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I’m moving

The blog and the site are moving over to my own domain http://gregorylynn.net/ so hop on over there and enjoy.

Just don’t expect much right now as it’s still in the building phase.

Ringers…

I was having a conversation yesterday on the Google+ with some other folks with an interest in the fantasy genre.

Without intending any disrespect to the traditions upon which the genre was built, sometimes it’s nice to have a story that isn’t about The One who does The Quest to save the world.

John Ward tried to coin the term “NQNC” for “Non Quest Non Chosen” fantasy but really, that’s just awkward as shit.

I think that’s going about things a little backward. I think first we coin a term for the Quest/Chosen style then we can stick a non in front of it.

I like the name Ringers. It works because one does not simply walk into Mordor. It works because Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom is the prototype of The Quest and it works because a ringer is someone brought into a competition who has an unfair advantage.

I think it works. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t really care, it’s the concept I want to talk about.

As Mike Reeves-McMillan pointed out, “if nobody is the Chosen One, then anybody’s story can be interesting.”

Read Nathan Lowell.

He writes stories that aren’t about a cataclysmic struggle. The one fantasy novel he has is about an older woman who helps save a village.

There are two things in that sentence that should perk up  your ears. His hero is an older woman. Stories about young people are natural. Everyone was young once and many would like to be again. Young people grow and change. Well guess what, older people grow and change too. They have new experiences and sometimes those experiences challenge the way someone has been living for decades.

And she helped save a village. The stakes don’t have to be the whole world for your characters to feel like it is their whole world. If you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one and been a little surprised that the world didn’t stop to acknowledge your tragedy, you’ve had a taste of what this is like.

The heart of every story is conflict and conflict is everywhere. Heroism isn’t necessarily of momentous import. Sometimes heroism is doing just a little bit more than you thought possible.

Those are great stories. They aren’t often told in a fantasy setting, but why the hell not?

When you have The Quest and it’s over, you have The End and that’s it. Well that kinda blows. If your characters are well written, the reader will feel like they had their own lives after the end of the story. Well why not tell those stories?

If your world is well crafted, the actions your characters take are going to have repercussions. Why don’t you tell those stories?

Books that are a part of a series sell better than books that imitate cheese (for those of you who are culturally impaired, the cheese stands alone.)  I think that has something to do with the nature of fandom. People want to obsess. They want to anticipate. They want to analyze and reflect and dissect and digest and they want answers to their questions and theories.

I rather strongly suspect that having multiple stories in the same universe with multiple main characters who appear in each other’s stories would serve the same purpose. If it doesn’t, well, nobody ever said you couldn’t write multiple series in the same universe.

Here’s the link.

I hate talking about pricing. I think the vast majority of people who comment on pricing have put precisely zero thought into it and then I read the first line of this comment which DWS promoted to a post. The first line reads “Went over to the Kindle boards, remembered why I don’t go there.”

I tend to agree. The point is not to savage Kindleboards. By and large, the people over there are friendly and helpful but there is such tremendous resistance to higher prices it’s maddening. The backlash after DWS’ post on making a living writing short fiction was astonishing with a number of people insisting it couldn’t be done despite people in the conversation saying they were doing it.

I don’t get where the resistance comes from. It’s not coming from people who have actually tried to price their stuff higher because everyone I have seen try it has liked the results.

I wonder–and it’s merely wonderment at this point–whether there is an inferiority complex that infests a lot of indie writers that convinces them that the only way they are going to get readers is to have prices that aren’t just lower but much lower.

Kevin O. McLaughlin has taken it upon himself to periodically take a look at the best sellers on Amazon’s list and see what’s what from a pricing perspective. This latest is just the fantasy list and what does it show? The average price of a traditionally published title is $9.56 and the average price of an indie title is $3.24. Yeah, the traditionally published average is skewed a bit by a George RR Martin boxed set at thirty bucks but still 42 of the 53 traditionally published titles are priced $7.99 to $9.99.

If you price something at five or six dollars you are pricing lower than traditionally published titles. As long as your book is up to snuff, most people won’t even know the difference.

If Chuck Wendig and Douglas Adams ever had a bastard love child, it might write Perishables.

They didn’t, though, and the bastard love child never had a chance so Michael Williams wrote it.

It’s about a guy who mostly just wants to be left alone to live his vampiric life but can’t because he’s voted onto the executive board of his homeowner’s association. Then the zombies come and poor Withrow is the only one who can do anything about it and he does so because, well, it’s what he has to do.

It’s about a young woman looking to put her IT degree to work who ends up using her machines to zorch some zombies, thus costing herself a job and any chance she ever had at a decent night’s sleep.

It’s about the time the two meet at a Black Friday sale.

It is delightfully absurd without being trivial. It is at times scathingly satirical but never really cynical. It is funny. It is moving. It is suspenseful. The recipes are surreal.

It is well worth your time.

Dean Wesley Smith talks about how you can make a living writing short fiction.

As often happens when he opens his mouth (er, pen…er, keyboard) controversy follows. There’s a big thread over on kindleboards with a lot of blather back and forth that makes me wonder why  I keep reading kindleboards.

He doesn’t say it’s easy. He doesn’t say you can just pound out a story a week and make a great living.

Everything he says is always under the assumption that you can write worth a damn. It offends some people, perhaps even rightfully so, but Smith isn’t talking to people who want to write for fun. If you’re looking at writing to generate some extra beer money, he’s not talking to you.

He operates under the assumption that you can write something worth reading, that you’re trying to get better, and that you want to make as much money as possible from that writing.

He’s an advocate of pricing your work higher than a lot of independent authors do. If you think  you’re going to make a living selling stories for a dollar you’re probably wrong.

A lot of the criticisms of the blog post are criticizing things on the periphery. He dismisses people who price their work cheaply and those who edit their stories into insensibility. If you want to do that, go right ahead, I’m sure he won’t give a damn either way.

Here’s the nutshell version of what he said.

In order to make a living writing short fiction you need to A) Write a lot, B) Write in many genres, and C) Really love short fiction.

He doesn’t elaborate much on the third point but I would have to imagine that if you don’t really love short fiction, yours is probably not going to be that great.

There are five sources of revenue from each story. 1) Traditional publication. 2) Independent publication. 3) Grouping them into collections. 4) Audio versions. 5) International versions.

And if you do all that right, you can be making pretty decent money someday.

He gets a lot of shit for a lot of extraneous reasons but the bottom line message is pretty clear. Write well, write a lot, maximize the revenue from what you write and you may never have to have a real job again in your life.

The number forty-two is revered in geek circles as Douglas Adams’ answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything so when someone as moderately geeky as myself lets slip that his favorite number is forty-two they’re generally greeted with a smile and a nod of understanding. Unless, that is, they’re speaking to a hardcore Adams fan in which case what ensues is another conversation entirely that includes such topics as tea, brownian motion, and paranoid androids.

And make no mistake, I love Douglas Adams.

I discovered his Hitchhiker series in, I think, fifth grade. It combined a reverence for ideas with a reverence for the words that convey them and rolled it all up in a sweet candy coating that refused to take itself seriously. Adams simultaneously conveyed his absolute wonder of the miracles man could achieve with technology and the utter conviction that man’s foibles would follow him into space with all the absurdity that entails.

But that isn’t why forty-two is my favorite number. A favorite number is a small enough thing that mere idolatry of an author’s work make it as good a reason for picking a number. It’s just not what I did.

I went one, maybe two steps further.

For the literary luddites in the audience I will summarize. Some hyper intelligent pan dimensional mice built a big computer to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. After a few billion years, it reported that the answer was forty-two and went to work on designing a better, more powerful computer that would be able to ascertain what the ultimate question actually was. This computer was named Earth and due to a series of wacky hijinks involving (tangentially, but still) a talking cow, a musician spending a year dead for tax purposes, and a ship full of telephone sanitizers, the hero of our tale finds himself on Earth millions of years before he was born watching the planet’s original inhabitants get killed off by the aforementioned telephone sanitizers. He was, however, in possession of a bag of Scrabble tiles and used it to dredge the ultimate question from the depths of his subconscious.

The question turned out to be “What to you get when you multiply six by nine?”

It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. It is a sublime Adamsesque dagger to the heart of every overstuffed philosopher and theologian the world has ever known. The ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is simplistic, silly, and not so much bordering on banal as much as it is boring a hole in banal and there making a nest of chewed up bits of the chess problem in the Sunday Times.

Oh, and the answer is wrong.

Here’s the thing. They’re all wrong. There are seven billion people on this planet and anyone who purports to have the one single answer for everyone and everything is blinded either by ideology, privilege, or hubris. Or, it must be said, all of the above.

The variety of life on this planet is, almost literally, incomprehensible. The vast panoply of human diversity is enough to bend, if not melt, most minds.

And people think they have an answer for it all, that what applies to a wall street executive also applies to a starving child in a refugee camp? It’s absurd to think you can even get close.

Even such minimalist sentiments like “love and be loved” don’t apply to everyone. Even setting aside the sociopaths and psychopaths who can’t feel love, there are those who simply value being left alone higher.

There is no single answer to life’s questions. We each have to find our own.

And that’s where Jackie Robinson enters the picture.

He lettered in four sports at UCLA, the first Bruin to do so.

He was drafted into the Army and faced a court martial because he didn’t want to sit in the back of the bus.

And he was a ballplayer. It was his worst sport at UCLA but it became his tool to create a legacy.

He was the first black man to play Major League Baseball in the modern era.

When you hear his name, it conjures images and abstract ideas.

It conjures images of hate letters, fans spewing unutterable bile. It conjures images of teammates and opponents who cared more about the one trivial way he was different than in the multitude of fundamental ways he was the same. It conjures images of the stupidest and worst that mankind can offer.

And it conjures images of a resistance that isn’t based in fear or hate, but a determination not to beat them or destroy them, but to show the world that their hatred and bile are nothing more than the wheezing waffle of a pathetic malcontent.

And it conjures images of the way he is remembered, today, with his uniform number retired throughout the game and his legacy celebrated annually.

 

And that is why forty-two is my favorite number. It is a reminder that whatever meaning your life is going to have, it’s up to you. It’s a reminder that we can face adversity from nitwits without resorting to nitwittery.

And, perhaps most importantly, it is a reminder that people can change the world. It isn’t easy and it isn’t quick but it isn’t impossible.

25 Things To Know About Writing The First Chapter Of Your Novel.

Chuck Wendig is one of those I consider to be an inveterate bringer of the awesome and this post of his is a good example of why.

Ordinarily, Chuck proffers excellent writing advice wrapped up in silly metaphors and gratuitous profanity. The silly metaphors entertain while the writing advice educates. That is, I assume, the madness behind the method. I suspect it works well. It certainly makes him worth reading.

Here he presents another of his “25 Things” lists, which in general are helpful, and in the case of this particular, is more helpful than most.

It is, as the title of this blog post should suggest, about first chapters.

We all know they are important. They are important because covers and back cover text can be deceiving. When you’re browsing for books you find a cover appealing, take a look at the back cover text, then dig into the first few pages of the first chapter. The cover, description, and blurbs are short enough to be faked and quite often not written by the same person who wrote the text in question. The start of the text in question can’t be faked.

I found a number of interesting bits here and I will comment upon them below as I please.

  • Point Number Two: “Bring the reader to the story as late as you possibly can.” I find this to be interesting in the sense that it is, I think, exceptionally genre dependent. Or perhaps it is only exceptionally plot dependent which makes it only largely genre dependent. I say this from the perspective of someone whose home genre is epic fantasy. You can list a plethora of epic fantasies that begin with a relatively obscure relatively young person in a relatively obscure place without feeding extra babies into the think machine. Can you say the same of mysteries, thrillers, or, I dunno almost any other genre? To be sure, the same can be said of Science Fiction where you can play games with the terms “relatively young” and “relatively obscure” the way John Scalzi did in the Old Man’s War series.
  • Point Number Three: “A great first line is the collateral that grants the author a line of intellectual credit from the reader.” This intrigueth me perhaps because I have been thinking a lot about opening lines, opening chapters, and which of my two characters I am going to introduce first. I have a first line for my hero that reads something like “[insert hero name here] sat in the sun on the first real day of spring and thought about murdering the pig.” and a first line for my heroine that reads something like “Princess Helene Mintraille sat at her father’s kitchen table and swore to herself–again–that she wouldn’t let the bean win.” I don’t know if either of those is a stone in your shoe but I think if I were reading them, I would be put just off kilter enough to read far enough to get back on kilter.
  • Point Number Four intrigues me despite the whale penises. Imagine, for a moment, a family of three living in a whale condom. That’s a fairy tale Grimm should have written. But the point is about how much leeway you get to lose someone once you have dragged them in. If you can get them to read one whole chapter, they are likely to give you a whole other chapter to lose them. I shall puzzle over that.
  • Point Number Fourteen, leading with mystery is intriguing to me. I would like to think I have done that with the murdering of the pig and swearing that a bean wouldn’t beat you but then, perhaps not.
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