What’s so great about Hemmingway?

Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not just Hemmingway, but Jane Austin, Steinbeck, Stephen King

I’m not saying they’re awful, though I can’t stand three sentences in a row by a single one of them. I simply ask why are they sainted in the annals of recent fiction and literature? Certainly why do so many blogs and forums dispensing cheap writing advice swear by them as such deities of the written word?

Why is not the advice to first ask who the person likes to read the best and say, “Read that carefully and think about the things the author does that you do and don’t like. After, try to borrow and unashamedly steal those techniques you love and consider how you might do differently those which you loathed.”

How boring would the world be if all writers were determined to be the next of only a small pool if very similar writers?! (Rather dry ones, in my opinion) Would the world read even less than already it tends to do?

I do believe some works do deserve their deification. The Discworld series by Pratchett is undeniably brilliant and holds the attentions and imaginations of scholars and huddled masses alike; The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz too are inarguably timeless classics, along with the adventures of our good bear who “lives under the name ‘Sanders’.”

Still I would not presume to tell anyone they ought to write more like Tolkien, Milne, or Carroll. For one they’re ill suited to a suspense-horror.

I suppose it’s the idea that King is a famous best selling author so must know something … please note, so is Seanan McGuire, J K Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer. Rowling, outsold and outsells the others in that list combined, yet you’re supposed to not write like her … so I’ve no idea how King is a god.

The others are all classified Literary Fiction, which is somehow superior to all other sorts (Literature majors who try to write the stuff say so, and they’re experts and should know, right?) despite being that dry boring stuff we’re made to read in Literature classes which probably turned rather a lot of people off reading altogether.

To each her own personal gods of the pen, be it Mercedes Lackey or Lawrence Block, Ed Greenwood or Danielle Steel, Dean Koontz or Louisa Mae Alcott … when you write study the master who you so loved you wanted to write, carry on that writer’s legacy. The acclaimed saints of writing need no undue worship unless you happen to favour their styles.

P.S. Is it me, or is the list of people you’re supposed to strive to write like nearly always Americans, primarily from around the Depression?  Never minding the rather selective era, but … why are we excluding other English speaking authors … or non-English (they don’t say English or American lit, just lit — I’m fair certain a Frenchman would have something to say about the superiority of, say, Voltaire to any six Americans you care to pick.

The oppressed should stand together

The transgender pride flag

The transgender pride flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know, sometimes I think the oppressed groups of this country (America), and possibly of much of the (at least Western) world are sometimes the worst for bigotry and hatred, cruelty and intolerance.

Oh, there goes my readership.  Fascinating whooshing sound.

Seriously, though.  I present to you a situation.

Introduce a group of cisgendered, straight men to a woman who is extremely masculine and love sport and can talk shop with them all day long and show them up on the basketball court, or introduce them to a transgender man of the same sort, etc.  Now, please note, I said men, not overgrown children and adolescents full of insecurities and nonsense.  In this scenario the woman may or may not get flirted with, both she and the transgender will be welcomed as brothers to the football couch in every example I’ve ever enountered.  Sometimes the woman, or the transgender, might have to talk a bit more shit, as they say, and be a little manlier than thou to be accepted, but for the most part in this very mainstream scenario she/he is welcome.

Take underdog minorities.  Gays, Lesbians, Transgender, Women, Geeks, etc.  The bullied and oppressed.  The downtrodden and reviled.  The ones who ought, really, to understand one another and stand up for each other and protect each other as brothers and sisters … well.  If you want to know about geeks I suggest Seanan McGuire or John Kovalic — “Fake Geek Girl” is the catchphrase to search their LJs, Twitters, Facebooks, and Blogs for.  The rest?  Feminists who reject transgender women as not really women.  Homosexuals who won’t accept that someone who favours the opposite sex from their own, but the same gender … well, “you’re not really gay, you’re just a cross dresser” is how it is most politely put.  Transsexuals who get upset with people who are content to only be transgender and don’t want their balls/ovaries, vagina/penis to be removed or ruined and say they’re not really trans, only confused.  It goes on.

What is this?  The social group version of the abused child who grows up to abuse his/her own children?  The molested and raped who go on to molest and rape in their own turn?

I like that:  molestation and rape.  It’s a good image to parallel this discussion because we are molesting and raping the self-esteem, the hearts, the souls of others just to feel even more special about that which sets us apart from the mainstream — as though that which gets us bullied and ridiculed is an exclusive club and we don’t want their kind participating?  It’s sad, it’s pathetic, it’s wrong.

I tend to stay away from social groups.  I don’t go to gay meetings, or trans-parades, or whatevers.  I simply associate with those I meet whatever and whomever that might be.  I swear I never realised how very much like the very same childish bigots for the extremist mainstream some of the various oppressed groups could start to sound until I came across discussion forums and blogs about the subject or even just personally witnessed some of the inter-”weirdo” hatred.  Seriously, folks, isn’t the one thing we’ve learnt from being gay or bi, transgender or transsexual, or whatever is that to each her/his/its own?  That, in the end, we’re all people and that we all love and live, try to find some form of joy and to find someone to share that life and joy and love with?  Do we really need to sink to the childish levels of those who would us and oppress others in our turn to feel that we’ve finally achieved some kind of status, recognition, legitimacy, etc.?  Do we?

Instead of denying that the transgendered woman beside you is even a woman, or telling her that because she has a penis that she can’t possibly be a lesbian … embrace her and treat her as a fellow, as a sister, as someone who quite possibly is going through more and worse shit than you are Ms Cisgendered lesbian or Cisgendered Straight Feminist.  That gentleman over there crying because he cannot get a hysterectomy and it’s time for his period and he thoroughly hates himself right now needs comfort, not derision.  That genderqueer … something in-between … is being very brave to show (for want of a useful English pronoun for a hypothetical person) its face in public, congratulations are due, not insults.  Gay men do not threaten feminism … none of it.

If we as peoples looking for greater respect from those around us … what makes us so special we deserve and are entitled to greater respect than we’re willing to show to others?  The transgenders who are rude to all cisgender.  The gays who are as hateful to straights.  Everyone is so mean to bisexuals — they’re not sex fiends, really they’re not.  We are entitled to respect because every major faith I can name says, in some fashion, “Love thy neighbour as thyself”.  In short, we show to those around us, those who remember that, every bit of respect and courtesy we can, all the love and kindness who possess — because we hope to recieve that love and kindness, that respect and courtesy back … no, because the more love in the world the better the world.  If you’re hateful you, by most logical arguments, deserve only hate — but maybe if you’re shown a little love and respect instead you might come around to a better attitude.  I’ve my own share of prejudices and dislikes — I’m no saint; I sincerely don’t trust or respect most yuppies I meet, I can’t help it they make me nervous.  We’re human, but while that means we’re flawed, it doesn’t mean we have to embrace our flaws, it just means we should know we’re not perfect, watch for the signs of how we’re not and fix them so that, maybe one day, we will be perfect.

I don’t care if you follow Christ or not — I don’t, though I love His teachings and stories — strive to be like Him or any of his various analogues through the course of history.  Be better than those who hate you.  Be a source of love to all.  What would happen if every person on the planet, tomorrow, jumped out of bed and decided to not treat a single living soul like shit ever again?  Pretty awesome world we’d have, wouldn’t it?  We can’t convince the full 7billion+ humans of this globe to do that, but we can each of us jump out of bed tomorrow morning determined to be excellent to each other and make that many more lives that much better than they would have been otherwise.

Just a thought.

How do people shop for books?

English: Author and musician Seanan Mcguire at...

English: Author and musician Seanan Mcguire at Dezenovecon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, in perfect honestly I almost never read the comments of blogs (other than my own), YouTube videos … I’m not even wont to read internet forums much.  So I never noticed, until it was pointed out to me, a very peculiar phenomenon that just blows my mind and makes me wonder just how pervasive this is … I mean is it just a Paranormal Romance/SF thing, or is it all books?  Did I get some of my initial sales from this, for example?

What phenomenon is this?  People buying the author rather than the book.

I don’t understand this.  I mean, I do in the sense of, for example, I’ve met next to no Heinlein books I didn’t like, thus I will often buy a Robert Heinlein penned  story without doing more than glancing at the synopsis, and (given the single Heinlein I can’t stand, Starship Troopers) I read the first page to be sure I can get past it.  Same with Dennis L. McKiernan.   Thing is, I’m not buying the person, I don’t really care, I’m buying the writer or writing.

Now, it is true and fair to say that I’ll not be in any hurry to put money in Orson Scott Card‘s pockets, but if I discover a story of his is particularly fantastic, I can always pick it up at a second hand bookshop with no itch of conscience, he doesn’t see a dime from that.  Why?  Well, because his homophobic tirades were just a little too offensive to want to give him my cash when I can help it.

I guess I can’t understand this idea that the producer of something is the brand that needs selling.  I mean, yes, Starbucks, this is somewhat the case – that said, though, I don’t care how awesome they are as a company, how good they are to employees, how they use fair trade coffee and such … they make awful coffee!  And, in the end, the coffee is their brand!  Tazo, on the other hand, is fantastic, and Starbucks gets lots of my money for that stuff.

So I have to wonder now, did someone buy Love or Lust because they were impressed with one of my random blog posts about writing or about … stuff?  Because I shared something from The Kindness Blog?  Before tonight I’d have never wondered that.  “Of course not,” I’d say.  Then I learnt that in the comments of authors like Seanan McGuire and John Scalzi are people going “Wow, this post moved me so much, I’ve got to buy your book!”  All I can think is, I like Scalzi’s blog, he’s got a fun way with putting things … doesn’t change that his stories don’t interest me, I don’t care how much his blog posts inspire or move me, I’m not buying a copy of Redshirts, I’m sorry.  Certainly a blogpost of Seanan’s is how I got addicted to Incryptid stories, but that had to do with a part of one that was describing Verity Price from Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special that involved her being like the bastard offspring of Dazzler and Batman; who wouldn’t want to read that!?  It, admittedly, was in conjunction with her post about being annoyed that so many people equate rape and tragedy with character growth and … I already blogged about it, here but that’s irrelevant, I didn’t buy the book because of her views of rape, I bought the book because of Verity, I bought the sequel because of Seanan’s talented writing.

I always assumed everyone else thought this same way, certainly no readers I’ve ever once had the chance to converse with seemed to operate on any other basis besides the few who shop by genre and will read anything that’s from the Science Fiction section, or the Fantasy, or anything that’s a Warhammer 40k title, or Star Wars Expanded Universe (a rant for some other time), etc. which is understandable enough if you just enjoy wizards and warriors, or ray guns and spaceships and the rest be damned.

I’d be interested in comments on this, but I’ve learnt in the past that most people will just click like.  C’est la vie.  It’s an interesting insight into someone’s psychology … I’ve no idea what to think of it, or how to interpret it, certainly no idea what I’m supposed to actually do with this knowledge, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Homecoming by Seanan McGuire

English: Author and musician Seanan Mcguire at...

English: Author and musician Seanan Mcguire at Dezenovecon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A very awesome short story by the lovely and talented Ms McGuire.

The locker room is always tense before a game. Alisa is trying to get her uniform to stay in place, counting more on safety pins and prayer than she probably should, and Birdie–true to her name–keeps whistling, which is probably going to get her slapped if she doesn’t stop soon. Cram twenty girls from opposing squads into one small space and tensions are going to flare.

continued here: Homecoming.

5-stars and a thought

Looks like I have a 5-star review on Amazon & Goodreads now.  Hurray, that balances things on Amazon out.  I wonder if Amazon would have more ratings if, like everyone else, you could just leave stars and not have to type a review – I mean, I actually have some other “reviews” on Goodreads, just no text.

The 5-star acknowledges that 14 year olds can sound, and be, very mature – even if the age group isn’t much renowned for their wisdom and maturity – but it still brought up the characters’ maturity.  Maybe it was just in response to the other review.  I don’t know, but it has inspired me a touch.

I make no apologies for the characters’ maturity, thoughtfulness, intelligence, and so forth; but I will offer an explanation.

I went to school with such people – nearly an entire class of them.  In my case I went to a school where behavioural or academic problems got you kicked out, and you couldn’t get in without a good record behind you.  Immaculate Conception, from the stories, will ask particularly troublesome students who are unrepentant about it to go elsewhere – they’re disruptive.  I show only a small portion of its student body which is not comprised entirely of thoughtful and intelligent people.

The ones I do show, however – well, take Lauren (the one somewhat singled out).  She’s a lot like some girls and one or two guys I know.  Studious, Good Girl, Perfectionist.  She’s the same archetype (to get all literary about it) as Hermione Granger … only with the piety comes humility.  She’s a sweet girl who is used to trying her best at everything she does.  She’s confident in the things she knows how to do, but even then there’s a layer of self-doubt because she’s always a little afraid of screwing up.  Not because of external pressures, but internal.  I’m better at illustrating this sort of person than explaining them.  I’ve known a few I can emulate (with great praise from my sources of inspiration), but as I’m too inherently lazy to qualify as this archetype myself I’m not sure I could delve into the deeper psychology in a direct assault.

Sally isn’t, exactly, mature.  She comes across as such because of her worldliness, her experiences.  Outcasts tend to swing this way.  Sally is possibly the closest analogue to the sort of person I was in my youth.  She’s intelligent, possibly brilliant — for all anyone knows the smartest child in that school, that county, state, country, or solar system … she just can’t bring herself to give a damn, however.  She doesn’t apply it anywhere that doesn’t directly interest her, and then she expects to be challenged, or she gets bored and she loses interest.  On top of that she has had to spend a lot of time in introspection.  I wasn’t outcast for being in a small town and having passed a note to another little girl asking if she’d be my girlfriend, but I was outcast for things that were not of my own doing.  I had friends, dear and good friends, but few.  I was not popular.  This leads to a pseudo-maturity when it’s mixed with intelligence and an inclination toward using it.  Many of my friends fit this category.  A better way to think of Sally is someone who had to grow up too fast, either by her own assessment of the world or by actual pressures and who has experienced a wider world and greater array of people to give a deeper frame of reference for this ‘growing up’.

That aside the mature children, aren’t.  Zach, for example, is hardly a child at 16.  Marcus, Aaron, and Travis are also a bit older than Lauren & Sally as well.

I’m not making excuses, and I sincerely believe that the characters are presented as deeply as the story requires and a little more for flavour. However, while it isn’t important to understanding the story to have a deeper understanding of the characters, some people seem to like that; it gives them some sort of peace of mind.

As such I’m going to do something I’d thought of before and rejected.  Inspired by Seanan McGuire‘s InCryptid A-B-Cs for the launch of … oh bother, I forget which book it was and LJ is a wretch for finding old posts in.  Starting today or tomorrow I’m going to work my way through the characters alphabetically and tell you a bit more about them.  Will it help the stories?  No, it won’t.  It’s like knowing that Albus Dumbledore was gay; it adds nothing to the stories, his part in them, his motivations, etc. but it’s interesting and somewhat enlightening (for those who hadn’t been clued in by his absolutely fabulous wardrobe – I’d personally had suspicions from the first book).

I hope you enjoy them, and I hope I enjoy them enough to finish.  If I don’t, I won’t and I’ll tell you it’s ended.  I’m still trying to figure out what to do for letters which have no characters.  Ah well, we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Sometimes it is, because it is.

When writing, sometimes a rose is a rose because it isn’t a geranium.

Recently I reblogged a commentary by Seanan McGuire about sometimes someone’s a character is gay because they’re gay. Honestly it’s true of so much of fiction.

In an edition of Little Women that’s put out by Barnes & Noble there’s a contemplation about the girls‘ generosity and selflessness that doesn’t once contemplate that the girls are … wait for it … simply good people! It even contemplates ‘their masochism‘ in giving up their Christmas breakfast to a starving family! They can afford to have a nicer dinner to make up for skipping breakfast, afford to spare this breakfast to one poorer even that they are and so elect, on Christmas, not to let a poor woman and her children go hungry and this is masochism?!

Besides the criticism I could make of such short sighted analysis, it makes a beautiful point – at times you need look no further than the words in front of your face to find the reasons for it. Call it masochism or call it charity the reason is before you: because that woman and her family was hungry, and the sisters were not – not in that context in any case. Why are they so pious? Is it competition with one another? Emulation of their mother? Well, perhaps somewhat the latter in the sense that she was a good Christian woman and taught the girls to be good Christian women themselves.

It’s behaviour, it’s race, sexuality, height, eye colour, hair colour, tastes in music, all of it comes down to basic characterisation. In Now & Forever, Lauren is a redhead. Simply because she has red hair. Salencia is half Italian because her father is born and bred in Naples. They story is unaffected by it, it just is. Or is there some impact on the story? A subtle one? I think so, actually. You get to know the characters a little. You now know just a bit more about them. This helps one understand them better. Identifying with the character shouldn’t have to mean that she is just like yourself, it should mean that the author has done a fair job of giving you proper insight into the characters’ motivations, thoughts, and feelings.

The biggest question, though, comes back to why? Why should there be some purpose or meaning behind these details? Why should Lauren’s eyes being green-hazel have any significance or symbolism? Why should the fact that one of Sally’s best friends in Colorado is a heavyset girl matter as more than a marker to show that she isn’t skinny? Is there some significance that Sarah is black, or that she’s a cheerleader? No. They are because they are. Lucy isn’t generic Native American to try to include any tribal groups of the United States, she’s Native American and generically so because she’s Lucy. Just as the March girls are pious and generous because they’re part of the March family.

Is there, at times, symbolism and purpose in fiction? Absolutely. Intentional and unintentional. I’m almost guaranteed to commit the latter a thousand times more often than the former, but in Pride and Predjudice you can’t go three words without hitting a deliberate symbol. Sometimes a character is something because they must be; Love or Lust and its sequels can hardly be a girl-meets-girl love story if one or both of them is a firm zero on the Kinsey Scale.

Personally I think one should avoid ‘there’s a reason …’ thinking beyond what simply must be. If you want to write a romance, you need to pick some characters who’re attracted to one another, but beyond that just let them be. If they wind up all Asian, all Agnostic goat herdsmen, or a group of magenta aliens from Ultharen, then so be it. It needn’t mean anything. This goes for readers and writers alike. See the story that’s before you, write the story that’s in your mind. We needn’t always over think the words and the works.

[Reblog] Sometimes sexuality doesn’t have to matter, it just has to exist.

More words of brilliance from the fair Ms McGuire.

Sometimes sexuality doesn’t have to matter, it just has to exist.

A few months ago, I got an email from a reader who had a question she wanted me to answer. I like questions. If they’re not spoilery for things that haven’t been published yet, I’m generally willing to give them a go. This question, however, stumped me for a little while:

“what is the purpose of Dr. Kellis being gay? It neither adds or subtracts to the story line but is distracting.”

Dr. Kellis was gay because Dr. Kellis was gay. I “met” the character in the same scene that everyone else did, when his husband showed up to try and convince him to leave the lab for a little while. He was a man, he had a husband, he was at minimum bisexual, and for the purposes of the story, he was gay. He was a gay scientist. Since he wasn’t working on gay science (I’m not even sure what that phrase means), it mattered purely in the sense that when he talked about going home, it was to a husband, and not a wife. I honestly never thought about changing it. While everyone in the world is at least somewhat defined by their sexuality—it shapes us throughout our lives, both in the exercising of it and in the existence of it—I’ve never felt like it was the be-all and end-all of human experience.

What weirded me out a little, and still does, is that no one has ever asked me “What is the purpose of Character X being straight?” No one has ever called it “distracting” when Velma has naughty thoughts about Tad, or when Toby blushes because Tybalt is commenting on her clothing. Men and women, women and men, it’s totally normal and invisible, like using “said” in dialog instead of some other, more descriptive word. It’s invisible. But gay people are distracting. (Bisexual people are apparently even more distracting. I’ve had several people write to tell me that a piece of text in Blackout can be read to imply that Buffy and Maggie had sex, and some of them have been less than thrilled when I replied that there was no implication intended: Buffy and Maggie had sex. Repeatedly. Lots of sex. Lovely sex. They enjoyed it a lot, but Maggie took it more seriously than Buffy did, and Buffy wanted to keep things casual, so they broke up. But before they broke up? They had so much sex.)

For the most part, I let my characters tell me what their sexuality is, once it starts to have an impact on their characterization. I don’t write Bob as a gay man and Tom as a straight man and Suzie as a lesbian: I write Bob as a zookeeper and Tom as a ballet teacher and Suzie as a ninja, right up until the moment where they have to interact with someone they’d be attracted to. Sometimes, that’s when they tell me what they’re into. Since this is all in first draft, I can go back later and clean things up, clarify things to add any additional detail that needs to be there, but I almost never tell them “Oh, no, you can’t be gay, it would be distracting. It’s not allowed.”

(The one exception is with characters who are here to go—the ones created to be slaughtered in fifteen pages or less. They’re not all straight, but I have to stop and think long and hard about how I would have felt, as a bisexual teenager, if I had finally, finally encountered an awesome bisexual woman in fiction, only to see her die before she got to be amazing. Sometimes this does result in my reexamining their relationships, as it’s also difficult to really form strong character portraits in fifteen pages or less. Anyone who’s sticking around for more than fifteen pages is fair game.)

Gay people don’t walk around saying “I’d like to have an urban fantasy adventure, I’m gay, I like men/women, let’s go fight a dragon” any more than straight people walk around saying “I’d like to go to space, I’m straight, I like men/women, let’s go steal a rocket.” People is the word that matters here. And yes, being anything other than heterosexual and cis in this world means that you’re going to experience different things, and have some different perspectives, but it doesn’t inform one hundred percent of what you do. I eat pizza the same way my straight friends eat pizza. I watch TV the same way my straight friends watch TV. I chase lizards…well, I chase lizards in a uniquely singleminded and slightly disturbing fashion, but as I’m not a lizardsexual, it has nothing to do with who I do or do not choose to form romantic relationships with.

Dr. Kellis is gay because Dr. Kellis is gay.

He doesn’t need any reason beyond that.

Can anyone write a novel?

We’re approaching another WriMo event.  They’ve got this ‘anyone can write a novel’ attitude and philosophy.

But is it true?

Hard to say, for one thing, how do you define a novel?  For my purposes I like Wikipedia’s answer of the moment:

novel is a long prosenarrative that describes fictional characters and events in the form of a sequential story, usually. The genre has historical roots in the fields of medieval and early modernromance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter, an Italian word used to describe short stories, supplied the present generic English term in the 18th century.

Further definition of the genre is historically difficult. The construction of the narrative, the plot, the relation to reality, the characterization, and the use of language are usually discussed to show a novel’s artistic merits. Most of these requirements were introduced to literary prose in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to give fiction a justification outside the field of factual history.

Now, I’m going to say no … and yes.  This isn’t GATTACA, anyone can fly a plane, but not anyone can fly with the Blue Angels.  I’m not talking about eyesight and other requirements, I mean some people simply lack the reflexes, the neurological circuitry to do that without killing themselves or others.  In some cases, timing is something you’re born with, not something you learn.  I think everything in life is this way.  Some people have talents that guide them one way or another.

In this vein, no, not anyone can write a novel.  Not everyone possesses the talent to tell a story well, to build endearing and enduring characters, to entrance and enthrall the reader.  Am I such a person?  I hope so, but who knows?  I suppose in the end only time can say.

Anyone can be taught written language.  Even severe dyslexics can learn the ideographic writing of China or Japan, and the corresponding languages, and tell a story in them.  You can then learn about structure, characterisation, plotting, and all manner of other things I can’t name because I neither think about them or even know about them (I never paid attention in Lit class … well, twice.  Once we were reading works by Edgar Allan Poe, and the other was Romeo & Juliet).  They would have a technically perfect novel when they were done.  They would have a long work of fiction, but is it a novel?

That depends.  Let’s leave the world of fiction and writing for a moment and go to another bit of art:  Music.  Did you know that study after study says that people don’t like computer generated music?  I don’t mean MP3s, I mean programming a computer to reproduce a piece of music.  Why not?  It’s Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Jimmy Hendrix, but without the flaws!  It’s perfect, each note exactly the right length, each chord exactly the right pitch and key; the frequencies guaranteed or your money back.  That’s the problem though.  It’s soulless.  That perfection, that exact timing, that exact frequency, it’s … wrong.  Music has life, has spirit, and the people playing it adjust accordingly.  It might say an eighth note on the paper, but it really needs to be a 31/256th note, but that would be silly to write down.  It might say C♯, or B♭ but really it needs to be something just … not exactly that.  Then the music is perfect.  And that’s something that can’t be taught to a computer, nor to a human being who lacks that talent, lacks that ear and sense for when to make a ‘mistake’.

Is what the computer makes music?  If it is, then yes … anyone can write a novel, make music, paint a portrait, write a sonnet, and so on.  If not, then no — they can put words on paper, paint on canvas, make sound out of an instrument, and put 14 lines in a rhyming pattern on the page.

The most endearing, the most well loved stories are ones that don’t follow ‘The Rules of Writing’ as a lit major might refer to them.  Have you ever noticed how the things that lit majors and their ilk go on and on about in rapt adoration are the things no one else reads, no one has heard about unless they had to endure it for a literature class, and/or are things that, have you read them, are known to cause you to wake up years later in a cold sweat going on about giant dung beetles?  At the time, Mark Twain’s stuff was not well liked, Robert Service wasn’t considered a Real Poet, and J. R. R. Tolkien told silly children’s stories (when he wasn’t reinventing the study of Beowulf, of course).  These people broke The Rules!  They didn’t do things Right!  Good God, for one thing, they wrote stuff that was popular!  Accessible!  And, horror of horrors, entertaining!  Cardinal sins, one would think from the way some go on about them so.  But perhaps novels, short stories, poems, paintings, and many other things need that little bit of instinct, that little voice and connection that says ‘no, that’s not exactly right, I’m going to do it this way instead’.  Maybe a technically good novel … isn’t.

So yes, I think anyone can write a novel.  Anyone can learn to put words on a page, get enough of them together to have plot, characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end.  No, I don’t think just anyone can write a good novel.  Not everyone has the knack for telling a good yarn, and keeping the audience’s attention; to breathe life and soul into the words.

A good novel is one you read and you think, This wasn’t bad, not my cuppa, but I can totally see why people who’re into this kinda thing would like it.  For me that’s Seanan McGuire‘s October Day series, too dark for my tastes, but well written and a good novel nonetheless, just not one I’m in a hurry to read.

But what do I know?  I said, I found more interesting things to do in my literature classes, both high school and college, than paying attention.  I can’t even name the rules of writing.  I couldn’t really give a definition of theme, nor could I find the theme of most things I read with both hands, a GPS, and a pack of bloodhounds.  I just love to read, love to explore the worlds of imagination; to sail the high seas with Long John Silver, to explore the Yukon and Alaska with Mr London, investigate the stars with Heinlein, fight heroic battles with John Carter upon the vast plains of Mars, and face dragons with a little burglar named Bilbo Baggins.  Maybe I don’t know a good novel from a bad one, but I know what I like.

Decisions, decisions …

So the final editing of Love or Lust is well under way.  It probably won’t be done by Valentine’s Day, but it still might.  It is moving at a fair clip, but that doesn’t change that there’s about 140k words and 400-ish pages to get  through.  Too, I have to make a final read through just to make sure that the final buff and polish is done, so that date will likely be missed and was never a very resounding likelihood anyway.

That’s got me to thinking about a few things.

First off, section separators:  Also known as fleurons (and an hundred other things), they do give a certain flair to the page.  They’re also a bloody wretch to figure out how to do.  With Dingbats type fonts they’re a breeze in the PDF, but they start to become an unholy nightmare in the universe of the ePUB and Kindle editions.  Not impossible, mind, but nightmare.  An alternative is to just use a little graphic.  Dear God save me from things that ought to be black on transparent alpha layer but instead are scans complete with random not exactly white artefacts in the white bits!!  Photoshop and I had a lovely row about that.  I did make one.  It was kind of pretty.  Well, that is, until I tried to put it on the page.  That didn’t go too well. Still … I’d appreciate feedback on that.

If you click on the word fleurons above it’ll take you to an example image.  The alternative is good old fashioned asterisks.

The second bit of thinking was just a bit of fun inspired by how another author did a little pre-release promotion.  Seanan McGuire did a Discount Armageddon A-B-Cs thing that seemed kind of cute.  The more I think about it the less I want to do it.  So I probably won’t.  But just in case I do lose my mind and decide to go with this little touch of lunacy … well … you’ve been warned.

Solidly decided things:

  • Publishing, I don’t care if you use a publisher or do it yourself, is a good way to go completely mad with indecision, anxiety, self-doubt, and several other things that suddenly have escaped my vocabulary and are lost in the woods some place.
  • I love my cover art.  I’m, torn between ideas regarding it though.  I’m very much thinking to keep that layout and just change the colour scheme for each book, and then (naturally) the image.  The question is, do I keep finding girl/girl cover art (something I can absolutely do for Ready or Not but is giving me a touch of trouble for later books), or just keep finding pretty images (e.g. the 4th book maybe having a ballet slipper on it or some such).  Ah well, I’m not even done with the second book yet and feel like it needs heavy editing so I’ve plenty of time to consider and reconsider this.
  • The print edition will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of us$10.  Sadly, this is due entirely to length.  It costs more than the retail price of a novel half this size just to print the bloody things.  Which gives me a new found respect for some of the newest Terry Pratchett novels I’ve picked up being about us$10, but doesn’t explain some places charging that much for things like Light Fantastic or Wyrd Sisters!  The eBook, though, will likely be closer to us$4 or us$5.  Compelling enough arguments could see it as low as us$3 (just use the comments or the contact link), but current ‘wisdom’ says the higher price will attract more sales.  We’ll see.

Page numbers.   I’ve just realised I’ve no idea how I should like to do the page numbers.  Centered and unadorned at the bottom of the page?  Unadorned at the bottom corner of the page (obviously this thought is for the print edition only)?  Unadorned at the top?  If decorated, with tildes or a fleuron/dingbat?  Well, don’t ever let anyone tell you self-publishing is easy, or that it’s the lazy way out or any other such nonsense.  That said, going through a publisher is just as bad or worse — you may not have to decide a lot of this stuff, but then you have to worry that your first edition might have covers in “50 shades of mud” and “kept them out of the shops“, among too many other less amusing anecdotes by far too many other authors to mention.

I’ll always argue with someone who says writing is ‘hard work’ — I take issue with the work part.  The hard … that depends on perspective, writing is challenging in terms of telling a good story well and not losing your mind in the process.  Work it is not.  Publishing, on the other hand, I will doubt the sanity of anyone who claims is anything but work and be suspicious of anyone who claims it to be easy.

In other news Puppy Bowl is tomorrow!!  I’ll, alas, be missing it because a) I’ll be at work and b) I don’t actually have any TV service that doesn’t come via my DVD player.

A statement I’ll never understand

This is one of those series that I desperately wanted to write, and never thought I’d be allowed to.

That statement is from Seanan McGuire‘s LJ.

I’ve a great respect for her writing, I’m an unabashed fan of her Incryptid series, and while her other series is rather darker than my tastes lean toward I’ll never deny that they’re good … for what they are.

But statements like that one?! She’s not the only one I’ve seen voicing either the identical or a similar sentiment. In such cases I can’t help question the intelligence and/or sanity of the one saying it.

You’re free to write anything. Hell in China you’re free to write anything you want. George Orwell‘s immortal 1984‘s horrible dystopia is the only occasion I can personally name where you’re not free to write what you wish.

Publish, now that’s another cup of tea altogether. Perhaps the publisher you’re with refuses to accept your young adult space western romance about an intergalactic rodeo clown and his sorcerous twin. Big deal, find another publisher, or bloody self-publish! The only way you could be not allowed to publish the story would be if it violates copyright (sorry fanficcers, but it’s just plain fact. File off those serial numbers and put a fresh coat of paint on first), or if you’re writing something the Chinese government doesn’t like and you happen to be in China.

Really, it’s just daft phrasing at best, sloppy thinking most likely, or just plain stupid at worst to think you can’t write or (barring a couple of legal barriers) even publish something on grounds of ‘am I allowed to’. Not until Big Brother is watching your every action and possibly monitoring your very thoughts.

So go on, write that fantasy story about the lesbian trans-gender dwarf and her elven lover and their traveling circus of bandits and cutthroats in a fairyland Camelot. No one but yourself … and, hopefully, good taste … can stop you. After that, find someone who’ll buy it or just put it out yourself, because in this glorious age the old adage ‘if you want something done right …’ can be very easily applied to the good ol’ profession of writing.