Closure

A couple weeks ago someone from the RA fanbase contacted me to check in and see how I was since apparently my silence has raised some concern among some folks. I appreciated that. 🙂

She also mentioned by JPK/J fanfics which I wrote oh so long ago and left the last one unfinished. Ever since she mentioned it to me, JP has been popping up in my dreams. Not like, every night, but enough for me to think my subconscious is telling me something.

So yes, I will finish the last JPK/J fanfic, JPJ: India.

Now this is straight up author insertion/fantasy (or at least an idealized version thereof, but not as idealized as y’know, a full blown Mary Sue), so I know that is not for everyone. Totally understandable. But obviously, this is something I gotta do no matter how potentially embarrassing it is. 😀

If anything, maybe it will help kick start writing again.

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Decisions

Last year was just wretched and took a lot out of me, and just the time off over the holidays…

…and a new muse…

Athos

Dear Sir, I have a bodice in dire need of ripping. Please attend, soonish. Yours, Kip

…got me writing (a bit) again (something I have not enjoyed in years). On the advice of my friend, my shrink and one of the faculty members here, I’m taking at least this semester off to recoup and regroup.

And write.

My problem is I suck at being proactive and self-motivating (I don’t have an instant gratification monkey, I have an instant gratification gorilla), and I need a schedule/structure to function best. Being on the ship taught me that, so I have to create some kind of schedule and stick to it.

How to NOT Handle Reviews, or Lack Thereof

I know I have been very quiet. It’s been a busy and dark couple months for me. And then there is the news (Think of the treatment of Eric Garner vs. the treatment of Cliven Bundy and the militia who rallied to his cause and tell me there isn’t a problem with racism in our justice system). After I wrap up my term paper and final next week, I will be back to blogging regularly.

However, I had to break my silence for this: A picture perfect example of how authors can become complete and total jackasses.

Best Selling Author Throws Fit Over Meaningless New York Times List

This actually beats the famous Jacqueline Howett/Greek Seaman Meltdown of 2011.

This is why I tend to keep a step back from reviews in general, even at this lowly stage. I appreciate that people have enjoyed my work and the kindness in their good reviews, but I have seen too many artists at varying levels become encapsulated in a bubble of praise to the point that they overestimate their talent and skills. (And the more famous they are, the more protected they are from even objective criticism.) So many people tell them they are awesome that they become a legend in their own mind and when a more critical reviewer, or reality in general, comes around they can’t handle it with maturity and objectivity. Their world is shattered and they react like this.

I have even seen some writers become worse because they assume that everything they do is wonderful and they stop trying.

Enjoy good reviews, but don’t live off them. In fact, it is wise to sometimes put yourself in places where people are going to be objective and pick your work to pieces, like a roundtable/workshop. It’s hard to improve surrounded by people who do nothing but blow sunshine up your skirts.

And once you get to the publishing stage where people are paying for your work, don’t respond to any review, good or bad. Rejoice over them, rage over them, cry over them, learn from them, Privately. Do NOT respond to them.

BWA-Hahahahahaha!

Lady Danger by Glynnis Campbell

Deirdre of Rivenloch — a beautiful female warrior — has never had trouble turning away men, but when she marries the powerful Sir Pagan Cameliard to save her sister, Deirdre soon finds herself losing the battle over her heart…Born to the blade and raised to fear no one, Deirdre of Rivenloch never shies away from a fight and never turns her back on a threat to her land or her family. But she’s never met a man like Sir Pagan Cameliard, the bold and powerful knight who comes at the king’s command to make a marriage alliance with Rivenloch. To save her younger sister, Deirdre tricks Pagan into marrying her instead, and now she faces a new kind of enemy who crosses swords with her by day and lays siege to her heart by night.

First of all, “Deirdre” is an Irish Name. Irish and Scottish are NOT the same thing. Deirdre and Naoise or “Deirdre of the Sorrows,” is a famous and incredibly tragic Irish legend that would later (probably) become the template for Tristan and Isolde. (I was almost named “Deirdre” and my father nixed the idea because he did not want to curse me with that legacy.) According to the Amazon description of the novel series, Miss Rivenloch has sisters named “Helena” (Latin) and “Miriel”…which is fucking Tolkien Elvish! (Miriel was the wife of Finwae). “Meriel” was the form of “Muriel” in Scotland.

Secondly, no. No female warriors in early Medieval Scotland.

I get the fun and socially-necessary role breaking of the female warrior archetype. But it has become so common I begin to worry that society is losing sight of the idea that one does not have to wield a blade (and one could say take on a traditionally, stereotypical male role) in order to be “strong.” There were many strong women in the Middle Ages; Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hildegarde of Bingen, Margery Kempe, Isabella of France, Christine de Pizan, Joanna I of Naples. They just did not go onto the battlefield, even Scottish women. And the very rare ones that did, such as Eleanor’s daughter, Joan of England or Nicolaa de la Haye, did not actually swing a sword but led through strategy and tactics. Women, and men, do not have to be violent in order to show strength.

Three, no Cameliard. That’s the mythical kingdom in Wales or Cornwall that Arthur’s Guinevere came from.

But at least make him Sir Pagan OF Cameliard since it’s a place, not a family name.

(Of course, when I see that name, a small voice says “Canard” and “Sir Duck.”)

“Pagan” was actually a medieval male given name that survived until the 17th century when the term become loaded with its anti-christian implication.

Four, why would a Scot marry his daughter to an Englishman, thereby losing the family land to the English upon his death?

In short, I will not be reading this novel. The description alone was entertainment enough.

Side note: I was going to include a “marriage trick” in my novel (and I had a couple wonderfully funny scenes written…o.k., they were funny to me), but now I see how cliche’d it is in the historical romance genre, including horrible ones. I think I will kill that darling.

Handle With Care: Honesty is Compassion

This is a daily prompt.

How are you at receiving criticism? Do you prefer that others treat you with kid gloves, or go for brutal honesty?

First of all, in writing I have encountered many who put their work out there for the world to see, and yet do not expect or desire any criticism. Some have even stated this quite openly. “Only positive comments please!”

Art doesn’t work that way. Art is not about communicating with yourself. It is not even about communicating with just your family and friends who know you and where you are coming from. It is about communicating with the world. If what you are trying to say is not coming across to the random passer-by who is looking at your work completely cold, then it is not working and you need to go back to the drawing board and try again.

And when you put your work out into the world, you can’t just demand everyone love it or shut up. The world doesn’t work that way.

Too often I have seen artists get lazy and some actually get worse when surrounded by people who do nothing but blow smoke up their skirts. If one wants to improve as an artist they have to be able to take criticism. Period. End of. You can not expect to get better by only listening to people praise you.

Is all criticism valid? No. But you learn to suss out what is personal taste or snark vs. what is legit criticism.

“This book is horrible because this character cheated on her boyfriend and we’re expected to sympathize with a cheater!” is a matter of personal taste, the writer’s ethics clashing with that particular reader’s who can’t cope with a heroine engaging in a, perhaps misguided, act of autonomy. Toss that sort of criticism aside.

“This book doesn’t work for me because the character is unsympathetic. It felt like she was cheating on him out of petty revenge. If it was more than that her emotions and reasoning isn’t there” is legit criticism. The writer failed to communicate the character’s motivations.

How is a writer going to learn and get better if they can’t listen to that?

If you do not desire the feedback of the masses, then you should just circulate your work among friends who will choose kindness over honesty. Though personally, I think honesty is the true kindness.

On a personal level I am bull-headed and sometimes a bit dense. Sometimes very dense. Rolling up in my grill to lay it out, plain as day, is often the only thing that will get through and make me learn.

When I was 30, I went out to lunch with an older friend of mine. I got on a rant about how horrible men where. All the men I had dated were either losers, emotionally dysfunctional or outright cads. Men sucked.

My friend said quietly, “Kip, the only constant in all those relationships was you.”

Was I mad? Oh, yeah.

He had been very sympathetic and supportive with me during my last breakup, so him smacking me across the face (metaphorically) like that was a shock.  But after sputtering protests and snark and then stewing in silence, I later realized he had a point. I chose those men, I helped shape those dysfunctional relationships. I needed to look at why.

If he had stayed silent, continuing to do nothing but balm my wounds, would that have truly been helpful? Would I have learned anything from my experiences other than anger and mistrust? Maybe someday I would have realized my responsibility in these relationships by myself, but how many more crappy relationships would I have had before that happened?

(And that is beside the BF who simply didn’t communicate if I was doing something that bothered him. I had one BF that never complained about anything I was doing, but went out and cheated on me. It didn’t come out until the break up when it was too late. How the hell was I supposed to fix it if he didn’t tell me that what I was doing was really bothering him?)

And recently I did chose tact over honesty, trying to gently hint. It resulted in a ugly situation where the person proceeded on a path I did not agree with, that was potentially harmful to someone else and themselves. When I finally put my foot down, they felt betrayed. They and the situation would have been better served with honesty at the start, not at the end.

And again, I have learned to suss out what is legit criticism from people just being mean-spirited. Is my being overweight (and I am, and I am working on that) harming anyone else in any way? No. Do you think you are telling me something I don’t know? No. Then why bring it up except to be nasty? Go away now. Shoo.

Honesty means a great deal to me, it is vitally important. I think it is perhaps the most important quality any relationship, or it runs a near second to “being equals.”

So be honest with me. I need it. And you aren’t going to get through any other way.

How Not to End a Story

I finished The Plague Forge, the last book in Jason Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle. And while I am not angry and do not regret reading the series, for on all other points he scored very high, I am disappointed. I am reposting my review from GoodReads here because I know some of the people following this blog are writers and this is a good lesson of how NOT to handle resolving a story.

Warning: Spoilers.

>This final installment in the Dire Earth trilogy has many of the same good points of the first two books: The compelling mystery of the builders, the well-drawn characters, first rate action, great visuals, the tension and jeopardy of the race between the two factions trying to complete the puzzle in time with no idea of the outcome. And the outcome of the mystery is unexpected. I also give Hough points for breaking up the unlikely romantic pairing of the first book and keeping them broken up, allowing them to find mates with whom they shared more common ground. And for making a character that was a bastard in the first novel become more three-dimensional and redeem himself. And it was kicked off by him getting what he wants. That was an unusual character arc that Hough made work.

However…

The detail did become excessive. We do not need a map of every corridor the characters walked down, especially when some of the features did not factor into the plot. The action, specifically the fights, became protracted. More in amount does not necessarily equal “more intense.” By the end it had started to feel like a slogg to read.

But where the book really failed was the ending. The reader has been following these characters trying to unravel and fight to overcome the mysterious “Builders” who have destroyed their world for three novels. We get to the very end where the biggest mystery of “Why” is about to be explained…

And then we cut to a letter-form epilogue that explains, 50 years after the fact, in broad brushstrokes what the mystery was and what the results were. Really. I flipped the pages back because I thought I had missed some. It was that sudden. The reader is robbed of the climax of the story. They are refused the emotional resolution of the characters reacting to the reality of what happened, the thought-provoking, debatable morality of what the Builders did, the choice the characters are given, and the debate among them that must have ensued.

And there was no reason for it other than Hough just did not want to write it. And authors can’t do that. Just no.

So while it was an enjoyable read, in the end the book is a let down.<

Yeah, don’t do that.  It’s just lazy. Give your audience a real climax and real resolution.

(And this is another sign that publishing editors do not do their jobs anymore. I can’t imagine why any editor would have let such a glaring flaw go and not sent it back, asking Hough to write what should have been the final chapter. )

Fuck the Gatekeepers: Publishing is Changing and It Needs To

I know several of the people reading this blog write and I know they have all experienced frustration at not being published. I used to write as well and maybe someday I will again. I too felt the sting of rejection, but I always told myself “If I can just get better…” I viewed publishers as the gatekeepers of literature that I needed approval from.

Then this hit:

Twilightbook

And not only hit, the publisher threw all their weight into promoting it. It is one thing to put out a cheesy romance novel, they all have divisions that do that. It’s another thing to put so much focus on a bad book that it reshapes the literary landscape.

Then not only did the publisher throw all their weight into promoting it, the rest of the publishing world jumped on this bandwagon:

50ShadesofGreyCoverArt

At the same time, I noticed that all the books I was buying had typos, grammatical errors, structural issues. I loved The Exodus Towers, but there was a vocabulary error in it. I did not note it in the review because it was an esoteric word, it did not affect the story and that sort of thing is so common these days. Publishers are no longer editing the novels they publish.

We all attend classes and workshops where we are told, vehemently, that the quality of our work matters, sometimes to the point that the instructor is stomping on our natural voices. I had one instructor who said flat out “I hate Science Fiction and I don’t want to see any of those stories in this class.” They often will mix in functional criticisms with stylistic, which is a matter of personal taste. We are told that our work has to be “deep” and “artistic” and fit certain expectations.

Then we watch the publishers we are sending our work to approve and support shallow, childishly-written drivel. Because despite what our instructors have told us, once a writer gets past the short story collection stage, it is not about quality. It is about marketability. Publishers are not looking for good novels. They do not care about putting out good novels. They are looking for the next trend.

For hundred years or more they have held a stranglehold on the literary art form and up until now they have used that power somewhat responsibly. But not anymore. The gatekeepers have relinquished their validity.

And with e-publishing, we now can take back the authority.

In a keynote address for the University for the Arts in 2012, Neil Gaiman, someone who would know, said, “We’re in a transitional world right now, if you’re in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I’ve talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.”

(His truly inspirational and wise speech is here in text and video forms.)

This is something publishers are scared of. They don’t want to be cut out of the cash flow between the readers and the writers. This is why they published a popular fanfic: To cash in on the trends in e-publishing.

So fuck the publishers. Don’t bother writing for them because they are not interested. They only want to know what the next trend is that they can make money from and you can’t predict that. Write what you want. Write what fulfills you.

Who you should write for is your audience. The reason e-publishing is looked down on is because so many self-published authors put out shoddy work. It poorly written, it’s hastily written and it’s badly edited. It’s getting better, but not fast enough.

One reviewer pointed out to me that one of the things the SciFi/Fantasy genre did for a long time was to self-police. They were not taken seriously as a genre for decades, so in order to be taken seriously, they did not tolerate shoddy work. They loudly praised what was of quality and called out what was not. And eventually, people started to realize this was not “kids stuff” but smart literature.

People e-publishing have to take the same approach. They have to self-police. They don’t have to write for a publisher, but they do have to write for an audience. That does not mean they have to write the stories they think an audience wants, but they do have to turn in a quality product.  Mickey Spillane once said, “I do not have readers, I have customers.” He was probably saying that in order to avoid pretension given his work was not exactly high art, but it makes a lot of sense to approach publishing your own work this way. You have customers and if you want them to come back and recommend your books to their friends, you have to give them a quality product. You have to give them the respect of giving them a quality book.

That is the first step. Any other marketing you do is useless without that first step.

Don’t be this person. People like her are not helping. If you put a piece of art out there for public consumption, not everyone is obligated to love it or shut up if they don’t love it. That is just the way the world is. Put your big girl panties on and deal. If you get a bad review, commiserate with your friends, cry in your beer, and after you let the hurt and ager fade, there might be something in that criticism that will make your next book better.

I know the temptation of wanting to rush to get a book out there, to get that instant feedback. Don’t do it. There are plenty of freelance editors out there. Make the investment to get one to go over your work to at least shake out the functional problems of typos, spelling, grammar and sentence structure. (If you can’t afford that, I bet if you went to a local college English department, you could find a student to do it for less. If nothing else,  get your most persnickety grammar-nazi friend to go over it and buy them dinner.) Don’t just have friends and family read it. Get objective opinions of people who do not know you reading it cold, just like the people buying your book online. Have a workshop read it.  Shift out what is personal taste and take constructive criticism that will make your work better.

Work on your story until it is a professional level book. For someone devoted to the craft, it is never going to be “perfect.” As someone once said, “Art is never completed, only abandoned.” But you can put out something better than what the publishing houses are putting out, and if you do, writers can take back control of their own art form.