Friday, August 29, 2014

I Will Be A Jerk (The Best Time Travel Story, 2014)

$3.99 for 15 great short time travel stories.
That's a cost per story of...
*takes out calculator, waits for solar battery to charge, gets impatient, wanders off to watch TV*

Yesterday, we introduced you to Russ Bickerstaff, who won the Time Travel Writing contest we hosted and put into an anthology.  Today, you get his story,

I Will Be A Jerk

Russ Bickerstaff

I am a jerk. Not right now, exactly, but I will be a jerk. I figure it's probably about 20 years from now. It's a little complicated. Roughly twenty years from now I will be just a few feet from where I am now. Pretending to read a magazine. Pretending not to be looking at me. I will just be sitting there being a jerk. 

When I went off to go to college, I wasn't expecting this. Granted, it's not like there weren't warning signs looming out ahead of me. All my life there had been indicators that I might suffer from some kind of mental illness. It runs in the family. Dad once thought he'd accidentally unplugged the outside world from his house. He was perfectly cool about it for a while. Then everything disintegrated for him. A year ago my brother claims to have seen a cluttered residential apartment of infinite space in the complex he manages. He's still around, but he dropped out of college to be in some weird, experimental steampunk ska band. (Make of that what you will.) So I could have expected some kind of a schizophrenic break with reality. I could have expected some kind of a psychotic episode or something. If not now then maybe ten or twenty years from now. But not now because I'm pretty sure this is different.

There I am 20 years older than I am now. I look a bit more haggard. There's patchy beard on my face. There's a raspy wheeze to my voice on those rare occasions when I talk. Not that I ever bother to say much to me. I have tried to approach me and talk. I always get the same response.  "You'll see." I'm leering when I say it to me. And sometimes I chuckle at me. It would be kind of dramatic and chilling if it wasn't so annoying. 

I get the feeling that most of my friends think it's some kind of joke that I'm playing. They think it's my dad. I don't blame them. Think about it: why would I get access to something as impressive as time travel and then decide to go back to where I was when I was in college and just...lurk? It's been like that all semester. 

Full disclosure: I'm into science fiction. That doesn't mean anything. I mean--it's not like this is some weird messed-up fantasy. But it's not like I don't know that there are alternate theories here. I could have been cloned from 20 years ago by that guy who always hangs around at the next table at the coffee shop in the student union or in the library or wherever. That seems possible. Or maybe that guy is me from some sort of alternate future where everything is the same except I'm a jerk and have been all my life.

Say you're me: You move out to college. You first get that taste of true adulthood--true freedom. You're truly on your own now. You're independent. And there you are waiting for you 20 years older than you are now. Hanging out in the background wherever you go. Never actually saying anything. Never even bothering to introduce yourself. Do you call the police? Well, maybe you would think about it until you have to explain it to them. And then you remember what happened to your father and your brother and you think maybe you can tolerate it. 
So here I am hanging out with me at classes. Never actually saying anything. My only respite is my dorm. At home I can be alone with myself. But every time I leave, there I am 20 years from now in the background of my public life. 

Not that I hadn't tried to introduce myself to him. I 'll walk over and say hello. And I'll ask him what brought him back to the past and he always gives his trademark reply. And I'll explain to him what I'm going through and why I don't want him around. And he'll just sit there saying nothing. And so I monologue to him about my life until I have to meet someone or go to a lecture or whatever. 

What bothers me is the fact that this guy that's me has nothing better to do than to hang out with me. I don't know why he's doing this. He hangs out with me at parties. Never actually saying anything. He trails me to bookstores and caf├ęs and things. Always there in the background. It's really frustrating. This is why I know: in the future I will be a jerk. But at least I'm only being a jerk to me. At least I'm not bothering other people with it. 

Actually, I don't know that last part for certain. I'm not always around him. When I'm in my dorm I'd like to think that he's out actually enjoying the past. And I'd like to think that he's not being a jerk to other people. So I'm the only one suffering here. No apologies needed. Still--what kind of a guy behaves like that to himself? No self-respecting guy would DO that. 

I've given it some thought and all I can say is that I hope I've done this because in 20 years I will have enough money to retire. Hell, maybe I invent time travel technology. That would be cool. I'd be rich. One things for certain, though. If I am going to invent time travel it's going to be to escape so that I never have to be around him again. I'm going back in time so that I don't ever have to worry about being around him anymore. And I get the feeling that's kind of going to involve going back in time and hanging out with me now. 



Follow Russ Bickerstaff on Twitter by clicking here. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Turns out he's not a jerk at all... YET! (The Indie-pendence Day Anthology Winner)

Russ Bickerstaff:
Theater critic, writer, not a jerk.

Hey, remember how we here at IWM put out the single most successful anthology of short stories ever, The Indie-Pendence Day Anthology Of Time Travel Stories?  Sure, you MUST remember it.  It's the one that took the world by storm and got made into a hit movie starring Matt Damon and Sofia Vergara and featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as "Time".  OR WAS THAT IN AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE?

No matter.  

The important thing is, we put out a book and it has been universally well-received, and now it is time to have it weller-received.  Well-receiveder? I'm sure Andrew can tell me which one is least incorrect.  So from time to time


I will be posting interviews with the authors from that remarkable book, and some of their stories, as well.  Today is actually the second of those; the first interview was with author Jeff Hargett and is in our August magazine issue, on sale over there to the right. Today, you get for absolutely free an interview with Russ Bickerstaff, whose story "I Will Be A Jerk" won first prize this year, making it the Best Time Travel Story of 2014.  Doesn't that mean it's The Best Time Travel Story EVER? Let's let you decide that.

The interview will be today.  Check back tomorrow for the story.  

I emailed Russ some questions, and he responded as follows:

Thanks for the opportunity to do this. As a theatre critic and arts journalist, I'm always on the other side of a set of questions like this. 

Here's my response:

1. Where did you get the idea for your story?

In idle moments I occasionally imagine going back in time to have a conversation with myself when I was in high school. When I thought about what it might be like to go back in time and specifically NOT say anything to me, it turned into a story. 

2. Have you written other time-travel stories? 

Time travel pops-up a lot in my fiction. Though I love technical treatments of time travel like the movie Primer or more insightful historical pieces like Moorcock's Behold the Man, I tend to focus exclusively on the people. My time travel tends to be more of a personal emotional journey for the characters. 

3. If you could travel in time, when would you go to and why?

I'd love to go 25 years into the future. I have a couple of daughters who are very, very young. It'd be interesting to hang out with them as adults. I'm anxious to see what they'll be like after childhood. 

4. Are you working on anything right now that you want to share?  

I've finally been getting around to finishing a huge number of short stories. In the past three months or so I have wrapped-up work on over 100 of them. 

The big ongoing project is a sprawling, unplanned, unedited hypertext serial about a character named Blake Morely. It's been a fun exercise for the past several years. The text is over 1 million words long now. It can be found online by Googling the name "Blake Morely." (The hyper serial is the first thing to pop-up on a search.) No real idea where the story is going. It's been a lot of fun to write, though. 

5. Do you have other stories or books that readers can buy/read online?

I've been getting a short story accepted for publication about once per week over the course of the past three months. The central intersection for all those stories can be found at my online Internarrational Where Port at:


OK, back to ME now.  I went and started reading his Blake Morely story, and it's an extremely interesting project, which is what you'd expect from a guy like Russ.  Check out his other stuff, and stop back tomorrow to read I Will Be A Jerk.

In the meantime, the ENTIRE BOOK can be had for only $3.99, which is less than a pair of socks, I think? I don't know.  Sweetie buys my socks.  The point is, go get the book by clicking here and you'll get 15 great time travel stories from the best indie writers around.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Five: The Source

Imagine you're a kid. Your father is a landowner and a knight. Your older brother is obviously being groomed as the heir, which is normal and natural. He is, actually, a knight in his own right. You, however, are not being trained as a second, a backup, which would also be normal and natural. You're being trained to take care of horses and muck stalls and do the upkeep on your brother's gear, but that's about it. Sure, you'll get to be a squire, but you can tell there's some... difference; you're just not sure what it is. Clearly, your father loves you, and it's not a matter of favoritism; your brother is held just as accountable for wrongs as you are. But there is something... something that sets you apart. Or is that just wishful thinking?

This tournament comes up, and your brother is going to take part. He's even one of the favored knights. But something happens. The morning of the tournament, there's a problem with your brother's sword. He's livid. Stomping around. He demands that you find him a new one. And that's where everything changes...

* * *

Raise your hand if you know where this is going.
From what I can tell, the Arthurian Legend is at the root of modern fantasy. All of the elements are there. Let's look at it along with the initial list.

1. Arthur is not an adult. His age varies from child to teen, but it's clear that he's not an adult.
2. Arthur is an orphan. Soon after being taken from his parents by Merlin, they are killed.
3. Arthur is the child of the king, the first High King of Britain, even if short-lived.
4. Arthur is the child of prophecy, the one destined to draw the sword from the stone and become the True High King that will unite the land.
5. Arthur is mentored by Merlin, the Wizard.
6. "What is your quest?" "The Quest for the Holy Grail!"
7. Arthur's great descent is the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere.
8. Arthur has all of the Knights of the Round Table, many of whom have special skills and talents.
9. The "dark lord" Arthur has to face is his half-sister, Morgan, a sorceress and mother of his child.
10. And, of course, there is no technology.

Not only is fantasy filled with King Arthur stories... Wait, let me list just the ones that I've read, which is nowhere near comprehensive:
1. Le Morte d'Arthur (technically not fantasy, because it's a classic but, if it had been written today, it would be fantasy)
2. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (also, technically, not fantasy because it was written by Steinbeck, but if it had been written by anyone else...)
3. The Once and Future King
4. The Pendragon Cycle (possibly the best Arthur series I've ever read)
5. Camulod Chronicles (possibly the second best Arthur series I've ever read and it's done completely from a historical fiction perspective, so it's only fantasy because it's about Arthur)

There may be more, but that's what I know I've read right off the top of my head, and those are just the ones that are actually about Arthur. There's probably no good way of counting up the number of books that make reference to Arthur or Merlin (The House on the Corner for one) or show some kind of direct influence from the Arthurian Mythos (even Lewis' Space Trilogy, and the resemblance of the Sword of Gryffindor to the Sword in the Stone can't be denied). It's possible that the Legend of Arthur is the most pervasive literary influence in Western culture (but it would probably take more study than I've put into it to determine that for certain).

And, yes, even Tolkien has a relationship to Arthur. There's The Fall of Arthur (a poem that Tolkien didn't consider finished so was published posthumously) and his re-telling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And probably more but not more that's been published. That I know of.

Even with Tolkien's interest in Arthur, not much of the Arthurian Model finds its way into The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, as has already been discussed. I think Beowulf was a much greater influence on both works than Arthur ever was.

None of which is to say that Tolkien doesn't deserve the title Father of Modern Fantasy. Certainly, he's the one that "created" the genre, and he gave a lot of window dressing to it. The idea of fantastic races in fantasy comes directly from his influence; however, they're not required. Adding elves and leprechauns is like... well, it's like spicing your food. Some people sprinkle on the elf, some shake on some goblins, some keep it plain.

All of which is to say that, even though we can thank Tolkien for ushering in the age of fantasy literature, it's to Arthur that we owe the stories. One little orphan boy who pulled a sword from a stone.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Great Writing Moments From "The Simpsons"

FXX is currently airing all 552 episodes of The Simpsons, in order.  Whether you realize it or not, writing and authors have played a part in many episodes of the show.  Off the top of my head, here are some of those moments:

  • When the Simpson family visits England, they run into JK Rowling.  Since this was before the last book was written, Lisa badgers her about how it'll end.  Rowling finally says Harry will marry Lisa and they'll live happily ever after.  I never read it, but I'm pretty sure that's not what happened.  Liar!
  • When Bart gets his 15 minutes of fame for the catchphrase "I didn't do it" he gets a lot of crappy merchandise--including an "autobiography" that is actually about Ross Perot and a transcript of the Iran-Contra hearings.
  • Speaking of autobiographies, in one episode Krusty the Clown reveals his autobiography was ghostwritten by John Updike.
  • In the Halloween episode "The Thing and I" the kids go up to the attic and find boxes full of Homer's vanity published autobiography "Homer , I Hardly Knew Me."  I'm sure it was a fascinating read.
  • Lisa insists the family visit a book festival in one episode.  There Stephen King relates his terrifying new project:  a biography of Benjamin Franklin.  He promises to tell Marge when he gets back to writing horror.
  • At the same festival Lenny asks a question about the B-2 bomber.  But when Tom Clancy starts to answer, Lenny says he intended the question for Maya Angelou, who recites a poem about the bomber.
  • When Homer gets a job as a food critic, Lisa ghostwrites the reviews for him.  When she laments that someone else's name is on her work, Homer tells her, "Welcome to the humiliating world of professional writing."
  • Speaking of ghostwriting, Lisa and Bart write an episode of the popular Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, but when they can't it published, they put Grampa's name on the script instead.  They go on to write a bunch of popular episodes, until Grampa actually sees one at the Emmies and rants about how disgusting it is.
  • Long before 50 Shades of Grey, Marge Simpson became a published author with a bodice-ripper about a woman married to a drunken slob (Homer) until she's seduced by a hunk (Ned Flanders).  When Homer got around to reading the book, it drove him into a fit of rage.  In that episode is a valuable publishing lesson when Marge asks, "If I publish a book, will they tell me when it comes out?"  My publisher for A Hero's Journey wouldn't...
  • In one of the last new episodes I watched, Homer, Bart, and a bunch of other Springfielders compose a novel about goblins that becomes the next Twilight.  Neil Gaiman gets the book published under his name, double-crossing everyone.
  • When Lisa visits Moe the bartender, she sees a bunch of random thoughts of his and recomposes them into a poem, launching Moe into the publishing business.  At the Word Loaf festival Moe and Lisa run into great authors like Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal, who reveals his title 1776 came from the total of a tank of gas.
  • My favorite moment of Word Loaf though is at a panel featuring authors Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen.  They end up talking trash and then getting into a fist fight.
It's kind of sad to note that many of the literary guest stars on the show have passed away including John Updike, George Plimpton, Tom Clancy, and Maya Angelou.  So maybe being featured on the show isn't the best idea.

Any Simpsons literary moments I might have missed?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ninja Mutants: An Extended Review -- Part Two: The Fantasy Paradigm

Recently, I went to see the new Ninja Turtles movie with my kids (you can read my review of that here), and there are some things in it that go along with the fantasy "discussion" we're having right now. It's interesting enough that I think it deserves its own post, although I'm not including it in the actual exploring fantasy series. First, let's bring up our list of things that go along with fantasy stories:

1. The protagonist (I'm just going to say "hero" from here on out; it's shorter) is not an adult (and usually male).
2. The hero is an orphan (usually both parents are dead, although there is sometime one (usually the mother)).
3. The hero is "special" in some way.
4. There is a prophecy, generally related to the hero.
5. There is an old mentor of some sort, usually a male. (We recognize this character as "the wizard.")
6. There is a quest of some sort involved that only the hero can complete.
7. There is some kind of descent 
8. The hero has companions who help him on his journey.
9. There is some sort of "dark lord" who can only be defeated by the hero.

10. There's an absence of technology.

The thing of interest to me with this new movie is the protagonist. Yes, protagonist. Historically (I use that term a little loosely, but the Turtles have been around for three decades, now, so there is some history involved), the protagonists of the Turtles stories have been the Turtles themselves. If you look at our list, the Turtles fit virtually all 10 of the points, even the one with the prophecy at various times in the stories.

But the Turtles are not the protagonists of the movie. No, that honor goes to April O'Neil. In the comics and other, previous stories, April is merely one of the companions, but she is the main character in the movie, and the Turtles are the companions. How can we tell?

Well, let's look at the facts:
In this movie, April is an orphan. [I don't remember this being a part of her story previously, but, then, maybe I'm just not remembering it. Actually, I don't remember it ever coming up before, which would lead me to think she had parents.]  Effectively, she's also not an adult. Technically, she's an adult, but she's being portrayed as someone not quite there yet, basically, coming of age. April is the special one and, loosely, of prophecy in that she, in this movie, was the owner of the Turtles back when they were just turtles. She was their savior.

This thing where they made the Turtles her childhood pets is a huge change and plunges April into the role as the story's protagonist. The Turtles become her companions on her journey to "destroy the dark lord," in this case Eric Sacks. The goal of the Turtles is to keep April alive and assist in her journey. Splinter still serves as the mentor figure, and the world of the Turtles, into which April descends, lacks technology. Sort of. There is technology, but it's Donatello's "magic."

I find the changes they made to the Turtles mythos very interesting, probably because it comes in the midst of this fantasy series, but, still, I find it interesting. I have to assume they made April the protagonist because she's easier for audiences to connect with. After all, they have very much downplayed the teenager-ness of the Turtles in this iteration, so there's not that for the audience to connect with. I also find it very interesting that in making the changes they made, they brought it into alignment with the fantasy paradigm I've been discussing. It's not surprising, but it's interesting. Of course, super hero stories tend to follow the fantasy model, even if April herself is not the super hero.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Indies and Pre-Orders

Last week, Amazon gave indie authors the ability to make their books available for pre-order. (Smashwords already offered authors this feature.) The final version has to be uploaded ten days before the release date; if it's not, the author loses the pre-order feature for a year. I'm not certain yet if pre-order sales are counted as they accrue or on the release day. If the latter, then the spike in sales can give the book a boost up the charts and increase its visibility. Admittedly, not all books may generate pre-orders, especially for new authors or series without an established fan base willing to buy them sight unseen. (Even if you don't get a lot of pre-orders, it may be helpful to have a buy link ready when setting up marketing. At the very least, pre-orders impose a schedule for getting the book out.)

I'm not sure yet how useful this feature will be, but I can't resist experimenting with it. I've therefore made my next book, Seasons' Beginnings, Book One of the Season Avatars series, available for pre-order. It's a fantasy novel, and it'll release October 21, 2014. (It's mostly done, but I'm waiting for feedback from my beta readers before I do the final proofreading.) I already posted the link on my blog, but I'm shameless enough to do it here too, along with the cover and blurb:

Kron Evenhanded is an artificer, able to enchant any man-made object, but he finds people more difficult to work with. When he visits the city of Vistichia, he encounters Sal-thaath, an extremely magical but dangerous child created by Salth, another magician Kron knew at the Magic Institute. Kron attempts to civilize Sal-thaath, but when his efforts lead to tragedy, Kron is forced to ally himself with a quartet of new deities and their human Avatars. Together they must defend Vistichia as Salth attempts to drain its life and magic. But Salth has Ascended halfway to godhood over Time. Will Kron’s artifacts be enough to protect the Avatars, especially the woman he loves, or will Time separate them?

 What do you think about pre-orders? Readers, do you pre-order books, or will you wait for them to become available? Authors, would you use this feature, or do you prefer publishing as soon as the book is ready?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Amateur Tip: A Costly Way to Get Readers

As a frequent Amazon review and Vine Voice(TM), I sometimes get authors or publishers offering to send me a book to review.  I've accepted a couple, but some are really far off the mark of what I would read, like the one who wanted me to review a book of Christian crafts.  Though I find that kind of annoying to get, I have to admit that's not the worst thing you can do.  I mean it's just an email and the worst they'll say is No, right?

But then last week someone took it up a notch.  I opened my email and found out someone I didn't know and had never heard of had "gifted" me a copy of her book on Amazon.  I looked up the book and it sounded just awful.  Basically 700 pages of Ayn Randian philosophy.  No thanks.  Amazon gives the option to exchange it for a gift card, so I did that and got $1.07 towards another book I actually wanted.

From reading a thread on that gifted book's page, apparently the author has been doing this with other people.  Probably a lot of Vine Voices(TM).  It struck me as just about the dumbest way you can go about doing this.  I mean, maybe she has money to burn (or maybe she's using the Guy Kawasaki philosophy of sinking a minimum of $15K into marketing) but it just seems like a big waste of money.

So unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket, ASK before you send someone a copy of your book to read and review.  It seems kind of like common sense (and cents) but some people are sorely lacking in that department.

But hey, thanks for that $1.07!

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Break the Writing Rules, Part Four: Adjectives

(Note: this post was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but I postponed this essay until Friday to avoid double-posting over the IWM issue announcement. Apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by the delay.)

If you want to read about adverbs, fragments, or rules thatdon’t apply to English, please check out my previous posts in this series. Today, I’ll respond to some comments made on my last post.  

Briane suggested I should talk about adjectives. Adjectives aren’t as universally hated as adverbs are, but there are some authors and editors out there who feel they should be minimized. My hypothesis that hatred of adjectives goes back to all of the classic 19th century books we were forced to read in school—you know, the ones where every time a character entered a new room, the author spent a page describing the setting in minute detail. Be honest; does everyone read every word of that block of dullness? These days, probably not. I have heard (I don’t have a source, sorry) that because back then people didn’t travel or have television, they needed, even wanted more description. If you hadn’t had much exposure to an elephant, then you would find a description of one interesting. These days, we already know what an elephant looks like and don’t need much description to conjure up an image in our minds.

If the typical modern reader has much more knowledge of the world, then does that mean she doesn’t need any description? I don’t think so. For instance, if the setting is historical or fantastic/speculative, then it will most likely be unfamiliar to her and therefore require some description. Even if your setting is real and well-known, such as New York City, not all readers will know it well. Furthermore, everyone will experience the city a little differently and may therefore not know the city as portrayed in your story. Descriptions and adjectives help readers experience the story as though they were inside it.

I think the key to using adjectives and description in a story is showing experiences and emotions. One of the reasons people read stories is to experience emotions. The words your viewpoint character uses to describe things can show the reader much about the character—their education, their attitudes, and their own emotional state. If one character says a dress is “as blue as the ocean” and another says it’s as “blue as despair,” then you learn different things about them.

So, in summary, here are a few guidelines to help you use adjectives fearlessly and effectively:

    1.   Don’t present your adjectives or description in a solid block of text that intimidates readers. Sprinkle description in in small doses so the action doesn’t get bogged down.

2 2.  Don’t describe everything; focus on what’s most important to the character, and by extension, the reader. Is there something unusual about an object, or something that will be significant later?

    3. Make sure the description fits the viewpoint character. That way, the description serves a dual purpose.

  4.    Avoid purple prose. Simple words, such as “red,” may be just as effective as “carmine” or “scarlet.” That said, make sure your diction fits your style and genre. Historical fantasy may be more tolerant of extravagant description than urban fantasy, though there may be exceptions to this rule. 

Have I forgotten anything? What else would you add to this list?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Overpowered Release Day!

(Simulcast on my blog today!)  Today is the release of Overpowered, Book 2 of the Powered Trilogy by Cheyanne Young.  You can read my review here, or in the August issue of Indie Writers Monthly.  Here's more information!

After rescuing Nova from a life of evil, Maci fears she's made a huge mistake. As if she didn't have enough trouble fitting in with her fellow Supers, Nova outshines Maci in personality and power. 
In the midst of this one-sided sibling rivalry, humans are dropping dead from a powerful drug that originates in the underground tunnels of King City. Someone is a traitor and Maci wants to capture the villain before anyone else—especially Nova.
With Nova in the spotlight, Maci needs to set aside her jealousy before more humans die and the future of King City is changed forever.

Book 2 of the Powered Trilogy. Available now.

About the Author

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Four: The Darkest Hour

Along our fantastic fantasy journey, so far, we've learned that we're special and could be the prophesied one, among other things. We've met a mentor and found some friends. We've also gone on a journey, probably in search of something. Hopefully, it's a been a learning experience, and we're fully prepared to meet the final challenge. It's a dark time for the rebellion, after all.

From the initial list I made (which you can see here), we need to cover three more points:
8. There is some kind of descent
9. There is some sort of "dark lord" who can only be defeated by the hero.
10. There's an absence of technology.

We'll start with #10 since it has less to do with plot than the rest of the list and, actually, almost fits alongside fantasy needing races of fantastic creatures or beings. Except that I don't think fantasy needs those creatures, I think we just like those creatures. There are plenty of fantasy stories out there that do not include elves and leprechauns. However, the technology thing is important and much more... mercurial. See, sometimes, the technology is the magic, which can make it difficult to distinguish. But let's go down the list of characters (go and see that same post for that last) and see where where and how the absence of technology applies.

1. Harry Potter -- Potter is set in the modern world, but technology doesn't really exist in the wizarding world. It was a neat trick by Rowling to set it present day but still give it that Medieval feel that everyone seems to want their fantasy to have.
2. Luke Skywalker -- The absence of technology thing may seem to not apply to a science fiction piece, BUT the idea in Star Wars, at least for the Jedi, is to eschew technology. Technology, even a technological monstrosity like the Death Star, is nothing when compared to the power of the Force. It's a hearkening back to a mystical (magical) power source. So, although there is technology in the story, the focus for the hero is to not rely on that technology but to trust his "magic."
3-5. Garion, Rand, Richard -- There is no technology.
6-8. Batman, Spider-Man, Superman -- Often in super hero stories, the technology is the magic. The best example of this (right now, anyway) is probably Iron Man, but it applies, also, to the Fantastic Four and, even, to Batman and Spider-Man. When the technology is so advanced as to, basically, not be reproduce-able for the public, it has become "magical." Alien technology is the same. And Superman is above the need for human technology.
9. the Starks -- Again, no technology.
10. Dorothy -- No tech.
11. Katniss -- Effectively, Katniss functions below technology. It's basically, a magic vs. technology environment, but the magic is the special-ness of Katniss and her superhuman skill with a bow.
12-13. Skeeve & Pug -- No tech.
14. Dresden -- The Dresden series is another one that handles technology in an interesting way. Being set in the modern world, technology exists, but there has to be some way to make the use of magic more desirable than the use of that technology, so... wizards, like Harry, disrupt technology. Destroy it, actually. What we end up with is a constant struggle between magic (the old ways) and technology (the new ways) and Harry walking the line in between the two.

The end result of all of this is a lack of technology in how it relates to the protagonists.

The other two points, the descent and the "dark lord" antagonist, have more to do with the hero story arc than fantasy specifically, but fantasy, more than any other genre, tends to depend upon the hero journey. The confusion (entanglement?) of these two things is probably what causes the association of Joseph Campbell with all of this, but the hero journey can actually be applied to any genre. Probably. I'm not actually sure about romance.

At any rate, virtually every one of our heroes has some kind of "dark lord" they have to face off against, even Dorothy. Of course, in the case of super heroes, they will, inevitably, be more than one. From my list, I'm only not sure about Skeeve (being a comedy fantasy, it's not really required and, although there are antagonists, I don't think any would qualify for the "dark lord" position) and the Starks. I don't think the Lannisters quite count as a "dark lord," and, well, The Song of Fire and Ice is not really that kind of story, anyway, but that would be telling (really, that's for another post not related to this series).

Virtually all of the listed heroes also have a descent of some type, often literal as with Luke and his descent into the cave. The descent serves as a learning experience for the protagonist. Even Dorothy has her descent (in the book) when she is made into a slave by the Wicked Witch. Again, Skeeve may be the only protagonist without a real descent in his story arc but, again, comedy!

The question, then, is how much of this comes from Tolkien. Certainly, it's true that all three of these exist in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was adamantly opposed to industrialization (both in life and in war (especially in war after being in the trenches in World War I)) and it shows in his books. The orcs and goblins are his metaphor for a "technological society."

Both Bilbo and Frodo are confronted with defeating "dark lords," though neither of them actually defeat the dark lords of their stories. Smaug is killed by Bard and Sauron by Gollum, even if it was inadvertent. However, it can be argued in both cases that the protagonists set up their defeats. Both heroes survive their descents into darkness -- Bilbo in the tunnel down to Smaug's lair and Frodo... well, most of Frodo's journey is a journey from one darkness to another -- and come out stronger on the other side.

Just as clearly, many authors have modeled these specific aspects of their own works directly after Tolkien, but is there prior precedence for these in fantasy literature?

And will I ever tell you if there is?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

And someone who DOESN'T know about editing would be... *scratches head, wanders away lost in thought*

It's a little late (It's August 12 already? How long have I been asleep?) but the IWM magazine is well worth the wait.  As that cover notes, you'll get an interview with author Jeff Hargett, who was one of our contributors in the Indie-pendence Day Time Travel Anthology.  You'll also get his time travel story as a teaser for what you'd get if you buy that book.  (The first one is always free...).

And there's the kind of lengthy, rambling, nonconclusive discussion of writing you've come to expect from me, as I ramble about how to write a great opening line for your book (Hint: Copy Snoopy.)

Plus, some very focused and helpful pieces from Sandra (on blogs you should be reading if you're serious about writing, and you are serious about writing, aren't you? Those of you who are not serious about writing may show yourselves out.  No, just kidding, you can stay but you've got to start bringing cookies) and Andrew, who talks about editing because Andrew is to editing as Jedis are to kickin' people's butts.  Can we call Andrew a "Jedi-tor?" *Checks with staff of lawyers*  Uh huh. So Lucas will sue us until we disintegrate if we do?  But he'll get mostly PT's assets? Bring it on.


But click here if you were intrigued by that Indie-pendence Day Anthology reference and thought "Boy, I could really use 15 great time travel stories to make this Tuesday worth getting out of bed for."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Weaponizing Authors: The War Between Amazon & Hachette Continues to Escalate!

It was just Friday night I wondered if maybe Amazon and Hachette were ready to bury the hatchet--bad pun intended--and then the next day I and every other KDP author received the latest salvo from Amazon in my inbox.

During the early stages of the war Amazon had been mostly quiet in public.  This gave the advantage to Hachette and its authors, who were all too happy to go on Twitter, Facebook, etc. to demonize Big Bad Amazon trying to bully them.  And there were the people like me who just really didn't give a shit about a pissing match between two megacorporations.

Now Amazon has decided to start actively recruiting its own resistance to Hachette.  They want you and me, the indie authors who publish through Amazon, to take to the virtual streets to combat the forces of Hachette.  (This whole thing is ripe for a South Park parody; too bad by the time they actually produce any episodes the war will be over.)

Here's the actual text of the letter:
Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

Copy us at:

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

I'm surprised while they were giving us bullet points they didn't just write the whole letter for us.  I've already heard some people disputing the facts as Amazon presents them (like this); I'm sure you can find plenty of that through a Google search.  I'm not really in a position to know what happened back in the 40s with paperback books; it was a little before my time.

This doesn't really change my neutral position.  If anything it makes me want to side against Amazon, because I hate when special interest groups try to coerce me into calling my Congressperson or Senator or the President on some pet issue of theirs.  Asking me to contact a greedy corporation on behalf of another greedy corporation is many times worse than that.

What I like the least about it is how it's asking authors to choose sides.  I don't want to take money out of the pockets of Hachette authors just so Amazon can make a little more money.  Sure those authors mostly look at indie authors like me like a piece of gum on their shoe, but I'm not so jealous of their (moderate in most cases) success to wish them ill.  And yes I think $14.99 for an ebook is outrageous, but if the public is dumb enough to pay it, then why shouldn't they be able to keep charging it?  $9.99 seems as artificial a price point as anything else.  And newsflash:  I wouldn't pay $9.99 either.  $2.99 is pretty much my ceiling.  The point though is that I'm not anyone's weapon.  Since Amazon brought up Orwell, we all know 1984 dealt with the dangers of totalitarianism, which in this day and age comes from giant corporations as much as it comes from governments (who are largely owned by those corporations), so again, authors should not be forced to choose one megacorporation or another.

So how do you other indie authors feel about it?  Are you going to take sides?  And whose camp will you join?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to Break the Writing Rules, Part Three: Rules that Aren't

So far, we've discussed how to use adverbs and fragments to achieve certain effects in your writing. This week, I want to talk about grammar rules that everyone knows about but aren't really rules. I will be relying heavily on this article, "7 Grammatical Errors That Aren't," but I will only focus on the first three rules, since I think those are the most interesting and general ones.

Original cartoon found at this link:
Split Infinitives--Everyone knows that only Star Trek captains get to boldly go where no one has gone before. However, the practice of inserting words between the "to" and the verb goes back to Middle English. The earliest examples of split infinitives come from poetry, where they may have been used for the sake of cadence. Even if you're writing prose, there's nothing wrong with splitting infinitives to make a sentence flow better or to emphasize a word. Many people believe (as I did before researching this article) that the reason for objecting to split infinitives has to do with applying Latin grammar to English. However, the first people to object to split infinitives didn't make this argument. Today, we are encouraged to organize our words in the order most pleasing for us--and our readers.

Ending a Sentence with a Proposition--As a Midwesterner, I will agree with Winston Churchill (even though he wasn't from the Midwest, and this quote wasn't from him anyway) that "This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put." As above, the "rule" about not ending a sentence with a proposition is supposed to come from Latin. However, English has a lot of idiomatic expressions ending with propositions that sometimes do belong at the end of a sentence.

Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction:  I did extensive research to see if this was really forbidden: in other words, I watched "Conjunction Junction" and determined that they never say you can't use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence (two negatives make a positive, right?):

It's true that conjunctions are used to join things, and yes, you do need them when you're joining two short sentences to make a complex one. But what do you do if the next thought is closely related to what you just said, and you don't want to ramble on and on, like Tristam Shandy delivering a twelve-hour filibuster in the House of Commons (or Senate, or wherever people avoid doing the job we elected them to do)? So, start the next sentence with a conjunction already. But don't overdo it, because you know I believe in nothing in excess and everything in moderation.

What do you think about these writing rules? Do you obey them or break them? Are there any other writing rules you'd like me to discuss in this series?

Monday, August 4, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Three: Who's Gonna Learn Ya?

Well, obviously, I wasn't thinking of the exact order I was going to deal with my list from the first post in this series, because, today, I need to do some rearranging. So let's look back at the list of the central tropes of current (by current, I mean the last few decades) fantasy literature:

1. The protagonist (I'm just going to say "hero" from here on out; it's shorter) is not an adult (and usually male).
2. The hero is an orphan (usually both parents are dead, although there is sometime one (usually the mother)).
3. The hero is "special" in some way.
4. There is a prophecy, generally related to the hero.
5. There is an old mentor of some sort, usually a male. (We recognize this character as "the wizard.")
6. There is a quest of some sort involved that only the hero can complete.
7. There is some kind of descent
8. The hero has companions who help him on his journey.
9. There is some sort of "dark lord" who can only be defeated by the hero.
10. There's an absence of technology.

 We dealt with #s 1-4 in part two of this series, so let's take a look at the next bit with a change in the ordering. We'll look at the new #s 5-7:

5. There is an old mentor of some sort, usually a male. (We recognize this character as "the wizard.")
6. The hero has companions who help him on his journey.
7. There is a quest of some sort involved that only the hero can complete.

This is the part where, hopefully, there is character development. But that's actually a different topic. What we want to do here is look back at the list from part two of this series (because why not use the same one?) and see how many of them use these three things. So, first, here's that list:

1. Harry Potter
2. Luke Skywalker
3. Garion (The Belgariad)
4. Rand al'Thor (The Wheel of Time)
5. Richard Cypher (The Sword of Truth)
6. Batman
7. Spider-Man
8. Superman
9. Arya and Bran Stark (A Song of Fire and Ice)
10. Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz)
11. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
12. Skeeve (MythAdventures)
13. Pug (The Riftwar Saga)
14. Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files)

And here's how each of the three things apply:

1. Potter -- Dumbledore and, primarily, Ron and Hermione; each book has its own quest, but it climaxes in the quest for the horcruxes.
2. Luke -- Obi-Wan and Han, Leia, and Chewbacca; the quest theme isn't as clearly defined in these: there are moments of questiness
3. Garion -- Belgarath and, well, really, many more than I want to list; the orb
4. Rand -- Moraine and Lan serve the part of mentor while Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve serve as compainions; being such a long series, the quests change as the series progresses
5. Cypher -- Zedd as mentor and Kahlan as companion; the quest is for one of the boxes of Orden
6. Batman -- Alfred serves as mentor while Robin (through most of Batman's history) is his companion; his quest is for justice
7. Spider-Man -- Uncle Ben as mentor, but Spidey has no consistent companions, being mostly a loner; his quest is similar to Batman's but focused more on preventing the devastation he felt from failing to prevent his uncle's death
8. Superman -- Pa Kent and a variety of newspaper cronies; I think Superman is mostly questless
9. a. Arya Stark -- I'm going to say that Jaqen serves as her mentor; she has companions, but I'm not going to look up their names. I'm not sure how to label her quest other than as revenge.
9. b. Bran Stark -- I believe the mentor character is Brynden Rivers (but I could have the name wrong); there are various companions. There is some quest or other that takes him beyond the wall. Thing. Whatever it's called.
10. Dorothy -- The closest thing to a mentor is Glenda; probably, you all know the companions. And the quest to get home to Kansas.
11. Katniss -- Haymitch is probably the primary mentor, though a case could be made for Effie. Peeta is her primary companion, at least in the first one. The quest stuff is less defined in these books (from what I can tell from the movies), though the overall patter is the same.
12. Skeeve -- Aahz is the mentor, and he has various companions. I'm not sure the quest trope fits (it's been too long since I read them.)
13. Pug -- Kulgan is Pug's first mentor, though that changes when he leaves Midkemia. He has two sets of companions, too. There's more than one quest.
14. Dresden -- Ebenezar McCoy is about as mentor-y as you can get and has all flavors of Gandalf written all over him. In overalls. There is the expected cast of companions with Karrin Murphy as the main one. Also, Bob. As a series, the quests vary book to book.

As you can see, virtually every example listed uses some variation of all three points, the most notable exception probably being The Wizard of Oz because calling Glenda the mentor is actually a stretch. This is also the part of fantasy story-telling that we can most "blame" on Tolkien. Specifically, we can blame it on the excellent character of Gandalf that he created and everyone has wanted to play with ever since then. In fact, the authors Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis have their wizard Fizban call himself Gandalf "by mistake" in one of their books, something I found quite amusing when I was a teenager.

Tolkien also sends us on quests and gives us companions for our protagonist. In The Hobbit, the dwarves serve somewhat interchangeably as companions, meaning that none of them other than Thorin are strictly necessary, though he does flesh them out enough to show us that specific dwarves are better at particular activities, like Fili and Kili and their ability to make fire.

It's in The Lord of the Rings, though, that the "party system," as we've come to think of it, and which D&D so liberally "borrowed," was really created. Each companion has his own field of specialization, so to speak. Legolas is "The Archer;" Gimli is "The Warrior," though we've actually come to think of that as "dwarf warrior" in fantasy circles, because Beorn is the "human warrior." Arogorn is "The Ranger." And there's Gandalf... And nearly every fantasy book written since LotR has used some variation of this.

So we do find that Tolkien used these three points of the list, but the real question is whether he invented these things or if they came from somewhere else.