Thursday, January 24, 2013

How unique is your stuff?

When I started to jot down the storyline ideas for Betrovia way back in Dec 2004, I wasn't thinking about anything but getting the plot/characters/settings/conflicts onto paper AFAP (as fast as possible). When I had written nearly 90K words the summer of 2011, I was only thinking about turning Betrovia into a trilogy (to keep the novel from being a VERY long book!). It wasn't until about this time last year, winter 2012, when I asked a MFA 280 customer who bought and read Betrovia what he thought about the novel. He looked at me, smiled and said something like: "I read your book and saw so many things that I had read in too many other books." I laughed, but it wasn't sincere. Then it hit me: Betrovia is not 'unique'?

So what do some Writers Cafe novelists think about when posed with the question: What makes your fiction "unique"?

"It's a question I wrestled with before I started writing. Have you ever read John Barth's short story 'Lost in the Funhouse'? It discusses these questions: If it has to be universal to be grasped by all readers, then why write? And if it has to be specific to be original, then it won't be grapsed, so why write? I decided to make my work original by writing only things based on direct knowledge. That way, I know no one else could've written it. This made a recent review of one of my books especially interesting. In addition to despising my style, the reader couldn't accept the weirdness. Ninety-five percent of the book is documentary. (BTW - Not a complaint. I loved the review. Loved it.)"

So a combination of universiality and orgininality ... with a dash of weirdness? Uhm ...

"That's an important question. If I offer nothing new, there's no reason to purchase my work. One of my books is like the TV series LOST on steroids. What I mean is that it is going to take a very determined reader a lot of effort just to figure out where the story takes place--not to mention when it takes place.  Example: By all appearances, the characters are on Earth somewhere, but there's no Moon. Impossible? No: It's a real place. Many characters appear to be one thing but later turn out to be something else entirely. Most readers will root for one of the characters but then watch in horror as that character makes some really horrible choices--but keeps on winning, anyway.  Lots of mysteries piled on top of mysteries. Two completely new cultures to deal with. Dozens of major characters.  It's been a complicated chess game in the writing, but I hope something readers will enjoy wrapping their minds around. What's unique? The extent to which I immerse the reader. The novel marries the language, Tasblish, to the Tasfit culture.  You need both to understand the Tasfit Nation, and also the Verdos Nation. So I created a 7800-word conlang, possibly the most complete fabricated language ever created for a fictional work, with quite complicated grammar and consistent spellings and etymologies--all the stuff that makes a language real. I hired an illustrator to create 20 figure sketches for the major characters and character types.  There are dozens of maps. You might think of something on the scale of Dungeons and Dragons or A Song of Ice and Fire--that level of immersion--but for a sci-fi world, not fantasy."

This guy obviously has waaaay too much time on his hands ... I wonder how many copies he's sold?

"Most of my work so far is about various forms of slavery. The alternate universe I created in two of them deals with institutional slavery in very concrete ways that emphasize its effects on the individuals involved. They're solidly character-based, not written for thrills or for anyone who's looking for typical master/slave relationships. Of course, that means they're not terribly popular. I'm moving more toward near-future SF now, but exploring some of the same themes."

Ah, there's an idea: take an ages-old problem, like slavery, and explore the various facets and nuances of it. Nah, I couldn't stomach doing that!

"Some of the shallowest characters to ever be given leading roles in a plot-light, typo-heavy book. Also, bad 'jokes' that nobody but me gets."

Funny stuff! This response makes me think of comic books I read as a teenager that spoofed the very foundations of humanity. :)

"Interesting question!  In one of my short story collections, I have five stand alone romantic shorts (novelettes, really) that connect with one another. Story #1 will end at a charity event, for instance, and story #2 will begin at the charity event with different characters.  Sometimes, characters show up for cameos in other stories. They usually all take place in the same city or setting. Most of the main characters appear together at the end of the last story. When readers email me about my books, they always say they love these links. It's fun as a writer to plot out the stories and figure out how to weave a common thread through them."

Yeah, I like this strategy ... put everyday (non-unique characters) and plop them in and take them out of other stories as mono-dimensional beings. Yeah ... maybe ...

"I don't know how unique it is, but I'm trying (emphasis on 'trying') to write complex, nuanced epic fantasy in contemporary settings. There's a lot of alternate history, warped variations of Judeo-Christian mythology, and overly detailed world building. I try to keep everything mythology-lite in my YA/NA books so it's more accessible, but it gets pretty ugly and complicated in the UF. (All of my books are in the same universe.) So ... if an unholy (and less talented) union of Ilona Andrews, Philip Pullman, and Suzanne Collins is unique, then there you go."

An amalgam of mythology, religion and world-building. With a dash of young-adult angst? Could work! (Actually, it is working ... this author is selling lots of books!)

"On one hand, my crooked, distorted view of reality. On another hand, my truthful depiction of what I see around me. Go figure."

I don't know how I would be able to accomplish this kind of fiction. I like to keep 'distorted reality' and 'truthful depiction' far apart from one another!

"Intriguing question! I write suspense novels about the dark side of love. I don't do procedurals, or quirky detectives or serial killers. Instead, I like to look at how things like obsession, lust, greed and jealousy are mistaken for love -- and how it leads to murder. I think of my books as being Lifetime movies as produced by Investigation Discovery and starring Halle Berry and Will Smith."

Nah, I see nothing unique here :)_

"Great question. I guess a couple of things:
1. There isn't much, if any, historical fiction written around the bohemain artists of nineteenth/early twentieth century Paris; yet it was one of the wildest, most decadent eras in history.  A truly fun era to write about.
2. My main characters don't apologize for who they are. They are fair, but they definiately life life in ways that most of society frowned upon and some of the charcters choices would still be frowned upon or judged today. They don't care. They know what they have to do to make themselves happy in life and say so up front. No one goes into their life not knowing who they are. Some see it as selfish, others see it as being true to yourself. It depends on the reader and confident they are about themself, I think. Some could buck society and its mores, others frown on it.
3. I'm not afraid of subjects that some readers may find objectionable or unforgivable. My 'evil' characters show their good sides eventually and vice versa. No one is an ultra hero."

Good stuff here! Alternative history based on an obscure time and even obscure place. But what's so original about evil being 'good' and good being 'evil'?

"How about 'replayability'?  When I sat down to outline my trilogy, that is now complete (thank you!), one of the founding ideas I had for it was to create something that when the reader got to the end of the third book they were so blown away, that they would want go back and re-read them. So I took a page from the video game world and made sure I had re-readability. I can count on one hand how many non-movie books I have read more than once. Re-reading a Harry Potter book before the movie came out doesn't count. So creating something that would make people want to read it again was important to me. Writing a book or even a series of books that once everything has been revealed will re-read as a different story was not an easy task. Unfortunately book three hasn't been out very long so feed-back has been very light. However no one has mentioned to me that they figured it out by reading book one and two. So I'm taking that as a good sign that my plan is working."

Interesting ...

"You mean OTHER than killing off all my characters?"

I bet this writer sells lotsa books!

"Crazy world building (parasites, anyone?) Likable, sorta crazy characters. Crazy-good dialogue. Summing it up: craziness!"

Oh yeah, that's it! It's all about getting 'crrrraaaaaazy'!

"When reviewers leave comments like this: 'He's in a genre all his own'."

Of course, this can be taken multiple ways :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What keeps writers from writing?

Why is it some days I can plop down in the computer chair, grab the keyboard, fire up the draft of book three of the trilogy and crank out a few thousand words before I've even thought about how many words I've cranked out ... but then there are those other days when I stare pathetically at the screen, hoping that the words will just magically appear on it! ACK!

Oh no, this has nothing to do with "writer's block," not at all. With nearly no effort at all, I can go back to chapter one and begin "revising" (for the tenth, etc. time!). That is waaaaay too easy ... even when I've worked hard all day at MFA 280 in Freeburg!

So how about we see what some of those Writers Cafe folks have to say about this!

"My mind keeps getting ideas for different books or articles while I am trying to finish the one I am working on."

Oh yes! Been down that greasy slope before! I've even fired up a blank text document in order to slap those ideas onto the PC AFAP! (as fast as possible) so I can get back to the main task.

"Family members interrupting me, acting like I'm just sitting there doing nothing, perfectly available for whatever they have in mind - and then acting all offended when my reaction indicates otherwise."

Too true... but will our beloved ones ever REALLY understand what our brain cells are going through as we write?

"Two of the most annoying: "Mooooommmmmmm!" (This is the kids, but also includes my elderly father, who recently moved in with us and can't seem to learn that when I'm working, I do not want to be constantly interrupted. I need to get doors on my office. Locking doors.) "Meow!" (This is the cat jumping into my lap and settling down for a protracted stay, and of course bumping my wrists with her head every time I try to type over her.)"

Can't really relate to this one ... only pet in our house is a canary :)

"My own disgust (with my pathetic first drafts)."

Not much to add to this one! :)_

"Four paws, goes mew, and thinks my mouse is a playtoy and my keyboard should be sat on. And there are two of them, so they tag team."

OK, so if we had a cat (or more), then I can see this being a problem!

"My son! He is either incessantly hungry/thirsty/looking for something/freezing his computer or being far too quiet to not be getting into trouble e.g. mixing up 'potions' in the garage or 'fixing' things that belong to his sister. Fortunately, for his sake, he is very cute!"

Cute? Maybe...

"My dual monitor setup is great for editing, but I need to learn to turn it off when I'm not using it. Scrivener on one screen, Reddit/Kindle Boards/email on the other. Not good."

Last weekend I tried the dual monitor set-up with draft of book three on the left screen and the outline of the novel on the right. Worked quite well until my video card overheated! (New vidcard is on its way!)

"Sex. Hubby and I are writing erotica together now. Occupational hazard."


"My family, my commute (a blessing and a 'need your hands on the wheel 2 hours a day, not writing' curse), reading, and To be honest though? It's that last one that kills me. I can waste hours on that site 'researching' plot ideas." ... I checked out that website .... I don't get it :)_

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A bit of the new Galena

Some people have commented that Galena, 
Patrik the innkeeper's younger daughter, was a 
bit of a "wimp" in the first two books of The Land of Betrovia trilogy.

Here's what she looks like in book three!

 “You asked for me, sir?” Galena said as she closed the door to the commander's office.
“Yes, recruit, I did,” Leitser replied without looking up reading a document that was spread out on his desk. “I have a job for you. I need you to deliver some reports to General Demirain.” The commander then pulled a stack of papers off the left side of his desk and stuffed them into a leathery pouch. “Before you ask what they relate to, suffice it to say that these will inform the general of the groups of rebels who continue to roam the forest between the Plains of Dreut and our little village,” he said.
“Rebels? But Uncle Markus said there are no – ”
“The general requested this information months ago, Vellein,” Leitser continued, “It is imperative that he gets it as quickly as possible. I want you to leave for Lycentia immediately. And take two of the others with you.”
“I … I don't understand, sir. I have only been a part of the militia for a few weeks. Why make me the leader of this mission?”
“Vellein, are you refusing to obey a direct order?” Leitser responded softly but sternly.
“Are you giving me a direct order, sir?” Galena replied just about as sternly but slightly softer.
“Indeed I am, recruit,” the commander replied. Galena continued to stare at the man who appeared to be quite engrossed with the piece of literature that was on his desk.
“Which ones, sir?” Galena then asked with a look of feminine consternation on her face.
“Which ones?” Leitser repeated as he finally looked up at her. “Now what are you talking about?”
“Who should I ask to accompany with me?”
“Does it really matter who you ask, Vellein? This is your mission, recruit, and part of your task is deciding who would be best to accompany you,” the commander replied softly.
“No, sir, it does not matter at all. I suppose if this really is my mission, then it is my duty to make the decision on my own,” Galena said as she grabbed the pouch and exited the sparsely-decorated office. Within the hour, not only had Patrik's younger daughter enlisted the help of two of her fellow militiamen, but she was leading them south out of Noran on their way to the capital city. Galena didn't have to think long about who to pick: the two she selected were older men, long-time members of the Noran militia. The younger of the two went by the name of Breatok while the other, a father of one of the newest recruits, had grown up with the name Slatern but preferred to be called Joktean.
On horseback, the journey from the mining village to Lycentia would take slightly more than a day. So, around dusk the day after receiving the order, Galena and her two companions were about to ride into the city.
“Have you been here before?” the older militiaman asked as they came into Lycentia through its western gate.
“First time for me,” Breatok said.
“Same for me,” Joktean replied. “What about you, Vellein? You been here before?”
“After we closed up The Lonely Fox Inn, Father and I moved here to Lycentia,” Galena offered.
“Oh yes! Of course! Why stay in that musty old inn out there in the forest when you could live here in the big city!” Joktean said. “And did then you move into the palace with your sister the queen?”
“No!” she responded angrily. “And I would appreciate it greatly if we could talk about something else!” At this, her companions looked at each other and shook their heads. They rode quietly for a few blocks until Galena cleared her throat.
“It appears that since I am the only one who's been here before, I suppose then that it's up to me to find out where the General's office is located?” Galena asked.
“Over there is a Lycentian officer,” the Joktean said as he smiled and pointed to his right. “I wager that he might know.”
“That is a great idea!” Galena replied. “Since I'm the one in charge here, I should then be the one to ask him,” she added as she hopped off her horse and jogged towards the man clad in the dark-blue of the Lycentian militia. Their conversation was short and to the point, and in less than five minutes, Galena was back on the horse and all three Norans appeared to be back on their way to Demirain's office. That was the case until a different problem arose.
“You know,” Breatok mused playfully, “We haven't had a thing to eat since this morning. How might it work to hitch up the horses over there and find us some food? My nostrils are have suddenly become filled with the aroma of something rather exquisite coming from that general direction!”
“A spectacular idea, Breatok!” the other militiaman chortled. “All I had for breakfast was a small, stale piece of apple cake!”
“But … but the officer,” Galena stammered. “He just said that the compound is only a few blocks away,” Galena replied. “Why can't you two wait until after our mission is complete before you stuff yourselves? Why must men always be thinking about their stomachs!” Before an answer was given, both militiamen had tethered their mounts and were heading for what appeared to be the source of the scintillating aromas.
“Vellein, you can't make me believe that you aren't hungry!” Breatok said. “And don't tell me that you aren't smelling the same thing we're smelling!”
“I should have known something like this was going to happen,” she whispered. “Here's what I propose then!” Galena then shouted back as she rode past the opened tavern door. “If you two haven't eaten everything before I come back, I will gladly join you at that time!”
“That sounds like a good deal to me, Vellein!” Breatok replied from just inside the tavern doorway. “But don't be gone too long! I can't make any promises about keeping this Joktean fellow from eating it all!”