Thursday, September 28, 2017

Perils of the Writer: Letting Fandom Set Your Sails

So, yesterday I had a nice long chat with one of my beta-readers about A Parliament of Bodies.  Yes, she gets to read it a year before the rest of you, but what she reads is an imperfect draft.  And we talked a bit about what happens in the book versus what her expectations as a fan were, and how either fulfilling or subverting those expectations result in reader satisfaction.

Pictured: Me.
Because sometimes there is an urge to ignore what the story needs to give the fans "what they want".  And, I'm against doing that for two reasons.  One, I'm kind of a believer in that old Joss Whedon quote about not giving them what they want, but what they need.  This quote is sometimes treated with derision, in that people complain, "Oh, [Bad Plot Point] is what we 'needed'?"  I can understand that to a degree, especially when plots make characters suffer, characters the readers care about.  They don't want to see them suffer, because they want Good Things for the characters.

But my job is, as J. Michael Straczynski so eloquently put it once, to chase them up a tree and throw rocks at them.

Pictured: Also me.
The second reason I'm against changing with the winds of fandom desires is simple.  When it comes to Maradaine (or any other world of mine) and the characters within that world, no one is going to be more of a fan than me.  I love this setting, these people, and their story so much, and I hope that love comes through in what I'm writing.  It hurts me when bad things happen to them, but I also know... that's the path they're all on.

So what does that mean?

It means that I'm that #1 Fan, so I'm the one who gets to tie myself to a bed and break my own legs if I don't do right by the story.

So now I need to get back to work.  There's a certain fanboy who insists that I clean up this manuscript.  See you in the word mines.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Post-FenCon, Pre-Imposters

I've come back from FenCon, where I had a wonderful time, despite a few minor glitches (highway traffic making me a few minutes late for my first panel, sound-pollution disrupting another panel). I always enjoy FenCon a lot, and seeing the usual crew of Dallas/Forth Worth/greater Texas writers. Plus I got to visit with some other old friends who used to live in Austin (who were kind enough to offer their hospitality to me for the trip, for which I am ever so grateful.)

I would love to just fall down and leave this blog post at that, BUT... The Imposters of Aventil will be released in a mere eight days. It's funny, because I said a while ago I commented on how the New Release thing would never get old, and while it doesn't... it's no longer this momentous event of panic. I know the steps to this dance now. But it means I've got to write some guest posts and a few other things to get my ducks in a row for the release.

But, in the mean time, you can still pre-order The Imposters of Aventil, the book the Tenacious Reader says, "carries forward with the fun and excitement I’ve come to expect from the Maradaine series" and SF&F Reviews calls "a sharply observed investigative thriller in a mature and well crafted fantasy world".

Forthcoming October 2017

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Available for Pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How Much Worldbuilding Is Too Much?

As much as I talk about Worldbuilding, when it comes to the actual writing of books, I don't put too much on the surface.  Sometimes it's out of fear of boring my potential audiences.*  Sometimes it's out of presumption that the things I know about the world are just so screamingly obvious that I don't have to actually explain them. 

But a lot of the time, it's because the worldbuilding details aren't necessarily relevant to the story at hand.  That's the challenge, is making those details come out as organic and natural.  Even if it isn't boring.  Heck, I could easily drop into any one of the Maradaine-set books a few thousand words on, say, the 7th Century disintegration of the Druth Kingdom, or the Mad Kings of the Cedidore Line in the 8th Century, or the coup against Queen Mara, complete with a stirring account of her fruitless last stand in her own throne room.***

But what would those have to do with the story at hand?

Not a whole lot.

What my underlying philosophy has been with translating worldbuilding into actual writing boils down to the Iceberg Principle: 90% is unseen under the surface.  One of the reasons I love using food as a worldbuilding reference point is it provides all sorts of under-the-surface information subconsciously.  If someone is eating sheep-kidney pie with parsnips and turnips it conjures a completely different cultural image than quails stuffed with dates and walnuts, or roasted goat and sweet potatoes, or mango chutney pour over broiled fish and brown rice.  Each of those dishes gave you a very distinct idea of the kind of person eating it, and what kind of culture they came from, yes?

Small, telling details.  That's the key. 

*- Who hasn't been reading something by a, shall we say, less meticulously edited author, and reach a point where we go, "Oh, infodump" and just scan until something actually starts happening again.**
**- I can think of one example where an author/series lost me completely, in that an entire chapter was a huge infodump on the history of genetic enhancements-- which didn't play into the plot of the book at all-- and all that happened in the chapter is a tertiary character walked across a spaceport terminal.
***- Come to think of it, any of those might make fun short stories or novelettes.  File that in the back of the brain.

Monday, September 18, 2017

FenCon Schedule and other Musings

So, this past weekend I taught the worldbuilding class with Amanda Downum, and I felt it went rather swimmingly. And the students seemed pleased with it as well, so all went well.  It's the sort of thing I enjoy doing, and I hope to get more opportunities in the future.

But this weekend I'll be at FenCon, and you're there (or thinking of coming), then come say hello. I've got a schedule for my appearances:

Steampunk, Has it Run Out of Steam as a Literary Genre 
Friday  3:00 PM  Chinaberry   
Are you still reading steampunk?  Is there still an audience of readers? Many steampunk folks enjoy the costumes and cons and parties but are they reading steampunk?

My Name Is Inigo Montoya… 
Saturday  10:00 AM  Trinity VI   
Guilt and vengeance have always been a motivation in fiction - from Shakespeare all the way to Harry Potter. Tragic death may start a hero's journey, but what is the basis for this? Is it merely a tried-and-true trope of the writer's toolbox, or can it actually lead to enlightenment for the character instead of more death and tragedy? 

Saturday  12:30 PM  Dealer's Room   

One, Two, Three, Four Can I have a Little More? 
Saturday  2:00 PM  Trinity VII   
Your favorite series ended at 3 books and you want more. Your favorite movie stopped at 4 but you need more. Authors have obliged and now your series is up to 18 books. Your movie has now had 3 remakes with 3 movies each. How many books should a series go before it jumps the shark? How long should you wait for the next one? 

20 Years of Harry Potter 
Sunday  10:00 AM  Red Oak   
Harry Potter is 20, well the books are. How timeless are the books? Are you reading them to your children/grandchildren?  Where is the Harry Potter Franchise headed? Are you looking forward to Prequel movies and more books around the cauldron! 

Reading with Marshall Maresca 
Sunday  12:00 PM  Pecan   
What do you think I should read from?  Preview for Imposters?  Special sneak from Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe? Or do I just play Freebird?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Interacting with the Busy Writer

Geez, is September nearly half over?  Is 2017 three-quarters done?  How did this happen?
Anyway, I've got plenty happening for the rest of the month.  This weekend I'm teaching a Worldbuilding Class with Amanda Downum.  Next week I'm going to FenCon.

If you are attending either, please come up and say hello.  Now, I say this all the time, but now I feel like I should give details.
  1. Really, come up and say hello.  I'm there to interact with people.
  2. I actually quite like it when people do.
  3. Especially if they offer to buy me a drink.
While #3 is completely true, it is not required.  You want to ask me a question, pick my brain about something, or even just gush about Maradaine... I'm there for you.

I get why it can be intimidating.  Heck, even now, I don't always go up to people and say hello myself.

But for now, I need to get back to work.  A Parliament of Bodies won't finish itself.

Monday, September 11, 2017

JUST ONE OF THE GUYS: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Some movies are pretty easy to pitch on a High Concept level.  “High school girl pretends to be a boy” is all you really need to know about this movie.  I mean, once you know that, you pretty much have the gist of where it’s going.

wg5czqBM1R46vqoCJFR7IcojByrNow, usually any “person of one gender pretends to be the other” story needs to gloss over WHY the person does it with a good reason.  Most of them tend to be a sports thing-- for whatever reason, the person can't play on their gender's team, so they craft a persona to play on a different team.  That's not what this movie does, but it does a decent enough job with motivating the decision.  We start with Terri (Joyce Hyser), a high school senior with a passion for journalism, who writes a article to compete for an internship at the local newspaper.  However, her journalism teacher sends the articles of two boys (since the internship should go to someone who is “serious” about journalism), so she’s out of luck.  Convinced that his decision is gender-based, Terri decides to invade the neighboring school as “Terrence” and submit the same article there.  (For some reason, their deadline for submission is two weeks later).

Now, a little bit about the set-up.  Terri, for the purpose of the movie, only lives with her younger brother, Buddy (Billy Jacoby).  Their obviously affluent parents have vanished on some long-term vacation that effectively renders them meaningless to the story.  This is largely so Terri doesn’t have to answer any awkward questions at home about why she suddenly vanished from high school and is now going to the wrong one.  Seriously, where is the school administration on this?  And I know she’s a graduating senior, but doesn’t she have to at least show up until the end of the semester?  Who knows, but the point is: her parents only exist as one-sided conversations with Buddy, in which he more or less tells them exactly what’s going on (or is just vulgar), and they appear to think he’s kidding.  Maybe.  For all we know they perished in a plane crash and Buddy is hiding this from Terri, who is far too wrapped up in her own stuff.

I should point out now that Buddy has his own subplot here, in that he’s a fifteen year old kid who is obsessed with getting laid.  Which is normal, of course.  But his logic is right now he’s living with no parental supervision, so he might as well get on it.  Pretty much, that’s his entire character: obsess about sex, and say funny things on the phone.

just-one-of-the-guys-capAnyhow, there’s no actual logistical problems presented in vanishing from her high school and enrolling in the other high school as a boy, and no one questions the logic of a new kid at school who is going to graduate in two weeks.  In fact, the only real problem that Terri seems to have in terms of the managing her “real” life during the whole movie is her college boyfriend.  She, of course, doesn’t tell him “I’m doing this crazy thing” like she does with her brother and best friend.  She never articulates why she does't just tell him, but it's clear that she knows he would be unsupportive.  Really, the movie bends over backwards to present this guy as a BAD GUY who smacks around Buddy and treats Terri like arm candy who should devote herself to being by his side.

Anyhow: Terri chops her hair, throws on baggy clothes and pretends to be a boy at the new school. Her plan is to just submit her article to the journalism teacher there, but he also thinks it’s weak sauce—and Terri can’t claim it’s gender-based now—but since he’s not deciding anything for two weeks, he tells her to write a new one and get back to him.  He does not say, "Why is there a new transfer here at the end of the school year, and why are you trying to horn in on the students I've had all year?"
Guy on the right is not in this movie as far as I know.
Guy on the right is not in this movie as far as I know.

So now she has to Really Attend the new school for a while.  As hot girl Terri with college boyfriend, she was at the top of the social ladder.  New boy in school Terry is a nobody, put on the same level as the guy who carries around multiple lizards, and the two pseudo-Trek nerds who speak in a sci-fi language to each other.  She has to deal with a bit of the standard fish-out-of-water stuff, mostly involving gym class.  First she has to deal with being forced to change for gym—which she deals with by pulling the fire drill and changing when everyone else is outside.  Then when put skins for shirts-and-skins basketball… she falls over with a “stomach cramp”.

A bit of friendly interaction with the Most Popular Girl Deborah earns the ire of Senior Class Jock Bully Greg Toland.  Greg Toland is played by Billy Zabka at the true apex of Zabkasity.  He is the Ur-Zabka in this movie.  Like, in Karate Kid, you could buy that Johnny was a product of the Cobra Kai brainwashing, that he had some three-dimensionality.  Here he is literally nothing but bully, strutting around the school threatening anyone and everyone, including a bizarre practice of lifting lunch tables at random to make several people’s food fall on the ground at once.

The only person Terri initially connects with is loner and proto-hipster Rick.  Rick, played by Clayton Rohner, is the quintessential “good guy”.  He and Terri strike up an easy friendship, which Terri decides will be the focus of her new article.  Her main plan is to play matchmaker to Rick, getting him a date to the prom.  I should point out that the movie does go out of its way to establish that Rick is not a loser in the only coding movies from the 80s understand: by making it clear that he is Not A Virgin.

Terri's plan gets entangled because Sandi—played by a very young Sherilyn Fenn—decides that Terry is just the man for her, and goes full bore to seduce, er, him.  Her first plan is to set up a double-date with Terri, Rick and her cousin, who is “so cute”.  Finding a prom date for Rick was Terri’s only motivation for going, and since Sandi’s cousin is pre-adolescent, that’s a wash.  Sandi wastes zero time when alone with Terri, divebombing into her pants and pulling out the rolled out sock she’s keeping in there.  And I have to give Sandi this credit: given that she thinks Terry is compensating for a micropenis with a rolled up sock, she's still into him.

You have to admit, she's working that tux.
You have to admit, she's working that tux.
In fact, Sandi stalks Terri to her house—just when Terri is girled up to go on a date with College Boy.  Rather than going for the obvious, “I’m Terry’s twin sister Teresa” when Sandi comes in, she does a panicked boyificaiton, pretends Buddy’s porn-spackled room is her own, and then tries to throw Buddy at Sandi when she starts getting undressed. That doesn’t work out for Buddy that time but: spoiler, they eventually end up together.  So that’s their happy ending.

Meanwhile. Terri pumps up Rick’s confidence enough to go for broke, first emasculating Greg with a withering speech about his lunchroom bullying, and then going after Prom Queen Deborah.

Anyway, Rick is into Deborah, and she’s more or less over Greg and seems to be into Rick.  So they go to prom together.  Terri takes her best friend (whose main character trait is “pathetic love life”, noting that going to prom with Terri is the best option she’s had for a while.)  But Terri is kind of miserable because she’s realizing she’s into Rick, but she doesn’t want to get in between him and Deborah, in no small part due Rick thinking she’s a guy.
So it’s off to prom!  Everyone has a date, even the Nerd Twins and the Lizard Guy.  I have to admit, I’m fascinated by Lizard Guy’s date.  She more or less a non-speaking extra, but she’s playing it like she's only there because she lost a bet.  Seriously, there’s no sense that she’s even remotely fond of him.  Anyhow, Deborah wins Prom Queen, because of course she does, and Greg wins Prom King, because people in this school are idiots.  Seriously, there’s no sense that ANYONE even remotely likes Greg, given the thunderous applause when Rick takes him down in the lunchroom, so how does he win Prom King?  Deborah is having none of it, eschewing tradition of King and Queen dance to just dance with Rick instead.  This is more than Greg can take, and he starts fighting with Rick—a fistfight that leads INTO THE OCEAN.
Point made.
Point made.

Seriously, between this and his Diving Team jerk in Back to School (a movie I will be getting to), I think we, as a culture, missed our window for an 80s-era Aquaman movie starring Billy Zabka, and that’s a damn shame.

Terri tries to join in the fight (as does Buddy, who shows up at the prom with College Guy), quite pathetically, but eventually Rick puts Greg down.  Soaking wet, Terri confesses her love to Rick, who is genuinely kind and understanding when he thinks Terri is a gay guy, but flips his shit when Terri flashes her breasts to prove that she’s a girl.  He stalks off (with Deborah), Terri breaks off with College Guy, and she eventually stumbles home—first to find Buddy in bed with Sandi – and then sits down to write her Real Serious Article about her two weeks as a boy.  This article convinces her original journalism teacher that she’s got the stuff, that she’s serious, and it gets her the internship.

We get an epilogue where Terri has her internship but is kind of miserable, and then Rick shows up and it’s like a happy ending or something for them.  Which makes me feel kind of bad for Deborah.  I mean, she was into Rick, he was into her, so… what happened there?  The movie doesn’t care.
I’m wondering if an earlier draft was more focused on the social pecking order, that Terri was, essentially, the Deborah in her school, and as Terry she found a new appreciation for the misfits she looked over.  I mean, I can see the Nerd Twins and Lizard Guy being carry-overs from that version (they get a fair amount of screen focus for characters who are essentially speaking extras), and when she’s back at her school, a dork whom she wouldn’t have given time of day to in the beginning asks her out, and while she turns him down, its with genuine kindness.  In the same light, Deborah and Greg work as a parallel to Terri and College Guy; it could have shown that through seeing how Greg treats “Terry”, she gains insight into the kind of person College Guy really is.  But the movie isn’t interested in any of that.  The movie definitely isn’t all that interested in why being a boy is a different experience for her.

There’s a sense in the beginning here that Terri feels she’s not taken seriously because she’s a girl, but that isn’t followed up at the end.  At most you could tilt your head sideways and squint to get the idea that Terri actually wasn’t taken seriously because she was always privileged and coasting.  She had never really pushed for anything because everything had always been handed to her for nothing, and no expectations were placed on her. But her belief in herself and that she wasn't taken seriously is proven wrong when she first becomes Terry: the article just wasn't that good.  So we have to presume the experience itself brought her writing to the next level, but I can't see how.

I mean, what did she learn, really, that led her to write that winning article?  What insights did she have about being male?  How did it open her up to a new perspective?  I mean, as a point of comparison, I’m not going to say Soul Man was a great movie (I’ll probably cover that here as well sometime soon), but at least it has pretending to be black give C. Thomas Howell's character a new point of view.  He went into it with presumptions of what it would be like, and ended it with those ideas shattered and a new perspective.

Here, we’ve got nothing, other than gym class is a challenge when you’re a secret boy.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Subgenre I Can't Write

There's an idea I've seen pop up and get some traction in my circles lately.  A very simple thing, really:
The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk.
This simple phrase was like a lightning bolt to me.

Let me step back a bit.  You see, "grimdark" is a subgenre of fantasy that just doesn't work for me. What is "grimdark"?  If the name wasn't cue enough, from the wikipages: "Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral or violent."

And, yeah, for me and my fantasy, this represents everything that doesn't work for me. I don't begrudge anyone who writes or likes it, mind you.  It just doesn't work for me.
So when I saw the post that expanded on the idea "the opposite of grimdark is hopepunk", I was immediately invested in it, because "the opposite of grimdark" is exactly the kind of fantasy I want to do.

Now, this doesn't mean fantasy that's light and fluffy and consequence-free. Bad things happen.  I mean, I like to put my characters through the wringer.  Fundamentally, with each of my various Maradaine series, I'm exploring heroism at different angles, and each of my protagonists are capital-C Champions who aim toward the light.  They may miss, they may have a journey through the darkness that threatens to break them.  But what I want to write, what drives me, is fantasy where no matter how bad it gets, it's worth trying to make it better.  No matter how hard my characters fall down, they're still going to stand up, tie their hair back, set their sails and get their Moana on.
Because hope is always the star that guides them.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Sometimes I'm just amazed at the speed things have gone with my writing career.  A few months ago, I was interviewed by the Austin Chronicle (with a whole lot of other great Austin SFF writers), and the interviewer, who's known me from the playwriting days, said, "All of a sudden, you have all these books!"  And while, for me, this has been a long challenging road, now that it's fully underway, it feels a freight train.

I mean that in the best possible way.

So now here we are with THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL, the third Novel of Maradaine, and the sixth book of the Maradaine Sequence.  A whole lot of time, energy and planning went into all of these books, setting up the dominoes, and now we're getting to the first big payoff, where the Thorn meets the Maradaine Constabulary.  Putting Minox and Satrine in the same book as Veranix was a thrill to write.

IMPOSTERS also marks the midway point of what will, hopefully be Phase I of the Maradaine Sequence.  After this, of course, we've got Lady Henterman's Wardrobe coming up in March, and A Parliament of Bodies later next year, and then the next four books I have planned, which I hope to be telling you more about in the near future.

Until then, though, there's still time to catch up on the Maradaine and Maradaine Constabulary books, and pre-order The Imposters of Aventil, so you're ready to jump in when it comes out next month.

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Available for Pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!