Why You Should Read Weird Fiction

This is a great guest post from blogger Claire Quigley at Book riot. Why You Should Read Weird Fiction

My first experience with Weird Fiction was of course H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. Following that I was hooked and soon started righting my own weird stories. As the post suggests, Weird Fiction works best in the short form. I think that is because you are able to maintain the sense of dread and uncertainty through the whole length of the piece. In something the size of a novel this would become unbearable about half way through and turn off many readers. Not that it can’t be done. You just have to work in increments and even then, to me at least, the end product is not as powerful as a short story. I urge you to click on and read the post and then try out something from the weird, you might find you like it there.

When Genre Writing Is In Name Only

zombie hordeActually I have never met anyone who acts in pornographic movies so I don’t know for sure, but I think I would. Where I intend to go with this concerns an article I saw, Why Science Fiction Writers are Like Porn Stars, on io9. The piece is a rebuttal of sorts to Glen Duncan’s review of the book, Zone One in the New York Times. That is where you will find the comment about intellectuals dating porn stars in regards to literary writers tackling genre fiction. Now having read the review but not the book I am sorry that I am committed that much to this internet dust up. That being said I thought my two cents on genre writing might be worth, well, two cents.

I aspire to write literature, I mean who doesn’t. What I think most do not understand is that, much like history, it is up to the decision of time. Using fancy words, or complex plot structures, or even nouveau cliches only gives your work the semblance of aspiring to be literary. On the other end of the spectrum, throwing zombies into your look at modern life only makes it genre in the same way McDonald’s made pizza. Writers are a fickle lot and nothing grinds our gears than someone writing poorly in our chosen genre or even writing quite well and making more money. What separates true genre writing is not what is in it but what would be missing if it was not there at all. Gadgets and Victorian clothes do not make a Steampunk novel any more Steampunky (?) than a strong protagonist with a wit and a bit of a rebellious nature do. If you remove the airships and Tesla Cannons and the story reads like a Wild Western Romance, you haven’t written a Steampunk novel. The same goes for horror. If the monsters are a metaphor for the ills of society, or even worse, nothing more than set  dressing you haven’t written a Horror novel. What genre writers seem to get better than others is all of the pieces matter and not just the ones that assemble the main picture. I think that is what Mr. Duncan was alluding too but somehow went about it in a very literary way.

Said is Dead, Or Is It?

While strolling across the blogosphere I came on Heather Squires’s website that had an interesting graphic. Said is dead. The graphic is a handy tool for alternatives to using , “said.” While I agree in principle that no reader wants to stare down a whole page of, “he said, she said, he said.” Equally taxing would be a page of, “he stated, she replied, he mumbled, she questioned.” There is no need to raid the thesaurus every time you want to write some dialog. Like anything else in life a little bit will do you.

The goal of writing good dialog is keeping the reader on track as to who is saying what. Throw in some thoughts and this can become quite a challenge for even the best writers. I find it most effective to blend in actions. To break up the dialog and cue the reader in to who is speaking without relying on a said or any other word. For example…

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
“No,” Kim replied.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be,” Dad mumbled angrily.

Let’s try that same exchange but with a little bit of action.

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
Kim looked up from her book, “No.” Then went right back to reading.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be.” Dad mumbled as he stormed out of the room.

Now this is just a simple example and in a longer bit of dialog the writer would mix up actions and expressions along with said, asked and so on. The goal is to keep the reader aware of who is speaking but at that same time giving them something interesting to read. So remember, “said,” may or may not be dead, but to keep your writing off of life support explore the alternatives and mix things up.

Steps to Publishing

I was recently asked for a summary of a few things you need to do to get a book self-published. I thought about and then crafted a nice reply, then thought some more and decided this would also make neat post. So here are a few of the things I have learned.

First write a good book. I recommend working with a writers’ critique group or editor. I used 2 for my last book. One read for content and character and the other for copy editing, though both had a little hand in the other.

Know your word possessor. The book will need to be formatted a few different times. Know how to create uniform headers, footers, page numbering, set margins and line spacing.

Get some software. You’ll need to create special files to upload to the various publishers. You should have and know how to use, Calibre (for making epub books), Sigil for editing (epubs), and Mobi Pocket Creator (for creating kindle ebooks). If that last sentence freaks you out know you can upload word or document files to some publishers and they will create the eBook format for you. You just give up any control over the process and have to take what they give you. You can also hire someone to do this part.

Design a professional looking cover. If you don’t know your way around Photoshop then hire someone to do this, Out of the 2 million + books on Amazon the first thing anyone sees is your cover. Make it one that sticks out.

Sign up for accounts with the main e publishers, Amazon Kindle Direct and Createspace, Barnes & Nobile Nookpress, Smashwords and Lulu. Familiarize yourself with their website and help files.

Get yourself a website/blog to promote the book. Domains are cheap so if you want to look the part, yourname.com helps. So does your own email address: yourname@yourname.com.

Become your own publisher. Haven’t taken this step myself but all you have to do is register the name of your name as a publisher with your state and buy yourself a chunk of ISBN numbers from Bowker.com. This is the route to go if you want to control everything. Actually, I’m pretty sure there is more to it than that.

Lastly get your expectations in check. This book is not likely to pay for a Ferrari, at best maybe a nice dinner, but most likely something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. It is a learning process and the next one will always be better and go smoother.

That’s all I can think of for now.

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Image by http://www.ign.com

Image by http://www.ign.com

I am sitting in my office thinking on how busy I’ve been this summer and looking at a poster on my wall. The poster is from a video game released in 2005 for the Sony Playstation 2 called Shadow of the Colossus. The premise of the game is that you control a boy who must find and kill 16 giants the game calls Colossi to restore the life of a girl. So you spend the game wandering the vast land on horseback encountering these monstrous beings, climb up them, find their weakness and slay them. When you get all sixteen the game ends.

Now I can’t tell you what happens at the end of the game for two reasons. One, that would spoil it if you have any intention to play an eight year old game. Two I never made it to the end. About two or three Colossi into the game I came to realize what for me was a game killing fault. I am tasked with killing these beings with very little context or reason other than saving the young girl, yadda yadda yadda.  The only problem was the means of encountering them. You just come upon the first few Colossi. By the third one, lacking this story context I began to see the Colossus as a victim. At this point n the game the story has not revealed enough of the main story to give you a strong enough reason to go forward with the killings. The lack of context when you find the lumbering brute just wandering a meadow makes it even harder to scale it’s body and shove your sword into it’s unguarded flesh. Had I encountered other characters fleeing the Colossus or maybe see it ravaging a village, I would feel that I had to kill it. As it was I simply couldn’t justify the killing.

In a story the antagonist is the foil, obstacle, thing that must be scaled and defeated so that your protagonist can move onto the ending. While the reader does not have to hate the antagonist as much as your protagonist does you have to make it clear to the reader that the antagonist needs to be dealt with. The more extreme the dealing with for the more extreme the hurt, hate or adversity. After all you want the reader to root for your protagonist.

We’ve all read about the heroes you love to hate, but a bad guy you hate to love? It’s gonna take some special writing to make that happen and unless you nail it the whole thing is going to blow up in your face. Depending on the story you are crafting, there could be a whole host of activities, behaviors and traits you can bestow upon your antagonist to make the reader hate him, her, it. The only thing to be aware of is if your desire to write something that isn’t so black and white it becomes cliche. The last thing you want is to give your antagonist enough sympathetic qualities that the reader begins to see the antagonist as a victim. When the time comes for the protagonist to triumph you do not want the readers tasked with picking a side, even if they see multiple sides, they always must side with your protagonist.

In the case of my video game, the part of the story that made me want to continue with the slaying of these creatures took too long to appear. I could see the creatures were dangerous formidable opponents but that was not enough. I took this as a lesson and use it in all of my writing. My bad guys have to be bad, my obstructions have to be massive. There can be no question of motives.  This way when the time comes for the protagonist to triumph it is a victory shared by the reader as well.

Why Isn’t Your Book Selling

So you spent the last eight, twelve, eighteen, thirty-six months, working, slaving, sweating and bleeding into your manuscript pages. Your characters are so real they are now a part of your life. The plot is honed, buffed and not a hole in sight. Your style is so well crafted that the prose dances off the page. The book hits Amazon and only your mom buys a copy. Houston we have a problem. What the fudge could have gone wrong? What could these people be looking for? What could you possible have forgotten? What does a writer have to do to sell some books in this crazy digital tromping traditional publishing environment?

I chose my first two books on Amazon primarily because they were never going to find a home with an agent or traditional publisher. They don’t really fit into a clear genre and would have a small audience no matter what. So they were my experiment and I did not have really high expectations. That being said, my sales have have lived up to those expectations. I have since raised them for my next book, Undead Heart, so I eagerly read this article when one of my fellow writers shared it with me. Thank you Gale. The article is from The Creative Pen and I urge you to add it to your RSS feed, as it is a great resource.

“Help my book isn’t selling. What can I do?”

I flirted with some of these ten tips previously but for my next book I am working my hardest to use every single one. Some of these will involve spending money and that is the hardest thing to wrestle with. How much is enough to spend and how much is too much? You must always be aware of the return on your investment. They key to being a professional is to think like one. Spending more than you can or should reasonably expect to make is just bad business. But as the saying goes it takes money to make money. I think I might append that to say, “it takes money to make money and treating your work as a professional is the first step to being professional.”

Advice From a Master

H.P. LovecraftThis post came across my Facebook Newsfeed from the Lovecraft eZine.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Aspiring Wirter’s, 1920

Lovecraft’s first point is the recognition of what judicious reading can do for the aspiring author. I would go so far to say that if you consider yourself a writer but right now are not in the middle of a book or just starting one you obviously do not care very much about your style. There is no magic potion, no book, conference or class that gives you all the skills you need to write a great piece. You must assimilate all that you can. That does not mean just literary works or even works of impeccable style. You need to learn what not to do as well. Just shut up and read.

Another important tip is the one about finding your muse in nature. To make your writing really stand out it needs to come alive. You need to infuse it with all manner of description, sights, sounds, smells, that will draw the reader in. No matter where you are you should tune yourself to the surroundings, make a mental note of what you see and smell and anything that stands out as you can and will find a place for it in your work. The same goes for people watching. I love going to Las Vegas. I don’t drink, party in clubs, gamble (maybe a little), but I love sitting in the casinos and malls watching the people who go by. Who are they? Where did they come from? What do they like, dislike? How do they live? These people are all potential characters if you pay attention.

At the end Lovecraft gives us a list of the 20 most common errors he comes across from aspiring writers. So here the guides and attention to grammar do come in. The rules exist not to thwart creativity but to allow it to spread and reach others. You cannot make a reader love your story but you can make them hate it if your style fails to convey to the reader, in the most efficient way possible, the story you are telling. We all learn a little from those we look up to, even when we are not expecting it.


E-book Price Gouging

After my last post on e-books looking at the no to low end I thought this post which I am borrowing from American Libraries Magazine, The Visible Hand of the Market?, might complement it. Libraries would love to provide their patrons with all the digital content their devices could contain. Sadly that is just not in their hands. To counter that, many libraries, like the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado, have taken the initiative to inform their patrons just what obstacles libraries face when trying to secure rights to digital titles for their patrons. As this chart shows, the publishers are not making it easy for the libraries. They are either refusing to sell digital copies to libraries or pricing them so exorbitantly that libraries cannot justify the funds, if the funds are even there. So take a look and be prepared to be angered, disgusted, floored, any of the above.

DCL Price Report Sept12