Saturday, December 6, 2014

GeneStorm RPG

A friend of mine and seasoned writer, game designer and all around awesome guy, has a project on IndieGoGo for a new tabletop RPG he's developping.

It's called GeneStorm. In addition to being one of the more unique ideas for a game I've seen, it has one of the most interesting dice mechanics I've seen in a game for some time. Here's some details from the IndieGoGo page..

"The game is set in a weirdly beautiful post-apocalyptic future. This is a world of majestic vistas – of abandoned cities floating high in the sky, and overgrown ruins brimming with strange new life. Of huge spacecraft the size of cities crashed into great verdant swamps...
It is a place of terrible dangers. Of sand storms and radioactive dust, of jungles and broken lands swarming with terrible, carnivorous life. A place where gateways lead to a sinister alternative universe where the senses twist and fail, and terrible entities wait to prey upon the weak - A place of ruined, shattered civilisation. Of fallen grandeur and prowling, broken death machines.
- It is a wilderness that has given birth to astonishing new life."
The writing is all finished and the game is ready to play. The IndieGoGo project is funding art and production costs. So no matter how much money it raises, GeneStorm will be released. That's a pretty good guarantee.
Paul Kidd, the author, is a guy whose talent should be funded, so if tabletop gaming is your thing, go and have a look and if you like what you see, have a think about chipping in and maybe pre-ordering your book. Personally, I can't wait.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another November, Another NaNoWriMo

... That I'm not doing.

I never do NaNoWriMo. Every year I think I might, just to see if I can, but come November, every year, I'm always already working on something and I'm not stopping it just to do NaNo.

But every year there's countless novels begun and some of them are even finished in that time. Hurrah.

So if you're into NaNo, then good for you. This blog entry right here is dedicated to you. There's something I'd like to say to you.

Good luck.

I think it is awesome that you're writing. Keep it up! Tell a damned good story! I know you can do it.

The maths works out to be about 1,667 words a day to complete your 50,000 word novel in November.Well in the last three days, I have written approximately 14,000 words.

I'm nobody special. If I can do it, then so can you.

So stop wasting time here and go write your novel! I believe in you!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pilgrimage Releases

The pre-order period is over and Pilgrimage is now available! There's no waiting and no delays. My latest (and greatest) novel is here. You can buy it as an ebook at all the links below

Pilgrimage at Amazon

Pilgrimage at iTunes

Pilgrimage at Kobo

Pilgrimage at Barnes & Noble

Pilgrimage at Smashwords

Get a copy today, read it, enjoy it, and let me know what you think!

Monday, October 27, 2014

On Music

A little while ago I did a blog on what can be learned from studying various kinds of storytelling. It occurs to me, however, that I missed an important medium.

Music and Poetry.

I group these together because one can argue that poetry is musical lyrics without the music. They both employ very similar means for conveying ideas. From here on out I'm going to use the term 'poetry' but I want you to keep in mind that all of it applies to music, too. If you struggle to find poetry that you like, try reading the lyrics to some of your favourite songs. Read them without the music, though. You might even discover something new about your favourite music.

So what makes poetry different from prose - and this is the reason I left it out orginally - is that storytelling in poetry is very different. While there are obvious exceptions (A Visit from Saint Nick, The Owl and The Pussycat, The Illiad,) poetry is generally quite light on narrative. There is a narrative, but poetry tends to focus on very concise, very short narratives and explore them in great depth. You don't go into poetry expecting the same beginning, middle and end of a story that you expect from, say, a novel.

Ode to a Grecian Urn, for example, does not make a big deal of narrative. It's a description of an urn and that is all it wants to be. The Raven, on the other hand, has a far more obvious narrative, but for how long The Raven is, not much happens. The narrator sits and reads, hears a knock, opens a door, talks to a bird and then he dies (spoiler alert.) The sequence of events in poetry tends to be less important than the expression of ideas within that narrative.

Then if that's the case, what does poetry offer us prose writing storytellers?

That's easy. Good prose is often poetic. It's not purple, but it is still poetic. Specifically, when your story slows down, when you want to have those intimate moments with your characters and their environment, when the plot takes a coffee break and you want to dwell on the fine details of the moment, this is when you can best apply the lessons of poetry.

In all of literature, the best use of symbolism, the best metaphors and similes are all found in poetry. The most evocative and emotional writing is found in poetry. That's what poets do. That's their schtick. Poetry is there to be quickly eaten and digested over a long time. Poetry has staying power. It gets in your head and is sticks. You want your story to do the same. A good plot will do that, but so will good prose.

Poetry works because it plays with the odd, abstract ways that people naturally think. We unconciously compare new things to other things and strange things to common things all the time. We think in vague images and metaphors naturally. Poetry expresses thoughts in the weird and natural way that people think. The well trained poet is a master of a variety of literary techniques from the obvious to the subtle.

Prose isn't poetry, of course. If all you want to do is be poetic, go write some poetry. That's cool. But in the world of prose fiction, in short stories and novels, poetry is like spice. What kind of spice? Cinnamon. It is awesome, but it is also potent and a lot is actually dangerous if you try and shove it in your mouth at once. Seriously, don't do that. What you want from poetry is that little bit of flavour that stands out. Not every sentence has to have a metaphor or a carefully constructed rhythm, but when your reader bites down on your prose and finds that little bit of spice, then they will thank you for it. Good prose needs a little bit of poetry from time to time.

So go read some poetry. I suggest The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. That shit is the bomb.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Where do I begin?

Self-promotion and marketing makes me feel dirty. It's basically been my life this past week and I feel like I need a chemical shower. But hey, such is life. The problem is I don't like giving a pitch, I'd rather have a conversation. I'm not a salesman, I'm a writer.

And I much prefer talking about writing. Which is what I'm going to do to today. Earlier today, somebody asked me where I begin writing. This was a two part question, the first part of which was that dreaded "where do your ideas come from?" question that I hate and am not going to talk about right now.

But the second part of that question - the more practical part of that question - is where do you begin telling your story? The smart arse here says "At the beginning" but that's not at all helpful.

So, instead, consider these five tips on how to begin your story.

1. Begin as late in the story as you can. Let everything unfold off the page as long as you can and still have the story make sense. All the important stuff that comes before chapter 1, the history, the lives your characters led, the way the world fell into darkness, tell that later on in the story. Begin as late in the tale as you possibly can.

2. Begin somewhere interesting. Protip: "interesting" in terms of a narrative is often synonymous with "conflict." Begin with a conflict.

3. The first conflict should swiftly lead to more conflicts the audience should know (or think they know) where the story is going, who the protagonist is, what the central conflict is that drives the book and what the protagonist hopes to accomplish at the end of the story.

4. Those first words matter. If you can make it memorable, make it memorable. If you can make it powerful, make it powerful. If you can make that first sentence grab the reader, make it so.

5. Those first words actually don't matter a whole lot. This is especially true in your first draft. Remember, you have unlimited retried and opportunities to fix them. But ultimately, good first words are a bonus but they alone won't win your reader's long term affection.

That's all for today class. Remember, Pilgrimage releases in all major ebook stores, on all platforms and in all formats in less than a week. Pre-order it now and you not only get a damned fine book, but you win my eternal gratitude. How's that for a guarantee?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pilgrimage, Updates, and What I'm Doing Next

Hey! Hey! Hey! Guess what!

Oh snap! Look at that bad boy! And you know what? It's coming out soon! We're just above one week until Pilgrimage is unleashed on the world. My latest book (and it's a good one!) will be coming out on November 1st. That's a global release across all major ebook retailers, so put that in your calendar. Or, if you're like me and you like to do your book reading on the Kindle, then check this out


That, my friends, is a link to Pilgrimage's Amazon store page where you can pre-order the book RIGHT NOW.

And fear not, ye ownders of other ebook readers. You can also preorder for the Kobo, for Barnes & Noble Nook and on iTunes.

And trust me when I say this is a book you'll want to read. What's it about you ask? Here's a blurb.

Roland, an alcoholic living in a hotel, has just drunk the last of his money. He's jobless, friendless, hopeless and about to become homeless. Then he meets Griffith, a young sorcerer on a pilgrimage across northern New South Wales. Griffith's journey might be Roland's only chance at escaping the ghosts of his past. But a cruel and sadistic murderer is hunting Griffith, wielding a magic neither of them can fight. Their only chance for survival, and Roland's only chance for redemption, lies at the end of the pilgrimage, in the little town of Salem - if they can get there before the ghosts of their past don't destroy them.

Pilgrimage is a contemporary fantasy and adventure novel for a general adult audience. An exciting and action packed story, it explores themes of redemption and healing, and the strength we gain from friendships - even unexpected ones.

Not enough for you? Well look, don't take my word for it. The first five chapters are free to read over on my Figment page. <---- Click that bad boy for free samples!

This leads me into my next update which is, as you may have noticed, the blog! I've made a few spiffy changes around here. Most notably is the addition of a subscription feature, found over on the right, under "About The Author." Just plug your e-mail into that and you'll be alerted to when I update.

The other update is some fancy new links up the top of the page, just below the title. Each of those links will take you somewhere cool, like my GoodReads profile, my Figment profile (with free fiction!) and a list of books I have available for purchase. They are all good things and I encourage you to click upon them as often as you like. Go and see the world wide web, my friends!

Wait! Don't do it yet!

I've got one more thing to say. With the release of Pilgrimage - a novel roughly three years in the making - there remains the obvious question of what next? Well, I've always been pretty tight lipped about my projects in the past but today I'm feeling generous. So, I'm going to give you a hint at what is coming.

First of all, Winter City. Have you read it yet? You should! It's awesome and it is still going. We're eight issues into a twelve issue series and I'll be continuing to work on that through to the end. Keep an eye on that, because as we approach the finale, it just gets better and better. Also...

I am writing a sequel to Sorceress' Blood. A lot of people, when reading Sorceress' Blood, speculated that it had been left open for a sequel. Well it's true. A sequel is in the works. It's going to kick all kinds of arse. Without giving too much away, the new protagonist introduced in the sequel is a hell of a lot of fun to write and I am sure she'll be as much fun to read about. But a new protagonist doesn't mean out with the old and both Ashley and Rebecca will be returning as important, lead characters in Sorceress' Blood 2.

After that, I've been kicking around a couple of other ideas for novels. One idea in particular has been occupying my mind space and I'll tell you this much - it's still a modern fantasy adventure, but it's got dragons. Dragons! Everybody loves dragons. But never one to be satisfied with the old tropes of fantasy, the dragons seen in this project will be a little different from what you might expect when you hear somebody talk about dragons.

But before all that, I'm going to take a hiatus from fantasy. You may have seen that earlier this year I wrote a hard boiled detective story... With My Little Pony characters. The hard boiled detective/noir genre is one I've been in love with for a long time. I've tried writing neo-noir and mystery a bunch of times in the past, but it never quite clicked until recently. So I'm going to be writing a couple of short detective novels - novellas, if you want to be technical. I've got two I want to write and I've already begun work on them. It's a real thrill to throw myself into a genre I've both loved and struggled with for a long time.

No release dates or anything like that yet. When they're closer to finished, I'll let you know, but for now, I want to focus on making them the best damned detective novels they can be.

But hey, why are we talking about future books? There's a new book right now!

Monday, October 20, 2014

5 Perfect Moments in Modern Cinema

I like movies. I love movies. Movies are my default activity. If I'm doing nothing else (which is rarely the case) then I'm watching movies.

I watch a lot of bad movies. It's easy to do because most movies are pretty bad. A lot of the films that are not bad are merely average. They're mediocre and safe and bland and that could be argued to be a crime in itself. But I still enjoy watching most bad movies. You know those terrible films they make fun of on Mystery Science Theatre 3000? I watch those sorts of films for fun, without the extra commentary (and sometimes with...) I just love to watch movies and I can enjoy a bad film despite its flaws.

Part of it is that I'm a hopeful movie goer. I am willing to sit through dozens of bad and average and forgetable films because I know that, eventually, I will see something great. Sometimes it will be a whole movie, but sometimes it will just be one moment. That's what this blog is about. I want to share with you five moments in modern cinema that I think are truly perfect. That isn't to say the whole film is great, but in these scenes, absolutely everything went right and they could not be improved.

So I present to you, in no particular order, five perfect moments in modern cinema.

1. You Shall Not Pass

The Lord of the Rings is a series that has helped define all aspects of cinema in the 21st century. My personal favourite is the first installment, The Fellowship of The Ring, but they're all good. Watching this scene, I feel like I'm being kicked in the arse with its epic scope every time. It's just one old man and some CGI but it is nothing less than perfect.

2. The Blue Fight

I had originally intended to put in the fight in the bamboo forest from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but when I rewatched that scene, I couldn't call it perfect. It's good and I love the whole movie but it wasn't a perfect scene. But then when I thought about comparable fight scenes, my mind went straight to this moment in Hero. The whole film is a great example of how cinema can be just as expressive and powerful as any other art form. The precision that went into creating this fight astounds me and it is so much more than just a fight scene. And some people call martial arts "dancing" as if that's a bad thing...

3. Chew bubblegum and kick ass

The Live is an entertaining movie but it is not great. Your first instinct is probably to write this scene off as silly 80s cheese and I wouldn't tell you you're wrong. But it's silly 80 cheese with a little bit more. Tell me this: How could you improve this scene? Sure, it's not the most artistic or profound, but how would you improve it? Could you make the dialogue any more memorable or any more efficient? Could Roddy Piper's expression be any more on the mark? Could you frame the shots any better, getting in the action and those ever present commands of obedience? Deep down, They Live is an intelligently dark and comic film and all of that shines in this one moment, even if not in the rest of the film.

4. Huey Lewis and The News

Speaking of dark and comic. American Psycho. Wow. This film, much like the book, is a punch in the gut. You can't tear yourself away from it, though you want to, and you feel bad every time it makes you laugh - and it will make you laugh. Like the scene in They Live, this one moment embodies everything the film is trying to do and trying to say and it does it with the kind of subtlety and grace that you rarely see displayed in any medium. Everything from the comment about the newspapers to the selection of music to the way the blood splatters Christian Bale's face is perfect. This is how you use the nature of film to show your audience more than you could ever say with words. Respect.

5. Tears In The Rain

Then again, there's a lot to be said for words, too. There's also perfection to be found in simplicity. Not a lot happens in this moment. It's a just a small monologue but Rutger Hauer proves he is a man with some powerful acting talent in how he delivers it. Even those few glimpses at Harrison Ford reacting, confused and afraid are perfect. This is what can happen with as little as two great actors on set and a camera rolling.

There you have it. By no means an exhausting list and, obviously, not one that goes too far back in time. But I tried to take a few from films you might not immediately think of as "great films" or classics. Of course most of them are great films or at least damn good, but that's not the point. This isn't a list of five "MOST AMAZING FILMS EVER IN THE LAST THIRTY YEARS." This is only to speak to those moments that stand alone, regardless of how the rest of the film is made. These are the times when everything went as right as they could for as little as 66 seconds of film.

Let me know your thoughts and what moments in film you think are perfect.

Learning To Write With Clint Eastwood

Wouldn't that be an awesome book? "Learning to Write With Clint Eastwood" is the kind of book I would buy, and then I would buy a second version just to make out with. I don't know how much writing Clint Eastwood actually does (Hollywood screenwriting is, as I understand it, a weird process) but he kicks so much ass just by getting out of bed in the morning that I'm sure a book by him titled "Learning to Write With Clint Eastwood" would be totally worthy of my sloppy, waggly tongue love.

Let's not dwell on that sentence too long.

Sadly, this isn't about a book by Clint Eastwood, this is about Clint Eastwood's direction. Some time ago I watched an interview in which Mr Eastwood described his method for directing. What he does is he has the actors perform a scene, and he makes a list, in his mind, of what (if anything) he needs to change in the scene with his magical director voodoo. Then he instructs the actors to change just one of the things they were doing and has them perform again. Afterwards, he corrects another different thing from his list and has the actors perform again.

He does this until he gets to the end of the list and then, then, he does something you might not expect. He tells the actors to just forget everything he's said and perform the scene without thinking about it.

And that final take is the performance he uses. That last performance, when he's told them to forget everything he's told them, is always the best one.

Now I don't know how you feel about Clint Eastwood's directorial career, but I certainly think his methods are working for him. Clint Eastwood films have this tendency to lean towards what the critics call "Pretty fucking good, actually."

All right, now let's stop talking about movies. Let's talk about writing. Today is a special blog because we're covering two of the things I love the most - movies and writing (but not writing movies.)

Wow is there a lot to remember about writing. Have you seen the list of rules? There are blogs and books and university degrees and weekend classes all dedicated to teaching you how to write and there is a lot to remember. Damn.

Well, I think it's time we started teaching ourselves the way Clint Eastwood directs.

Let's begin at the top. What's the number one rule in writing? Don't be boring. The worst sin your book can commit is being dull. Don't do it.

Now let's write a story. Let's write two. Let's write a short story and a couple of flash fictions. When we write it, we're going to focus on achieving one single goal. The story cannot be boring. Not one single dull moment. That's the only goal. I don't care how messy and screwed up your POV is or if you tell more than you show or if every single character is a ass-kicking, vampire hugging, marathon running, cancer curing mary-sue. It doesn't matter. Just do not be boring.

Got it? Okay. Now let's write some more.

Next up is to kill your passive writing. You have one job with your next story. There will not be a single passive sentence in the whole piece. Not one. Even if the story is boring, even if you use the words "baby blue" to describe every dog, tree and chicken kiev in the whole story. Whatever you write, keep that shit active. Do it a couple more times. You have one task.

Okay, I think by now you have the idea. What we're doing here is focusing on improving the writing one element at a time. Learn what works and why it works. Rehearse the bits you suck at. Don't even think about the rest of it. Just go one thing at a time.

And then forget about it. Don't think about all these little bits you've been practicing and just write. Write. Write. Write.

The idea here is that you do one thing with enough thought and focus and practice that you make it natural. This isn't going to make your first drafts perfect, but it might save you time in editing later.

When I first started writing, I wrote enough passive sentences to build a house. It's taken me a long damn time and a lot of effort to unlearn that habit. That habit died hard. But it did die. Passive voice is no longer my default. When I do write something passive, I catch myself doing it halfway through the sentence. It feels weird to write passive. Through dedicating my practice to one thing, I've corrected a lot of future mistakes before I could make them.

Now we're moving on. Now I've got new deficiencies to work on. And I'm sure you do. And this is a way you can train yourself to stop. Then, when the rehearsal is done and you go on to your magnum opus, you're ready to focus on the big picture. That's what we want. All those little details, all those basics about style and language should be natural for you.

So get to it, friend.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lee Child and Joe Konrath discussing Amazon and Hatchette

If, unlike me, you're not a little tired of the Amazon v Hachette debate and still want to know which enormous corporation is the evilest, there's a fascinating conversation going on over at Joe Konrath's blog.

Read the exchanges here first and then the next round here.

I've said all I'm going to say on the issue, personally. I think Tree Beard still has it right, from where I'm standing.

But Konrath and Child are writing from two very different places on opposite ends of the spectrum. I won't spoil the details, but it's some of the most intelligent and original discussion going on at the moment. If you're interested in the debate or in the changing world of publishing in general, I recommend you go and read.

Then I recommend you go and do something like write because no matter how the publishing game changes, that's still the first thing you need to do and you have to do it well.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Problem With Video Game Writing

Video Games are not well written stories.

To be fair, an awful lot of them are not trying to be. I played a game recently called Farm For Your Life. It's fun. You build a farm, you harvest crops, you use those crops to make food, you serve that food in a restaurant, you use the funds from that farm to make your farm better and build walls and and build turrets to defend your farm and restaurant from ZOMBIE HORDES!!!

It's a lot of fun. It's one of those games I like to play when I'm listening to an audiobook.

But there's not really much of a narrative in Farm For Your Life. That's not a criticism. It doesn't need a narrative. It has a set up and then it can pretty much go forever. I think you can solve the zombie problem. You meet this scientist guy looking for a cure and you can help him, but I haven't done that because I'm not interested in ending the game. I like the farming and the restaurant and the killing zombies. It's a token and mostly pointless story that, as it should, plays second fiddle to cooking food and killing zombies. Good times.

There's a lot of games like that. In fact, that sort of 'writing' is where video games began. Did Pong or Pacman had a narrative? No, it just had dots and things you did with those dots. Did Mario and The Legend of Zelda have a narrative? No.

No, don't try and argue with me, they didn't. There is no story in The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. It's two video games where a princess is missing and you go through a series of challenges (levels in Mario and puzzles and dungeons in Zelda) and then you achieve your goal. They had as much story as a game of Monopoly.

However, that began to change pretty rapidly. Now we have a lot more story telling going on in Video Games. For some games, the story is everything (I'm looking at you, Heavy Rain) but for the vast majority of games, there's a story, but it's not really what we're there for. The story exists to string together a bunch of set pieces and things to shoot or hack of blast. Some games are commendable for their efforts - I was always particularly fond of the story telling in inFamous. Other games, like that one "based on" The Divine Comedy," well, their attempts at story telling are laughable. So there's a spectrum.

But they're all flawed. You see the problem is, Video Games are stories with padding. They're essentially pillows wrapped in pages from a Doc Savage novel. The plot has to frequently take long pauses for the player to play the game and overcome challenges and kill some enemies and jump over snake pits. All of these are dramatic as long as the player can see them, and then they're gone. That guy you shot in the tutorial? The third one from the left that looks exactly the same as the two guys next to him? You'll never hear about him again.

The majority of what you do in a video game is meaningless in terms of how it affects the plot.

Listen, plot has a structure. Some people cringe at the thought, but it does and it's almost unavoidable if you want to write a good plot. Basically, a plot looks like this:

- Something happens to make a protagonist act
- Protagonist begins working towards some kind of goal
- Protagonist has early victory
- Things begin to go wrong just as the Protagonist loses the option of turning back
- Protagonist struggles forward, but he suffers multiple set backs. His chances of success dwindle and the stakes keep going up.
- Protagonist confronts source of problems or final obstacle before his goal and succeeds or fails, either way he is forever changed.

That's not exactly set in stone but that's more or less how it works in every story. And we keep doing it like that because it works. But the key to drama is that part where the protagonist suffers set backs and fails multiple times. That's how you build excitement and tension. You can't have a story without it!

Unless you're a video game. Players don't want to fail. Players want to feel awesome and move forward and video games are written to accommodate this desire. Video game writers work around this by ever padding out the story and ever extending and changing the goals. Sometimes it works really well. I loved the hell out of 'Far Cry 3' because of its story telling. But these games that are "well written" are the exception and not the rule. Video game writing is, for the most part, pants.

But I struggle to hold that against video games. All this is measuring video games by old standards for a different medium. It's the only set of standards we have for now, so it will have to do. But because video games are interactive, they're a very new means of story telling. We're still figuring out the best way to make video game writing work.

We're not sure what, exactly, the rules are just yet. So for the moment, I still cut video games a lot of slack and often give them a free pass entirely. The medium is evolving and our ideas about story telling must evolve with it. So even though video game story telling is, right now, largely sucky and full of unfamiliar and uncomfortable ground, we're only seeing the adolescence of video games and the future is bright ahead of us.

All right, so now that I've made my position clear and all the gamer fanboys and putting away their torches and pitchforks, we can come back to what this means for you, oh writers of things that are not video games. In my last blog entry I said that there is a lot to be learned about story telling from comic books and movies and television, even if you want to write prose.

Well the same just can't be said of video games. There's nothing you can get from video games that you can't get from those other mediums I mentioned. But you can pick up a lot of had habits and incorrect ideas about story telling from video games. So, honestly, unless you're planning to write for video games, maybe just play video games for fun. There's plenty of other things to study. Switch the writer brain off for a while and just enjoy.

Okay kids, that's it. I'll catch you next time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Story is A Story is A Story

Watch movies. Watch a lot of movies. Watch mostly good movies. Movies are good study. There's a lot to be learned from watching films and paying close attention. You, as a writer, can benefit from watching movies. That's true, obviously, if you want to write for film. But if you want to write books (Hell, if you want to write anything) then you can benefit from watching movies.

Movies are stories. In terms of length and content, movies are similar to novellas. They've got to be very tight and they've got to tell a story in a limited space. The dialogue, of course, has to be good. Dialogue is important. But there's a lot in movies that needs to be set in the picture. Movies - good movies - are all about the showing because they do not have the space to tell.

Movies get across so much in such comparatively little time that you can benefit from studying how a movie tells its story. Because they're so short, you can also watch a lot of them to get a broad range of ideas.

And while you're at it, watch television, too. Now is a pretty bloody good time to be watching the old idiot box. The age of sitcoms, monsters of the week and reality TV is coming to a close and, right now, TV serials are big fish. There's some very good story telling happening in TV right now and it's worth taking a look. Every episode is like its own self-contained chapter in a book and every season builds to a massive climax with a season finale that blows you away and leaves you wanting more. A good TV serial might be the closest thing to a novel that isn't a novel.

The story telling in a TV serial, where every episode connects and there is one plot, one arc that extends over a whole season and the whole series, is worth studying. You can learn a lot about how to keep your audience keen. There's a lot more room to breathe and tell more complex plots in a TV serial, too. You should definitely be watching TV.

And you should read comics. A lot of comics are really stupid, but there's something to be gained from seeing how people go wrong. But there's a whole mess of really good comics out there, too. Go get some and read. Like movies and TV, a comic has to tell its story visually and use imagery to carry a lot of the subtlety prose allows. People are highly visual creatures and by thinking visually when you write, it helps you create better imagery in your own writing. And what better way to learn than to study those who succeeded before you?

Comics are different to film and TV, though, because they also use text. All that speech in text and all those sound effects in big, bold lettering are done by people called Letterers and it's not a little job. Lettering is an art to be respected and bad lettering can kill not just a comic but the story that comic wants to tell. This is almost unique, except that the shape of prose also affects how a story is told in a novel.

Comics come in all shapes and sizes. So even if you're all about sophisticated character drama novels, reading comics and studying how the story is told can benefit you greatly.

And, most of all, more important than any of the above, if you want to kick it old school and (like most writers) focus on the classic prose novel, then you should be reading novels. Read all kinds of novels. Read books of all shapes and sizes. Read books in your favourite genre and, from time to time, read a book outside the normal. Read new books and old books and serious books and silly books.

Honestly, it's not so important what you read, but how you read. This goes for every type of story telling medium I've described above. The key is to be active in how you engage with the story. Don't just read and don't just watch, but study. Look at what works and ask why it works, ask yourself how you would write it differently, consider why the author chose a certain word or why a particular chapter took place when and where it does so.

Right now, I am revoking your lisence to be a passive member of the audience. You want to write, you need to start paying attention to how other writers are practicing their craft. Read, watch, study.

A story is a story is a story, so from now on, when you're watching or reading a story, study it. Work to improve your own story telling.

"Hey Carl, what about video games? Do they count? They're stories."

Um... Well... Uh... No. Not really. Well, sort of. Sometimes. Look, that's not an easy question so I'll come back to that next time.

Monday, September 8, 2014

10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

So this meme is making the rounds at the moment and it is called "10 Books That Have Stayed With Me." I've always gotten kind of a kick from doing lists like this, much because it's another opportunity to opine on something and I am nothing if not opinionated. So, it's been on facebook and some bloggers, (most recently, the fantastic Chuck Wendig) have even given their list. So now I'm going to play the trend whore and throw my thoughts out there.

First, a couple of points worth clarifying.
1 - This is not a list of favourite books. These are books that, having read, constantly come to mind and that, no matter how much I enjoyed them, I can't get them out of my head. These aren't just good books, these are books with impact.
2 - They're not in any order. I'm writing about them as I think of them. Any lasting impact a book has is high praise and it doesn't need to be ranked more than that.

1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
I wish I'd never read this book. I regret reading this book. It was nothing short of brilliant. It's one of the best books I've ever read and I hated every moment of it. While I read American Psycho, I only wanted to stop. When I stopped, I could hardly think of anything but reading what happened next. It's horrific and gory and frightening and tragic and funny - actually, it's damned funny. It's the sickest, darkest comedy I know. This book made me physically sick. My stomach churned as I read. I will never read it again and I hate that this book is so damned well written and so damned intelligent.

2. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & 3. Watchmen by Alan Moore
I'm going to lump these two together and talk about them at the same time. These are the kinds of comics every aspiring comic writer needs to read. They're full of superhero tropes and fairly typical superhero characters and settings. But they use those familiar ideas to get you comfortable before they hit you with some of the most intense and engaging political and personal dramas ever seen in the pages of comic books. We could all aspire to put words onto the page that are this intelligent. Alan Moore practically invented the deconstruction of superheroes and we'd never have had books like Kick Ass or films like Super without Alan Moore. It's also telling that nobody has done it quite as well as he did, either.

4. Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
The best book about dystopian utopias you'll ever read. While some of the themes and symbolism isn't exactly painted with a subtle brush, it certainly gets the point across. But I think what makes Huxley's novel such a unique exploration of these fairly common sci-fi and sociopolitical themes is that he seems to be writing from a position on the fence. Is the atheist, industrialist and totalitarian world so bad? Do we gain more than we lose as we distance ourselves from nature? Huxley is kind enough to let us make up our own mind, while he keeps trying to make up his. I'll let you know if I ever make up mine.

5. The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
Mark Twain wrote a lot of his better works (in my opinion) late in his life, when he seemed to be struggling with the terrifying notion that he was going to die. He even quite accurately predicted the year he would die, so that couldn't have helped. The Mysterious Stranger reads like the culmination of his final years as a cynical and tired writer and philosopher. Comedy has been replaced by tragedy and satire has given way to angst. Mark Twain challenges death and religion and society and sanity in this book and, like Huxley, draws no obvious conclusions. It's not just an engaging and unique story, it is a fascinating insight into Twain's world view before death.

6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
As with The Mysterious Stranger, I've written about Fear and Loathing before. This book is funny and confusing and frustrating and leaves your head spinning. It moves at a break-neck speed from one self inflicted disaster to the next and never gives you a moment to be bored. And that's impressive for a book in which nothing happens. It's the world's longest action scene about two guys walking around taking drugs and accomplishing nothing. Ultimately, it's Thompson's voice that makes this book work and once you hear it, it's hard to get it out of your head.

7. The Shining by Stephen King
I went through an awkward and misguided phase as a teenager in which I said to myself, "I don't need to read books. I write my own!" Of course I never finished any of those books and most of the stuff I wrote sucked. Then one day a friend bought a new Role Playing Game called World of Darkness. He bought it, but I inevitably ended up running the game and so I figured if I am going to write horror, I should read some. Not knowing any horror authors other than Stephen King, I picked up his short story collection, Night Shift, and started reading. By the end of the week, I'd bought The Shining and was reading that. This not only convinced me to read real books by real authors, it also convinced me to stop pretending I was Tolkein. Sadly I decided to pretend I was Stephen King for the next year and a bit, but eventually I outgrew that. There's not much to say about The Shining other than it is damned good and it did me a wonderful service by reminding me that reading is AWESOME. I'll forever love it for that.

8. Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
Much like The Shining, Rowan of Rin is just a good book. It's nothing particularly special or as intelligent as many of the books on this list, it's just fun. But also, like The Shining, it's a book that made me like books. A teacher handed it to me during a time when I was seriously starting to think I was incapable of enjoying literature. I loved it immediately and, being such a short and easily digestible book (it is for children, after all,) I still often pick it up and reread it. Without knowing that books could be this much fun, I may have given up on writing a long time ago.

9. MARS by Fuyumi Soryo
I think this is cheating. Okay, sorry, I'm cheating. MARS isn't actually a book, it's a series. A comic series that ran in Japan from 1996 to 2000 and is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. MARS is a high school romance story and plays out more than a little like a soap opera. But from the moment I picked up the book (on a whim, no less) I have been hooked on it. It's extremely melodramatic and, at times, it really pushes the boundaries of realism. But screw it, for a book written for teenage girls, it really hits on some hard topics and it gets downright dark in some places. But that darkness only serves to contrast just how powerful the love between the protagonists is. At the end of the day, I'm a romantic, and MARS speaks to that part of me like no other story ever has,

10. Loop by Koji Suzuki
All right, let's end on another intelligent note. Loop is the final installment of Koji Suzuki's Ring trilogy (Yes, that Ring, the horror movie one) and is actually probably my least favourite of the series. But, truth be told, it's the one I think about the most because it's just so damned weird. I honestly can't tell you how the Ring series went from being a supernatural thriller to a high concept science fiction story, but it did and I still can't make sense of it. Was Koji Suzuki making a point? Was he high? Was he just fucking with us? I don't know. Loop is weird but that really makes it one of a kind and it exists to ask a lot of big questions about humanity, the universe, the nature of our existence and the future of our species. Much like Huxley, Suzuki doesn't seem to have any answers, either. He poses the big questions, then just shrugs his shoulders and invites you to think it out with him. And perhaps that's the best thing an author can achieve. Our first goal should always be to entertain but if you can do that and make your audience really think about difficult ideas, without turning your story into a sermon, then you've gone from good to great.

Okay, your turn. Post your lists in the comments or your own blog and post the link below. I'd like to know what books got glued to your brain meats and wouldn't come off.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Good Reads

Are you on the website Goodreads? I am. It's a lot of fun. It's like facebook, but the only thing people talk about is books. That's 100% less religion, politics, George Lucas films and Selfies!

Also, you can like my book on Good Reads and see things about me! How awesome is that?

I think it's pretty cool...

Anyway, if you like books, Good Reads is a pretty cool way to find new stuff to read. It's made a number of good suggestions to me.

Go check it out (and add my book to your list!)

Carl Purcell's books on Goodreads
Sorceress' Blood Sorceress' Blood
reviews: 4
ratings: 11 (avg rating 3.09)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Amazon vs Hachette

Amazon has stopped selling books by Hachette published authors. This move is ruining the livelihood of many professional authors. This is what happens when you let a company become a monopoly. Amazon is the enemy of authors.


Hachette is dragging their feet. Hachette refuses to negotiate because they want to force Amazon into being a party to their exploitation of all their authors. They are hiding behind the media and publicity generated by their big name authors. It's one more motion by traditional publishing to screw us all over.


Look, this isn't affecting me. Hachette and Amazon bickering over contract terms? Nothing to do with me. I'm not published by Hachette and Amazon is still selling my book.

So rather than addressing Amazon or Hachette, I'd like to take this time to address all the authors who are getting involved. I'm specifically talking to you Hachette published folks who are taking a stand for your publisher, but it applies to everyone.

Authors everywhere, on both sides of this argument, you need to shut up for a little while.

I've been reading about this a lot since it started and as far as I can tell, nobody really knows what is going on except the big boys at Amazon and Hachette. They can't tell us what's being said in negotiation and the details of what terms are contentious. You and I just don't know. It's foolish to assume we do and jump into this argument like we've got all the facts.

And Hachette authors, if you're concerned about not having your books in stock with Amazon, there's this big company called Hachette that is in charge of your distribution. If they're not doing their job, talk to them. They're your middle man. Your contact is with them, not Amazon. They exist to speak for you, so go make sure they're speaking for you.

Or go back to writing. In the end, stories are going to be told. If Hachette folds, books will still be written. If Amazon quits the book selling business, books will still be written. Two people are needed for this arrangement: An author and a reader. No matter what happens, authors will author, readers will read and we'll find some way of getting out stories into the hands of the audience. Industries change, but that will always be true.

In the end, Hachette is trying to do what is best for Hachette. That's not the same as doing what's best for Hachette authors. They have a bottom line to look out for and do you know what is written on that line? Protip: It's not your name.

Amazon is no different. They want to run their business in a way that, they think, will make them the most money. That's not the same as making the most money for their suppliers. They are looking out for their profits and you shouldn't expect anything different.

Side with the people who are benefiting you. That's easy in this scenario, because when Amazon isn't stocking your book and Hachette isn't getting your books stocked, neither of them are benefiting you.

It's like Treebeard says: I'm not on anybody's side because nobody is on my side.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Your Style Sucks: When and Why to Break The Rules

Some time ago, a writer friend of mine asked me to critique their work. They hadn't written much, which made it easy to oblige. So I gave it a read and the next time I saw my friend, I brought it up. While reading my friend's work, something struck me. My friend had used a lot of incomplete sentences. Half sentences. Sentences that didn't seem to finish before a new one started. It was some of the strangest use of language I'd ever encountered. Needless to say, this poor grasp of syntax and grammar did not lend itself to the most pleasant reading experience. It wasn't to the point that it was indecipherable by any means. It was just strange.
I said to my friend, "You know, you use a lot of half sentences."
"Oh yeah." My friend responded. "That's my style."

I looked for the nearest exit to that conversation. I probably changed the subject or went and got a drink or leaped out the nearest window, grabbed hold of a telephone wire and glided to safety. That's how I like to remember it.

In any event, what I learned that day was that, sometimes, when a person says the words "What do you think?" or "I'd like some feedback." What they are really saying is, "Please praise me for this thing I have done." And if you just want to show off, then fine. Let me be the first to shake your hand, pat you on the back and say "Well done. You did a thing!" Just don't ask for honest or critical feedback if you don't want it.

But coming back to that statement ("It's my style.") I find myself wondering if this is ever a good excuse. Can style break the rules and create good writing? Well, yeah. Sometimes it does, although let's just clarify that by saying quality of writing is something of a subjective notion. Still, a lot of people seem to like Ulysses and that certainly sacrificed a lot for style. Catcher in The Rye makes use of passive voice as a stylistic choice to define the narrator. There's a lot to be said for style.

So then, I guess the question is, when does style win?

Or, perhaps the better question is, when is it okay to break the rules? Rules are, of course, made to be broken. I've gone on record as saying the rule "Show, don't tell." can, often is and should be broken. But that doesn't make it any less a "Rule for Good Writing" (somebody suggest a better name. Something snappy.) So when can we break those rules?

Um... I don't know. Nope. Sorry, I don't have a clean cut answer for this. You'll have to figure it out for yourself. I mean, I break the rules. When do I do it? I do it when it works. But when it works to break a rule can't be easily defined. It depends on what and how you're writing.

Fortunately, what I can do, is help guide you in deciding whether or not you're going to be a rule breaker.

#1: Don't do it often. Be sparing in how and when you break the rules. The standard style in which you write - that is, your default voice and use of language - should not be built on breaking the rules.

#2: Know the rules. There are rules and you should follow them. They're easy to learn. The rules are important. Use active voice. Kill ugly adverbs. Show, don't tell. Start as late in the story as you can. Engage all your reader's senses. Pick a tense and stick to it. The verb goes between the subject and the object of your sentence. The full stop goes at the end of your sentence. These are all rules. Know them. Obey them.

#3: Understand the rules. It's not enough to go around reciting the mantra "Adverbs are bad. No words ending in -ly." Pick up a dictionary and learn what an adverb is. Not all adverbs end in -ly and not all words that end in -ly are adverbs. Not all adverbs are bad, either. But a clunky adverb in the wrong place can be damaging to your writing. We're told to gut our work of these menaces for a good reason. They're ugly, clunky and often unnecessary. You never need to tell me that "John ran quickly down the road." because by using the word "ran" I know he's going "quickly"

#4: Know what you want to accomplish with breaking the rules. Are you doing it to set a tone? Are you doing it to emphasise a point? Is it important to charaterise your narrator? Is it funny? Is it exciting? "It's my style." is not a reason. Don't break the rules to stand out. Break the rules because it adds more than it subtracts from your work.

#5: Don't do it at all. Don't break the rules. Find a way around it. Find an option that does what you want without breaking the rules. Rethink your plan. Go back to the drawing board. Explore your options. Look for an equally effective way to tell your story, the way you want to tell it, without breaking the rules.

And finally, go ahead and smash them. Rip them out, break them in half and stomp them into the dirt. Rules? Fuck the rules. You are the master of your own destiny. Sometimes the best option is to kick tradition right in its pudgy, decrepit arse.

Rules can be broken, they are broken and they should be broken. If it makes your writing stronger and your story better, then do it. But before you can be sure that it's the best move, you need to understand why so many writers who came before you have learned them, followed them and passed them down. The wisdom of the ages should not be ignored. Only when you understand what those rules mean and what they do for your writing, can you see how breaking them might add to your work.

And don't ever, ever do it because it's your "style." That's your style? Sorry, buster. Your style sucks.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Writers Group

I don't regret leaving Deviant Art. It's been great for my procrastination. But it did leave a hole in my life. So I recently joined a writers group. I did this once before. That was six years ago and it was so horrible that I never wanted anything to do wither writers groups again. This group is different though. It's made up of people I already know an am friends with, all with varying skill and experience as writers. Also, it's primarily done online, so we can fit it around all our schedules. There's also a policy of anonymity, so the work we share and the work we review is not attached to any person in particular. I guess the idea is that it is easier to give and take criticism if you don't know exactly who it's coming from. We're also all adults, so that should help. Anyway. It's a unique approach to a writer's group. We have our own private little forum space on the internet to share and communicate. The only reason I dared to join again is because it is made up of people I already know and form my day to day social circle.

I'll let you know how it goes in the future. But now let me tell you about the last group I was a part of. This was the writer's group from hell. So let me set the scene. It is the hottest part of summer here in Sydney, Australia. That means we're in the low 40 degrees celcius range and the humidity could drown you. It's around eight in the morning and I have the biggest hang over of my life and all of about four hours of sleep. That right there should be enough reason to kill myself rather than go anywhere on this morning, but I agreed (the night before) to go along to this writer's group that a friend of mine has just joined (thanks to another friend of hers). So there's the connection. A friend of a friend of mine is part of a writer's group. My friend has been once before and now I'm going along. The writers group meets at a little cafe in the inner-west, about an hour's drive from my quaint little suburban home. Normally I'd get the train and it'd be a smooth, air conditioned ride with lots of space to spread out because nobody travels that early on a weekend morning, unless there's something big happening. That weekend there wasn't, so the train would be a comfortable way to travel. But we're not going by train. My friend, we'll call her Jessy, has arranged with her friend, we'll call her Lillith, Queen of the Demons, to pick us up and drive us there. This won't cut much time out of the journey but it will get us close to the door of where we're going. Sounds good. So I meet Jessy at the appointed meeting place and Lillith, Queen of the Demons arrives to pick us up in her car. Her old, old, old, old, probably has a horse powered steam engine, badly in need of replacing, doesn't work car. This car does not really have working windows and the air conditioning isn't so much an air conditioner as it is a set of sporadically working fans. It's all pleather interior and was made in the days before they tinted windows to stop the sun from smiling its murderous smile down upon you. So the car is hot and sticky and uncomfortable and I am hating every waking moment of my life. But Jessy and I climb about Lillith, Queen of the Demons' carriage to hell and we set off. Lillith, Queen of the Demons introduces herself to me and asks how I am and tells me that normally people coming to the writer's group bring a story to show off and talk about and everyone exchanges criticisms. The usual stuff you'd expect. She says because it is my first time, they wouldn't expect me to bring anything. I did bring something, but I don't say that just yet. I don't say anything, really. Me saying something would require a pause in the conversation and I am not afforded any such luxuries. And then Lillith, Queen of the Demons starts talking to Jessy. And she talks the whole drive to the cafe. We arrive at the cafe an eternity later. There's already some people there with a table for us. It doesn't take long before we've all arrived, we're all sitting down and we've ordered breakfast. Some people open up their bags and take out their writing pieces for this week's meeting. One woman doesn't take out any writing, but she does take out a notebook she bought and she starts showing it off. Everyone here, of course, also has a notebook that they can compare it to and talk about. They all agree that having a notebook is great and useful and it's what all the professionals do. Ugh... So I'm going to skip ahead a bit now. This is because, over the next hour and a half, a number of things happen. 1. Breakfast does not come. 2. Nobody talks about writing. 3. Lillith, Queen of the Demons does not stop talking. In fact, Lillith, Queen of the Demons hasn't stopped talking since I met her. The moment we got in the car with her, she began talking and she does not stop. Eventually she runs out of opinions and anecdotes and I hear her begin again from the beginning, talking about the things she spoke about in the car. It's like she's on some kind of loop. A loop designed to make me suffer. It is now I realised that I have given myself alcohol poisoning and I am dead. I am dead and this is hell. No. This can't be hell. Firstly because their are too many cute waitresses in denim hotpants for this to be hell. Secondly because nobody is deserving of this kind of hell. No god would be so cruel. No, this kind of suffering can only happen in our living, mortal realm. Only humans no how to create torture this horrible. Death and a swift deliverance unto hell would be a release at this point. There the devil and I could commiserate on my drawn out suffering. But eventually breakfast comes. A bacon and egg sandwich that would have gone so well with my coke if I hadn't already finished it. I'm too hung over to taste the greasy goodness of my breakfast, but not so hung over that I can't feel it when it burns the roof of my mouth. The clock ticks by and I see that we've been there for two hours now. That's in addition to the hour it took us to get there. I am no less uncomfortable or hung over but I hate everything a little more with each passing second. I begin to wish I could somehow harness the ticking of my watch and create some kind of watch ticking death ray that I could use to kill everybody around me. Headline: Man in subdued rage kills everybody in Newtown cafe, including himself, with bizarre watch weapon. Headline: Newspaper forgets how to make snappy headlines. Finally somebody suggests they talk about writing. Oh thank God. I've already read everbody's contribution at this point. Several times, in fact. I'll go through them one by one. First was my friend Jessy's. It was twilight fanfiction starring herself. Actually, that's not quite right. It wasn't Twilight fan fiction because that has some level of self-awareness and uses the Twilight setting. She had just rewritten Twilight, but instead of being about Bella, she had written it about herself. Instead of it being set in school, it was set in her workplace. I point this out to her and she explains to me that it can't be any kind of Twilight fanfiction because the main character, totally not her, is reading Twilight in the story. ... Headline: Man uses amateur writer's work to make an oragami knife and commit seppuku The next piece to come around is the work of Lillith, Queen of the Demons herself. It's not actually a story. It is an outline of a story. Actually, it is an outline of a scene. There is no beginning, middle or end, here. At the very most, this piece would be a flash fiction. It is not a major effort. Oh and it's also about her. It's some kind of auto-biographical memoir of her sad memories of being a childhood. I'm sure it's very cathartic for her to write. Or rather, I'm sure it would be very cathartic for her to write if she had actually written it. Instead she wrote a page long outline for what would be a page long story. Why? And she had a whole week to work on this! I know all about busy schedules but it's not like this writer's meeting snuck up on her! She knew this was coming! She could have written a draft of this the night before. Hell, if she'd taken the train, she could have written it on the train over. Sigh. Finally, we come to the last piece. That's right, only three people brought work to contribute. I don't remember the exact numbers for this meet up but including myself, there were at least six people. I think there were more but it was so long ago, I can't be sure. That means that, excluding the new guy (me) there were five regular members of this group and slightly more than half had written anything. In fact, one of them had only written half of something so it sort of balances out to being 2.5 out of 5 pieces that there should have been. It's a writers group. Writers group. Writers. AS IN YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO WRITE SOMETHING!!! Anyway. This last guy is an American and the only other male in the group besides me. I'm not making a point about Americans, I just need to refer to him as something and "The American" will do. To his credit, the American has gone to some effort to write something. It's about six pages long. Six pages double spaced in size 14 font but still six pages. And it is an essay. Sort of. It's not really a formal essay in any way, it doesn't put forth any arguments, introduce them, explore them, provide argument or evidence for them and conclude on anything. So maybe we won't call it an essay. It's a monologue. It's his train of thought. It is the American thinking onto the page and typing it out. It's about time. He has gotten all waxing philosophical about time and what it is and how we define it and how it affects us and if it is real or if it is a construct. All very interesting ideas worthy of consideration and examination. You could do a whole thesis on the way time is perceived in a social and cultural sense. Well, maybe you could. I probably couldn't. The American couldn't either. Instead, he just waffles on for six pages and then stops abruptly having gone nowhere, accomplished nothing and said very little, creating no insight and reaching no depth. Now I don't remember what anybody else said about the other work or what they thought about each other's contributions or lack-there-of. To be honest, I wasn't listening. But I do remember what everyone said about the American's piece. "You should submit that." He should submit it? He should submit that? To WHO!? It's not fiction, it's not an article, it's not an essay. It's baring coherent! This offers nothing to an audience! Nobody wants to read this. I don't even want to read it and I read it three times! He should submit that? And no, they don't say where he should submit it to. There's no details. No suggestion of magazine or website or journal. He should just "submit that." Sigh. Deep breaths. Shortly after, we wrapped up and everyone went their separate ways. Jessy apologised for inviting me along and said she'd never go back either. This is why I'm friends with her and not Lillith, Queen of the Demons. Twilight addiction aside, she's got some sense in her. I never went back either and, fortunately, Lillith, Queen of the Demons had other places to be and couldn't give either Jessy or I a lift back to our neighbourhood. So we caught the train and it was a smooth, breezey ride all the way home. This whole experience, which I lovingly refer to as my journey to hell and back, turned me off the idea of writers groups for a long time. Forever, really. I would never have joined one again unless I knew every person in it. I occasionally tell this story to entertain people. It makes a good little party anecdote. But I don't do it to make fun of the people in the writer's group. I want to make that absolutely clear. They all were enjoying themselves and they all liked writing and sharing their writing with each other and talking about being writers. In my experience, these people are the standard. This is what your average amateur hobbyist writer looks like. They like to sit around, encourage each other, share their work when they occasionally get around to producing some. They stare dreamy eyed at this big world of professional writers that they want to emulate but never dare to think they could really be part of it. It's just a pleasant day dream on the morning commute, while they think about the fantastic books they'll write if they can just find the time. They're more interested in being a writer than in doing any writing. I don't begrudge or judge them their pleasure in any way. But it's not for me. When I get together with a bunch of writers to talk about writing, I'd like to actually talk about writing. It's not a lot to ask. So I joined a writers group. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Write Fan Fiction

I have written fan fiction. To my knowledge, I have written four pieces of fan fiction in my life. I might be forgetting something, but I don't think so. Anyway, I'm not ashamed or embarassed that I've been a writer of fan fiction. I've also read a lot more fan fiction that I've written. I used to read fan fiction all the time. Fan fiction, if it's good, can be a great way to revisit a world that the original author has left behind. Those same characters and places and times offer so many more potential stories than any one author could write. Fan fiction is harmless fun and I fully endorse it. And I endorse you writing it. Yes, you, the serious writer, the would-be author, the professional aspirant. Write some fan fiction. Why you ask? Why put time into this? Why sully your good name? Well first of all, you don't need to share it. I shared mine the way I did because some folks wanted to read it and so I could make this point I'm about to make. So this can be our dirty little secret. Secondly, you need to experiment. You need to push yourself and challenge yourself and strive to be better. You need to go outside your comfort zone and do something new from time to time. Short stories are great for this kind of thing. Short Stories allow you to explore new ideas and techniques and genres without committing to writing 80,000 words of experimentation. Unless you want 80,000 words of experimentation. I've done that too. "But Carl, how does all this relate to fan fiction?" Look, nameless voice of the confused audience, you need to get past this prejudice you have against Fan Fiction before we go on. Even if you don't hate the notion of fan fiction and think it's harmless fun, there's still a good chance you think it's the land of young women living out their Twilight bondage fantasies, die hard Naruto loving japanophiles with not actual interest in literature or syntax or even just a "good jumping off point" before people become serious writers. I've heard all the reasons to hate, ignore, disregard, discount, look down on or patronise fan fiction and fan fiction writers. There's nothing you can tell me that I haven't heard and you're still looking at it the wrong way. Instead, start looking at fan fiction as a pre-packaged setting. You open the box marked "Harry Potter" and you have a world, a history, characters, rules, events and everything else that you need to begin telling a story. All you've got to do is mix in your own fresh ideas and tell your Harry Potter story. And those ideas - those oh so necessary creations plucked from your imagination - are what separates fan fiction from canon. New ideas are not optional when writing fan fiction. And those new ideas can be character archetypes you don't usually write, narrative voices you don't usually use, genres you're uncomfortable with, obscure themes you're not sure how to explore. When you begin writing a story from scratch, be it a short story, a novel or a play, you really are beginning with a blank sheet of paper. Everything that goes onto that paper has to come from somewhere inside you. You have to make the people, the places, the past, present and future, you have to make the heroes and the villains, you have to create the mood, the imagery, you have to come up with the themes and how you're going to explore and argue those themes, you have to give everyone names and personalities and purpose. I don't need to tell you that writing happens to be a shit load of work. Fan fiction fills in some of those blanks for you. It gives you more time to focus on a few key ideas that you want to experiment with. That's the beauty of fan fiction. Don't ever stop experimenting and don't let your prejudices get in the way of something that might help you to improve as a writer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

You're Supposed To Be Enjoying Yourself

Are you having fun? The author Joe Konrath came up with an idea some time ago called the "Eight Hour E-Book". It pretty much does what it says on the label. It's a challenge for authors to write, edit, format and publish an e-book in eight hours. Many of the readers on his blog did exactly that and in the space of one or two days, the kindle store had an influx of simple, often crude, often humerous and generally low quality e-books that authors had made in eight hours. He did this for a couple of reasons. Konrath wanted to make a point about the nature of the e-book market and his point was valid and worth exploring but it is also a topic for another time. The second reason he did this was because a lot of authors and aspiring authors follow his blog and he wanted to remind everybody that they should be having fun when they write. And that's a point that can't be stressed enough. I was going to talk about fan fiction today, but I'll do that next time. Today I want to make the same point that Konrath made with his Eight Hour E-Book Challenge. That point is: Writing should be fun. I swear, lately I feel like I've died and been damned to the hell of eternal editing. Don't get me wrong, I like editing as much as the next guy and I think editing is important, but by the twelfth time you're rewritten the same chapter, it's lost a lot of the artistic romance. If you ever get to this point, it's probably time you did something to rekindle that fire of passion that got you started. Write something just for fun. Writing should be fun. If you're not doing this for fun, why are you doing it? If you're like me, you've had your eyes on the prize for a long time. You want to be a professional author. You want to create work of quality. You want other people to read your work and you want them to enjoy said work. But hold on, let's go back to the beginning. Why did you start writing? Why did you decide that this is what you want to do? One day I'll give you the full story of how I started writing but for now, the short version of my story is probably the short version of your story. You started on this path of the literary artiste because you were having fun with words and telling stories. At least, I certainly hope that's why you got started. If not, then I'm afraid I've got some bad news. Creative writing is not the path to fame, glory, wealth and women. Actually, it might get you women, but not the fame, wealth and glory part. Writing is not the best way to leave your mark on history. Odds are, even if you're successful enough to be a full time professional writer, you still won't live a life of fame, riches, glory and women. Okay, there's still a good chance for women, but that's all. So if nothing else, you want to be having fun, right? Now, you probably don't need me to say "Hey, have fun!" because everybody likes fun and fun is reason enough to have fun. But there is another reason to keep having fun when you write. Your readers know if you were enjoying it. You've probably read something, where you reached a point and it became crystal clear to you that the author had stopped caring. When the author doesn't enjoy writing, the audience doesn't enjoy reading it. There's no life, no care, no interest in its creation and that is apparent on the other side of the process. Your writing will be better if you are having fun writing it. Reading should be enjoyable but their enjoyment begins with you enjoying the creative process! So have fun. If you don't feel like you're having fun, then you're doing something wrong. Fix that. Stop what you're doing and find the fun. It could be that you've spent far too long in editing and you need to do something new. Maybe you need to do something silly and frivolous. Maybe back of the emotional character drama and work on something you wouldn't normally do. Something like, oh, say, I don't know, a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan fiction. You never know what could happen. Then, when you've reminded yourself how much fun writing is, go back and keep working on the other stuff. Or do an Eight Hour E-Book. Whatever it is you need to do, do it. Find the fun. Writing should be fun. So go have some fun.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Death of Summer Sprinkles

So, a little while ago, while laying around sick, possibly with a mild fever, I came up with a couple of crazy ideas. Well, I say they were crazy but they seemed great at the time.

The first was a mash-up of Mortal Kombat and Spongebob Squarepants. The second one was a My Little Pony Neo-Noir murder mystery.

That second idea stuck.

Despite really only having an opening in mind and still feeling pretty awful, I decided to start writing. And I kept writing. Before I knew it, this silly short story had grown to be well over 10,000 words long. Not such a short story after all. Better yet, it actually wasn't bad. Well, if you can look past the absurdity of it all, it's not bad. So I kept writing it and writing it and before long, it had become a 21,000 word novella. It was a lot of fun to write and it has been some of my most productive writing in a while. It's silly but some parts of it are pretty good, if I do say so, myself.

It has been years since I wrote any fan fiction and it will probably be years before I write it again. After all this time, I can both see why it still has a lot of appeal and also why I've never really been interested in it. I've also learned a lot more about My Little Pony and the brony fandom than I did before I began writing.

Yes, even Fan Fiction needs researching. Take note, kids.

Anyway. The completed work (and when I say "completed" I mean as completed as I'll ever get a piece of fan fiction. It's been only lightly edited, but the story is complete.) has been uploaded to my rarely used Figment account for all to see. It's called The Death of Summer Sprinkles

Friday, July 4, 2014

I'm Going To Leave Deviant Art

For nine years, I've been a member of the website Deviant Art and an active participant in the literature community. However, I have decided to leave.

For the next week, my reasons will be on my Deviant Art blog. After that week, I will be deactivating my account.

I will continue to use this blog into the future. I will continue to write and create works I hope people will enjoy. I will continue to write my thoughts on the art of writing and try to teach what I know to anyone wanting to learn from my experience.

But my online gallery at Deviant Art will be gone.

I may continue to post pieces of fiction online. In fact, there is one big piece I am working on now, which I will find a way to share with the internet, but beyond that, I make no guarantees. My focus, for a long time, has been on providing publishing worthy material and that will continue to be my focus.

That is all for now. I will see you in THE FUTURE!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I have been Pony-fied

This weekend just passed, I attended Sydney Supanova Pop Culture Expo with Winter City Productions, the publishing company that produces Winter City - a comic I have been co-writing for years now. Winter City Productions also launched two new titles (Mechanical Knight and Left Hand Path) which I do not write, but are still very cool. It was a big success and much fun was had by all.

But possibly the coolest part of the whole weekend, was walking away with this artwork I commissioned from a lady who goes by the handle DawnAllies. I owe her not only many thanks, but also a few apologies for being extremely vague in describing what I wanted from her in a pony picture. Given the random collection of colours I suggested she use, she did nothing short of an amazing job.

That's really all I wanted to share with you. I'll catch you next time.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Soap Box: Wealth, Luck and Privilege

There seems to be some confusion, especially in the wake of recent tragedy and internet discussion, about the term privilege. As with many of the world's confusions and arguments, a lot of this seems to come down to poor communication. I think a lot of people are uncertain on the definitions of luck, wealth, and privilege as it applies to us and especially in the context of something like gender relations, social status and global economics.

So I think the best way to talk about this is, for the most part, to talk about myself. This is something I can do with relative certainty. I'm also a good example of somebody who is wealthy, privileged and lucky. But let's begin by defining that.

If you are reading this blog on a computer, on the internet, in your own home, on an internet connection you have paid for, then you are wealthy. If you are reading this on a mobile phone, you are wealthy. Congratulations. Welcome to the wealthy club. Here's your membership card, let me show you where the toilets are and I'll introduce you.

I'm wealthy. I make less than the median yearly income for New South Wales. I make just over half of it, in fact, and that has not always been the case. Not by a long shot. Together with my wife's income, we about make average. This also hasn't always been the case. According to some definitions, this is Relative Poverty. I have lived in this "relative poverty". But at no point did this "relative poverty" stop me from eating, going to bed with a pillow and a blanket or waking up in the morning and not having breakfast. I have always been wealthy. Even in my hardest struggles and least paid weeks, I have gotten by with only a little sweat.

Wealth does not mean you own three cars, have your parents pay for your University degree, go on holidays every six months, flying first class, living in the best part of town in an eight bedroom home. Those people are wealthy, yes. Some of those people are obscenely wealthy and far better off than most of us. But if you can afford to eat regularly, if you're buying new clothes when the old ones wear out and if you're reading this blog on your own device, in a home your own or rent, on an internet connection you've paid for, then you are wealthy. End of story.

And if you're wealthy, there's a good chance that you are lucky. If you come from a family that has always lived in those conditions of wealth, then you are lucky. If you were born in a country that has running water, then you are lucky. If you are born in a country that lets you vote for more than one government party, then you are lucky. If you can get a job that lets you sit at a desk and where a white collar and push buttons on a keyboard all day, then you're pretty lucky. Your wealth depends a lot on luck.

If you are white, you are lucky. If you are heterosexual, you are lucky. If you are male, you are lucky. If you are all of those, you are lucky. If you are just one or two of those things and not the other, you are lucky.

I am all three of them and, as I said, I am also wealthy. I also live in a country where I can vote, where I can opine about religion and politics and the taste of canned tuna and feel assured that I'm not going to be executed or imprisoned for it. I can disagree with my country and my government, hell, I can and often do come right out and say that I don't like my country or my government and nobody can do a thing about it. I have running water, stable electricity, public schooling and a white collar job. I am lucky.

I am not proud or ashamed of my luck. Neither should you be. You did nothing to earn it. It was not something you chose or something you can control. You were just lucky.

Finally we come to that bastard of a word, privilege. Again, if you are lucky and wealthy, then you are privileged. See how all these things sort of got together? You are lucky to be privileged and privileged to be lucky.

The Oxford Dictionary describes Privilege thusly:
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group:

So now we ask, what special right, advantage or immunity I am granted by being me?

When I've finished writing this blog about how I and all the people who look like me are privileged, I might be called a nasty name. I might be viciously disagreed with. But nobody is going to threaten to rape me. And if they did, the chances of it happening are really, REALLY small. If someone threatens to rape me, I can walk out of my house, go about my life and generally not worry that it will happen to me. Sure it might, but it probably won't. It certainly doesn't happen with enough statistic significance for me to worry about it.

Likewise I might get murdered, mugged or assaulted. I might enter into a domestic relationship with a violent alcoholic who routinely beats me. But it's not likely. It's just as unlikely that I will ever see it happen or know somebody like me who has one through it. This is a privilege I have by being male.

There's also a good chance that I will earn more in any job I take, be hired over somebody else of equal capabilities and if I have a child, nobody will care if I choose to continue working a job or become a stay at home parent. Whatever I choose will be my business and nobody will scrutinise it or comment on how it reflects on me and my gender identity.

As a white heterosexual, I will never be called "evil" because of who I love. I will probably reach the end of my life without suffering abuse because of how I look. Nobody will say, "He talks really well, for a white guy." or "It's good to see a white person breaking out of that culture."

This is privilege. These are privileges you get by being lucky. It is nothing to do with you or the choices you made. You don't need to defend being privileged, because you didn't do anything to get these privileges. All you need to do is acknowledge that you are privileged and accept that not everybody is as lucky as you, and we should probably see about changing that.

Okay, listen, I've spoken about me and I've explained what these terms mean. Now I want to speak directly to all you other straight white males in the first world. Listening?

It's been popular, lately, to say that we're playing life on easy. That's catchy and all, but there is that kind of uncomfortable undertone that makes it sound insulting. So let's get clear of that idea. Nobody is playing life on easy. Life is not easy. Life is a bitch. It is a bigger bitch for some people and less of a bitch for others.

You and me, though, we are social vanilla. We are the baseline. Everything else is compared to us and right now, the world makes a lot of judgments as to how different groups of people add to or subtract from vanilla. We are the majority. We are the uninteresting, safe, catch all group. When you don't want to offend someone or make a loud statement, or you don't want to risk serving a flavour nobody likes, you serve vanilla. That's you and me, my straight white male in the developed world brother.

And being vanilla is the biggest privilege of all. Congratulations.

Now that you understand what being wealthy, privileged or lucky means, you can enter into the discourse like an educated adult. Now it's time to start thinking about whether or not a select few being wealthy, privileged and lucky is fair. Some people are suggesting that you and I share our privelege around. Some people are suggesting that even if we don't get down and pull them up to our fortune, we at least recognise the hand they've been dealt in life is not as good as ours.

They don't want to bring you down. They don't want to take something away from you. They're not criticising you. Right now there's this big discussion going on about misogyny and violence against women. Before you start to get defensive and deny your privilege, before you say something stupid like "I'm not that guy.", "I would never..." or "Not all of us..." you need to understand that this conversation is not about you. This is a conversation about big problems in society. The only reason you're being invited into this conversation is because you might have the wealth, luck and privilege to lend a hand and share that wealth, luck and privilege around.

But if you're not interested, don't be a dick and try and invalidate the discussion. If you don't want to get involved, then just shut up and go find a conversation you are interested in. Nobody wants you here if you don't want to be. It's not about you.

Okay. I think we've got everything cleared up. You can not go on with your life, acting like an informed adult. Best of luck to you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Challenge Yourself

Cough. Cough.

So... How you doin'?

Read any books lately? Yeah? Cool.

Read any books that blew your mind? Read any books that made you uncomfortable? Read any books that confused you? Read any books that you didn't like?

Yeah? No?

Well, here's something you should do. Find a book from another country and read that. Oh yeah, and it can't be a country that speaks the same language as you. That means that if you're an American, reading a book from England doesn't count. I want you to dig up a book written by a German, or a Chinese book or a Norweigan book. It can be translated into English. That's fine. It just can't be a book written in your language. The more recent the book, the better.

Here's the thing:

The world is big. There are a lot of people in the world. Those people can be roughly divided into cultures and cultures are often defined by a common location, time and language. What is normal and common and reasonable in your culture may not necessarily be normal, common or reasonable in another culture and, more importantly, what is normal, common and reasonable in one culture may not be normal, common or reasonable in your culture.

Still with me?

Let me boil it down. PEOPLE ARE WEIRD. You don't know how weird until you witness it and literature is a good way to witness what is going in at a given time in a culture. I'm not saying that one book will give you deep insight into how other people live, but it's a start. A book from another culture will give you new ways of looking at the world, new ideas of how people can act and think. The way a story is written and the kind of story being told will be influenced by the culture the author comes from.

If you're a writer, or even if you just like books, you should be reading broadly. That means you should read multiple genres, read fiction and non-fiction and read books from across time and from across cultures. Everything you read will teach you something new and take your mind in ways you might not have taken it all by your lonesome.

Okay.  So that's it. Go find a book and read it now. I'm going back to whatever it was I was doing. I'll catch you next time.

Happy reading.