Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unbearable Authors

I have, over the past handful of years, frequented a few internet forums dedicated to the discussion of writing. For a long time, I was a mainstay at Writer's Beat, and had a great time talking shop with some great people. I especially enjoyed the Prompts & Challenges section, which really helped me get on track as a fledgling writer who didn't really have a method or a voice yet.

My experience at The Hothouse, an invitation-only writing group comprised mostly of Writer's Beat alumni, was short-lived, but invaluable in the sense that it taught me how to critique the work of others as well as my own. But it also showed me that some writers can be absolutely unbearable.

I suppose I should have expected it, since writers are just people, after all, and capable of being just are rude, mean, and snarky as anyone else. But there was something just so bohemian about the community that I never saw it coming.

I soured to the community experience (as I've discussed on this blog, at some length) and decided to strike out on my own again. To my dismay, I discovered that writing isn't the solitary experienced I had imagined it to be. I missed the shop-talk, the sharing of ideas and plot premises, the adulation that comes from your peers when you announce the completion of a story (or the acceptance of one, though at the time I had only one of those experiences). I missed discussions on the philosophy of writing, the way each writer's foibles made them wholly unique among their peers.

So I found Write One Sub One. Not a forum, but a community of like-minded bloggers sharing in the Great Experiment of writing and submitting one story every week (or month) for a year. That's where I met people I consider eFriends, like Milo James Fowler, Deborah Walker, Adam Callaway, and Simon Kewin. So impressed by this cast of characters was I that I joined up at Absolute Write, which is sort of a Writer's Beat on steroids. It was there I met even more great people, such as Nathaniel Katz, Lydia S. Gray, Shelley Ontis, and others.

But just today, I encountered my first truly rude Absolute Write member. The backstory is this: Early this month I began a fantasy story that didn't seem to have any fantasy elements to it. So I went to my forum-going friends and asked "What makes fantasy fantasy?" Having heard their opinions, I thanked them and announced I was comfortable calling my very unfantasy a fantasy story. Somewhere along the way, a member (whom I regrettably only know by handle, which is defcon6000) disagrees with the consensus, and begins a rousing debate. Then today, I find this post by another (nameless) member:

OMG. Just give the freaking story a second moon, a magical sword, a princess with an un-lockable, rusting chastity belt, and a blood drinking unicorn and be done with the genre indecision

Also, either debate GRRM OR finish your book, one or the other. It won't really matter whether it's fantasy or not if all you're concerned about is Stark politics and miniseries.

(It should be noted that during the course of the debate, other sub-conversations had branched off to the topics of the HBO series Game of Thrones, and the book series it is based on)

 Setting aside the fact that I had already announced I was more than comfortable calling my story a fantasy, what sort of comment is this? In what way does this help? I understand that some people employ the boot camp method to themselves and maybe even to their writing proteges, but I certainly didn't ask for it.

I'll never understand why some writers are like this. If it's simply a matter of being tired of the discussion (which this person had not participated in at all prior to this post) then just ignore the thread!

I don't know, I guess I'm just not cut from that cloth, but I find that kind of behavior deplorable. This person is obviously under the false impression that I'm still asking for help, which makes their attitude even more appalling.

So, if there's a point to this post today, it's that you should not, under any circumstances, be THAT writer, the one who feels the need to take out their own personal frustrations on their peers. You're better than that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Quick Book Review: The Last Kingdom

The BookThe Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Skinny: Young English noble captured and raised by invading Danes while they conquer 9th century England down to its very last kingdom: Wessex. Struggles between his English heritage and his (way more awesome) Danish raider/Viking lifestyle.

The Good: Political intrigue on par with anything George RR Martin has ever written, and in much fewer words; Some laugh-out-loud moments; fist-pumping action sequences; excellent prose that thankfully avoids page-long descriptions of food; Conclusion is satisfying while also making it clear this is to be the first in a series;

The Bad: It's historical fiction*

This is the best book I've read in 2011, hands down. I've read McCarthy, Martin, Mieville, Abercrombie, and  VanderMeer, and this one tops them all. It has a pace that pushes you continually forward, a prose that is beautiful without being self-indulgent, and has a wit that you just can't find in fantasy--which I like to think of as the nephew of historical fiction.

I list historical fiction as a negative (with an asterisk) only because the genre does come with some limitations. For one, we know, despite young Uhtred's desires to drive a sword through Alfred's belly, that he ultimately never will, because Alfred does not die then, nor ever at the hands of the Uhtred. But it isn't a disappointment, because there's plenty of killing to be done, and there's enough healthy speculation that other notable historical figures kick the bucket in awesome ways.

If you're a fan of fantasy, I think you will like this book, because you'll see the history your favorite fantasy authors draw their ideas from. You might be saddened that there are no dragons flying about, but there's enough mysticism, superstition, and religious fervor going around that you might just forget you're reading an historical. If you're a writer of fantasy, you should absolutely read this book, and farm the hell out of it, because that's what you're supposed to do. But above all you're going to like this book because it's a ripping good read!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Quick Book Review: A Dance With Dragons


If you don't know the story of how A DANCE WITH DRAGONS finally came to be, I won't bore you with the  details, because there are plenty of other places to read about it, including from the author himself. Suffice it to say, it was a maddeningly long wait for those who have been here from the start. For me, it was only a couple of years, since I came to the series late. Thankfully, I was only left half-mad by the wait.

As for the book itself, well, how could one not be disappointed? We've been given years to get our hopes up. Unfortunately, the problems are more than just unrealistic fanboy expectations. Most of what made the previous novels great--breakneck pacing, nailbiting tension, cliffhangers at the end of every chapter--are gone. There are a few shocking moments, and some tension to be found, but these moments, overall, are rare. Too rare.

Dany, Tyrion, and Jon Snow are all back in full force, but for 80% of the book, nothing of any particular interest or import happens to them. There are 15 other POV characters crammed in between the star trio's chapters, but those are equally disappointing. Victarion Greyjoy, for example, has a rather stirring arc in the book, but absolutely no resolution is offered, so it feels incomplete (obviously). At one point, a very important man is accused of attempting to poison Dany, an accusation which become central to Barriston Selmy's POV chapters, but despite getting resolution to that arc, we never find out if the man in question was guilty, or even if the food was poisoned at all!

I can only come to the conclusion that the Great Split was unnecessary. Dany, Tyrion, and Jon did not need 500 pages between them to tell this part of their tales. Most of what happened in Meereen was window dressing, and did nothing to serve the story. Had Martin given himself a year to figure out where he was going back in 2004, he probably would have come to the same conclusion. So instead of getting FEAST in 2005, we would have gotten a better, complete A DANCE WITH DRAGONS in, say, 2007? Maybe 2008? No matter, it would have been preferable to this.

If you've read the series, I can't NOT recommend this novel, so obviously go and read it if you can. And I certainly can't dissuade new readers from picking up the early books, because they truly are masterpieces. Just be warned that DANCE is not the novel we had hoped for.

Still Alive

It's been a while, so I thought I'd drop in and say 'ello to all the bloody wankers who follow me little blog. I'm still here, still alive, still writing.

The past couple of weeks have been kind of hectic. My younger brother came up from Florida to stay with me, and we've decided to extend his stay an extra week, so I've been really busy entertaining (not literally can-canning for him or anything, but, you know) and spending most of my free time writing.

On that front, things are well. I'm over 6,000 words into a fantasy short (which is looking more and more like a fantasy long) and about two hundred words into a quirky little piece of flash I'd like to have finished up in the next couple of days. The flash piece is interesting, mostly because I had kind of unofficially retired from flash. Not because I don't enjoy it, but it just seems like nothing wants to stay under a thousand words anymore. And the things I've written that do manage to limbo beneath that number tend to lack the things that make a story a story, like character development or coherent plot. So, like any good quitter, I quit writing it. Yet just last night, I get struck with this incredible idea and had to start writing.

That's when I found out something odd about myself: It seems I write in proportion to the story. What I mean by that is if I'm writing a 5-thousand word story, I can sit down and write a thousand or two words in one sitting. If the story is flash, I can write a hundred or two. Is that weird?

Anyway, just wanted to make sure this blog didn't die, because I know there's nothing worse than having a dead blog weighing down your blogroll. So, there, that's my public service for the week. Year? Possibly.