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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I haven’t yet managed to come up with a decent synopsis for Ghostkiller. I haven’t come up with one for Unbinding the Stone either, and I wrote that 13 years ago. I was fortunate enough to receive a very nice review comment from no less than Tanya Huff, in which she described Stone as being ‘remarkably complex and often very funny’. The complexity wasn’t intentional then, and isn’t now. It’s just a function of how I write.

What should come as a surprise is that I’ve actually been considering self-publishing Ghostkiller, a prospect that fills me with very little pleasure. One thing that did give me some amount of pleasure was the act of designing the cover art for it, and even some of my other unpublished stories.

Anine2five4_large friend of mine at my job, before she moved on to a new company, told me about a graphics program called GIMP, which I promptly downloaded and found very confusing. But I wanted to create a cover for my Chuck fanfic called ‘Nine2five‘, so I pushed on, using trial-and-error to make the damn thing do what I wanted. I don’t think I did anything right, but still I managed to come up with this image, which has been the cover art for all three seasons of the story (over 600K words, equivalent to seven novels, written over four years). I really should have separate images for each, but I forgot how I did it, and trying to recreate this image was a daunting task. I might try it again, now.

swordimages_cover2_title

The idea for the Ghostkiller cover was pretty nebulous at first. I remember years ago talking to my publisher about it, when the story was little more than the first chapter. Ghostkiller is a story of more than a little strangeness and complexity, one of the reasons I’ll have to self-publish if I ever want it to be published. (Most publishers, most ‘entertainment industry’ types in general, especially the big ones, shy away from words like ‘complex’, and anything that hasn’t been tried and tested.) It started out as a story about ‘a man who kills ghosts for a living’, but it didn’t stay that way for long. The technique for killing ghosts was the focus of that first chapter, since ghostkilling was a unique idea, as psychic talents go. I had to show  it in action, which  involved swords and coffins. (Really the thing in the coffin.) My original idea for the cover was very complicated, and unworkable, at least by me. It also wouldn’t have been especially eye-catching, and that’s what covers are supposed to be, right?

Undermind_cover

Undermind is a short story I wrote a long time ago, for a contest. The idea was to write a story of a certain length that employed a specified phrase in some way. The first time I entered the contest it was for the phrase ‘hard port’. I used it five different ways, but didn’t win. (The story was eventually released as ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, which I have just discovered is no longer available. Something else to think about releasing on my own.) This time around the phrase was ‘dark glass’, which gave me lots of ideas, most of which I’m still trying to write. In this case the dark glass was a mirror, to reveal one’s inner and darker nature. My problem  with the cover is simply that mirrors as cover images are pretty trite. The story is much more original than that, but the originality isn’t really visually striking, so I swallowed my pride to come up with something that was.

Hopefully I can use these. There’s more to the game of cover art design than simply making interesting images, which is one of the things that makes me reluctant to jump into the self-publishing biz. This is the way I’d go if I had to do it all over again, so I have that at least. I find myself wondering if creating a cover first would help clarify the story, or make it harder to develop.

 

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Today I have the distinct pleasure of hosting my friend, Sean Hayden, as he travels the web telling all you lucky people about his upcoming release, a YA vampire story called Origins, Book 1 in his Demonkin series.

I was given the honor of being hosted by my friend, Marc Vun Kannon today. I’ve been looking forward to this particular post for a while. See, Marc and I share one trait when it comes to writing, and I figured I would expand on it for those who don’t quite understand it. The fine art of being a “Pantser”.

“What’s that,” you ask?

“Well it’s very simple really…” I settle down to explain.

“Do you write your stories without wearing any pants?”

“No that’s not it at all. See…”

“Do you wear a special pair of pants, like lucky writing pants?”

“Um, no. You see…”

“Do you wear two pairs of pants as sort of an inspiration?”

“I’m sorry, but if you would quit interrupting, I’ll explain.”

“OH, sorry. Go ahead, Sean…”

Thank you. You see, being a pantser is kind of like going into a debate without knowing the topic beforehand. I believe the best term to describe it is “Improv”. I’m sure any of my fellow authors who are reading this post just went, “Ug,” or “ick.”

Yup, being a pantser is often frowned upon. Most authors use what’s known as an (cover your children’s ears, I’m about to use a dirty word) “Outline”. I hate to admit it but a chill of fear just ran down my spine. As I type, I can feel its icy grip seizing my nervous system, causing cold sweat to ease its way through my pores, and tightening my chest making the very act of breathing difficult. Outlines scare me more than middle school cafeteria workers in hairnets. Outlines scare me more than ~looks around nervously~ , “Clowns.”

I take great pleasure in writing books and short stories. Before I started, I never had a clue how much I would enjoy it. Turning letters into words, turning words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into stories is as natural as breathing now. We write stories as we go along. From characters, plots, abilities, and even worlds flow from our fingers without the benefit of planning. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes us pantsers. WRITING FROM THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS.

“Why would you do such a thing?”

I pause for a moment and try to think of a reason.

Because it’s completely natural. I couldn’t do it any other way, nor would I try. Have you ever been on vacation? Have you ever been on vacation with an “Itinerary Nazi”? Yeah. “We need to be at the museum by 9AM so we can see the early flight exhibition before it becomes too busy. We’ll have an early breakfast after that of granola and yogurt in the butterfly grotto before moving on to the science exhibit at 9:48. If all goes to plan, we should be able to wrap up the museum by 11:43, ride back to the hotel. Shower and change before heading to the planetarium by 12:38.”

Sound like fun?

Yeah, me neither. But that is exactly what writing with an outline would feel like to me. Beat me with a 2×4. Tell me I have to move to Nome, Alaska. Sprinkle me with colored sugar and call me “Cookie.” But never, never, never ask me to write with an outline, plan a story, or ask me what comes next. It Ain’t gonna happen.

Sean Hayden (that’s this guy here)

Born in the suburbs of Chicago, he moved to the frigid arctic climes of south east Florida as a small child.  The son of a fireman and a proofreader (that’s what they had before spellcheck) he fell in love with reading at a young age.  When he hit the age of 35 he wrote his first novel, an urban fantasy about vampires and demons entitled Origins. Unsatisfied with one novel, he penned the sequel Deceptions and both titles of the Demonkin Series will be available from Echelon Press soon.

Once upon a time I was a  graduate student in philosophy. (Please contain your shock.)  There is a great deal to be said for and with philosophy, and I think fantasy as a genre is a great way to say and think it.  One key area in which these two subjects overlap is that of monsters.

To most people, I suppose, a monster is any creature that poses a threat to a major character (i.e., ourselves) and usually represents an evil power, to boot.  I took a class in school on the subject of Aesthetics, and I did my term paper on the subject of horror and monsters, based on a book that had recently come out called The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart, by Noel Carroll. His claim was that monsters instill in us a feeling of horror because they transcend boundaries that we use to categorize the world around us. They break our neat little pigeonholes, confuse our categories, leave us ignorant and bereft even of words to think of them with, thus simultaneously terrorizing us and filling us with disgust, the two components of horror. (My apologies to Mr. Carroll if I’ve misstated his position, even in brief. It’s been a while since I read the book.)

While I don’t argue with his position regarding fear, I did find his arguments regarding disgust to be less than compelling. I don’t believe that our categories are so hard and fast as all that. I don’t believe we learn about the world so much as we experience parts of it and make up stories to explain what we just experienced. These stories get condensed into words. ‘Learning’ is when we are given a sound by someone else, assume it to be a word like the ones we already know, and then try to create a story that will give it the meaning it seeems to have based on how the other guy used it.

So we don’t get words like ‘spider’ as a given thing, we invent it. So it’s perfectly feasible for us to revise that word to include other concepts like ‘giant’. A giant spider, however terrifying it might be, is not an object of revulsion per se. Giant gila monsters even less so.

There is only one category which is in a sense ‘given’ to us, ourselves.  My idea of a man is based on my experience of myself. You are considered a man by me to the extent that my experience of you is like my experience of me. (In fact, my idea of everything is based on how closely it resembles my idea of me, but that’s a little deep for this post so I’ll just leave it lie.)

It follows then that the only real monsters are humans. Undead? Yes. Mutants? Possibly. Zombies? Sure. Not that monsters have to be supernatural, there are lots of evildoers in the real world that qualify, but in fantasy we get to make the more abstract forms of wrongness real. The Incredible Shrinking Man was not evil, exactly, what filled us with horror was that he’d become prey, first to the cat, then to the spider, shich had become giant only because he’d become small. The true monsters of LOTR are Saruman, Sauron, the Nazgul, people who knew better and corrupted themselves, not the balrog, not even the orcs and trolls.

I make this point in A Warrior Made as follows:

“You mean its name?” replied Janosec.  He looked over to his uncle in confusion.  “Why would a monster like that need a name?”

Tarkas shook his head negatively.  “She means its kind, nephew,” he clarified, and projected his next comment forward, “It was called a grunt.”

She snorted.  “Appropriate.” 

Tarkas continued, for Janosec’s benefit now, “Nor was it a monster.  Monstrous, perhaps, but all of the true monsters I’ve had to deal with had names.”

She snorted, dismissing the point.  “Monster or monstrosity, I wager the distinction never stayed your sword.”

“You have already lost,” the Hero said quietly…

Tarkas kills monsters simply because they exist, but not monstrosities. Not unless they become a threat.

What’s your take?

Today is Thanksgiving Day, and so, in the spirit of writers everywhere, as they ponder all the myriad blessings of their lives this past year, I am not going to do a Thanksgiving post.

Anyone can do a Thanksgiving post. True originality comes from not doing a Thanksgiving post.

So instead of reflecting on the deep gratitude I owe to my publisher, Echelon Press, for taking yet more chances on me and my work (6 this year, I think, one novel and five short stories), I’m going to watch the next episode of Witchblade.  Or maybe re-watch the last episode of Chuck, with Sarah conquering half of Thailand single-handed, or whine in frustrated impatience for the next episode, the Thanksgiving episo–No, no Thanksgiving.

We’re talking about, um, all my friends, on Twitter and Facebook and WordPress.  The people who read my tweets and blogs, who visit my website and hopefully buy my books, even if only to fill in their Christmas shopping list with a book they can rest assured no one has ever heard of before.  It’s not easy being a new author, even if I have been at it for over a decade.  Let me tell you, though, if you tell me what you’re recipient likes, I can tell you which Echelon book to get for him her that person.  I’ve read them all.  Go on, tough guy, push me. I dare you.  Don’t expect me to ramble on and on about the joy and happiness your friendship brings me considering I’ve only been active on the social networking thing for a few months, because I’m not going to.

My wife, of course, knew better than to push me to displays of saccharine sentiment, instead challenging me to come up with a blog post filled with holiday buzz words that didn’t actually talk about any of them. Just look at that tag cloud!  Was there ever a more perfect spouse?

Fortunately, the pies my wonderful children made last night are out of my direct view, and the turkey in the oven, with its real handmade sage stuffing, has not yet begun to perfume the air with the aroma of its baking, which leaves me free to think about my next story, Ghostkiller, or maybe my last story, Steampunk Santa, and how I hope it will receive an audience when it comes out pre-Christmas.  There, you see how I didn’t even mention Thanksgi–

Ha! Better luck next year!

I’m writing Scripture today.  It feels strange, me being an adherent of no religion.

But that doesn’t mean I have no faith.  All men have faith, they must, too much of the world is beyond our direct experience, and even that assumes that our senses are accurate and reliable, as Descartes pointed out long ago.  We believe, we have faith, that our senses are veridical.  We believe that others are telling us the truth (i.e., beliefs that they hold to be true), perhaps not so much lately.  We believe that while others may not all mean us well, neither do they mean us harm.  These beliefs may not be true but we have to believe that they or some beliefs like them are true, otherwise there is no trust and the systems that make our society function break down.  Law is no substitute for trust and faith.  Neither is religion or government.  These ‘shared faiths’, mere instruments, unify and strengthen that society, but they do not make it.  Mistaking the substitute for the source can even have pernicious effects in the end.

My writing is set in worlds where common action is much more necessary than it is in our own.  Religious and political structures are therefore much more important, but since I also do not write in this world I cannot and do not use our religions.  Religions serve a purpose, and creating one deliberately is difficult work.  I model my religions on some of the religions we have created for ourselves, trying to do justice to the spirit of the enterprise. 

There are people for whom this is not good enough.  The light in their eyes goes out, their faces fall, the instant I use the word ‘gods’ rather than ‘God’.  I consider this unfortunate.  Equally unfortunate is the tendency I see in many fantasy and science fiction novels to either have no religion at all (substituting something else for the substitute) or treating it as automatically pernicious.  This is not helpful.  Priests are not merely power-hungry tyrants manipulating the fears of the peasantry and aristocracy alike in order to…well,whatever, but usually to stamp out the wizards.  Which always struck me as odd, since clearly in worlds where magic worked, any monarch would want to have it in his arsenal, but I digress.  Off the top of my head I can only recall Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni books and C. Dale Brittain’s books as portraying established religion in a more tolerant light.  I would be interested to learn of others.


Unbinding the Stone

A Warrior Made

A Warrior Made

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St. Martin’s Moon

St. Martin's Moon

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Ghostkiller

Chasing His Own Tale

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Struck By Inspiration

Struck By Inspiration

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Steampunk Santa

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Bite Deep

Christmas among the vampires!

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Cyber-pirates. Sort of.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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