Keeping that in mind will help your writing process, and knowing when to pull back and when to apply some needed control is important to maintaining that desire to write.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


You've probably figured this out from the sidebar, but the first publisher I queried about my two orphaned stories has offered me contracts for each of them. Alpha, and soon Perils, will be undergoing preparation for release at Extasy books!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tips on writing a fiction book

So I'm going to be giving some thoughtful tips on how to get that story that's been banging around in your head out on paper. This is mostly based on my experience, so it may not work for everyone, but hopefully some will find it helpful. As someone who's written three novel length works and a smattering of novellas, I feel somewhat qualified to give advice. 
Part 1-The Idea 
So you want to write a book. Great! What's it about? 
Some people are probably rolling their eyes already-after all, who wants to write a book if they don't already have a story? But even for those who have ideas already, being able to brainstorm an idea is a useful skill to have for the future. And if you ever do become a full time writer after your first book gets published, you're going to need an idea for that second book if you want to stay that way. 
The first step, of course, is to be an avid consumer of other entertaining media-books, movies, you name it. No one became creative by just sitting around their house or office, doing nothing. Get a feel for the kinds of stories that work, and think about the types of plots and characters you enjoy. It's helpful to write a book in the genre you like, because no one wants to discover that the book they're writing is something they would never read. Don't be a passive consumer, either. Think about the stories and what makes them work-the setting? The character? A lot of plots can be boiled down to a few elements, but it's other aspects that make them work.
And that leads to the next point. Stories tend to come as a result of something beyond the story itself-notably, the character or the setting. Depending on the genre, it will more likely than not be one or the other. Think about your setting. If you want to write a fantasy novel, think of what level of technology you want, or what the religion of the world may be like. Is the environment different? The same holds true for science fiction. Elements of the setting shape the story, so come up with a setting first. Many speculative fiction readers, myself included, will give up on a book if the setting is boring. 
For other types of fiction, the character may be the way to shape the plot. Who is your character? What's their background? Their motivation? For things like romance and mystery, where the plot can be predictable, characters make or break the story. No one wants to read about a character they don't care about. Base your characters off of something familiar if you have to, and then play out how they would react in certain situations. If you create a quiet, bookish type character, think of a situation that would bring them out of their shell. Something similar to that is the first step toward making an interesting story. 
So what if you can't think of any settings or characters? Well, find some good sources of inspiration. Oddly enough, dreams can be good places to find ideas, if you can remember them. That nightmare you had in third grade about being lost in a mall, where the clothing racks were teleportation portals? Use it. Childhood memories can also be good sources of inspiration-what would have happened if that bully who picked on you suddenly became your friend after you discovered one of his family secrets? Things you remember about your own life are usually remembered that long for a reason, and if they are salient to you, they will probably be salient to others too if you present them. 
Okay, so how you have an idea. But is it viable? Having a story that's just not useable can, in fact, happen, and in a few ways. 
You've come up with a great character, a great, original setting, and a great plot. But oh no-your plot, your character, your world, it's all been done before. It's more than cliché, it's to the point that anyone who reads it will think you've copied someone else. This has happened to me, and it may happen to you. You may have let yourself be a little too influenced by something you saw, or you may have been too slow to write out your book, but someone got there first. This is the worst thing that can happen, but it's not a total loss. If your character really is fleshed out, they can often drag you out of this tragedy. Perhaps focus on a different part of their life, or write the sequel to the events that were supposed to happen, putting the cliché plot as part of their background 
Another trap people fall into? Their story is boring. Perhaps you think the Saga of The Staple Collector is riveting reading, but most others won't. Your story has to be marketable in some way if you really want to get published. And sadly, this eliminates a lot of what some may want to write. Sometimes, there just isn't a market out there for your story, and you have to deal with it. The only thing you can do here is not to give up-tastes do change. Shelve your story for a few years, change things if you can to make it interesting, and maybe some day someone will want to give it a chance. 
Lastly, make sure your idea is actually a complete idea. Don't stop at the setting or the characters! I've known plenty of people with book ideas which were nothing but a few characters and a setting for them to live in. They had a fantastic setting and characters with long histories-but no plot. Make sure to make that extra leap and finish your idea, because if you don't at least have an inkling of how your story is going to end and what journey the characters will make to get there, you're only halfway done. 
Next time I'll talk about getting the motivation to write-and keeping it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Genres I'd like to see more of

Everyone knows the genres that are currently popular, and the genres that are guaranteed to contain a hit book that everyone reads. Romance novels or thriller novels never lose their readership, and the fantasy fans never give up on it. And no matter how many YA books are published, there will never be a lull in their readership.
But this isn't about those books. This post is about the genres that don't get written as often, for whom an audience may exist but has little to go on. Sometimes there are niche publishers dedicated to these genres-and sometimes there aren't.
First, I'd like to see more genre novels with GLBT relationships. And I don't mean romance novels, because that exists-there is an entire E-publisher that specializes in gay romance. I mean a gay or lesbian relationship handled in an otherwise science fiction or fantasy novel. The only examples I can think of, aside from the books I have written, are the books by J.L Langley, the NightRunner series by Lyn Flewelling, the Island in the Sea of Time series by S.M Stirling, and of course the Magic's Price trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. There are others, I'm sure, but the point I am making is that there are comparatively few, and I feel that this is something that should be remedied. Just because a reader may want to read about a gay relationship doesn't mean they want to limit themselves to romance novels. And for female readers, books with gay relationships are a great way to avoid the annoying female character stereotypes that dog fantasy, and especially science fiction, novels.
Second, I want to see more historical fiction, and especially more prehistoric fiction. The success of Jean Auel's Earth's Children series shows that there is a market for novels like these. The books by William Sarabande and Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, both of which take place in prehistoric North America are also worthy reads. There is really no issue of lack of an audience with this type of writing. The problem with this genre, of course, is that it not only takes imagination, but it takes research, and thus is harder to write.
Third, would also like to see more science fiction in general, as I talked about last post, but more specifically I would like to see the human sides of science fiction addressed, as per cyberpunk novels. Many science fiction books have characters who are barely archetypes, and character development is sacrificed for plot (or cheap sex). Much can be done with looking at the effects of technology, or space living, or the apocalypse, on the human psyche. Why don't I see more of it?
And last, I want to see more horror novels that aren't written by Stephen King and aren't thinly veiled vampire romance stories. Horror novels can take a typical plot progression and twist it, so that a story of someone going out to seek adventure turns into the story of that person being manipulated and lied to, until their personality changes and they fail at their goal. It would seem plotless until you realize that their change is the plot. Some may call it torture porn, but reading about someone's failure to thrive can be as fascinating as reading about their success. It's like hurt/comfort without the comfort, and if done right can be a wonderful character study. Exactly what would it take to change a person?
I've noticed that a few people have been reading my blog (hooray!) Do any of you have any genres you'd like to see more of? Or on the flipside, do any of you have genres you can't stand?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Annoying things I see in published novels

These probably aren't annoying to everyone, and obviously  aren't things that gets a book rejected from an agent or editor. Most are small issues, and maybe editors miss them completely, or don't see it as a problem. But some of these things drive me right up the wall. 
“I'm just here to be pretty” syndrome. This is the absolute worst offense an author can make, in my opinion. I've read books with crappy plot, books with grammatical errors and tons of typos, that didn't piss me off as much as this does. What is it? It's the introduction of a character who we only see described physically. This is always female-apparently there is some innate bias toward describing women in terms of their appearance. The author suddenly goes from a gritty, understated style of writing into a flowery, nearly purple prose style as they describe the female character's beauty, and how she affects the protagonist. Meanwhile, no other character is described physically save for a few sentences here and there. I don't want to name names, but several authors I've read fall into this trap, and it's not only male authors, either. Every female character in their books is described physically, while no male character gets the same treatment. Apparently male characters' personalities and motivations matter, but female characters only need to look good to be seen as interesting characters. This also leads into the next complaint. 
“Unnecessary character” syndrome. This is when the author throws in a character that doesn't really serve a purpose, except to somehow make the story seem more well rounded in the author's eyes. These are usually (again...) female characters that are there to be the hero's love interest, and who don't really do anything except serve as some sort of humanizing agent on the main character. Apparently every hero needs a damsel to offset him, but plotwise they have no purpose at all. It's also bad when I see female characters thrown in an all male cast, if only because the author must have felt that the book needed one. If you don't want to write a female character, or your story doesn't need one, then just don't do it! 
Fanservice. This term comes from the anime fandom, and refers to scenes in the anime that do nothing and serve no purpose except to titillate the audience. It's usually stuff like panty shots or boob shots. In published novels it usually takes the form of an unnecessary sex scene, or a sudden switch in focus from something really cool, like exploring prehistory, to something incredibly out of place, like a man's version of lesbian romance. Not naming names. 
Filler. Another term from the anime fandom, referring to useless scenes. These aren't meant to titillate as much as they are meant to take up space. Published novels typically don't have too much of this, but a few I've seen, especially the longer, bestselling series, have scenes that serve no purpose other than verbal masturbation by the author. Sometimes it takes the form of a ton of detail that no on really cares about, other times it's an action scene or a discussion between two characters that only reiterates something that's already been established. Sometimes it has good intentions, like extra worldbuilding, but if it doesn't advance the plot then it's probably filler. 
“Trying too hard to characterize” syndrome. This is when an author doesn't really know how to get their character across the way they want to, and it comes off as forced. Maybe their editor told them their character needed more development or something, but suddenly you have a character using speech patterns that no sane person would, or making decisions that make no sense. They are less a character and more of an archetype, slamming the reader over the head with their “uniqueness.” Most of the time it's characters written by an author of the opposite gender that suffer the most, and in an attempt to break away from cliches the female characters are incredibly tomboyish or masculine to the point that it becomes obvious the author doesn't know how girls really act. On the flipside,  the male characters will act either ridiculously aggressive and out of control, or completely effeminate. It can also happen when someone is trying to write a character from a very different background. Most authors who do this are at least trying to create a character, but their lack of experience limits them. 
That's all for now. I'll probably think of more in the future. Like with any form of entertainment, the more I sample from it the more cynical and judgmental I get.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Genre Popularity and the Death of Science Fiction Novels

I have a rating system for books or book series within genres, that I developed from reading a ton of fantasy. The grades are A, B, and C. I'll use fantasy as an example since that's what I've read the most of.
A+ to A- rank books or book series are the ones that are not only written well and are bestsellers in their genre, but get attention from those who don't ordinarily read that genre. Good examples of A rank fantasy books are the Song of Ice and Fire books, Tokien, the Eragon books, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel. Some A- book series are things like Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth, which get a ton of recognition. Every fantasy fan knows them.
B ranked books are books that are written really well, and known by most fans of the genre, but generally go unnoticed by those who aren't into the genre. Any book by Tad Williams is a good example of this, as are books by Robin Hobb. Mercedes Lackey also falls into this category, if only squeaking out of C because of the sheer volume of what she's written.
C ranked books are books that may have writing issues, or are only known by about 50 percent of the genre's fanbase. A good example of these in fantasy are the RuneLords novels, or books by Melanie Rawn.
So, how does this relate to Sci Fi? Because there are very few A ranked science fiction series out there. Dune is A ranked, but is old. Same problem with Asimov's works and Heinlein's works. They were huge-in their time. I can't think of a contemporary science fiction writer who can be put in the A category. Bova is close, but his writing isn't big outside of the genre's fans. C.S. Friedman is also close, but she also writes fantasy and her most popular series is a fantasy series. There aren't even that many B ranked books in science fiction. In fact, there aren't that many science fiction series out there at all-the Fantasy and Sci Fi section section at my local borders is way more fantasy than sci fi. There are more comics than science fiction novels.
So what's changed? What has made science fiction less accepted? For one thing, the trend towards explaining theoretical ideas has seemed to stop in newer science fiction works, which makes it seem far less like science fiction. The line between fantasy and sci fi is blurred to all hell. Amazon, for example, calls a vampire novel set in modern times a science fiction book in my recommendations. The last book I remember reading that had  a viable theory in was the Ringworld saga, which contained an explanation of the five body orbital solution.
When I try to write science fiction, I feel the need to explain everything about my setting. Older books did this, to an extreme-take War With the Newts, for example. The author explained everything about the fictional newt society, from their anatomy to their mating habits, like it was a zoological study. I found this enjoyable to read and fascinating.
Then in college, I had a professor who told me straight up that people don't care about that sort of thing anymore. It would only bore them.
I've tried to take that advice, but sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting to explain how something works. There must be a way to bring in scientific explanations without boring the hell out of your readers. It might just be that your intended audience changes. Ringworld isn't a widely read book, though it is widely read among sci fi enthusiasts. (Of course, I didn't actually like it much because the characters were underdeveloped, but that's unrelated.) And as far as I know, War with the Newts was widely read in it's time, though it was also a satire of current world events.
In short, we need more science fiction novels. A lot of short stories are science fiction, not to mention movies and TV shows. Perhaps people just don't like the novel as a medium for it.
But at least it leaves the door open for something new. There is a lot of potential in science fiction, and I encourage people looking for new ideas to explore in that direction.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hello All

This is the new blog for Ravon Silvius, a new author. I have two stories that are soon to be published, and many more in the works.