Rant over modern series writing

(Sarah is a cuckoo—a breed of human-looking cryptid that’s biologically more like a giant wasp than any sort of primate, and telepathic to boot. Evolution is funky sometimes.)

Excerpt From: Seanan McGuire. “Midnight Blue-Light Special.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/midnight-blue-light-special/id592216584?mt=11

So, at the moment, I’m rereading Midnight Blue-Light Special.  And it made me have to say something about why I don’t read a lot of newer series.

There are 3 fundamental approaches to series.

The Discworld Model:

This is for series like Bernie Rhodenbarr, the Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown mysteries, Discworld, Mithgar, and similar.  In these (and Mithgar is, quite possibly, the most amazingly perfect example) the books stand alone.  There’s little reference to the prior events, or they’re referenced in off-hand manner if relevant to the moment in the same way you or I will make off-hand references to our own pasts.  Other than that the book of the moment is pretty thoroughly divorced from the books before and after.  You can literally pick up at any point in the series and not be missing anything besides the fun of the other books … which you can just pick up and enjoy as you go.

The Serial Model:

This is the classic Book 1, Book 2, etc model.  This is Now & Forever, this is Harry Potter, this is – frankly – most series.  This is “To Be Continued” through to “The End”.  Sometimes you can muddle through if you pick up part way in.  Harry PotterLittle House, and others aren’t nonsense if you pick up later than the beginning, but it helps.  Well … Little House might be more of a Discworld Model, now I think of it, but humour me.

The thing with these is that you write them assuming that the person reading book 2 read book 1.  If you write something that was explained in book 1 you don’t explain it again, you move on because you’re not worried about confusing anyone because they read book 1 or bloody well best have done.

The Modern Model:

This is one I really don’t like.  I’ve read things, namely InCryptid, that use it.  But it annoys the hell out of me and the stories have to be very good for me to let it slide and keep going … or you have to not do a very good job of it, thus begging the question of why the author bothered instead of sticking with the Serial Model (possibly the actual case with InCryptid … I’m not actually 100% certain).

In this you try to do the bastardisation of the Discworld Model and the Serial Model.  Your books are very “to be continued”, and rely heavily on what came before, but you try to accommodate the ones who are coming in a bit late.  Now, some series are a blending of these. Mithgar has Serials (duologies, trilogies, etc) tossed in amongst the larger tapestry of things.  Shannara too.  But series of Serials is a whole other kettle of popcorn.

I don’t like this one as a reader, nor as a writer.  It’s this philosophy that your Serial should be accessible to any and sundry who walk in 5min before the closing credits.  That really doesn’t work.  You have to insert little obnoxious infodumps that irritate those who have been there since the curtain went up, and unless you want to make your books exponentially thicker by basically reprinting the prior book into the following books –building them into an omnibus edition as you go – you’re going to annoy the mid-streamer who is like “well, she explained this, but why doesn’t she explain that?!”

There.  Was I going anywhere with this?

No, not especially.  Just saying that I don’t grok the modern method of serialising and it irritates me when I encounter it.  All the other crap about the other 2 methods was to illustrate what I meant.  Now, back to the book; it has Aeslin Mice in 😍

“Write what you know.” What nonsense

“Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”

~~ Gore Vidal

I positively love that quote.  It says a lot.  It’s not terribly polite, no, but it’s truth in many regards.

“Write what you know” you see it everywhere you see writers or would be writers discussing things.  Such a strange phrase, I think.  If we write only what we know, the where do we get some of the grander adventures of gods and heroes?  Where shall we seek the dreams of far away worlds and the starships that will get us there?  How shall we dance with angels, sing with mermaids, climb Mons Olympus, and so much more?

We’re writers, even if we skip the fantastic, however shall we rub elbows with the financial elite while sipping champagne and eating caviare?  Wherever would be Julia Roberts and Richard Gere — take your pick of films, but I tend to prefer Pretty Woman for this thought.

If you’re speaking of non-fiction, then certainly write what you know.  I’m not about to try to write a four-hundred page treatise on the mating habits of the Australian Dwarf Hamster.  Why?  Because I don’t know anything about the mating habits of any hamster dwarf, Australian, or otherwise.  If I tried to write that book my ignorance would show, unless I researched it to the extent that it ceased to be anything I’m ignorant of.

In fiction however we ought to write what we think, feel, dream, fear, love, and hate.  Fiction is about holding a mirror up to reality and life.  It is symbolism, it is satire, it is commentary, it is entertainment.  It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the epic tale of two stoners looking for their car after a hard night of partying; the tale of the Hollywood streetwalker who wins the heart of a Wall Street billionaire; taking a family trip across the solar system in your very own nuclear rocket ship; sailing the high seas with Long John Silver and a map to lost treasure … these are things we don’t have to know in our minds, these are things we need to know in our hearts, our souls, in our sense of humour, in our feelings of whimsy, and in our deepest desires.

When we tell a story we must write what we don’t and can’t know.  If we didn’t, then books written by women would have naught but female characters, and vice versa for the men.  Indiana Jones would have no Nazis to fight and no exotic locals to interact with.  When we tell a story we have no choice but to dig into our imaginations and write what we believe, and what we hope that our audience will too.  We have to say “I can’t grow a beard, but I suppose if I could it must be …”

Oh, certainly, we can research some things.  We can research details of shaving.  The intricacies of the straight-blade, cut-throat razor, or the ins and outs of maintaining a handlebar moustache can be unravelled with a little time spent in a forum of moustache enthusiasts.  Still, we cannot experience it.  We can know about it, but not know it.  If you can’t have a moustache then you can only guess at how hard or easy it is to keep soup out of it and how you might drink your coffee politely.  Even the author who can grow a moustache doesn’t know these if he does not grow it and experience it.

There there are the unknowable, unresearchable.  What sort of creatures live on Europa?  What sorts of things are rude or polite on the fourth world of ε Eri?  What was Helen of Troy‘s favourite food?  What is the dance that cures the plague by calling upon Polikthara’s holy light?  Just what does sex feel like from the perspective of our opposite gender?  What is it like to be dying of consumption, or of leukaemia?  What are the smells and sounds of this street in Budapest at noon … in 1287CE?  What did sabre-toothed tiger taste like?

So many questions.  Fiction answers those questions.  We dream of hunting a sabre-toothed tiger with our flint spear through the frozen wastes of the neolithic Earth, the survival of ourselves and our whole family dependent on you coming back with that precious meat and that skeleton made of such useful tools.  We tell that dream.  Are we right?  Are we wrong?  Maybe sabre-toothed tiger tastes more like mastodon and less like chicken, but c’est la vie, without a TARDIS we’ll never know.

That is the meaning of that quote, to me.  Even in the things researchable, sometimes you just have to step into the realm of dream, of narrative causality, of poetic justice.  You have to look at the books in the library on lock picking and locksmithing and say “Rabson.  Screw it, we’ll just wax eloquently about a Rabson deadbolt.  They don’t exist, but how many of my readers know the first, second, or even twenty-fifth thing about locks?!”  When we say that we get the wondrous adventures of Mr Bernie Rhodenbarr, burglar extraordinaire.

How many of us have been shot, shot at, stabbed, in a bar fight?  How many of us have been handed an exploding dental floss, a wristwatch with a laser in it, and an Aston Martin with missiles?  How many of us have been given a recommissioned diesel submarine and told to go act like a pirate trying to get past the US Nuclear Navy with a crew of lunatic misfits?  How many of us have taken a rocket to the moon?  How many of us have explored the lost, cursed tombs of the ancient Pharaohs in search of treasure?

When you write fiction trust your gut.  Feel, question, and guess. To Hell with what you know.  Forget what you know.  You know that science says the universal speed limit is 299,792,458 metres per second, but what if you feel or suspect that this isn’t true?!  Don’t tie yourself down with “facts”, ever do that.  If you want to give physics the finger, then do it — keep the laws of thermodynamics only if you like them, but don’t feel obligated to obey them.  This is your world, your story, your dream.  If we can fly when we close our eyes and sleep, then by all the watching gods, so too can we when we look at the words between the pages.

New availability

English: A multi-volume Latin dictionary (Egid...

English: A multi-volume Latin dictionary (Egidio Forcellini: Totius Latinitatis Lexicon, 1858–87) in a table in the main reading room of the University Library of Graz. Picture taken and uploaded on 15 Dec 2005 by Dr. Marcus Gossler. Español: Diccionario de latín (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have expanded my print distribution channels, as a result Love or Lust should be showing up for all booksellers.

This does not, of course, automatically put me on a Barnes & Noble store shelf. It does, however, mean the book should eventually show up on their website, as available through their in store ordering system, and it should be available for you to request at your friendly local bookshop (for those of us still so fortunate as to have one). Enough requests come to the stores and the stores might carry me, which would be lovely.

I didn’t do this for my chequebook, though. God, no. At my list price that’s very much not the case. I did it first and foremost to be in libraries. Just as I shan’t be, automatically, on and B&N store shelf, I won’t be getting immediately shipped to any library. But those of you who like the book might suggest your library carry it.

I owe a great debt to libraries: they’re how I read as a child. I had never been in a bookstore, except a used one once, until I was a teenager. Were it not for my elementary school library and the public library I could never have discovered my love of imaginative prose. I could not have explored Saturn (or Jupiter, in the later books) with HAL, Poole, Bowman, et al; I could not have crossed the Misty Mountains to face a dragon with Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End; I could not have sought the Kammerling with Elyn and Thork; saved Ruwenda with its triplet princesses; solved mysteries with Bernie Rhodenbarr nor with Mrs Murphy & Tee Tucker … and so many more if it weren’t for libraries.

It’s rather secondary, but still important, that I may now be bought by and from a local Mom & Pop store. My conscience was a bit squirmy over the Amazon only thing. True, Ii think this now means I am able to be carried by Wal-Mart, a store that makes my conscience scream bloody murder, but I take comfort that they’re quite unlikely to approve of my book “sullying” their shelves.

I shall link back, as I discover them, to major retail sources for the story online. I shan’t scour the web for every little eStore that carries it now since some of those carried it already because they aggregate Amazon’s catalogue. I will simply keep an eye on the online big boys, like B&N, to let those who prefer know I’m there.