I’m Not a Fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy?

So I’m still following the Hugos … and I’ve noticed a worrying conception forming. A conception that has sprung both from conversations over on my other blog, and from public statements from the anti-puppies, the insular group. As I’ve been reading through and following along, I’ve come to an interesting—and worrying—possible conclusion.

I may not be a Science-Fiction and Fantasy fan.

Which is shocking. I always thought I was one. But no, according to a lot of these posts and comments I’m seeing and reading, I am not a “fan.” Or, to use the terms that some of the insulars have started to use, I am not a “trufan,” a term which, quite honestly, reminds me quite a bit of the ridiculous amount of self-inflicted (and mostly declarative) segregation in the gaming community between the “PC Master Race” and the “Console Gaming Peasants.” The console gamers aren’t really gamers, you see. They’re just casuals.

The problem is that where in the gaming world, a lot of the big, respectable organizations in gaming don’t really acknowledge this subset mentality because let’s face it, it’s not healthy for the gaming community at all, right now the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community seems to be doing the exact opposite. The big names, the big groups who should be recognizing this for the crappy, base-splitting ideology that it is, have instead decided to run with it, and many seem to be trying to exploit it in one way or another. It’s like if a car dealership during the McCarthyism era had seized on the idea and used it to sell cars. “Filthy commies drive [rival dealers brand],” they say. “You’re not a filthy commie are you” (Disclaimer: for all I know this actually happened, which in hindsight would be both amusing and terrible)?

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Being a Better Writer: Pacing

This post was originally written and posted March 24th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Hoo boy, I hope I’m not biting off more than I can chew here. Today’s topic is a bit of a tricky one, mostly because as I was thinking about it the other day, I realized repeatedly that it’s one of those things that you just sort of have to experience with in order to make it click. There’s no “X amount or process works 100%,” but more good old fashioned trial-and-error. Not exactly the most hopeful or encouraging words, I know, but pacing isn’t something that simply “happens.” It’s something that you stitch into the entire length and breadth of your work. It’s something that, along with plot, you need to be thinking about the entire time that you write your story.

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Battle of the Lone-Star Reviews

No, I’m not talking about Spaceballs, though that’d certainly make for a fun post. Though, since I’ve brought it up, I might as well put a plug for it right here: If you haven’t seen Mel Brooks’ classic lampooning of Science-Fiction Space Opera, you definitely should. But this post isn’t going to be about that. No sadly, this post is going to be about some dirty pool that’s been played in conjunction with—what else?—the Hugo Awards.

Now, while I haven’t posted about the Hugo Awards in quite some time, that still doesn’t mean I haven’t been following them. At a distance, since even attempting to stick my neck into that mess, even to just post a quick comment, is the equivalent of stripping yourself naked and running into a no-man’s-land (quite literally) of trigger-happy, ad hominem attackers. Watching the comment threads circlejerk back and forth with congratulatory backslapping only cements how far this division has come—there are dedicated, very vocal commentators on both sides, a lot of whom (particularly on one side) absolutely refuse to talk to the other side. They want backslapping, not debate. They want a safe space to shout their opinions over and over again, with no challenge to their statements.

So yeah, not much reason to get involved in that. But there’s been a newer development that I’ve noticed. Now that the packets are out and the votes are being weighed, some parties have apparently decided that it’s not enough to do the whole “No Award everything we don’t like strategy.” Now there’s another tactic flying around.

Lone Star reviews.

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Thoughts on and around Stripped

So Stripped, a documentary on and around the newspaper comics industry, is now on Netflix. And yes, you should definitely watch it if you can. I’d been hearing good things about Stripped ever since it came out a year or two ago, and the moment it showed up in my Netflix feed I took the dive right then and there.

And again, yes, you should definitely go watch it. It’s a great look at the rise, slight fall, and then shifting culture of newspaper comics. Stripped goes over the early days of the newspaper comics, the days of full-color spreads, the days when comic artists were high-class, pop culture icons. Then it moves into the 80s and 90s, talks about syndicates, the shrinking size of the paper, the way newspaper comics began to change. And then it jumps to the modern era and the birth of the webcomic, a contentious shift in the comic space that has both supporters and detractors. And all through this, Stripped is liberally sprinkled with interviews and observations from dozens of individuals, everyone from the creators of Cathy or Foxtrot, to the syndicates, to Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, to even a recorded interview with Bill Watterson himself (if that last name doesn’t ring any bells, he’s the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, one of the greatest comics of the modern era).

Simply put, Stripped approaches its subject matter well, letting many of the creators speak for themselves about how they got into the business, how hard the business is, what the business is like, and then—and here’s the little bit of contention—where the industry is going. Even if you’re not a fan of comics, you should definitely sit down with your Neflic account and spare an hour of your day sometime soon and give Stripped a well-deserved watch. It’s worth the time.

But there’s something else going on with it that I wanted to talk about here. A similarity, a more than passing resemblance to a storm that the book industry is only just moving into. Even though I read newspaper comics when I can, and watched Stripped largely for that, there was a vague sense of familiarity that started coming through the screen about halfway through, a sense which soon flared into outright similarity—right down to some of the quotes that were being bantered back and forth by the interveiwees, quotes that were almost identical to quotes that are starting to arise now, in the publishing industry.

Because there’s another story that Stripped tells, dutifully, as a part of a larger machine. Stripped tells the story of the internet, and its effect on the newspaper comics world. It’s a story that’s been repeated in many other areas of the entertainment industry already.

And book publishing is next.

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Happy Memorial Day

No Being a Better Writer post today. It’s a holiday, Memorial Day to be exact, and not only could I use a break after writing out about 50,000 words last week, but well, it’s Memorial Day. It’s time, in the US at least, to reflect a little on things. Things like how much some people have sacrificed so that people like me can sit down at a keyboard and write stuff without facing too many problems.

It’s Memorial Day out there. Time to remember.

I’ll see you all later this week.

Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding – Part 2

This post was originally written and posted March 17th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Welcome back! In case you missed it, this week’s post is Part 2 of my writings on Worldbuilding, of which Part 1 can be found here.

So, last week I focused primarily on building the material you would need for your world: From following the chains of causality to making certain that you didn’t leave gaping holes to coming up with new twists on tried-and-true ideas. This week though, I’m going to dive back into something that was touched on briefly in Part 1: the actual presentation of the world itself.

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Free Books!

No, these aren’t mine. Though if you’re going to read something, I’d hardly be remiss to point out that clicking that little tab labeled “Books” at the top of the page will bring you to two good ones. But no, what I’m talking about here today is Baen having updated their free library sometime last week. Huzzah!

Actually, double “Huzzah!” because not only has Baen made free one book from one of of my favorite authors—Cobra by Timothy Zahn—but two, the second being Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia.

Both are fun reads, though both are very different. Cobra, which I am now rereading, and if I remember properly, is an interesting take on the Science-Fiction Super Soldier trope. It’s not Zahn’s greatest work, nor is it perfect, but it’s fun and it’s free. Monster Hunter International, on the other hand, is exactly what it says on the tin. If you walk into that book expecting something that’s not an international group of monster hunters getting paid to, well, hunt and kill monsters in ludicrous, explosive fashion, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned joy-ride with orcs, elves, and rocket launchers, you’ll find it between those pages.

You can grab them at the above-linked Amazon pages, or, if you’d rather be more hands on (and browse some other freebies), you can head on over to the Baen Free E-book Library and grab them in a DRM-free format of your choice.

Either way, enjoy! And, in light of some recent discussion about such, don’t neglect to leave them reviews when you’re done!

Being a Better Writer: Writing the Opposite Gender

Today’s post is an interesting one. This is because if I had to venture a guess at some of the most common questions heard at writing conferences/panels and in writing classes, the question I’m going to discuss today would be one of the most, if not the most, frequently asked questions out there. And to be fair, it’s a valid question, with an associated valid fear and requisite request to those who’ve “succeeded” to help guide the way.

Ultimately, it’s also a tricky question, because there’s no one “right” answer, no matter what anyone says. Today’s topic is one of those that, based on what you’re writing and when, can come to a variety of different answers. There’s no one “perfect” fit or magic bullet. Thankfully enough, there is common sense.

Anyway, enough preamble. Let’s get to that question, asked by both women and men at every writing assemblage I’ve attended: how do you write characters of the opposite gender?

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Being a Better Writer: Worldbuilding – Part 1

This post was originally written and posted March 10th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.


Hoo-boy. This is a topic that’s going to take some time to tackle. It’s one of those topics that’s been requested multiple times, partially as a result of the worldbuilding done in my own work, but also because it’s one of those things that a lot of writers really want to capture. After all, we read fiction as escapism entertainment, and who hasn’t picked up a Tolkien, Harry Potter, Star Wars or even a Sanderson book and felt like they’d entered this new and amazing world? One that, even if you wouldn’t want to live there, seems so real it was almost like you were there yourself?

When that happens, you have two things. First, you have good writing (and no amount of care nor cleverness can truly make up for a lack of good writing). Second, you have a world that’s been carefully built. Who remembers Diagon Alley? Or Minas Tirith? Or the city of Elantris? These were places that were fascinating even without the story that went on around them. An excellent case in point is Diagon Alley—when the reader first encounters the scene, how much of what’s described to the character is actually plot relevant? Very little, although some of it is clever foreshadowing for later in the series. But most of it is just straight interesting worldbuilding. Hawkers yelling out deals on cauldron types. Pet shops with strange creatures. It’s fun, it’s interesting. But, tricky author, it’s also worldbuilding. It’s helping the reader build a picture of what Harry’s world is like. Better yet, since everything is new to the viewpoint character as well as the reader, Rowling is able to infodump without actually appear to do so. Since Harry knows as little as we do, we’re more than fine with his observations and piecemeal explanations for what’s going on around him.

See? Good writing, and good wordlbuilding. So much so, in fact, that there is an actual, real-life Diagon Alley opening this summer in Florida. That’s right, the book captured so many people’s imaginations that it’s about to become a real place. Now that’s quality writing.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Development and Character Growth

This post was originally written and posted February 19th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Characters. There’s no force more central to any story you tell.

Be it a run-and-gun thriller or a dramatic love dodecahedron, a tale focused around a lone wanderer exploring a crumbling city or a baker expanding her rivalry with a butcher (that last one sounds like a potential rom-com, doesn’t it?), your stories are going to have characters. Characters that laugh, characters that scream, characters that live … Well, you get the picture.

But it’s not enough to simply have characters. Having a character is a lot like having a picture: You can display it to your reader, and they nod and get a good idea of what that character is like. “Oh, I see he’s got a big scar on his right arm, yeah.” A character walks into your scene, you give them a quick description, and your reader has a vague idea of what they’re like based on how they act and what they do. You now have a character, but as I said, it’s a picture of one. Worth a thousand words, and a thousand words only.

Developing a character, on the other hand, is like having a moving picture (can you just imagine what that would be like?). In the reader’s mind the character comes to life, changing from a flat—if detailed—picture to a living, moving, vibrant individual with goals, trials, aspirations, and most importantly, aspects that the reader can relate to or sympathize with. In a moving picture, we can see all sides of the character, not just the one look we got at the side of their face in the static image. The character changes from a flat stand-in to a fully realized, three-dimensional actor in your play. You’ve heard of making three-dimensional characters? Character development is one of key elements of achieving this, and should be nearly every writer’s goal if they want to create characters that resonate with the reader long after the work is read.

So, you know what you’re here for. How can you make sure that your story’s characters are getting the development that they need? How can you bring them to life, make the reader cheer with their every triumph? How can you give them growth? Conflict?

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