Dwarves, Dragons, Wizards and Elves: Thinking About the Standard Fantasy Setting

Sunday, December 14th, 2014 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Warhammer Elves-smallYou know, for a genre that should be based entirely around the thing, Fantasy really is lacking in that lovely little commodity everyone calls imagination.

I’m serious; there are three-book series kicking around called Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs respectively. That’s pretty much the holy trinity of fantasy clichés right there. And all the book covers I’ve seen lately feature these grizzled, Batman-ish, waylander types, which is fine, because Batman kicks butt, when he starts cropping up everywhere he just gets annoying, with all his gritty, gravelly-voiced sadness.

Despite the fact that fantasy is a genre in which the writer can do literally anything, put their characters in whatever situation they damn well please, everyone seems way too content with dwarves, dragons, wizards, and elves. We could have quadruple amputees with tentacles for eyes who fight off the slavering hordes of hell by playing rock guitar solos with their earlobes, but nope, we’re happy with elves.

My point is that fantasy, and all the genres like it, give writers a medium through which they can explore every facet of the human imagination, test the very limits of what we, as human beings, can envision and relate to, what’s within our power to articulate. Fantasy challenges writers to make social commentary and philosophical statements within the most fantastic and diverse circumstances possible. Fantasy has the potential to take its readers to places they could never conceive of, on adventures that transcend comprehension; with this tool, fantasy could become the most beautiful, poetic, and diverse form of escapism we have.

It could be, if we didn’t focus so much on the elves, the dwarves, and the dragons, but we do, because we’re idiots.

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Eleven Shades Of Evil

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

Just in time for the holidays (not to mention the headlines), I bring you EVIL. The ultimate fantastical topic.Wrinkle in Time

Now, just so we’re clear from the get-go, I’m against it. Against evil, that is. As are we all, surely. But, once I’ve got my writer’s hat on (or, for that matter, my reader’s hat), evil becomes indispensable. I not only love it, I’ve just gotta have it. For writers, evil belongs in the same all-purpose toolbox as conjunctions, theme, and essential miscellany like the average blooming season of Agapanthus africanus.

Categories first. When it comes to speculative fiction, and its offspring in film, television, and the ‘net, I submit that evil comes in the following basic flavors, and in the following entirely arbitrary order:

1) Abiding
2) Petty
3) World-conquering
4) Internal
5) Atavistic
6) Alien
7) Humorous
8) Inscrutable
9) Insane
10) Passive and
11) Institutional

Let’s take these one at a time (because taking two at a time would try the patience of a saint).

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What’s Your Motive?

Friday, December 5th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

West House War 5I been known, when on my way to my writing desk, to stop to do the dishes, fold the laundry, clean the cat box, repaint the spare bedroom – you know, anything to avoid actually sitting down to write. And this despite the fact that I have a contract to do so, and a deadline.

What about deadlines? How well do they work as motivators? Some people, like Michelle West, just can’t write with something looming over them like that. Others can’t seem to write without one. It reminds me of the time a bunch of us were sitting around in the pub talking about “pulling an all-nighter.” The excuse for this procrastination (and we’ve all used it) is usually “I do my best work under pressure.” On this particular day, I heard the perfect response to that excuse: “Honey, you do your ONLY work under pressure.”

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t, at some point or another, for one reason or another, had to motivate themselves to write. The question is: How?

Most of us really intend to write. Most of us are okay once we get started. Daily word count is actually is a pretty good motivator to keep going once you start; the trick is to get started.

Many people use a form of peer pressure. They’re part of a critique group, say, maybe for NaNoWriMo, and they’ve got to produce a certain amount by the time the group meets or shares or whatever. But, I hear you saying, that’s really a deadline, isn’t it? Sure, but the idea of showing up empty handed on the day, when everyone else there has something to show, can be a great motivator for people, much more so than the idea of sending an apologetic email to your editor.

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The Day Job

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Jon Sprunk cookWell, my friends, after four years of making my living as a full-time novelist, fate was seen fit to place an obstacle in my way. Yes, yes. I have returned to the world of the Day Job.

It was both an easy and a difficult decision to go back to work. Easy because… well, bills need to be paid and my family doesn’t fancy living in a box under the highway. Difficult because of a lot of reasons.

The first was my pride. It wasn’t easy to admit to myself that I could no longer support myself with writing. I fought that realization for months before finally surrendering to the inevitable. Also, I’ve been out of the workplace for years, and my last job (corrections) isn’t something I wanted to take up again, so I had a serious lack of marketable skills.

Kids, a B.A. in English doesn’t exactly prepare you for many lucrative professions. You’ve been warned.

So I decided to tap into another of my lesser passions. No, not drinking. Or watching football. Or running a D&D campaign. (Although those would all be awesome jobs.) No, I’ve entered the world of professional cooking. Nothing ultra-glam like hosting my own Food Network show. I’m just a line cook, but it’s a nice place and the job doesn’t involve breaking up fights every other day, so that’s something positive.

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Robert Silverberg on the Tragic Death of John Brunner

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Great Steamboat Race John Brunner-smallSix months ago, I wrote about an unusual find I made online: The Great Steamboat Race, an enormous and ambitious historical novel written by none other than John Brunner. Brunner, of course, was a highly regarded SF and fantasy writer, beloved even today for Stand on Zanzibar, The Complete Traveller in Black, and many other novels. He died in 1995, at the World Science Fiction convention.

The Great Steamboat Race was an enigma. I’d never seen a copy before, never run across one in dozens of years of haunting bookstores. The copy I found online was very inexpensive — less than the $7.95 cover price for a brand new copy, for a book published over 30 years ago — so I bought it. I wrote it up as a Vintage Treasures curiosity, and then more or less forgot about it.

At least until this week, when I was browsing through a collection of Asimov’s SF magazines from the late 90s I recently acquired. Before I packed it away in the Cave of Wonders (i.e. the basement), I plucked one out of the box at random, and settled back in my big green chair to read it.

It was the March 1996 issue, with stories by Tony Daniel, Suzy McKee Charnas, Steven Utley, and the late John Brunner. I always take the time to read Robert Silverberg’s Reflections column, and I flipped to that first. The title was “Roger and John,” and it was a tribute to two recent deaths that had shaken the SF community: Roger Zelazny and John Brunner. Silverberg had been friends with both men for decades and said “Their deaths, for me, illustrate the difference between a tragedy and a damn shame. Let me try to explain.”

Silverberg portrays Zelazny’s death as a damn shame, saying “Roger was the happy man who led a happy life… By the time he was twenty-five he had begun what was to be a dazzling career in science fiction.” Zelazny’s career, Silverberg observes, had been filled with a series of triumphs, and his death by cancer at the age of 58 had robbed the field of future great work from a master.

Brunner, Silverberg observes, was a tragic figure. And central to the tragedy was the novel The Great Steamboat Race.

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Notes On Writing Spec Fic, Late 2014

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

A Book CoverIt’s such a predictable trap. In or near an elevator, I tell some newly met, well-intentioned stranger that I’m a writer, and they immediately ask, as if they’ve waited all their lives for this very opportunity to arise, “What sort of books do you write?”

And that’s the end, you see, or at least the end of any potential new friendship, because if I answer “I write fantasy,” which is true, they start sniggering and feel superior, or if I answer, “I write horror,” they run off, laughing hysterically at my bad taste –– and of course then they feel even more superior.

Worst answer of all: “I write literary fiction.” Then they assume I’m a genius and their eyes glaze over, because they feel they absolutely must pay attention to every single word I say, in hopes of gleaning a pearl. I become the social equivalent of bubonic CliffsNotes.

Thus Renner & Quist, and Check-Out Time, because I want to craft stories that employ elements of multiple genres and literary currents. The danger, I suppose, is that I wind up with tossed salad, but I don’t believe that’s been the result. What reviews there’ve been suggest that I’m correct to think I’ve avoided the splatter-punk of, say, Jackson Pollock.

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Methodology: Not Just For Scientists Anymore

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Block Telling LiesI’ve been known, via Twitter and Facebook, to let people know how my writing is going. So I’m apt to say things like “chapter 16 is going feral on me, I need a net.” This prompts some of my writer friends to say “been there, done that” and others to say “you write in chapters?”

This isn’t to say that they themselves don’t write in chapters, per se. What I think this particular friend actually meant is that she just writes, and lets the chapters appear where they may. After all, we know that, with very few exceptions, all novels end up being divided into chapters. Exactly when and how that division occurs is part of each individual’s methodology. Or perhaps the sensibilities of their editor.

And all advice on writing tells you the same thing: there’s no right or wrong way, there’s only the way that works for you.

I tend to work and think in chapters of about 25 to 30 pages, or somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words. Why? Because when I was starting to write my dissertation (don’t ask, you don’t want to know) the Chair of the Department gave me this advice: “Make your chapters about 25 pages long, Violette. No one wants to read longer ones.”

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Selling Short Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Fiction, Part III: Reprints

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Ottawa-20141115-00458

The Polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka

This is the third of three posts about selling short fiction. We’ve talked about how to know how to fit your story into the ecosystem of short fiction markets and what the business side (contracts, rights, etc) look like. This one is about reprints.

Other than the rule of never selling your copyright or paying to have your short fiction published, the big strategic rule to keep in mind when selling fiction is: reprint rights are usually far less valuable than first English rights.

So why consider reprints? (1) It’s more money, for no extra work, and (2) it may expose your work to other audiences.

So where can you sell reprints?

In the olden days, some magazines would accept reprints. Not the top line magazines, but some. And they would have been paying penny for the word or less. You can still find those markets on www.ralan.com. But when I sell a story now, there are three places I actively try to resell after the story has finished its run.

One: Audio markets

Podcastle for fantasy, Escapepod for scifi, and Pseudopod for horror. Each episode of these podcasts gets downloaded 5,000+ times, so that’s a big market expansion, which often doesn’t cross over into wherever my story was initially published.

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Tête-bêche: Can a 2-in-1 Book Revival Offer New Life for Genre Novellas?

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 | Posted by G. Winston Hyatt

Cat Rambo Near and Far-smallNovellas (usually considered to be 20,000 — 50,000 words) are notoriously difficult for authors to place with publishers, which is unfortunate because it’s a wonderful length for genre stories. Sword-and-sorcery, science-fiction adventure, hardboiled crime, and horror stories all lend themselves to lean, compact novellas.

Most short fiction markets top out at about 5,000-7,000 words, though, due to the practical considerations of available space in the publications, as well as available editorial reading time. Stand-alone novellas struggle even more.

Digital printing has eliminated the technical issues of shorter print editions in last-generation printing presses, but the length is unfamiliar to readers (who often are hesitant to pick up a smaller book).

This is compounded by pricing issues. A book needs to provide the publisher a certain margin of profit. However, a novella can’t be priced in the same way as a novel that offers two or three times as many pages.

This means it’s tough to price a print novella in a way that makes editing, layout, cover design, and publishing economically viable.

Some publishers have taken to releasing novellas in limited, collectible editions — a good route if the author already has an established following, but a harder sell for emerging authors.

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Finding Your Groove in NaNoWriMo:The Rhythm of Writing

Saturday, November 8th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

NaNoWriMoGroove

Finding your groove is about getting the hang of dragooning the words into some kind of order without needing to think about it all the time.

NaNoWriMo rumbles on. Some of my friends report impressive word counts. Others are strangely silent. Possibly some of these last have plotted themselves into a corner. The best way around this is to consider your conflicts, who the players are, but I’ve talked about that. However, I suspect a lot of people who are stalled have got caught up in a war of attrition with the mechanics of narrative.

We take narrative for granted. It’s what we do in the pub, or when swapping stories with fellow con-goers. However, if we sit down to write — type – narrative, we suddenly become aware of the words themselves. It’s a bit like driving a car and being overwhelmed with the physics of it all. From there it’s easy to get lost in a warren of second guessing, sniped at by injunctions we picked up at school; use joining words, be elegant, write complete sentences etc etc.

Finding your groove is about getting the hang of dragooning the words into some kind of order without needing to think about it all the time.

Some people do this naturally or get there by trial and error. Others learn how to do this by following their natural inclination and having a really good think about it so they can then stop thinking about it. It’s the Geek Way.

That’s what I’m going to do here. Specifically, I’m going to pull apart a selection of passages from genre books on my Kindle so we can see how established authors do it…

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