Thursday, July 30, 2015

The things that I didn't notice then...

In the wake of ArmadilloCon, I've naturally been thinking about my own writing, and how I can improve upon it.  I mean, I don't think you should be running a workshop to teach new students if you aren't willing to also look at your own work with that same sort of eye.
This, and various conversations at ArmadilloCon, made me think about how male authors write female characters-- an area where I can certainly stand to improve.  And I thought about things that, when I read them in my youth, didn't pop out at me, but now they do.
1. Female Characters As Pair-off Rewards.  David Eddings was pretty bad at this, really.  I mean, yes, he's got lots of female characters, and they are to varying degree snarky and charming and witty and fun.  The Belgariad actually passes the hell out of the Bechdel test.  BUT, the books pretty much treat pairing-off-and-getting-married as the given happy ending, and other than Polgara*, I can't think of a female character whose primary story purpose isn't be-paired-to-this-guy.  In Eddings's process book, The Rivan Codex, he more or less outlines what he needs his characters to be, and one part is "a bunch of heroes" and the next part is "ladies to pair to said heroes".
2. Female Characters as Virgin/Whore Props.  Oh, Piers Anthony.  Again, he had female characters who did things and had agency (at least in Incarnations books, I never read anything else), but boy did he like making it very clear which ones were virgins and which ones were whores.  Especially so the former were pure for the right man, and the latter could be straightened out by the right man.  This is especially galling with a fifteen-year-old prostitute who learns what real love and sex are like when she gets together with a judge in his fifties.  A JUDGE. IN HIS FIFTIES.  And he feels just fine with this relationship, once the legal difficulties of it are sorted out.  How are they sorted out?  BY TIME TRAVELING FOUR YEARS IN THE FUTURE, so that she'll be nineteen on paper.  Yes, this is what happens.
3. Female Characters as Someone Else's Motivation.   Be it the rescue-the-princess plot token to the good-woman-to-come-home-to to the girlfriend-in-the-fridge motivation for revenge, the character herself has no agency.  She exists to get guys to do something, or a reason for doing the things they do.  In Asmiov's Caves of Steel, the only significant female character is Elijah's wife Jezebel, and her primary function is to be a good 50s-era housewife for him.  The only thing she does that affects the plot is creating difficulties for Elijah by having the audacity to have some of her own political ideas.  Which she quickly apologizes for.
I know what you're thinking: Yes, Marshall, but this stuff is pretty damn basic stuff.  Am I just now getting it?  No, I've had it for a while.  But I've also been thinking about how this stuff is so embedded in my psyche from having read it in my youth, it takes active work on my part to move away from it.  I'm doing the active work, but I can slip.
Therefore, to some degree, you could probably tweak my nose on all three of these, that I skirted too close to them in Thorn or Murder.  I don't think I did, but I recognize that I can still have blinders on. I know that there are other writers today who keep doing this stuff, and I don't want to.  By all means, tweak my nose, and I'll strive to keep improving.
*- And HER primary purpose is "be mother to Garion", until he's grown up, and THEN she gets paired to Durnik.

Monday, July 27, 2015

ArmadilloCon After Report

Now that was very much what I want a con to be like.
Maybe it was coming to ArmadilloCon-- my hometown con-- both with a certain comfort level as well as two books on the market, but I really had a fantastic time at this one.
The Writers' Workshop was my primary "work" for this con, of course, and being the one running it was my new level of responsibility-- my next step of "do something daunting".  I feel the whole thing went very well, though, and I heard plenty of positive feedback from both teachers and students.
The rest was something of a whirlwind of panels and bar chats and signing books.  Saw many great people I don't get to see often enough: Stina Leicht, Amanda Downum, Skyler White, Michelle Muenzler (she of the infamous cookies), Dantzel Cherry, Derek Johnson, Martin Wagner, Patrice Sarath, Nicky Drayden, Rick Klaw, etc.*  I met in person people I had only interacted with online, like Caroline Yoachim and K.B. Rylander, and met brand new awesome people, like Ken Liu, Justin Landon, Wesley Chu**, and Marguerite Reed.  If you get the chance to see Marguerite on a panel sometime, somewhere, I highly recommend it.  
I signed books-- the dealers room sold out of Murder of Mages and had only one Thorn in stock when I left.  I read from Murder and debuted the opening of The Alchemy of Chaos in my reading.  At least one person in the room immediately went to Amazon and pre-ordered.
Stina was the Toastmaster for this con-- and did a bang up job of it if I do say so myself-- and as is the tradition for ArmadilloCon, the Guest of Honor bios are written by other people.  I was asked to do Stina's, so that was another Slightly Daunting Task that I had.  (Of course, that was well finished by the time the con rolled around.)  But Stina loved her bio, especially in how I had (utterly inadvertently) paralleled William's Rolling Stone article in the movie Almost Famous, which is one of her favorite movies.  That mattered the most to me.
I also met several aspiring professional writers who I see a lot of promise in.  One thing I love about ArmadilloCon, and I saw it even more so this time, is it is a con that is not only highly SF-Lit focused, but one that is very friendly to the aspiring professional.  This is an important thing, I think, in helping the field grow.  It's why things like running the workshop and running it well matter to me.  
To those people, remember what I said about myself: I went to that workshop for the first time in 2005, and got my manuscript covered in red ink.  And now I've got two books out, two more on the way, and many more intended.  The mountain can be climbed. 
So now, it's back to the Word Mines.  I kind of had a "week off" after delivering Import of Intrigue to recover and prep for the con, but now it's time to get back to work.  Book Three in the Thorn saga needs to get cracked into, after all.  No laurel resting here.
*- I've surely forgotten to list many in my post-con haze.
**- OK, I had actually met Wes before, but this time I got to actually talk to him.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Too Busy For Proper Blog- Have an Earworm

It's less than twenty-four hours to the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop, and my to-do list is still pretty huge.  But if you get the chance, come see me this weekend.
In the meantime, here's an earworm from my pop-music loving muse.

Have a good weekend!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Onward to ArmadilloCon

ArmadilloCon is next weekend, so between getting ready for that (which includes finalizing Writers' Workshop work), and the time I need to spend in the word mines, it's a busy week.  Come to ArmadilloCon if you can.  It's one of my favorite cons-- of course, I'm biased, it's my local con, it was my first con.  But it's a great lit-focused con that's good for fans and aspiring writers alike.  
Here's my schedule for the con:
Fri 9:00 AM- 4:00 PM: Writers' Workshop
Fri 7:30 PM-9:30 PM: Meet the Pros Party
Here's an opportunity to meet your favorite author or artist.
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon: Learning to Write: Recommended Workshops, Books and Classes
Cardin, Catmull*, K. M. Hoover, Maresca, Wells, Yoachim
A look at formal and informal education for beginning writers or those who want to improve their craft.
Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM: Career Adjustments for the Writer 
Liu, Maresca, Southard, Swendson, Weisman, Wells*
Knowing when it's time to switch agent, publisher, genre, or even (last resort) your name.
Sat 7:00 PM-8:00 PM: Zombies in Fiction and on TV
Clevenger*, Mancusi, Maresca, Perez, Rountree
With new TV shows springing up like iZombie and Zombie Nation, the success of books like World War Z, and the continued popularity of The Walking Dead comic book and TV show, it seems like zombies are here to stay. Are there still nuances of zombiedom left to explore? What makes for good zombie fiction? Is this the zombie zeitgeist?
Sat 9:00 PM-9:30 PM:Reading 
Marshall Ryan Maresca 
I'll probably read from A Murder of Mages, or I might give a sneak preview of The Alchemy of Chaos.
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon: Hardcore Business of Writing 
Cheney, Jacobs, Maresca, Swendson*, Wells
How does a writer look out for him/herself in the big world of publishing? What has helped the panelists most in forming a profitable writing career?
Sun 1:00 PM-2:00 PM: Autographing 
Klaw, Lalumiere, Ledbetter, Leicht, Maresca, Prevost
Hope to see you all there!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Question of Book Trailers

So, I've had people ask me, "What do you think about doing a book trailer for Thorn or Murder?"
And on some level, my reaction is intrigued.  This shouldn't be a surprise-- I have a degree in Film & Video Production, and I have a tendency to visualize things cinematically.  I could come up with the idea for an engaging video that would entice the viewer to the ideas behind the books.
Here's the problem:
I don't have the means to execute that video in a way that would match the level of professionalism that I hold my work to.  But more importantly, it wouldn't be a trailer for the books.  It would be a trailer for an interpretation of the books.
Let me unpack both of those here.  First the level of professionalism.  This a real problem with most book trailers out there, even the ones made by publishing houses, simply are not professionally done in the slightest.  I've watched many book trailers, and upwards of 95% are completely lacking in any sense of filmic language.  They are not visually interesting or engaging in the way a cinematic work should be.
Filmic language?  I'll explain. Imagine, if you will, a novel that opened with text that went like this.
Ummm... so, there was, you know, this... and I didn't, but... I, you know, each time I, it's just, and THIS GUY was all, you know, THERE, and I couldn't... but really, we should just... see, if you, like, KNOW, about everything that he totally, I mean NOT EVEN WITH HIS SHOES. Like, what?  Like, really, what?  And, um, maybe, then, we could, but then there's NO NOT EVEN and I had to... umm.  Wait, I'll tell... I, there... never mind.  You know...
And this goes on for twenty pages.
That's what sixty seconds of poorly made book trailer feels like to me.  
And other people profess this as a GOOD IDEA to promote your novel.
I have seen-- multiple times-- people give the advice to make a book trailer using stock photos and royalty-free music to craft your trailer. I need to tell you, this is TERRIBLE ADVICE.
This is like advising someone to write a story by copying-and-pasting sections of prose from public domain sources.  Sure, it's not violating anyone's copyright, but that doesn't create something unique that tells your story.  
On to the second point: Book trailers are not really good for advertising what books really are.  Movie trailers work because they take parts of the movie and distill it to, hopefully, it's most enticing.  Book trailers take something that is, at its core, not book-like, and try to use it to show the book as enticing.  
That said, I have a fine example of a book trailer that IS effective-- and that's because it does everything I'm talking about correctly.  It uses filmic language effectively-- it's always active and engaging.  It also uses the text of the book itself-- thus enticing with the actual content of the book-- and then uses the visuals to enhance the ideas of the text.

If you want to make a book trailer, then devote some time to learning the fundamentals of filmic language, the same way you would written language before writing a book.  For a good crash course of those fundamentals, check out Tony Zhou's "Every Frame A Painting" video series. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Summer of the Fantasy Writer

Friends, this has been a hectic summer, and I love it so.
I mean, now A Murder of Mages is out in the world, and in as much as I can discern from reading the tea leaves and entrails*, it's doing well out there.  I'm very happy.
I did a TwitterChat last week, talking about the Maradaine books (#Maradaine).  The fine folks at DAW storifed it for me, so check it out.
So, next up for me: The Alchemy of Chaos.  Just as I finished up the pre-game build-up for MurderI've got Alchemy to pull me back in.   There is already a Goodreads Page for it, and you can pre-order on Amazon.  No rest for this writer.
But you may be asking, what is The Alchemy of Chaos even about?  Well, it's explicitly the sequel to The Thorn of Dentonhill, for one.  Veranix has new challenges, now that he's become "The Thorn", both at the University and on the streets of Maradaine.
Also I've got to finish up another book-- An Import of Intrigue-- which I'm just about done with.  I have a feeling that people are going to be interested in further adventures of the Maradaine Constabulary.
Beyond that, I've got to do critiques for a writers' workshop I'm running.  And then... well, you'll just have to wait and see.
We're not even halfway through July.  I'm not resting on any laurels just yet.

*- For the record, Amazon Sales Rankings are the entrails.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

On the subject of audiobooks

I have been asked now, more than once, if either Thorn of Dentonhill or A Murder of Mages are going to come out in audiobook form.
Right now, the answer is no.  I honestly don't have any more details about it at this time.
Would I be interest in having it be an audiobook?  Absolutely.  But if I had one, I'd want it done with the same quality and professionalism that the print version has.  I'm willing to wait for that.  I think it's worth it.
In other news, A Murder of Mages is now out, and the responses so far have been excellent.  I've got plenty to do down in the word mines this week-- I have established a pace to keep up, after all-- so I'll see you all soon.

Monday, July 6, 2015


AMurderofMagesThis is it, people: A MURDER OF MAGES comes out tomorrow. Which means this is your last chance to pre-order it.*
I've been quite pleased by the growing reviewer buzz for this book, and I'm really excited to see this go out into the world.
Here's a few more review highlights:
Chris from SFandF Reviews:
"The presence of the city, a dark, grimy, lively place, invades the reader by degrees. It’s not a place that leaps off of every page – but rather, one that seeps into your fingers as you turn those pages."
From Bibliotropic:
"Maresca’s novels are certainly getting attention from fantasy readers, and I’d say it’s well-deserved. Quick reads, good action, and just generally very fun books to have around. I’m already a fan of both branches of Maradaine novels, and I’m looking forward to what new fun stories he’ll tell in that world in the future."
From Bookaneer:
"Interesting characters, intricate worldbuilding, and a mystery that kept me hooked? Count me in for the sequel. It can’t come soon enough."
"Without hesitations, I would say that A Murder of Mages deserves 5 out of 5 stars!"

So have at it.  And if you're in the Austin area, come to BookPeople on Thursday, July 9th at 7PM.  I'll be reading and signing and answering questions.  And speaking of answering questions, I'm doing a Q&A on BookCountry this week.  Have at it.
And, of course, if you want to read an excerpt, there's one here.
All right, too much excitement.  Book is out, I need to finish the next one.
*- Because after today, you'll just be ordering it.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Optimistic Reasons To Write

Last weekend I got to hang out with Stina Leicht at the Writers' League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference.  The WLT organized these "genre meet-ups" for writing hopefuls, so they could talk to published writers in specific genre.  So Stina and I were there to represent Sci-Fi/Fantasy.
We had a packed room, and it really help highlight how vital and vibrant our genre is.  I was thrilled to help do my part to inspire these people in their journey.
So: five reasons why YOU SHOULD BE WRITING.
1. Because you have an awesome idea that is ALL YOURS and you just need to get it down.
2. Because you really don't like going out at night anyway. Now you have a good excuse to stay in.
3. Because you've told yourself that you'd "like to write a book someday".  Well, SOMEDAY IS TODAY.
4. Because no matter what they tell you about the odds, and how hard it is to navigate the system and get and agent, and then get a publisher to pick you up, or take one of those atypical routes to success-- it's still possible.  You can point to the fences and swing as hard as you can.
AMurderofMages5. Because when you do it, after all the work and sacrifice and re-writes, you get to walk into a bookstore and see your work on the shelf in there... there's nothing quite like that.
And that's something I'll be doing in FIVE DAYS, when A MURDER OF MAGES comes out.  I'm really thrilled, and I hope you all enjoy it.