Writing Wednesday: Why I Am A Hack

image

WW: Why I Am A Hack

There’s a lot of debate raging–and there has been since 2010, when the whole indie thing started getting big–about what designates a writer type person as an author. What, in short, makes you an artist instead of a hack. What merits the term ‘published’. What allows you that shiny badge of ‘professional’.

Traditionally published authors tend to get a little snooty about it, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Traditional publishing is big work, and when you’ve fought long and hard to have the big guys recognize and invest in your skill, I can see how it would be galling to see indie pubbers–sometimes people who aren’t even professionally edited–claiming the same titles, the same recognition, as you.

Indie authors then tend to get indignant in response. Again, I get it. Indie publishing is a dog-eat-dog-eat-novel world, and, to use a cliche that I think is an absolute truism here, only the strong survive. Successful indie writers have to fight pretty hard too. They have to invest good money. And they do it all without advances, without the reassurance that comes from someone in the publishing world recognizing their work is, at the very least, worthy of public consumption.

Let me tell you something about myself. I’m a hack.

You got it. I’m not an author, not a capital W Writer, most certainly not an artist. I’m not successful. I’m published, I suppose, but certainly in my own way. I don’t spend a lot of time wallowing in cups of black coffee, smoking cloves, debating the existential importance of The Masterwork I Am Currently Producing.

I’m a genre writer. I’m fond of curse words, slapstick, fart jokes. I’ve got my own eclectic sense of humor, my own way of doing things. I write what I think people will like, and I feel like I know this because I like it. I don’t have a deep and innervating message about the state of humanity. Or: well. If I do, it’s definitely backseat to story. Like all Deep Messages, if mine comes out, it’s because I’ve tried my damndest to suppress it and I simply can’t. (Hint: that’s how a Deep Message should be.)

I am, in short, the biggest hack to ever hack up hacktown on a three hack-stripper kind of night.

I’m saying this because, frankly, I couldn’t give less of a shit whether I’m ‘legitimate’, ‘established’, ‘professional’, or even, really, ‘publishable’. I write my little stories as well as I can. I edit the hell out of them. I have fun. My mom does the design work, and we have fun together doing it. I am, purely and totally, a vanity press operation in leopard skin pants. I am a one-woman fart joke MACHINE. I make words dance. I make them my tiny squiggly bitches.

I might not have a lot of fans, but those I do have I have a good relationship with. Because we like each other. Because I wrote something they liked, and, lo and behold, it was something that is totally and unpardonably me. So they like me too. And I like them: of course I do. They’re my kind of people. When they’re also writers, I like THEIR books.

Let’s stop bothering with legitimacy and the golden halo of ‘professional’. Nobody reading your stuff gives a shit how legit you are–they only care if they like the book. So write something someone out there–someone like you–will like.

Once you’ve done that, you’ve done your job. And, if you really want my opinion–you’ve created the only kind of ‘art’ that’s worth a great green goddamn in this boring fucking world. You’ve created something that made people happy, that kept them interested. You made someone’s trip to the in-laws shorter. You made a snowed-in evening at home better. You passed the time for somebody else. In a way, it’s like having superpowers.

And if you’ve made yourself rich while doing it, bully for you. It must mean a lot of people like hearing what you have to say.

Therefore, here is my hack promise to you:

I will never, ever, do something that isn’t me. That isn’t what I want to do.

It’s the luxury of indie pub. And, while it might not sound like much of a promise, it’s simultaneously the best and the only promise I would give–because if you’re my fan, and you like my shit, you’re in it for what I have to say. We might not always see totally eye to eye. You might like some stuff more than others. But if you’re my fan–if you’re the sort of person who likes my sort of writing–it’ll always, always, be worth a look to you.

Because you guys are the people I care about impressing. All .001% of you. The people like me.

Much love.
EFR

Writing: Truth in Fiction

image

I want to tell you guys a story. It’s about German-born pianist Hans Wegener.

In 1939, when he was only 24 years old, Wegener was recognized as one of the greatest concert pianists in the country. Leaping into the gap provided by the absence of many Jewish entertainers, he was able to rise quickly to prominence, playing in the grandiose style of the nationalist movement.

He was heavily favored for private parties, in fact, by many key members of the Nazi party, including Goebbels and Seyss-Inquart and, on occasion, Hitler himself. It was Goebbels, the great propagandist, who said of the man: ‘only at (Wegener’s) fingertips do the German people return to their old musical might.’

What none of them knew: Hans Wegener was also a British spy. He had been feeding the British intelligence through letters to his mother, a British national, since Hitler’s ascent in 1933.

There are many stories about Wegener, but the one I’m interested in telling here is the one that ended his career: the story of his concert at the reintegration of Danzig, after the Polish campaign that would later prove to be the beginning of WWII, into Germany.

Wegener played a legendary four hours that night. He played for the German military leaders of the campaign, including General Heinz Guderian, all of whom were flushed with success. He played classical songs of German composers long dead, nationalist tunes churned out by Gobbels’s famous propaganda machines, and, as the night wore on and the military leaders grew drunker, maybe just a little swing, just a little jazz.

What none of these peacock-proud generals realized: as Wegener played, Wegener’s luggage was making the rounds.
When Wegener and his twelve suitcases, previously full of outfits for every occasion on the front, left by train in the morning, he was not headed back to Germany. He made it, in fact, all the way back to London before anyone realized something was wrong.

Wegener, realizing the outbreak of war was now inevitable, had gotten himself to the safe harbor of England as soon as he could. With him, hidden in his suitcases, were twelve Polish children of Jewish descent. Over the course of the war, Wegener would apply for and be granted British citizenship, and adopt all twelve of the children. He never returned to Germany again, but made music on several occasions for British high command.

Why am I telling you this, you might wonder? Am I about to make some sort of moral point about the bewitching value of music, the blind eye even the most choking of dictatorships often turns on its artists and writers?

No. I told you this whole story, in fact, because it is a big fat lie. It’s bullshit. It’s fibbery, frippery, etc. And the theme of our Writing Day is, in fact:

WRITING: HOW TO LIE WELL

This might not seem important to you. It might not even seen moral. But trust me: if you want to write fantasy/sci-fi, you want to lie like Chikikiri, silver-tongued folk hero of the Himalayan Montep people. There is an art and a science to lying well. And it is the same art and science you should take to worldbuilding.
We’ll explore this in five parts:

1) Tone.
Let’s look at this story. A British spy in the German intelligentsia, a concert pianist, children smuggled from the Eastern front in suitcases. It’s not a real story–there was no such person as master pianist Hans Wegener–but the elements sound like a lot of WWII stories out there. Unlikely heroes, simple people doing their part, a great bolshy nationalist regime. We’ve all seen some of the movies this lie takes its tone from–The Pianist and Inglorious Basterds are two more recent ones that come to mind. (And there was, for your edification, a British man who smuggled a lot of Jewish children out of Eastern Europe in a similar fashion–check out his real story, which is much more inspiring than my fake one, here).

So we’ve managed this: creating a lie that feels the same as the truth, or at least what the general public sees as the truth. And, when you’re writing up your fictional world, this should be your first step: setting up a TONE. Is your world a heraldic one, icy and Vikingesque and brave? Is it a Byzantine courtworld, full of trickery and subtle deception? Study up on the real life places your world resembles. Get the feel of them. Because, lemme tell you, you need to keep to tone. If you don’t do this, in fiction or in lies, your whole story falls apart. People like a story, even if it’s supposed to be true, and can sense when the facts fall out of kilter even if they weren’t facts at all. So learn tone. TONE. TONE.

2) A Little Bit of Truth
Some things in this lie were absolutely factual. The Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, and the campaign was begun, through some lovely German lie-spreading, over the Germans wanting the Polish city of Danzig ‘back’. Goebbels was the prime-time man for German propaganda, and there WAS a great demand for German musicians after Hitler’s ascension in 1933 (due to the dearth of Jewish entertainers. Hmm, wonder why.). There WERE some German national spies for Britian in Germany at the time of the Reich, and musical interest in such ‘degenerate’ things as swing and jazz were discouraged heavily.

A WWII historian could probably take me apart like a mover trashing IKEA furniture, but the likelihood of the person I’d tell this to BEING one is relatively small. Therefore, in conversation: worth the risk. I once told Definitely Not Dave, a native Bostonian, that the town of Chapel Hill was founded by Mennonite dissenters Jebediah Chapel and Isiadore Hill in 1789. If he didn’t believe me, he could check out the Statue of the Founders on Estes Drive. To DND’s credit, he only believed me for about five minutes, but what made it work is the little bit of truth–being from Boston, he wouldn’t know the story of Chapel Hill from Adam, or the fact that there may not be a single Mennonite in the state–but there IS an Estes Drive, and he knew there was, and this is absolutely the sort of tiny snotty town that would have a Statue of the Founders somewhere.

There should be basic truths to your story, and you should deploy them with care and attention. In my novella The King’s Might, everybody swears by the Allking, a man named Telhir who came down from the Northern mountains some six thousand years ago. The swears are scrupulously footnoted and explained. The history of the swears, in fact, gives a history of the nation–and the built myth of the folk-hero Telhir explains a lot about the people.

3) But Not Too Much Truth
However, if you drown the reader in detail, your story will be JUST as unconvincing as it would if you included none. We don’t need to know Hans Wegener’s height, his hair color, his just-ended relationship with a rotund but fetching cafe waitress. We don’t need to know a TON about the German invasion of Poland, the history of British intelligence in Germany. I may’ve even been stretching it with what I DID add in there.

A good reference point: what do you think people will WANT to know? In the lie’s case, background information is added because the reader might not actually know some of it. (Polish invasion date, bit of background on Reich’s musical history, etc). Some is added for flavor and character (Herr Wegener’s suitcases, his age, the Germans possibly listening to forbidden jazz) and some is added for faux authenticity (my fake Goebbels quote). So there you go: EDUCATION, FLAVOR, and AUTHENTICITY. The three things your worldbuilding should provide for your readers.
And, last but not least, though we’ve touched on it a bit already:

4) Know Your Audience.
I’m trusting you’re probably not a WWII buff, when I tell you this lie–though I’ve provided enough care in my lying to cover myself if you’re a dabbler. I’m trusting you aren’t into British Intelligence. I’m praying, PRAYING, you aren’t a Nazi sympathizer.

In a low-profile writing blog, my chances are pretty good. When I told DND the story of Jebediah Chapel and Isiadore Hill, because he was from Boston and not an NC native, my chances were pretty good.

When you’re building your world, what do you THINK your audience would want to hear about? Do they need a lot of this world’s history to understand the plot? Or will they be more interested in the theory of magic? Customs of love, childbirth, and marriage? People pay more attention to things they want to hear.

And, lastly for really reals this time:

5) Know more than you use.
I actually learned quite a bit, to tell you this lie. I learned about the Eastern Front during WWII, the German occupation of Poland, got a good general Reich timeline going, learned some great stories about British heroes of WWII, and found out who the FUCK Heinz Guderian was. Did I use all of it? No. Because, again, Rule Three. Too much fact ruins a lie just the same as it ruins a story. But the facts guide you. They show you where the story SHOULD be going. And they’ll do the same for your fictional world–you might only need to MENTION the Brondisian War, but you should damn well know who fought it, what it was fought for, the rough shape of it, and who lost and gained what. Otherwise, you don’t know WHY it was mentioned. And this is the sort of lack of understanding, the sort of communication breakdown, that kills a story.

Because people might not know how much you know, or what precisely it is. But trust me–when you don’t know these things, it comes though in your writing.

There y’go: how to lie. Sorry for the long post, guys.
EFR

PS–Just to be clear: I am not encouraging you to lie about anything that matters. That’s, frankly, despicable. But a few tall tales here and there, lying for the aesthetic art of lying? It’ll be good for you. Promise.

Story Excerpt: Erasure

image
Image by Paul Robichaud, via Unsplash. This is what you bastards'll see now for every story excerpt.

So I’ve been working on this sci-fi dystopian kind of thing lately. I know: travelling oft-travelled ground. But it’s fun. And fun is what I need, because all this editing is most DEFINITELY something other than fun, probably something four-lettered. It’s a revamp of an old story I’ve had kicking around in various forms forever: a little worried I’m veering into the territory of cliche, but hell. You gotta have fun sometimes, and to hell with the cliche-ery.

It’s the story of Moll Coulter, a former criminal of uncertain background who’s had her memory partially erased by Sunrise City Gov. It’s got all that chewy Blade Runneresque dystopian stuff in it. Moll does recover her memory, about halfway through–when she discovers that, not only is the world around her not what she thinks, but the people she trusts are perhaps not the people she SHOULD be trusting. Fun tipple includes Soyful Noise, a Christian soy-product conglomerate, home products made from a combination of soy product and cockroach, a brief but informative lesson in how to kill a law officer with a grappling gun, and a man, the mysterious Thelonius Crowe, with a Coat of Many Colors. Yes, they say things like ‘oh my Dog’ and ‘cheese us rice’. Taking the Lord’s name in vain went out with the ascent of Soyful Noise, and they’re nothing if not creative.

Worth continuing? Lemme know.

EFR

****
ONE
The Girl Who Almost Burned Us

It was Friday–a Bright Day–and Moll Coulter was dreaming of apples.

She had put the blackout skins in the windows yesterday morning, when she was still relatively sober, and had therefore done it relatively well. In one corner of the window, the skin had begun to peel, and a single batonlike ray shot through, ending in a hot white coin of light on the floor. Moll shifted and turned in her sleep, as though the brightness bothered her.

In her dream, the apple twirled, backwards and forwards, on its stem. It was perfect, unblemished, round. There was a smell that rose up from it–a smell that Moll, who had never seen a real apple in her life, associated with body wash and perfume and high class hookers.

It was a peaceful smell. Delicate. Moll felt intoxicated–which was nothing new. This intoxication just felt better.

“Ohmidog, Moll,” said a voice from outside the room. “Oh. My. DOG. MOLL!”

The apple disappeared, gone in a flash of white light. Moll was left, bleary-eyed, staring at the cracks in her bedroom wall. She yawned, stretched. Knocked three empty bottles of Admiral Soyton’s 150 Proof to the floor.

One bottle, rolling into the beam of light, cracked, exploded, and began to melt.

“MOLL! WAKE UP, MOLL!”

The bedroom door rattled on its hinges, and, after what sounded like a summary kick, snapped at the lock. Bobbitt, her enormous mass shrouded in a protective suit, rushed inward, dashed through the beam, and slammed the corner of the curtain back into place. 

“Heyyy,” Moll said. “Bobbitt.”

“Are you INSANE?” Bobbitt screeched, her voice tinny through the suitspeaker. “Bright Day breaches are no joke, Moll. You could’ve burned us all in our beds. Lucky I saw the corner, coming home from work. Cheese us. One tiny hole–one pinhole–that’s all they say it takes. And you left a whole corner undone. That’s how the Alegharis died, you know. Rip in the Bright Day skins, too cheap to replace it. Tenement B burned to the ground.”

“I didn’t–”

“Apologize, Moll.”

“But–”

“Apologize. Now.”

Moll blinked a few times, waited for her vision to come into focus. Bobbitt, her face sweaty and pink with exertion beyond the suit mask, was scowling mightily. All four of her chins wobbled dangerously downward.
Moll sighed. “Elaine was home, wasn’t she.”

“Yes!” Bobbit threw her suited arms up as far as the suit would let her reach. “If killing yourself and destroying all our possessions means nothing to you, yes, beyond those little factoids, Elaine was home sick today. You would have burned my only child alive in her bed. You would have–”

Bobbitt choked, sputtered. Wheezed. Looking at her, bent over and hacking, Moll did feel sorry.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Still hacking, Bobbitt gave her the finger.

“Look,” Moll said, sitting up. “I didn’t mean to. I just–”

“You were drunk,” Bobbitt growled dangerously. “I know. When are you not?” She fiddled with the suit collar, pressing buttons and twirling dials. There was a faint pop as the pneumatic seals loosened, and Bobbitt drew the suit helmet over her head and tossed it into a broken-backed chair.

“Find a new place to live,” she said at last. Moll would give her this: she sounded regretful.

“But,” Moll said, though at this point it was more just to say something than because she had any argument.

“Nope,” said Bobbitt. “Find a new place. Bright Day breaches, broken bottles on my floor, shouting obscenities where Elaine can hear them–you’ve become a liability. If we’d lived a hundred years ago, I might’ve given you a second chance–but this isn’t the United States of America anymore, Moll. This is Utopia. And there are no second chances in Utopia. Not for any of us.”

Moll would also give her this: she was shaking her head. She didn’t smile. She didn’t look happy about it.

“I’ll give you until the end of May,” Bobbitt said. “That’s almost two weeks to find a new place.  After that, if you aren’t out of here, I will personally throw you on the street, Bright Day or Dark Day or anything in between. And I doubt–I highly doubt–that your suit is in any better shape than your blackout skins.”

Moll nodded. It was all she had left to do.

“This breaks my heart,” Bobbitt added, after a moment of silence. “Just thought you should know. You aren’t a bad person, Molly. Elaine loves you. But what can I do? What the hell else can I do?”

Moll certainly didn’t know.

Bobbitt closed the door on her way out. The door, its latch broken, swung right back into an open position.

Moll sighed, leaned back, and closed her eyes.

Flash Fiction: Dear Greg

I hope you guys find this amusing. I certainly did.

Hey honey,

I’m sorry I’m having to write you a letter like this, but I couldn’t think of any way to just say it. Every time I see you now, you’re busy doing other stuff. So I’m going to come right out with it:

If you don’t stop telling people you’re a wizard, I’m going to break up with you.

It really hurts me to have to say it. This year has been one of the best years of my life, and we’ve had a lot of great times together. But Greg, it’s kind of crazy how you keep insisting you have magical powers left over from the birth of the universe. And screaming out in pain over the ectoplasmic wounds the demon you traded your soul to inflicts on you REALLY isn’t helping our sex life, ha ha!

So it’s got to stop. I just can’t be happy with you as long as you’re doing this wizard thing.

The first time it was sort of cute and funny. Remember that? We were out at the bar with Stacy and Karen and Gay Steve, and you gave us all that sweet back story about how we were the only people you trusted, and you had something really amazing you wanted to share with us. And then you raised your hands like you were doing a spell, and WOW, that was a well-timed gust of wind! You even made Steve a little nervous; at least, until we went back inside and you were just the same old you. The shot of tequila you got for everybody probably helped with that.

At any rate, we all know you’re such a joker, so we didn’t think anything of it until next Friday when you said it AGAIN! You sure got Stacy and Steve with that fire-breathing trick, but my college roommate used to do that stuff for Burning Man, and you can’t fool me that easily. And your story after that, about the Mantic Demons seeking the life-essence of the human race–how drunk were you? I was a little embarrassed, honestly. You apologized the next morning and everything, but it still wasn’t cool to be seen with you blabbering on like that, especially when you burped in the middle of the last fireball and set Karen’s perm on fire. She still won’t speak to me, Greg! We’ve been friends since fifth grade!
Even that I could’ve dealt with. I mean, everybody has their flaws, right? You like practical jokes and I’ve always known that. I used to think it was funny. But this wizard thing? You’re trying too hard. And it’s gotten waaaay too serious.

I should apologize, Greg. I only realized how bad it was when I got that call from the police station. What were you doing with a human adrenal gland, Greg? And why on Earth would you want anyone to call you Borlax the Magnificent? You’re lucky I was there to bail you out. I’d had a few glasses of wine with Stacy, and if I’d had one more I wouldn’t have been able to drive to the station. What would you have done then, huh? The police officers almost didn’t let you go with me–they thought Raving Acres, that asylum out in Herckelwhaite County, would be better.

But I convinced them. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe there really is something wrong with you. The ‘talk’ you gave me in the car sure made me think so–it isn’t funny to talk about the world ending in a vicious blaze of infernal fire, Greg! And the stuff about the Mantic Demons flaying flesh from flesh until there was only bone and the defeated whimpering of humanity’s dregs wasn’t very nice either. People just don’t talk about that sort of thing, Greg. Not even for a joke. It gave me the creeps. And these texts you keep sending are really creepy too. What does THREE DAYS mean? Please stop!!!

I thought about what you said, though. Not the stuff about joining my powers to yours to defeat the Legion–that was just plain stupid–but when you said you loved me, and you would be worthless without me, and how I needed to accept the truth if I wanted to survive. Maybe it’s a self esteem thing? You don’t need to make up all this weird stuff to get my attention, Greg. I know I’ve been a little busy with work lately, but as soon as evaluations are over it’ll be back to how it used to be, you and me going out every weekend and watching movies cuddled up on the couch. Won’t that be nice? Isn’t that what you want?

So please stop with this wizard stuff! You are taking it WAY TOO FAR, and it’s really starting to worry me. I’m starting to almost think YOU believe it–guess the joke’s on me!

Love,
Cindy

PS– Just got your text. What does ‘THE LORD OF THE FLIES HAS HIS THOUSAND EYES FIXED ON YOU’ mean? Are you trying to be romantic again? It’s sweet that you think there are that many people looking!

PPS–Steve wants to know what weather app you use. He thinks to-the-minute wind coverage is pretty cool.

WW: Extirpate All Pirates

image

Writing Wednesday: Extirpate All Pirates!

So I’m through with Mistborn now, and I’m on to Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant. First volume, of course. Refugee. It’s–entertaining. It’s certainly that. There’s a lot of blood and mayhem and people getting raped and killed and such, as well as some awkward allegory concerning America’s immigration issues. Very sensational.

And, ultimately, very ineffective.

I should preface this by mentioning I’m not the biggest Piers Anthony fan. (Yes, this will be a writing post. Give me time). The reason for this can, in fact, be summed up in a little nugget about three quarters of the way through the book (if you want to read it, and haven’t yet, stop here, because I’m about to spoiler the SHIT out of it).

Some background: the narrator, who had very few interesting traits save for what Anthony TELLS us but doesn’t bother to SHOW us is interpersonal and leadership ability, has lost his entire family, save for one sister, to space pirates on a lackadaisical and rather drawn-out refugee ramble through the orbit of Jupiter and its moons. He has also, mere pages before, lost his One True Love, who is startlingly beautiful in spite of being in drag for most of the novel, by forcing an airlock open while she is unsuited. He did this knowingly, coldly, for the betterment of his small surviving group. He’s Mighty Fucked Up about it. And, howling his vengeance into the vacuum, he makes this chilling statement:

I remembered my oath: to extirpate all pirates. They surely deserved obliteration.

And, right there–and I was on public transportation, mind you, while I was reading this–I giggled.

Yes, you read that right. I giggled.

Because COME ON. Extirpate? REALLY?

He also, earlier in this novel about the narrator’s fifteen year old self, uses the word ‘pulchritude’ in reference to a sister. Aaawkward.

I have to mention this because it ties in so very well to what I was saying in a previous post, The Right Words, which more of you should’ve read, because ENGLISH. I think I even TALKED about pulchritude. As one of those words which is, overwhelmingly, probably not the right word.

I don’t believe a fifteen year old boy, newly orphaned, his soul struggling to mature under a crunchy candy-coating of rage and depression, looks to the stars and comes up with the word EXTIRPATE. I don’t care how good his education was. I don’t care if he went to Harvard and graduated summa cum laude whilst still suckling on his mother’s teat. I don’t care if the story is actually being told by an older version of this boy. Fuck ‘extirpate’. Just…fuck it.

I do not buy an emotionally charged statement containing the word extirpate. And that ‘remember’ doesn’t help, either. Remember is a distant word, a past-tense sort of word. It doesn’t give the statement any immediacy–the fact that I keep referring to it as a ‘statement’ says something about how I took it.

And the ‘surely’. Is there a need for that adverb? Is there REALLY? ‘Surely’ is almost as nasty as ‘very’, if you ask me. Nothing leaks the immediacy out of a statement quite like an unnecessary adverb. Unless it’s the word ‘extirpate’. Or ‘remember’.

I’ll take the colon. Colons have immediacy. Especially if you haven’t pooped in a while.

But anyway, this is just me coming up from my reading with a friendly reminder and perfect example of why THE RIGHT WORD is important.

As to fixing this paragraph? You can fiddle with it all you want. It’s so awkward and redundant I don’t think anything will do much good. I might try something like this:

I had sworn to destroy all pirates. They deserved it.

But, frankly, I’d just as soon see it struck from the ranks entirely. It’s awkwardly placed, and I don’t think we need reminding that a boy who’s lost this much (whose name, for the record, is the incredibly giggle-inducing Hope Hubris) wants to destroy the people who’ve taken it from him. Especially in the middle of what is, essentially, a laundry list of activities.

Done ranting now. But take this as a living example of what difference the wrong word can make. Take it and learn from it. Learn from it. Learn.

A Poem About Gun Control

At home today. Therefore, wrote poem about guns and how I feel about them. Obviously, I’m a pro-gun kind of lady. For unusual reasons.

Dear media,

bore me with guns.
Give me guns on parade,
in marching band.
Give me gun coupons, gun promos.
Two for one guns
at the supermarket,
kept in back
with the lettuce
and endives.

Give my Aunt Mabel guns,
though she’s incontinent
and wall-eyed
and mightily fond of cats.

Give guns to my parents,
so they can think of them fondly
over boxed wine
and low-calorie snack mix
when the fire burns down
and there are no more dishes to be done.

Give guns to my grandparents.
Film them complaining
about the rising cost
of bullets.

Give guns to the teenagers.
Make them wake up early on Saturday
for Firearms Ed.
Make them stress about
the gun safety portion
of their SATs. Make them groan
when it’s their turn to shoot.

Make a pile of them
in the office
on a rainy day:
“.38s Lost and Found.”

Have nobody claim them,
mixed in with sweatshirts
and bookbags
and cheap sunglasses.

Give guns to my accountant
so she can think about capping me
on April 14th
and decide, hopefully,
not to do it. I’ve been late so often
she deserves the opportunity.

Give guns to substitute teachers,
bakers, pharmacists,
golfers. People who’ll forget about them,

give them homes in dusty closets
under swim noodles
and the Christmas wreath
asleep in its plastic bag.

Choke us with guns.
Make our blood run steel
and our autumns
smell like black powder.

Do this
so that some day
a gun in the first act
means a walk home after the fair
because the sunset is lovely

and nobody gives two shits
where the gun is.

Writing: The Chosen One Chooses

image

Sorry if I’ve been a good deal in absentia here lately. I’ve been writing and reading (oh, and working). First off, I just had to finish reading everything Patrick Rothfuss has written ever (more on that later, and why it’s a good thing and a bad thing). Then I had to get through the newest B.E. Priest novella, Fire From the Ashes, which is just as worthy a read as the rest of his series. Now, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I’m stuck with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series–which, so far, is totally worth it, if a little frustrating for the sheer amount of Female Distress involved (ladies do things other than get raped and abused).

So, we’re reading a bit gluttonous this week. But I have time for a short blog. I always have time for a short blog.

I want to talk about the Chosen One.

Of course I do; I’ve been reading Mistborn. The whole premise of Sanderson’s somewhat dystopian world is that the Mistbornian Chosen One, that big bolshy hero in shining armor, DID NOT save the world a thousand years ago.

Note: he is not a main character in the story. At least, not in that form. The action in the story takes place a thousand years from then. Of course it does: how can you make a compelling story when the Chosen One was Chosen wrong? It becomes background, nifty set dressing (or it is so far, I’m only about halfway through the first book).

But this brings up an interesting point. Is the concept of the Chosen One (think Harry Potter, or Paul Atreides, or Aragorn in LotR, or…well, you get it) still a useful fantasy archetype?

A little background information, if you’re living under a rock, never took an English class, and don’t have the faintest fucking clue what I’m talking about:

The Chosen One (see: big bolshy hero) is a character who, by divine interference or some happiness of birth, has been gifted with singular powers, and has been destined to save/rule/otherwise generally change the world. It isn’t uncommon for the Chosen One to have a Mighty Weapon (again, think Aragorn, or redheaded Aerin from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown). The Chosen One is usually a part of a Hero’s Journey type of story arc, often combined with Coming of Age (because, naturally, the Chosen One is unaware/not fond of being Chosen, and must learn to accept his or her place as a hero, and that goes really well with growing up and getting the fuck over ourselves).

For me, this is a writing archetype, particularly in fantasy, that is inescapable. Your character has to be central to the action of the story–it is, after all, THEIR story–so there’s got to be something special about them, right? BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL. We can do this shit. Let’s stick some mythical abilities and divine providence in there.

But here’s the thing. The Chosen One’s power, and continued currency, as an archetype doesn’t come from BEING chosen. It comes, instead, from CHOOSING.

The important thing about Effluenza the Ordinary Peasant Girl isn’t the extraordinary powers she is currently discovering, quite by accident, on her father’s farm. It isn’t the Magical Machete in the Barn of Ages, which has been waiting for a thousand years for the arm strong enough to thresh wheat with it, and which Effluenza snags one night because she really, really needs a long blade to slice up some pears she stole from Goodman Gottson’s neighboring farm. It isn’t even the Wise Old Man, known to all the village as Billy the Drunkard, who heralds her coming and teaches her to use her Mystical Powers to cheat at Blackjack without counting cards.

The important thing about little Effluenza–about any Chosen One type hero–isn’t that she is Chosen. It’s the moment she STOPS being the Chosen One, and becomes the One Who Chooses.

There’s a moment in the Hero’s Journey–a transformative moment–where the Chosen One has to own up to destiny. It stops becoming a game, where you learn cheeky things and men in the tavern commons teach you how to spit, and becomes an earnest desire to take the Machete of Might and stop the local baron raising the rent. It’s the moment, in short, where Paul ceases being the hunted Atreides Duke, and becomes the Kwizatz Haderach. Where Harry Potter sees the real death and torment Voldemort causes, and begins taking steps to stop him. Where Aragorn, previously Strider the Ranger, becomes Aragorn the King (hard to pinpoint this moment, but I think it’s when he calls the Dead down from Dwimorberg, especially in the movies). This, and not before, is where this archetype starts to have pull and strength, where the character starts making his or her own decisions towards the positive. An old identity, which didn’t quite fit, is shed or transforms into a new one.

If you’re writing a Chosen One type character, this is the character arc you HAVE to follow. I’m sorry, but there is no other. There are variations– Failed Chosen One Tries Again, or the eternal falling action of Chosen One After the Great Battle–but it’s the same story. The Chosen One MUST become the One Who Chooses for this archetype to hold meaning. You can do it any way you like, but it has to happen for the whole premise to work.

Using an example from my own work (and if you haven’t read Aurian and Jin yet, and you plan to, you might want to stop reading here):

Evinanjin is the classic Chosen One, minus the boring prophecy. She has remarkable abilities, a good mind, the love of the people.

But (and here’s one of those monkeywrenches you can throw in things) she loses the abilities that made her who she is. Or, she thinks she does. It takes a lot of drinking and bad-tempered brawling for her to figure out that, in the end, it isn’t what was given to her that makes her who she is–it’s something she was born with. Aurian Sees his wife, towards the end of the story, and what he Sees isn’t her training or the Holy Bones or the Emperor’s favor–it’s an empty field and a people dying of hunger. It’s her essential peasant nature. Her determination. Her willpower.

My timing’s a little different–the pivot-point, where Evinanjin makes her decision, actually occurs in the past–but its placing in the story is spot on for the third act, where such things usually happen, in tandem with Aurian’s decision to actively help his wife destroy the Bonemaker by stealing the Sundering Sword (see how cleverly I doubled it up? See? SEE?). I like putting pivotal moments in flashbacks. It makes me happy. Character motivation reveal and whatnot. Don’t judge.

Point is, stop thinking about The Chosen One completely. Think instead about his second self, The One Who Chooses. If you write a Hero’s Journey type story, this is the person who completes your MC’s character arc, and moves the story forward.

For More Information on Common Fantasy Tropes:

The Hero’s Journey–Very good layout of the classic steps of The Hero’s Journey. Pay special attention to step 8–this is where your chosen one begins actively choosing. If you get confused at any point, just think of Star Wars. Not the new, crappy Star Wars. No. Luke and shit.
Hero’s Journey, Now With Charts!–Though for screenwriting, this is also very useful. They place the turning point I’m talking about near the end of Act II, which, okay, I’m open to suggestions.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces–You’re an epic fantasy writer, and you haven’t read this yet? What the fuck?
TV Tropes Wiki–Like all wikis, this information might not be 100% factually approved, but my God, this is fun for any media. People who’re afraid of ‘tropes’–do not read. You’ll learn just how unoriginal all your ideas are and cry like a little baby.

Related Posts:

Tropes and Archetypes Won’t Kill You–Why all this hand-flapping and trope-fearing is stupid, especially among unseasoned writers. After all, would it be called a MONOmyth if it wasn’t pretty pervasive?

WW: KDP Select for Rank Amateurs Like Myself

image

WW: KDP Select for Rank Amateurs

Just a quick blog here. I’d like to do a not-so-quick one, but that requires time.

I’ve seen a lot of internets either way about KDP Select free giveaways, and their uses for authors. Some people say their sales numbers surge after a giveaway, some people don’t. Some people find the (admittedly) vast number of people who download the book while it’s free, versus the not-at-all-so-vast number who won’t pay the one or two dollars when it isn’t, fascinating.

I’m among the pro-giveaway faction on Amazon. It might have to do with my status in life, or my lack of money sense, but there you are.

I did a giveaway on Superbowl Sunday. While the Patriots were playing the Seahawks, I was watching my numbers climb with unabashed amazement. I ‘sold’ well over a thousand copies. I topped charts, dammit. Didn’t quite break into the Top 100 Free–I think my highest ranking there was #139–but still. Hell.

And, of course, I got money for none of it.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m a young writer, mostly unpublished. Certainly unpublished in the genre I want to work in. I don’t have an agent to ship me about, or a publicity team to paste pictures all over Barnes and Noble.

Nor do I have a ton of money. I am, in fact, close to broke as we speak (payday is Friday. It’s homemade salads and bits of lunch meat for dinner until then). And I’m not a writer/marketing guru. No, no. I got stuck with a surplus of artistic talent, which, sadly, means I got all the business sense of a brain-damaged llama in a snowstorm.

What those free giveaways do for me–what I desperately need them to do–is offer ADVERTISING.

I wrote a good book. I know it, and I know if the right people read it they’ll love it. But in the glut of similar offerings on Amazon, who’s going to find it? You can’t tell from a blurb–at least, not when folks aren’t being supremely lazy–who can write and who can’t. And with the advent of indie publishing, readers no longer have that comforting middle man, the publishing company, to offer the crudest and most basic form of quality control. It’s a free-for-all in the world of cheap ebooks.

And, like in any free-for-all, the people who come out on top aren’t always the cream. Plenty of other things float, aside from cream.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent good money, money I possibly shouldn’t have spent, on paid advertising. It’s done nothing. Not a damn bit of difference. Maybe I’m not using the right places–I’m almost certainly not spending enough money–but the fact is, I don’t HAVE enough money to advertise well.

Review swaps and requests on Goodreads have also, by and large, been useless. I’ve given away several copies of my book, in the course of the past month. One person–one exceptionally kind and thoughtful person–was good enough to actually do the review. I know patience is probably key here, but I only have so much money, and no real way of giving the book away without spending some of it.

Long and short of it–the ONLY thing that’s worked, the only thing that’s boosted my sales and gotten my name out there enough to make a difference in the search listings, is free giveaways.

Yes, I’ve defied conventional wisdom and done the giveaways without having a second book out. No, I don’t much care. I’m not after the money–I’ve got a damn job.

I’m after the recognition.

Here are a few other blog posts about the nature of the KDP Select beast, and why you should or should not put your head in the Amazon Lion’s mouth:

Ben Zackheim–I don’t agree with him on a few things here: namely, he subscribes to the traditional ‘more than one book’ idea–but there’s a lot of useful crunchy information here.
M. Louisa Locke–One of the more level-headed explanations of what KDP Select can (and can’t) do for you. Damn, I wish I sold twenty copies a day.
Joanna Penn–Mostly just because Joanna Penn is a lady worth listening to.
Hugh Howey–Because Hugh Howey. Hugh Howey’s first WOOL story is a post-apocalyptic dystopian masterpiece, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

A LAST NOTE–

I’d like to see more of these blogs–what works/what doesn’t–from people like me, who’re just starting out at this and have very little money to put behind it. Not everyone’s an expert, and not everyone is ready to turn up their noses at 20 books a day in sales.

I’m certainly not an expert. I’d LOVE to sell twenty copies a day.

And I think more people are in my boat than the ‘successful professional’ boat. And, honestly–that’s marketing from two very different perspectives. I don’t have a name out there, or a ton of established fans–I work for every damn review I get from the ground up, and that’s frankly just how it is. I’m trying to build a base I can count on, and I’m doing it the hard way: the only way of life, unfortunately, for broke people.
.
I see a lot of writing blogs, by ‘bestselling’ indie authors, telling me what I’m ‘doing wrong’: some of which is done, not from choice, but the necessity of having a full time job and very little cash flow. I get a little angry at this, sometimes. I’m sure these folks have great advice to offer for people with all the time and money in the world, but not all of us have these things.

So I’m going to try and post a little more on my experiences with self publishing. And I’m going to be honest. Because, if nothing else, I’m usually that.

Thank you, and good whatever-it-is-where-you-are.

EFR