Where Is Everybody?

Ok. State of the Union here. 1 book published, 1 book in the can, 2 nearing completion (I hope). A lot of revision to be done. And where am I? Not very far, but then I didn’t expect to be much farther. I *hoped* I would be much farther, but didn’t expect it. In fact, I expected exactly what I’ve got.

What I did not expect was how cloistered the author community is on social media. Authors buying each other’s books, lifting each other up, and soliciting each other’s support. Which is good. Or would be good, if it wasn’t for the fact that it wasn’t just to other authors. Which is an inherent problem, as they have their own books to sell and trumpet. And let me tell you, there are enough authors out there or people trying to become authors that their followers are frighteningly stacked with each other. Again, which is fine. We need each other. I support each and every one of you.

But the problem yet remains. In sum, we are selling books to authors trying to sell books to authors trying to sell books to authors trying… And so on. It is an ouroboros of grift. And when I say grift here, I don’t mean it (not entirely anyways) in a negative fashion. There is a level of grift in any job. I grift any time I jump into someone’s group self-promo thread. I grift when I post a book announcement. I grift when I try to sell myself so that I can sell my books. Few of us, I think, are *really* (or ubiquitously) interested in one another or in one another’s work. It would sincerely become tiring if we maintained that level of interpersonal investiture. And besides: why should we?

It’s a strange thing, and it happens no less in traditional publishing. Outside of a few big names who draw their own self-sustaining audiences, the rest of the culture relies on itself to pass the same list of names around in hopes of striking some imaginary gold mine. As if this award or that feature or interview will be the magical one to draw in that readership we all lust after. Sometimes it is. We certainly have our success stories in this regard. But we must regard it at some point as something of a myth. The “overnight success”, the “meteoric rise”. It often comes, when it comes at all, at the end of a long road or with the helping hand of a patron already in the scene. Even then the principle remains. We rely on outside factors to gain success. At best, we are Johnny Come-lately’s to the game. At worst, the game was rigged to begin with.

And it’s turtles all the way down.

The reviewers are tied in with the authors, the former relying on access to the latter to maintain the longevity of their relevancy and the latter relying on the former to maintain access to something resembling a prospective fanbase. But here again, that fanbase is largely other reviewers and authors! It’s why a fair few writers pick up award after award and you will never hear from them without tapping into this underground of online communities and review blogs. I have cruised the Speculative Fiction section at bookstore after bookstore for about as long as I’ve been alive and in recent years I have begun to only very rarely stumble upon anyone who, upon further inspection, is actually pretty big name or up-n’-comer in the genre. They simply do not exist in physical space much of the time.

Which is not to say any of this is necessarily bad. Any way to get ahead, I guess. But it does create a system of connections in which each individual relies upon the other so completely that their objectivity is called into question. It is hard to overstate how problematic this becomes when concomitant with a lack of any really invested fanbase or community beyond the authors and reviewers, even more so when we take human nature into account and the conflict that can bring. There’s a kind of tension. Things go unquestioned. The issues of the day are relied upon to draw an audience that otherwise fails to show up. Placating, pandering, whatever you want to call it, has become the mode of creating an audience and maintaining relevancy in some cases, submitting oneself to the dominant narrative and losing one’s originality to it.

But that is a much larger question than I can answer, if at all, in a blog post.

The larger issue is how do you not necessarily circumvent the above–which I don’t endorse, I enjoy being involved in this community–but tap into this kind of faceless readership that buys or otherwise consumes without interacting. There’s some bridge I’m missing, I feel. Some gap that I see, but can’t identify. It’s sad because I really want to try and connect with a readership, to make some tangible effort in this regard, as opposed to casting a net out into oblivion and hoping someone stumbles into it. Which is all that the above really is as far as I can see. Possibly. I’m not one to sift for gold or even really lace blasting charges across the landscape. But I am one for doing the work. Oh, man, I’ll do the work. Until my fingers bleed. But I’d really like to know what work to do.

In short, tell me where to find you! I hope I see you out there.

The Walrus Boy Cometh

Hark! It is done!

I have released my first book! “There Is Life in the Tree and Death in the Well” is the first novel in a Fantasy Horror series. Set in the crumbling city-state of Sulidhe, the story follows an orphan boy called Arnem and Dob, his three-eyed dog who also happens to be as big as a lion, as the two seek to unearth the secrets binding together such elements as: a mutative plague; an alien religion; an incestuous ruling cast of mages; and guerrilla bands of druidic rebels. It is presently available for preorder with a hard release date of Oct. 31st. Just in time for Halloween!

I hope you make a purchase and enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

But, wait! There’s more!

I now also have a Patreon. Jumping the gun? Maybe. But I’m a fan of being preemptive. In addition to grabbing a copy of my novel, if you so choose, you may now also help me to keep on writing and thus publishing the sequel sooner by not having to worry so much about living expenses.

More to follow! Thank you all!

What Happens When They Give Up?

It is important to note the chief similarity between main and side characters. That is, at any point, a main character might become a side character and vice versa. Their lives could stop. This is what helps them achieve personhood, this imagining them as people with control over their lives and not bound to some linear quest. Ultimately, this is what we want for our own lives. Besides entertainment, it is why we consume culture. To live vicariously through the thankless decisions of another that we might in some way find answers to our own dilemmas.

I am often reminded, in telling stories, of a scene in the Kubrick/Spielberg picture A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. David (played by Haley Joel Osmet) is telling Joe (Jude Law) of his plans to keep looking for the “Blue Fairy”, a distortion of the Pinocchio myth that the rest of the movie plays on extensively. He hopes to become a real boy so that his adoptive mother will love and accept him. It is a heart-wrenching tale that, for me, always hit too close to home (much like the original Pinocchio). In the scene, Joe implores him to instead give up his quest. He tells him that his mother’s love is not real and never could be real, no deeper than her love could be for a pet. He suggests David just stay with him and await the incipient destruction of humanity from the safety of the robot-friendly city. The story could have ended here, and not progressed. Another character, the main character, in a revision of the script could have happened upon them. Weighted with their own past and destination, the pain of David and his strange friendship with the pleasure-bot Joe would have been only a pale reflection to the main thrust of the story.

Thinking of character and plot this way not only helps flesh out the side characters, but develops the protagonist. What if they didn’t proceed? What reasons do they have not to? What palpable will or necessity drives them on if the consequences of settling down into history are not really that dire? This method also performs the function organically. You’re asking true and genuine questions of yourself and of your characters, as if you were them, rather than sitting down with a sheet of paper and filling in the blanks.

Motivation: etc. etc.

Worst fear: etc. etc.

Traumatic origin: etc. etc.

You see where I’m going with this. Perfectly fine books are written following the fill-in-the-blank formula. Many of them. But I know from my own work that things feel more alive, the narrative more present, if I’ve done as much as I can to create things organically. Formulas produce expected results. They can be relied upon. But isn’t it sometimes more entertaining, for the writer and the reader, to fuck something up and watch an explosion?

Interuptions of Inference

It’s important not to interrupt yourself, but it’s even more important not to interrupt the other person. In writing or in speaking, interruptions can be disastrous. Reading isn’t any different, and the dialogue writers hold with their readers is (or should be) as sacrosanct as that which we might have with a friend or close family member. However, those two forms of dialogue hold little else in common.

Their modes differ and take on different forms. I, as the writer, cannot literally stand over your shoulder and tap you, the reader, on the shoulder and interrupt your meditative consideration of the page. We hope not, anyway. If I knew you, it would simply be annoying. If I didn’t, then it’d be creepy. But I digress.

The ways in which writers may interrupt their readers’ experience are many. From a slip in skill to losing the thread of their own plot, failures of craft only succeed in kicking the reader out the door. But, in my experience, there is a very subversive and subtle tick that can best be described as the writer opening the door in a snowstorm. Expected, if a little inherently irritating. You might not even notice it, except in the oblique way that the fluidity of the narrative – and by extension your immersion – is thwarted. Unless you’re paying strict attention, your eyes will just keep on tracking across the words and you’ll take them in but with a little less gusto than you did before.

I am referring to interruptions of inference, when the reader has to stop and unduly consider something the writer has expressed or an image they have attempted to craft. Clarity and elegance are usually the elements lacking. There are, of course, times when the reader must be expected to try and wrap their head around the text. That’s the prime enjoyment in reading literature, considering and digesting complex thoughts. There’s a whole argument to be made concerning the clothing of said thoughts in such wayward and dense language that most readers will have to rope a professor or two into the fray. But, for now, we’ll settle on refraining from the little speed bumps in narration and/or exposition that draw the reader out of the experience.

It’s a delicate art, giving just enough detail but leaving room for the reader’s mind to play in the background. It’s frighteningly easy to give too much and not enough, sometimes at the same time. It’s the description of a ruin without giving reference to the object that has been ruined until later in the process of describing an action in relation to said ruin. Convoluted? Assuredly. Nitpicking often gets convoluted.

So let’s break it down:

A group of thieves are scaling the ruin’s side, say. Finding this and that foothold, climbing to this and that promontory. Then they get to the top and tie themselves off to the temple’s minarets in order to scale down through holes in the roof. Temple? Minarets? Reading this, I would have to infer (read: fill in the blank) that this was a temple all along and its minarets were the true object of the climbers. I might even go back to make sure I didn’t miss anything else that was important about this structure.

Ideally, the author would detail the thieves’ struggles to climb with the weight of the coiled rope on their shoulders and shouted out the presence of the minarets before or during the climb. This gives the objects a precedent and the reader won’t have to stop and read back to see if they missed something or trust the author and quickly infer what the image they’re creating to get on with reading. In either instance, the reader has been booted out of the scene and has to try and get back in again. It’s like the doorbell ringing. Mild annoyance, but an annoyance.

Is this worth paying attention to? Is this nitpicky? Is this convoluted past the point of importance? You could make that argument. But I’d make the argument that the dividing line between good and great is paying attention to this sort of thing, whether from the get-go or in the final draft. And don’t feel like I’m shouting my sermon down from Mount Righteous. That example up there? From the rough draft of a book I’m going back through currently. I’m just as lost as anyone else.

Scene Geography

Where things are is almost as important as the things that are being said. Oftentimes it is enough to address objects or terrain or the layout of a structure as these are met by the character who is moving through them; sometimes, it is even necessary. Detailing the scene in sum before the characters have started moving through it can lead to the reader getting lost among all the corridors and rooms that the movement has not reached yet. Conversely, the same hiccup occurs if a writer does not efficaciously—if not succinctly—lay out one of those rooms or corridors in a manner conducive to the flow of the narrative and the movement of the characters. I like to call this “scene geography”, which I’m sure someone else has come up with in a much more thorough and technical style.

Usually it’s a slip of the mind, committed in the first draft and corrected in the second, but chances are if you’re reading this: you might not know yet to look for it. So let me do your work for you. Let me live your pain.

I’ve run into this a lot while going through some old drafts the past couple months, and it’s left me chock full of examples for this kind of thing. In my own work, it often happens in passing. I’ll be in the thick of some bit of exposition—describing the movement of a character through an alleyway, say—and suddenly something appears.

But not in the way that you might think. I don’t mean a thug pops out from behind the corner or a cat darts into the gutter. I mean the character opens a door that they were not said to be looking for and steps through, takes or searches for something from the gutter that wasn’t shown to be there, turns that undescribed corner at random and gets plowed with a club.

These are instances where the geography of the scene was not sufficiently solidified before the action in the scene took place. Instead, highlight the cat running into the gutter and then show the character searching for something in it. Show the character keeping an eye over his shoulder, hurrying for the corner, then getting clobbered for watching behind him when he should have been more careful about his blind escape.

Scene geography is all about giving precedent to action. Your precedents act as highlights for forthcoming action in the scene. I’m not advocating to give an exhaustive rundown of every item in the character’s vicinity. But if there’s a knife on the table that the character will momentarily be picking up to stab an intruder with, then show me the knife. Show me the money, in other words. Then put it in your mouth. I guess?