Friday, September 28, 2007

Philosophical ramblings not about writing

Let's start at the beginning ... I have a part-time job Just this week, my classification as an employee changed. I'm still a part-timer, but now I'm a permanent part-timer instead of a temporary part-timer. Basically, it doesn't mean jack squat for me except a bunch of paperwork to fill out for HR and our building security. So, more than anything, it was just a bunch of corporate bull I had to put up with. And one of the reasons I like being a part-timer is so I don't have to deal with that garbage. Go figure.

Anyway, now that my status has changed at work, I was approached about helping the guild, possibly even becoming a member. It was done quietly, but the attitude I was given was sort of "Of course you will want to join!"

And after I thought about it for 20 seconds, I realized I did NOT want to join. And I didn't.

I have nothing against unions or any organized labor. In fact, I back them politically. But I believe they are much, much weaker than they were 30 years ago, and much of that I blame on themselves (but not all of it).

However, I am skeptical of ANYTHING organized by human beings. Religion. Government. Corporations. Grocery store lines. They tend to become bigger than themselves, thus trampling on individuals. Even corporations have legal rights equal to, if not more powerful than, that of individuals. I don't believe in that. Humans on an individual basis are generally pretty good folk all around. Get them to group together, though, and I'd more trust my skin with a pack of wolves. Because if you're not completely about whatever that particular group is pushing, they will screw you eventually. Doesn't matter what kind of organization it is.

Sorry, if you disagree. Sorry if I sound overly pessimistic. I speak only from experience and historical knowledge.

Also, another reason I didn't join the union is ... I didn't feel I needed to. Call it hubris, maybe. But I've never felt like I needed to join organized labor to improve my own situation. I have been homeless once in my life. Once I had only 15 cents in my pocket and nowhere to go. But I still never felt like I needed help with getting, keeping or improving upon my job.

To another point, while philosophically I do tend to believe strongly in individual rights, I also recognize there are times and places where the individual has to be put aside for the betterment of the whole. I get that. Sometimes it is necessary. But it seems to me the line has already been pushed too far the other way.

I'm overly simplifying all this, of course. I mean, it's a blog, not a philosophical paper.

Seacrest out.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Christian horror

That's right. I said "Christian horror." The two do not have to be enemies. And no, Ty hasn't become a Jesus freak.

The last couple of weeks I've taken some time off writing the trilogy to work on some short stories, and, more specifically, to work on the background/timeline of my John Dee character and his world, which just happens to be our world. The real world.

I guess if I were picky about it, Dee's stories aren't necessarily horror. They're more dark fantasy, along the lines of Wagner's Kane works.

I didn't mean to steal any ideas from Wagner. John Dee was almost an accidental creation, originally a character I needed for a short story concerning modern Iraq. This was to be a one-shot story. I had never planned a novel or series of short stories ... but the more I think about Dee and his history, the more potential I see for him.

So how does all this tie in with Christianity and horror? Without going into detail (you'll have to read my short story "Beneath A Persian Sun" if it ever sees publication somewhere), Dee has a background with links to Christianity, and somewhat less to Judaism. This character has gotten me to thinking a lot about Christianity as related to horror.

So far, I can't think of a book more horrific than the Holy Bible. Now, don't misunderstand me. I am NOT slamming the Bible, nor Christianity. I'm just saying there are a lot of really scare things in there. Especially if you accept those things as real.

I mean, come on ... demons? Satan? Eternal damnation? Can you think of much more scarier than that? Even looking at a more angelic side, just how frightening would it be if Jesus or Mary showed up at your doorstep one day? And they could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt it was really them?

So, part of the Dee mythos (so to speak), is that he believes the Christian mythology is real. Now whether it really is real or not (within the frameworks of my stories) is left up to the reader. At least so far.

Ty has gone exploring.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Apex Publications Halloween raffle

Apex Publications, of Apex Digest, is holding multiple raffles with the winners to be announced on Halloween 2007 at midnight.

The cost is only $1 per raffle item. But before you might balk, you need to know two things. 1.) A portion of the proceeds are going to the National Center for Family Literacy. 2.) The raffles are for some really cool stuff. For example, some of the raffles are for:
  • Short story critiques by Apex editors and/or a Baen's Universe associate editor.
  • A signed, numbered limited edition copy of Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric! And Other Short Stories"
  • A copy edited original manuscript of Titan signed by Ben Bova.
  • And plenty of other signed books, DVD packages and more.
More raffle items are expected to be added between now and Halloween. Check it out here! There should be something there for all fans of the speculative.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Apex Day was cool

So, I finally got to meet Apex Digest editor Jason Sizemore today, which was cool. I couldn't stay long because I had to go to work, but I was able to see a couple of readings from writers Gary Braunbeck and Geoffrey Girard, and artist Melissa Gay gave a talk about her process for working on book covers.

There were plenty of books, copies of Apex Digest and artwork for sale. Jason also had set out a nice snack table, with soft drinks and chips and cheese and meats. I'd guess there were about a hundred people, coming and going, at the event while I was there, but I was only around maybe a half hour.

This was the second annual Apex Day, the first one being last year at a bookstore in Indiana. This one was at Joseph Beths in Lexington, and I think it's a cool idea to move the event around from year to year. That way you can reach different readers, and make it easier on different writers and artists to attend.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Rules of the speculative

When writing speculative fiction, you have to have some ground rules for the speculative elements. You generally don't want your magicians to be too powerful, or you open your story up to all kinds of disasters. In horror, you usually need some kind of limits for your monsters, otherwise they become absurd. What all this really comes down to is this: If your protagonist has absolutely no chance at winning and/or surviving, then your story is flat out going to flop because you are giving your reader nothing to hold onto from a plot and emotional level. Now, whether your protagonist actually wins or survives is not the issue. The issue is whether the protagonist at least has the perception ... the possibility ... of being able to triumph.

On the flip side, if your protagonist is a magician or has some sort of powers or magic, you don't want him or her to be all powerful either. Making things too easy for your character can also ruin a story.

A good story needs tension. To do that you need to strike a balance between your protagonist and antagonist.

Yes, your big bad monster might seem unstoppable, but there has to be some way to stop it, or at least a perception there is some way to stop it. No one wants to read a story about an all-powerful being, good or bad, who can do absolutely anything and get away with it. That's not a story. At best, it's a wet dream.

So ... balance is the key. Your rules to strike this balance might be vague, rattling around in the back of your head, or they might be concrete, something you've written down. But you need those rules to keep that balance. One rule might be something simple or even silly, such as your wizard is allergic to onions, or it could be something morecomplex, such as your monster has a vulnerable spot but it's only vulnerable on a certain night of the month.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My philosophy on reviewing

Since I've started doing book reviews, I've had a goal of trying to remain fair with my reviews. While I realize there are things I might or might not like about a book, I try to keep in mind that I'm just one reader, and that other readers could feel different than myself.

With that in mind, I try not to trash anything I read. Fortunately, I've yet to run across anything that deserved to be trashed. If I did run across something I thought was just awful, I would say so, but I would still try and point out that maybe this particular product just wasn't for me. It takes all kinds, after all.

Concerning professionals in the business, and the fact I'm reviewing their work, there's no reason for me to burn a potential bridge. If I don't like their product, I'll say so and move on, trying to find something good in the product if possible. If I can't find anything good in the product, again, I'll just say so and go on; no need to keep pushing a point. Besides, often the strongest points are made in brief.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Apex Day is looming

Anyone who happens to be near the Lexington, Kentucky area this weekend will have a treat waiting for them. It's Apex Day, celebrating Apex Digest horror and science fiction magazine, at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Lexington Green. The time is 2 to 5 p.m. this Saturday. Chief editor Jason Sizemore will be available, as will other editors and writers and artists. Jason promises author readings, art on display and for sale, food and drinks. He also promised dancing clowns, then backed away from that one. I, for one, am disheartened to know there will not be dancing clowns.

But still, it looks to be a great event. Drop by!

And for those who aren't familiar with Apex, they also publish anthologies and other books.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

No. 36 - Whispers in the Night

edited by Brandon Massey

Started: September 15
Finished: September 29

Notes:This one is for another book review. I'm actually reading the galley,but you can see the actual cover at right. This is a collection ofhorror short stories by black authors. This is the third book in theseries, so it must have something going for it. I'll let you know.

Mini review: A bit too literary for my taste, at least for my taste in horror, but there were still a few pretty good stories here. Anthony Beal's "And Death Rode With Him" was by far my favorite story, kicking ass all the way through from beginning to end.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

My problem writing serial characters

I rarely use a character in more than one short story. A big part of this is because most of my ideas for short stories come from plot, not characters. I think of the plots first, then I come up with the main character and other characters.

For novels, I'm usually just the opposite. I'll have a group of characters, then I think of how to make them interact, and the plot blooms from there.

So, since my short stories tend to be plot driven, at least initially, I rarely have serial characters, characters that appear in more than one short story or even in a series of short stories.

I have characters I would like to make serial characters. Belgad the Liar comes to mind first. Then, of course, there's Kron Darkbow. Others would include Lerebus Shieldbreaker, Lord Verkain, even John Dee.

But after the initial short story, I seem to have difficulties finding a followup story for my characters. After using the character once, my focus turns to that character and not the plot. And since my short story ideas come from my plots ... you can see the difficulty.

Again, with novels the situation is just the opposite. I easily have a half dozen ideas for Kron Darkbow novels, as well as ideas for a Belgad trilogy.

What has made me think of this lately is my character John Dee (who is also known by numerous other names) from my short story "Beneath a Persian Sun." I've written this story specifically for a certain Swords anthology, but I'm holding on to it until their reading period at the beginning of next year. Meanwhile, I like the character and the idea behind him so much I want to use him in other stories. I've got my character, and I've even got some places/scenery, but every idea I come up with seems to be more lame than the one before.

Anybody have any advice? I'm drawing blanks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fiction can be educational

Fiction is usually considered a form of entertainment, but it can also teach you lot. And I'm not just talking about writers learning their craft. Even casual readers can learn a lot from fiction.

One of the more famous examples is "Moby Dick." While some readers might find Melville's classic dry and lengthy, they can learn a lot from it about whaling.

Recently, myself, I've learned quite a bit about French and Italian theater and acting in Rafael Sabatini's "Scaramouche." While "Scaramouche" was only a kicking off point for me, it lead me to places on the Web that were informative. Now I'm chomping at the bit to see some of these old theatrical art forms in practice, though it's not likely I'll see such a traveling troupe in my area. Still, elements of Renaissance theater are kept alive in opera, at Renaissance festivals and a few other venues, so hopefully I can get my fill there.

Of recent interest, I've been drawn to Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci," an opera in two acts with an ending I find quite dark.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The emotions of writing

A friend of mine, someone who reads a lot of fantasy but who has no aspirations to be a writer, read a few of my short stories recently. The next day she paid me a fine compliment. She said, "You have what it takes to be a full-time fantasy writer. Don't give up."

That was great. It's always nice to hear something like that.

However, then she asked me what I felt about my own work, specifically she was interested in the fantasy trilogy I'm working on. After quick thinking on my part, I said something like, "It's okay, but it's not my best work. It has some good parts, but overall I have to admit it's not my best."

I was telling the truth.

Now, a writer wants everything he writes to be fantastic, but that's not reality. I've found I get more emotionally involved with short stories simply because there is usually strong emotion behind the story (at least for me, and hopefully for the reader), and in a short I can keep that emotional inertia flowing.

Novel writing is a different thing. While I might have strong feelings while writing parts of a novel, there are nights when I'm just putting down words to be putting down words, to get my quota for the day or to at least feel like I'm getting SOMETHING done.

That's where rewriting and editing come into play. Hopefully, on second or third or thirty-third sweep through a story I can get it right. Or, at the very least, get it better.

Being perfect is something to strive for, but the truth of the matter is you can NEVER get any story, short or long, perfect. It's an impossibility. The best you can hope for is that you can work it up to your own standards. If your standards happen to be complete perfection, then you'll never get anything published, let alone written.

On the flip side, though, it's always fun to pull out something I wrote ten or more years ago and try to rework it today to make it better. Sometimes that works too, but sometimes not.

Food for thought.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Saturday, September 01, 2007

This is what Tarot card I am ... figures

You are the Hanged Man

Self-sacrifice, Sacrifice, Devotion, Bound.

With the Hanged man there is often a sense of fatalism, waiting for something to happen. Or a fear of
loss from a situation, rather than gain.

The Hanged Man is perhaps the most fascinating card in the deck. It reflects the story of Odin who offered himself as a sacrifice in order to gain knowledge. Hanging from the world tree, wounded by a spear, given no bread or mead, he hung for nine days. On the last day, he saw on the ground runes that had fallen from the tree, understood their meaning, and, coming down, scooped them up for his own. All knowledge is to be found in these runes.

The Hanged Man, in similar fashion, is a card about suspension, not life or death. It signifies selflessness, sacrifice and prophecy. You make yourself vulnerable and in doing so, gain illumination. You see the world differently, with almost mystical insights.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

No. 35 - Scaramouche

by Rafael Sabatini

Started: September 1
Finished: September 15

Notes: I've never read any of this author's work, and have been meaning to for years. This is one of his most popular novels, so I figured this is a good place to start.

Mini review: I heartily recommend this book, especially for anyone who happens to be a Dumas fan. Scaramouche is sort of a lesser version of Edmund Dantes in a lot of ways, driven by a thirst for vengeance, though he's not nearly as scheming as Edmund. Still, lots of intrigue, a goodly amount of action, and most of the exposition is short.