Archive for September, 2012

The Mermaid’s Madness

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Reading
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A new point of view can turn any story in a wildly different direction. The last time I read Jim C Hines, he did just that with Goblin Quest. That novel was turning around the view of the classic Dungeons and Dragons type quest. The Mermaid’s Madness and the books of the Princess Novels are doing that with stories everyone knows but now they’re a bit different.

I admit, I bought book two completely by accident. It was a two part accident. First, Amazon made it seem much more standalone than it really was. Secondly, well… I looked at the cover and went “Holy shit yar! They look like pirates! Hell yeah!” and was totally distracted by nautical awesomeness.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. Back of the book time!

There is an old story – you might have heard it – about a young mermaid, the daughter of a king, who saved the life of a human prince and fell in love. So innocent was her love, so pure her devotion, that she would pay any price for the chance to be with her prince. She gave up her voice, her family, and the sea, and became human. But the prince fell in love with another woman. The tales say the little mermaid sacrificed her own life so that her beloved prince could find happiness with his bride. The tales lie.

If you want to know the real story, a tale not of unrequited love and noble sacrifice but one of madness, murder and magic gone awry, Danielle, Talia, and Snow – a.k.a. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White – are the three princesses who can tell you what really happened. They were there when everything fell apart, and unthinkable tragedy struck the kingdom of Lorindar. And they were the only ones who stood a chance of setting things right, not only for Queen Bea and Lorindar, but for the merfolk as well…

Cool sounding stuff right? See why I was all excited for this? So here I am attacking book two without reading book one first. I wasn’t as bad off as you might think. There were bits of the first chapter and a half where I felt like I was lacking, but it wasn’t any worse than the feeling of repetition the same sentences would evoke if I had read book one. Madness dives (a bit literally) into the meat and potatoes of the story pretty quickly so I never felt there was this huge disconnect between what happened before and what I was reading. Sounds like book one is the story of Danielle, aka Cinderella. Talia and Snow’s are backstory on page one of book one from what I gather. I think that goes a long way to not feeling left out here since there are things that are supposed to be a mystery. I happen to think that pulling off a Book Two that can operate on it’s own is a pretty big feat that requires a deft touch.

The princesses here are awesome. Clearly. They’re the main characters. Talia is a wicked bad ass. Snow is all magical coolness. Danielle is new to her princessness and by the time you get to the end there’s a “Wow. Holy character growth Batman!” It kind of sneaks up in a gradual way until you realized it was there for the last four chapters. The princess I found the most impressive was Lirea, the titular little mermaid.

She’s crazy. Seriously off the deep end crazy.

The asshat prince who left her and a slew of sketchy magic (sketchy in context, not poorly written sketchy) break her psyche. Crazy is fun to read. Crazy is an epic pain to write well. Someone who’s gone off their rocker still thinks that they’re on the right side of the fence. So when you drop into the point of view of a madwoman, her internal logic has to be sound to the nth degree more than a sane character. I think I would have enjoyed this book without Lirea’s point of view. As I said, the three princesses are all wonderful characters in their own right, together as a trio and solo. But I seriously applaud and thank Hines for having the guts to give us the opposing POV soaked to the brim with crazy. Lirea is one of the best crafted insane characters I’ve read.

Hines’ writing is just as witty and sharp as it was with Goblin Quest although I thought Mermaid’s Madness wasn’t quite going for the same flavor of of humor. This one is going for the refreshing bits of life between the action. It’s one of those “Life is amusing” kinds of philosophies where you can always find something weird and silly at all the moments you shouldn’t. I think witty is the appropriate term and it conveys a deeper relationship between the characters who can laugh amongst themselves.

I seriously enjoyed myself with this book. There’s a lot of stuff I wish I knew more about in the overarching tale of the series. In the microcosm of book two, a couple times I felt some of the supporting characters got lost in the shuffle of the four POVs in the book. Multiple POVs is tricky to juggle to begin with but I think most of this feeling comes from thinking some of these supporting characters could spark their own stories.

This is the kind of book for people who like awesome, but more so for people who want something a little bit different. It’s a well crafted tale turned on it’s head and is every bit better for it. All those commercials for the Cinderella blu-ray on TV are making me think of wildly different things now.

Nine Princes in Amber

Posted: September 25, 2012 in Reading, Shelf of Honor
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Nine Princes in Amber by Zelazny. The only book I’ve ever read more than this is Dr Seuss’ ABC’s. When I was two. The reason my child wasn’t named Corwin was that me and his mom figured no one would listen to us when we said we don’t like ‘Corey.’ So I know this book.

It’s a biggun in the genre. You’ve got to be a biggun to have a ten book set published. When you’ve graduated from ‘series’ to ‘cycle,’ you’ve written something pretty important. So I’m sure most people who would see this, know all about this.

Back of the book time anyways!

Long exiled to the Shadow Earth, Corwin has returned to sieze the throne. Yet his bloody path is blocked and guarded by eerie structures beyond imagining… impossible realities forged by demonic assassins… and staggering horrors to challenge the might of Corwin’s super-human fury.

Back of the book time was pretty short back in 1970.

This isn’t so much of a real book review so much as a “Woo! Lookit my favorite book!” It starts out with a theme that I love to read about. Corwin doesn’t know who he is on page one. He wakes up with amnesia. It takes a third of the book for him to admit it. I really don’t know why this is a topic that facinates the crap out of me, but it is. I’m sure there are some sort of professional could figure it out with ink blots, but whatev. I like to read about it. It shows up in my Shelf of Honor a couple other times. It’s a quest and a mystery that works out as an internal and external thing. In this book, it gets amped up because Corwin keeps it a secret for so long. Adds to an intensity.

The concept of walking through Shadows is a very philosophical thing, which is the stuff Zelazny liked to play with in his writing. In the over arching cycle, there’s the whole spectrum of chaos and order and the conflict between them. Amber is the center of the universe and order. In the later books, we’re introduced to the Courts of Chaos. These are physical places that represent each end of the philosophy and the worlds that Corwin and his siblings travel through are all the points in between.

Some more of the plot points what since this isn’t a philosophy textbook. The battle going up the mountain steps to Amber is one of the most unique I’ve ever read to this day. An undersized army fights via swords up a single file switchback trail. Corwin’s punishment before being dumped into Amber’s prisons for defying the crown is pretty intense. It leaves him riding around the edge of madness.

As a reread of a set I’ve read plenty of times, the first book sits alone just fine. For a new reader, it mostly does. The ten book cycle is split up in two halves, the first about Corwin and the second about his son. So for this first five books, the first is the most stand-alone. It has a self contained story arc but doesn’t exactly resolve all the big questions. In today’s market, I’m not sure how that would sell at all. I think it leaves too much open for a brandy new book one in today’s world. People expect the Star Wars arc now, with One being self contained and Two and Three tied together. I think that goes a long way towards why the only way you can buy the Amber books now is as the whole ten book set.

Even ten small books put together make a serious tome. Don’t let that be daunting because the read just flies by. It’s solid. It’s fun. And I’m going to read it dozens of more times.

It seems like every week or so, there’s another flare up on twitter about some author behaving really horribly to other authors or their readers. Type “Authors behaving badly” into google and a whole litany of jerks come up. Maybe we can call them “Misguides by social media experts” if we’re feeling generous. The whole idea of someone’s job being a “social media expert” is laughable to begin with, but I’m sure there are some trusting and otherwise normal people who are genuinely duped by them.

Google’s top result of bad behavior has an author talking down on her fans because she was only number two on the NY Times list. There’s the book agent who was physically attacked by an author she passed on. There’s book reviews for sale. The best selling Brit who got caught sockpuppeting his own books and talking trash on rivals. And let’s not forget the ridiculously misguided people with the Goodreads Bully crap who think that any review less than positive counts the same as actual bullying. I’m not even going to dignify those people with a link.

This is all just the stuff that comes to mind in the last couple weeks. The Goodreads thing is the only one in that last paragraph going back farther than August. Hell, I even read a book where the protag was an author that spent half the introduction bitching about amazon reviews. I won’t drop names because I’m trying to do the exact opposite of spreading smack, but suffice to say, I’ll never read her books and I get miffed when I see people RT her into my twitter feed.

Even if there’s not outright controversy and assholeness, I know I can’t be the only one who is inundated with followback accounts on twitter which amount to nothing more than advertising. “@JoeBlowAuthor is following you! He follows 32k people and has 31k followers! Read his book! Read it faster! I won’t tell you anything about it tho or even talk about anything other than screaming Read it now!”

That’s what I get for using common hashtags like #writing.

So if we’re being constantly thrashed with bad behavior, where the deuce is the good?

I dropped this on twitter today…

So much about authors behaving badly, how about #AuthorsBehavingWell on twitter? People like @ChuckWendig @SamSykesSwears and @saladinahmed

These guys aren’t the only authors behaving well, I just happened to be on ye olde twitter around the same time of day as them. Authors behaving well include Madaline Ashby (@MadelineAshby), Peter V Brett (@PVBrett), Seanan McGuire (@seananmcguire), Cat Valente (@catvalente) and a lot of others who’s twitter handles are quite obvious.

So what do the people of my twitter feed do that makes them well behaved. Ima gonna break it down!

1 – Promote your stuff a little bit.

I know I said it was lame to be a walking advertisement on twitter a few paragraphs ago, but that doesn’t mean be silent about your work. I follow authors because I’m interested in what they write. I want to read Chuck Wendig’s latest blog post. Absolutely I want to know about Tobias Buckell’s kickstarter collection. Cat Valente’s last short story available online is one of my favorite short stories of all time and I never would have known about it if she didn’t drop a link on twitter. Celebrate your happy bookday. Drop updates on the current project. I’m interested in this.

There are authors I follow on twitter before I even buy their book. Of the eight people I’ve mentioned so far, I followed six of them before I bought the book. I’ve even follow people like Wesley Chu (@wes_chu) who aren’t published yet, but will be by publishers I love to read. Usually this sort of follow comes about by recommendations from other authors, seeing good things about their book, or one of the magical Scalzi Big Idea Posts. So by all means, link to reviews of your stuff. When I write a blog post about the book I just read, one of the primary reasons for it is spreading the word of awesomeness. Authors should know that they might have new and/or on the fence readers following them so they can find out if they want to read you.

2 – Promote the stuff of others a little bit.

Talk about your friends, your comrades, your fellow wordsmiths. One of the best things I get out of twitter is new books to read! I refuse to go to B+N so I don’t actually have a real live bookstore to go to in Rhode Island any more. I get so many of my new books to read from other authors. Chances are, if I’m interested in your stuff, and there are others who you enjoy as people and respect as writers, even if they’re not in our circle of F-SF genre, I’ll give them a gander. Benjamin Tate (@bentateauthor) reviews books on his LiveJournal. (Seriously, ever time I type LiveJournal, I think I travel back in time to 2000 and high school) Chuck Wendig interviews artists of all types. I happily recommend books to friends and there is no reason not to for the Well Behaved Twitter Author who has a willing audience that likes to read the same kind of stuff as they do.

3 – Be an awesome person the rest of the time

Finding out about the person behind the book cover seriously makes me giddy in a non-stalker kind of way. As a kid before the internet was running rampant with our lives, all I ever knew about an author was that little page in the back. “Joe Blow Author lives in a state with a family and some animals and has written a few other books.” I recognize the names in the Acknowledgements page now! In Kelly McCullough’s (@KellyDMcC) Broken Blade acknowledgements I recognized some of the names as Neil Gaiman’s dogs. They live near each other and he jogs with the dogs. Holy crap that’s cool. It’s not something you’d ever get years ago.

I have a dumpster cat named Mr. Pibb. I enjoy seeing the pictures of so many cats. Seriously. So many. It’s almost a cliche now, internet and cats, but everyone’s got them. Kylie Chan (@kyliecchan) and Seanan McGuire and Cherie Priest (@cmpriest) have awesome cats. Scott Lynch (@scottlynch78) is a firefighter. Greg van Eekhout (@gregvaneekhout) grows vegetables and fights off bugs on what I presume is a porch. Jennifer Pelland (@jenniferpelland) is a belly dancer. When Chuck Wendig or Tobias Buckell or Saladin Ahmed or Lauren Beukes (@laurenbeukes) talks about their kids doing something cool or weird, I can relate cause I’m a dad too. I won’t stop reading your books if you’re a good writer but boring on twitter, so don’t feel the need to preform either. Just be a regular person.

The internet has made authors into real live people. I get some sort of weird encouragement out of seeing people deal with sick kids or days when the word count just isn’t there or day jobs really really suck. They’re real people doing the same kind of crap I am and they made it. That means when I’m having tough days in the wordmines or the submarines at work are kicking my ass extra hard, I think “Hey they’ve got crap to deal with and got some damn good writing done anyways. I’m gonna do it too.” Solidarity man.

Don’t censor yourself though. It’s ok to get angry at something that sucks or be a little bit political. I’m not going to bandstand my own politics here because I don’t enjoy doing that kind of stuff, but in this day and age, most people are a little political especially during voting season. Don’t be a froth-at-the-mouth kind of political person and I can respect you even if I disagree with you. China Miéville and Orson Scott Card have famously controversial political views. They’re still considered luminaries of our genre regardless (I don’t think either use twitter though). Saladin Ahmed is the perfect example of this in my twitter feed. From reading his tweets, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to vote the same, but he’s being respectful so he can go right on disagreeing with me all he wants. Doesn’t bother me one bit. Frankly, I tend to skim over politics if I agree with you or not.

Really the most important part of the three points is moderation. Consider it a subpoint to all of them. Moderation in all things and there’s nothing to worry about.

So yeah. I think I seriously linked half of my twitter feed today. But I also think this has been my favorite blog post to write because it’s all about being part of a positive community. It’s certainly ended up being my longest blog post ever. But I’m not scrubbing for attention. I want to encourage people to be awesome and tell people about others who are already awesome. Play it forward. Good karma. There’s no need to candy coat everything, but foster that community damnit. Because seriously, it’s easy to forget how spoiled we are to have such a vibrant and well connected community. It’s easy to forget how easy it is to type out a “Hey I loved the shit out of your book! Digital air high five!” We didn’t have this kind of stuff twenty years ago or ten years ago. Hell, it wasn’t like this even five years ago.

Let’s make Authors Behaving Well a thing. It’ll cancel out all those who are behaving badly.

It took a while but I finished Wilds Cards a few days ago. My copy is an oversized paperback which is very much not my preferred format. This is in part because I can’t stuff it in my pocket when I’m at work. But I got through it and was glad that I did. I enjoyed the whole shared world concept. It let the stories move about into different areas that one author alone might not dive into.

My copy was the 2010 release with the additional stories. I think the compilation was bookended with the best stories front and back. I really wasn’t feeling the Fortunato story in the middle with “I get my super powers by nailing hookers” thing. It wasn’t a prudish or gratuitous thing, I just felt that story didn’t age as well as the others. It was a product of its time more than the rest. “Comes a Hunter” was a bit of a let down. Yeoman was an awesome character, being a normal person in this supernatural world, but the story just ended. “To be continued” is ok but I like some sort of conclusion before the cliffhanger. I was really happy to read “The Sleeper.” It’s the first Zelazny story I hadn’t read before in years. Croyd is a fascinating character too.

My favorite of the bunch was actually one of the new stories, “Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn. Croyd is appropriately awesome as a supporting character in that story. That one takes place in the 80s music scene which made for a more intriguing backdrop for my tastes. ‘Cause, ya know… punk rock. I think superheroes take a special touch, especially when you’re character has Kitty Pride powers (walking through walls for non-X-Men aficionados) that could be abused easily. Abused by the writer into making overpowered characters. Overpowered characters equal uninteresting characters. Vaughn wrote After the Golden Age which I read earlier this year, so she’s got a deft hand with supers.

So enough blathering about a book almost as old as I am. Most people who read from the same shelves I do aren’t late to this part like I am. One of the reasons I read Wild Cards is that I want to get into more short stories to help with writing the same.

The biggest thing I noticed is that short stories have gotten a lot shorter in the last twenty five years.

I’m sure the internet is why. People as a whole don’t have the same attention span as they used to. Websites like Daily Science Fiction cater to lunch break reads. The market has been tightening up for short stories too. In the last couple years, F&SF went to bimonthly and I think some others did too. From a practical standpoint, they can’t really put a magnum opus of a short into their publications any longer. I’ve got a 9k word short story I was shopping around that was too big for most of the professional markets. 5k seems to be the magic number for a lot of places now.

Ironically, novels are getting longer. I’m doing my annual reread of my favorite book, Nine Princes of Amber by Zelazny, and it’s only 174 pages long. Any of Neal Stephensen’s books would outweigh the entire ten book cycle of Amber. I saw a tweet from Tobias Buckell from earlier this week saying “I missed the tighter paperbacks of the 70s and 80s not just b/c of a golden age of my youth reading, but b/c 50-70K is clean and tight”.  I’m not sure how I feel about that. All the 80s and 90s fantasy books I cut my teeth on back in the day often fell in the 300 page range, but I went months at a time without reading a single standalone book because everything was trilogies or more back then. I think that’s part of why my writing is better suited to slightly sprawling longform, that’s what I’ve been reading for twenty years.

Back to my main point of short stories, 5k is a tough magic number for me to hit. The longer stuff from a Wild Cards-era ’87 would be much more suited to me. I’ve had shorts mushroom cloud and start creeping up on 20k. And the 1k flash fiction stuff is wicked hard. But one of the reasons to write shorts is because they’re difficult. If you’re not growing as a writer, you’re dying. Feedback is getting more and more positive, in fact, today I’m going to button up the rewrite (and sleight mushroom clouding) of the short I got personal feedback on. So that’s a thing. And it’s a positive thing that is only going to lead to better writing.

(I also apologize for the lack of my usual Goodreads links. The wifi at Starbucks is bollocks today. WordPress and Fark and Wikipedia are working fine, but Twitter and Goodreads are being pwn’d. Don’t advertise free wifi if you’re going to pick and choose which websites work on it. I’ll edit to add my links in when I’m home.)

Edit: Fixed the links and whatnot. Still… Starbucks, don’t be a dink about your wifi.

Reading Discoveries

Posted: September 4, 2012 in Reading, Writing
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Stories aren’t written in a void. Just because I’m working on one novel doesn’t mean I’m not noodling about others. I’ve got some real great ideas for the Next Novel so once I finish the Current Sci Fi Novel, I think I’ll be able to dive in at full speed. But today I came across a frustrating discovery in regards to the Next Novel.

And it’s not the first time this has happened.

The first time was much more dramatic so I’ll relate that story.

It was a few years ago and I was maybe ten to fifteen K into my first attempt at a novel. It was a godpunk kind of thing involving hackers. And then I started reading American Gods. It’s a wonderful book, one of my all time favorites. But about halfway through I swore and threw the book across the room. I was trying to write the same thing and here I was reading a book published a year before.

Eff me! That was very frustrating.

I couldn’t come up with any way to reconcile my ideas without feeling like I was ripping off American Gods, both in terms of what I already had down and what new content I was coming up with under the influence of such a great book. I ended up shelving that idea and honestly I don’t think those first ten K words exist anymore.

I’m not going to dance around what I was reading this time, especially since my next blog post is probably going to be pontifications about it. Because I’m not a short story break with my writing, I’ve been reading more of them and finally stopped putting off Wild Cards. So I’m reading on my lunch break at work today and I’m all like “Balls! That’s the power my next main character is going to have!” Context: I haven’t named the next protag yet and I often use Balls! as a swear.

So here I am finding out things very similar to my own ideas were really written in a book back in 1987. I was four. Four!

This time I’m not going to let it be a roadblock though. I don’t want to expound on the details of the Next Novel so, again, I won’t go into specifics but Next Novel is going to be godpunk, not superheroes. So there’s a different subgenre going on here to start with. I think the things going on in Wild Cards are a unique take on stuff that was done before it anyways. It’s a virus and not genetic, but when my friends at work ask me about it, the easiest way to call it is “Martin and pals doing X-Men.”

So I think this is a broad enough thing to have at it anyways, but damn it’s still frustrating.

Has anyone else come across things like this when they’re writing? I’m curious to know if it’s just something weird that happens to me.