Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fantasy writers deserve not to be pigeonholed

A few days ago I was in an online forum filled with fellow writers. The majority of writers and authors on the site were thriller and romance writers ... the “acceptable” genres.

While there I notice a posting about historical fiction, asking what are some of one's favorite historical novels and short stories. I start salivating because I can think of tons of historical fiction books and tales I love. Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove comes to mind, as does Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. James Clavell’s Shogun is also a favorite, as are Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. I also thought of Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire novel and Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum. Just about anything written by Alexandre Dumas springs to my mind as a favorite.

Just as I was about to type in some of these names and titles, another poster chimes in with a mention of Robert E. Howard.

Okay. Interesting.

Then another poster says something like, “Are you suggesting Howard’s Conan the Barbarian tales are historical fiction?”

I had to grumble.

And get the idea for this article, of course.

Instead of mentioning all the historical fiction I have enjoyed, I went on to inform the board that Robert E. Howard wrote a heck of a lot more fiction than his tales concerning a certain roving Cimmerian. I mentioned Howard's El Borak and Steve Costigan characters. I didn’t, but I could have mentioned Cormac Fitzgeoffrey and Turlogh Dubh O’brien. I stayed away from the likes of Kull and Solomon Kane because I felt those characters did not strengthen my point.

And what was my point?

That Robert E. Howard wrote a lot more than fantasy literature, and indeed wrote more than a handful of historical tales.

But that’s just Howard, one author. I got to thinking, and it occurred to me that many writers known for fantasy also spent plenty of time typing out tales in other genres or even in non-fiction.

Michael Moorcock comes to mind, he of Elric-of-Melnibone fame. Moorcock is likely best known for his contributions to Sword and Sorcery literature specifically and fantasy in general, but he has published literary works, science fiction, even what some might consider somewhat “far out” philosophical works.

There was also C.S. Lewis, the father of the Narnia books. In my experience, readers tend to love or hate Lewis’ writing, but they almost always focus upon his Narnia tales. The man also wrote science fiction, poetry and multiple works concerning philosophy and religion, specifically Christianity.

On the flip side, how about John Jakes? The world knows him for his historical literature, but many a fantasy fan will never forget Brak the Barbarian.

Do I need to go on? There could be many more examples.

Those of us who write fantasy are too often pigeonholed by the public at large, seemingly placing us into a little box from which we dare not escape. To be fair, we also sometimes pigeonhole ourselves, or are thrust into that box by fans of fantastic literature and even book stores.

There are worse places to be.

But that doesn’t mean fantasy writers are one dimensional or that we cannot step outside of our familiar bounds from time to time.

Personally, I love writing fantasy. But I also like to write horror and sometimes even literary works. From time to time I’ll even pen a science fiction short story, or a screenplay, or ... whatever strikes my fancy at any given time.

There is nothing wrong with loving fantasy, but writers of the fantastic need to stretch their own boundaries every once in a while. If not, their work won’t be very fantastic for very long. New ideas need to come in, providing a springboard to tales that otherwise might not ever be written.

I’ll give an example.

I recently read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House for the first time. Loved it. I had read a handful of Jackson short stories over the years, all of them good if not great, and her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but for some odd reason I had never gotten around to reading this classic book that has had a major influence upon horror and suspense novels over the last half decade.

When I finished reading The Haunting of Hill House, one of the truly most terrifying books I’ve read in a long while, I let the author’s tale gel around in my brain. Here is this story of a haunted mansion. How can I use that? I didn’t want to write just another haunted house story. I wanted something different.

So I turned to fantasy.

And eventually I came up with a novella.

So, whether you are a writer or reader of fantasy literature, do yourself a favor and crack open a book in another genre from time to time, or perhaps even something from the non-fiction section of the book store. You are surely going to find fresh ideas, ones that can help to build upon your love of fantasy itself.

And you writers out there, remember to draw upon everything. If you are a fantasy writer and all you read is fantasy, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Don’t let others pigeonhole you. Read what you want, but read widely. Then write what you want. Your stories will be the stronger for it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

When it comes to writing, whatever works WORKS

If one hangs out at various spots online inhabited by writers, it seems writers are always arguing. Often these arguments pertain to various manners in which to tell a story or in various ways to make money from a story. Each writer seems to have his or her opinion, and often they seem to believe their opinion is the only one that not only matters, but that their opinion is not just opinion but is fact.

Before I go further, let me point out that I am well aware such attitudes are prevalent throughout the Internet nowadays. It is the world into which we have grown. So, I realize these attitudes are not restricted only to writers.

But with writers, these attitudes are beyond foolish. The majority of things argued over generally have very little to do with any kind of reality when it comes to readers.
Remember readers? They are the ones for whom we write. Even if we initially write for ourselves, to have any success we depend upon readers.

Readers don't care where you sell your stories or the nuts and bolts of how you write them. Readers mostly don't consciously care whether a story is in first person or third person. They don't care if you use an Oxford comma or not. They don't care about the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.
Readers want to be entertained and/or informed. That's it. It's quite simple.

I can remember my days as a newspaper editor. There were occasionally silly arguments among editors over the slightest details. Should this line be a one point line or a half point line? Should this headline be 48 points or 52 points? While there were obviously aesthetic purposes behind such argument, the reader doesn't care. Not only does the reader not care, the reader doesn't want to care.

To repeat, the reader simply wants to be entertained and/or informed. Only other writers will look at one's work and study it for particularities. Okay, maybe some teachers will look, too, but for the majority it will be only writers and those interested in the craft of writing.

I am not suggesting writers should not know their craft, nor that they should not know what they're doing. All of that will come with experience and possibly some training, formally or otherwise. No, writers do not need to look like fools on the written or digital page, at least not if they hope for some success. But writers need to recognize that many of the things they argue about are not really worth arguing about.

You tell your stories your way. I'll tell mine my way. You reach your readers in a manner you deem fit and I will do the same on my end.

The truth is, whatever works works, when it comes to writing. Some writers have built careers going against the grain, breaking the rules. Why? Not because they were necessarily some genius, but because they figured out a way to draw in readers with their words. Again, whatever works works. Anything else is just opinion, not fact, and not worth getting hot under the collar.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

100 subreddits for writers

Writers are always looking for new ways to find information and to promote. The site Reddit, when used properly, can be a great tool for writers. But where to look on the site among the thousands of subreddits? Here's a start. Below are 100 subreddits in no particular order, some specifically having to do with writing while others might simply be of interest to writers.
  1. /r/writing
  2. /r/books
  3. /r/wordcount
  4. /r/fantasywriters
  5. /r/selfpublish
  6. /r/shutupandwrite
  7. /r/ebooks
  8. /r/epublication
  9. /r/scifi
  10. /r/literature
  11. /r/kindle
  12. /r/kindlefreebies
  13. /r/fantasy_freebies
  14. /r/fantasy_cheapies
  15. /r/fantasy_99
  16. /r/writersgroup
  17. /r/litworkshop
  18. /r/poetry
  19. /r/crimewriters
  20. /r/readmystory
  21. /r/bookclub
  22. /r/fanfiction
  23. /r/promptoftheday
  24. /r/shortstories
  25. /r/writedaily
  26. /r/SFstories
  27. /r/write
  28. /r/verse
  29. /r/booksuggestions
  30. /r/YAlit
  31. /r/booksama
  32. /r/paranormalromance
  33. /r/printSF
  34. /r/fiction
  35. /r/janeausten
  36. /r/shakespeare
  37. /r/marktwain
  38. /r/whatstheword
  39. /r/quotes
  40. /r/bookshelf
  41. /r/proofreading
  42. /r/nanowrimo
  43. /r/horrorbookclub
  44. /r/poeticreddit
  45. /r/youngadultbooks
  46. /r/NewbWriters
  47. /r/creativewriting
  48. /r/chainstories
  49. /r/harrypotter
  50. /r/grammar
  51. /r/interactivestories
  52. /r/creativeprocess
  53. /r/IAmAFiction
  54. /r/read
  55. /r/jamesjoyce
  56. /r/firstpage
  57. /r/readitnow
  58. /r/IAmA
  59. /r/universityofreddit
  60. /r/writingcontests
  61. /r/keepwriting
  62. /r/worldbuilding
  63. /r/fantasy_bookclub
  64. /r/scifi_bookclub
  65. /r/proseporn
  66. /r/stephenking
  67. /r/tolkienfans
  68. /r/lotr
  69. /r/essays
  70. /r/roundrobin
  71. /r/wordplay
  72. /r/blogging
  73. /r/haiku
  74. /r/newspeak
  75. /r/History_bookclub
  76. /r/LibraryofBabel
  77. /r/erotica
  78. /r/thebookclub
  79. /r/poetscorner
  80. /r/words
  81. /r/tandemstory
  82. /r/sixwordstories
  83. /r/oneparagraph
  84. /r/100wordstories
  85. /r/nosleep
  86. /r/logophilia
  87. /r/neilgaiman
  88. /r/bookexchange
  89. /r/libraries
  90. /r/redditbooks
  91. /r/bookcollecting
  92. /r/4sentencebookreviews
  93. /r/darkworkshop
  94. /r/sceneofthecrime
  95. /r/makeithappen
  96. /r/freelancewriters
  97. /r/comedywriting
  98. /r/screenwriting
  99. /r/comicbooks
  100. /r/horror
More writing links

Online writers, make sure you get paid

I write for a living. That's how I pay my bills. Some of my writing is for online sites such as Triond, but most of it is for books or e-books, sold through Amazon and the usual online spots. I've been making this my career for a few years now, since being let go from a newspaper after having been a journalist for twenty years. I decided to go out on my own.

From time to time during these three years, there have been a few snags here and there when I try to receive payment from one company or another. Nothing major, just a delay of a few days because of a glitch or a holiday or something. From time to time I've had to provide some extra information to receive payment, or I've had to jump through a small hoop or two. While I'm obviously not happy having to deal with such situations, none of them have been overly strenuous.

Until now.

No, I will not use the name of the company, and no, it does not appear elsewhere in this post. I don't need the hassle of a bunch of e-mails spouting legal mumbo jumbo about how some company will have its legal department get in touch with me. And frankly, I do not wish to give this particular company even one single bit of advertising, even if in a negative way. Also, I will be changing a few of the technical details below so this company cannot be readily identified.

I will say this, however, if you are a writer for many of the content creation sites, you have probably run across the site of which I'm writing. You might even be a writer for the site.

I have been a writer for the site for nearly three years. It does not pay much, but that is familiar territory for such content sites. I never planned to get rich, just to make a little extra cash. Over the years I have received payments from this company, usually about twice a year, the amounts not a lot of money but at least enough to fill up the gas tank in the car or to take the family out to eat. I never had any problems.

Then about eight months ago I requested a payment, which is how the site operates. A couple of months passed and I still had not received my payment. I asked for payment again. I was told there was a problem with my mailing address. I could not understand this as I had been at the same address for several years, but I tried to work with the team behind the site. Months passed again. Twice more I was told my payment had been sent but there was a problem with my mailing address. At this point I admit to becoming frustrated, but I never took it out on those I was dealing with at the company. Part of my frustration was I did not understand how my mailing address could be a problem when I had had the address for several years and had never had any other problems with it.

At this point the company's representatives suggested a new online payment program they were just beginning to test. I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I agreed to give it a try. I was told I would receive an e-mail from a different company, the one in charge of the payment program.  A month passed and I had yet to receive the e-mail.

I complained, nicely. I was asked to be patient and that my e-mail was still coming. About this same time I stopped providing new content for the site, and have not done so since.
A couple of weeks passed. No e-mail.

I contacted the writing site yet again. This time I was not so nice, but I did not curse or call names or makes threats nor anything like that. I simply wanted to let them realize how frustrated I had become. I was told again to be patient, that my e-mail was coming.

Another week passed, then one morning I received three e-mails in a matter of minutes. The first e-mail was telling me I had received my payment and that is was available in my account with the new payment program. Yippee! I thought, at least I will have my money.

Then I looked at the second e-mail, which was from the writing site. Here I was told that my situation had been corrected and they were glad of it. Okay. Well, I thought this was a little presumptuous since I had yet to contact them, but whatever.

And then I checked the third e-mail. It was from the payment program site informing me the payment that had been sent to me had been withdrawn. Yes, withdrawn.

That was Monday of this week. It is now Friday as I write this. Since then I have traded e-mails several morning times with my initial contacts at the writing site. Apologies were given to me a couple of times, but frankly I'm sick of apologies. I want results.

I was asked to give them another mailing address. I don't have another mailing address. Then I was asked to provide them with another e-mail address, and while I do have more than one e-mail address, I refused to do this. I had done enough, as far as I was concerned. I had been mostly nice up until the last couple of months, and I had already been waiting for more than half a year for my money, which isn't even all that much money in the first place. And since I had initially put in my request for my money, I had earned more money, but I've yet to request those funds.

At this point the company's representatives told me they could no longer help me since I was not being cooperative. Me not being cooperative? After everything I've already been through, after all my patience and waiting. No, to hell with them.

The last e-mail I sent told the representatives to close my account. I did not tell them to keep my money, but I did mention I believed they would do so anyway.

Now, that was a few hours ago. Since then I have come to a conclusion. Either the company I was dealing with is an out and scam, or it is run by some pretty inept people.

Frankly, it should not take that long to receive a payment, and one should not have to jump so many hurdles to receive a payment, especially a payment that was not even more than a hundred U.S. dollars.

So, all you other writers out there, be careful. If you're not getting paid, stop utilizing the site. If you're not writing for money, that's fine, do as you will. But you still need to be careful.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Can terrorists use model airplanes as weapons?

After the recent arrest of a man in Boston who has been accused of planning terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, plenty of questions have been raised. Which is always the case. But in this particular case, a lot of the questions are about model airplanes. Apparently the man arrested was planning to strap explosives to model airplanes, then fly the planes into buildings.

Headlines similar to the one with this article, "Can terrorists use model airplanes as weapons?," have become common during the last couple of days. I can't count the number of times I've read, "Could model airplanes become a terrorist weapon?"

I hate these types of headlines. I was a newspaper editor for 20 years, so I've got plenty of experience writing headlines. And frankly, nearly all of these questioning headlines are bad. For one thing, they are questions, not answers. For another thing, such headlines tend to lead readers in a particular direction. I only use a similar headline here to make a point.

If one reads down into the articles concerning the potential use of model airplanes as weapons, the truth is yes, model airplanes could be used as weapons, but not very good ones. Why is this? There are two reasons: 1.) Because model airplanes, even the really big and expensive ones, cannot carry much weight, which means the explosives that could be used would have to be quite small and not very powerful. 2.) Even for experienced experts, flying model planes is not a precise science; it would be difficult to fly a model airplane directly into a small target, such as a door or window or person, which would be needed to cause damage using smaller explosives.

If you don't believe the articles, check with a local model airplane club. Such clubs, though sometimes small in number of members, are practically all over the place. Go to a gathering and ask those present what they think.

But what really irks me about the questioning headlines for such articles is that their use is basically fear mongering, often caused by lazy headline writing. Please understand, I understand what headline writers are dealing with daily. Nearly all of them are overworked and underpaid. Nearly all of them do not have much time to write excellent headlines. Often enough headlines are slapped onto a story as quickly as possible, without much thought given to them. Plenty of people within the news media will not admit to this, but it is the truth.

What can be done? Honestly, probably not much. One could scream about holding the news media responsible, especially the corporations who create over-stressed work environments, but the truth is that would likely not help. The bean counters and the marketers aren't really going to pay much attention because they are too busy trying to figure out how much money they're going to make this quarter, how they're going to survive just a few more months or weeks because of the bad economy and the growing unwillingness of advertisers and consumers to pay for advertising and news content.

It's tough for the media right now, but that should not be an excuse.

So, back to the original question, can model airplanes be used for terrorist weapons? Well, of course they can. But just about anything can be used for a weapon. A stick. A rock. A balled-up wad of paper jammed down someone's throat. Anything. Even a newspaper.