Sunday, March 3, 2019

Canibalization

Sorry if posting has been light.  Life is getting busy again.  That said, I could not let this story go...

A while back, I told the tale of Amelie Zhao and the woke-scolds that brought down her debut novel.  Well it has happened again...but this time with a twist - the novelist who has been forced to rescind publication of his own novel, Kosoko Jackson, was part of the mob that brought down Blood Heir.  Apparently his characters weren't woke enough, and the fact that the tale centered around two Americans(THE HORROR!) during the Balkans Conflict was just too much.

Maybe we don't need to push back too hard against the woke-scolds.  At this rate, they'll simply eat themselves.  Maybe then we can get back to enjoying books again.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Author Interview - Jon Del Arroz

I've recently become a fan of sci-fi novelist Jon Del Arroz, so I'm very excited he agreed to do an interview for the site.  I hope you enjoy his insights as much as I did.

So, Jon…what’s up?(ie, tell us a little about yourself)
I’ve dialed back a lot of stuff in order to just focus on fiction writing lately. That means less journalistic writing, because this is what I’ve set out to do—change culture, and now I’m finally in a position with a platform to where I can do it. It doesn’t get my name out there as often (cuz it’s usually only on releases and novels take time), but I want 2019 to be a body of work which blows others out of the water in just how much great fiction I can produce. 

What kinds of genres do you like to write and why?
I’m in space opera/military science fiction, steampunk, and then superhero comics. I like all of the above because I can tell adventure stories in those settings, though I’ll probably delve into straight fantasy in the future as well. These allow for off the wall stories which are fun more than other genres in my opinion. It’s a good spot.

Tell us a little about For Steam and Country.
This was a book that I started writing in 2012-2014, and held it back as it was the second book I ever finished. When I started getting big in early 2017, I knew I had to get something out fast, and this was the closest thing I had ready to completion (I edited then to bring it up to standards). I’d always thought I’d stay mostly in space opera and this would be a side thing to tide me over, but it ended up selling far better than anything else I’ve released before or since, so it became my main world. 
I started writing it for two reasons: 1. I wanted a Final Fantasy style steampunk fantasy world where airships flew about and there was good adventuring. There’s a lot of nods to final fantasy in the story because of that. 2. I wanted to see if I could write from a first person female perspective as a writing challenge. Turns out I did both REALLY well. 
It’s the story of a girl who inherits an airship and is forced into a war. She starts out a bit immature and has to grow up really fast. Fortunately she’s pretty smart so she grows nicely over the course of the trilogy. I just reread the first book and did a re-edit of it because my prose has gotten a lot better in the last year or so, and I’m still proud of what I created. It’s a super fun book. 

As many of your fans know, you’re not exactly a shrinking violet.  I’ve tried(unsuccessfully in some cases) to stay out of today’s polarized climate, but you’ve dived straight in.  What’s your rationale behind this, and how do you think it affects your audience?
I was kind of forced into it. I just got known for wearing a MAGA hat in circles, got threatened and bullied saying I’d never be published again. I asked Vox Day what to do about it (as I’d started corresponding with him) and he said there’s pretty much two options: 1. I get ostracized and destroyed and no one ever reads my work again and I can capitulate but I’ll never be back with the in crowd cuz they hate people like me on an identity level, or 2. I could fight it and be unabashed about it. I decided the latter and here we are.

We seem to be seeing a reversal of the early 80s stereotype in which supposedly a bunch of rightwing fundamentalists wanted to ban books based on them being blasphemous or something.  Today, a great deal of the call for censorship is cased in “sensitivity” by a group I call the Woke-Scolds.  What is your opinion of the influence some of these very shrill people are having on the market? 
Yes, I’m mocking a lot of the pro-censorship types as “Church Lady”, because they treat everyone exactly like the caricature from the old Saturday Night Live skits where it’s point and shriek at the “blasphemy.” They have a lot of influence because they shut down projects, make sure people are blacklisted, and control the media/review structures which make it very difficult to combat and stay afloat as an artist who doesn’t bow to their narrative.

Do you think we’ve reached a peak of the Woke-Scold movement, where people start to push back, or is this just the beginning?
I think it’s just going to continue to escalate. We’re reaching civil war proportions where sides won’t talk to each other. A shrieking SJW literally cannot even communicate with me without being ostracized from their tribe, so their hate can only grow since they have folk like me completely dehumanized.

What do you read, and which authors have influenced your writing style?
Originally, a lot of Anne McCaffrey, Lois McMaster Bujold and Elizabeth Moon. For all that they might typify “pink SF” now, they do have a lot of good prose and character work that’s worthy of emulating. The problem isn’t so much them as the people who followed them who didn’t have near the talent these ladies have/had, and pushed in a wrong direction from their work. But I’ve been delving a lot more in the last couple of years into the old pulp stuff, and trying to shift my writing to be more action-oriented. These days I’m influenced by Poul Anderson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard. I think what’s resulting is a fast-paced, crazy action where there’s no brakes, and I mix it with the personal drama and relationship building from the women I listed above, so in my newer work, I’m coming out with a very unique style that fires on all cylinders.
 
What is your opinion of the split in the publishing world between traditional publishing and the indie movement?
I don’t even pay attention to traditional publishing anymore. Stories are bought and sold based on identity politics marketing there and they have very little value. The best stuff’s being done in indie with Richard Fox, Mark Wandrey, Robert Kroese, Daniel Arenson, and guys in those circles.  Once you see the difference, there’s no looking back if you’re actually into books.

What kinds of marketing strategies do you use to draw in readers, and what has been your success rate?  Have there been any that would look back at and think, “Wow, that didn’t work.”?
I do a ton. Obviously I run my blog to big success, where I mix it with talking about current event topics and information on my releases. My YouTube presence is building to a good degree as well with the Lunch Stream and my wonderful cohost S. Misanthrope. I’m very active in social media groups, and then I run pretty robust advertising campaigns through amazon and facebook ads.

What projects are you working on now?  Anything got you excited?
Too many! I’m doing a trilogy which I’m just about to wrap up called Saga of the NanoTemplar. It’s a space-fantasy world where there’s a perpetual holy war going on between two civilizations, an allegory about Christianity vs. Islam and action-packed like a Star Wars movie.  I’ll be putting that out later this year along with more of my von Monocle (For Steam And Country) steampunk series.  On the comics front, getting Flying Sparks volume 2 ready, and very excited about a public domain golden age superhero called Dynamite Thor which I’ve developed with an artist Don Jackson into a modern character. It’ll be a lot of fun.

Anything else you’d like to share about either your writing philosophy or your life?
I try to put everything into my work. Every spare second I try to work on marketing or work on writing. It’s the only way to succeed if you’re serious about it. For folk who want to get into this, it’s a full lifestyle adjustment, but it’s worth it if you really love the work. And I’d also say make sure to keep praying and thanking God for abilities – without His blessings, we have nothing.  That’s about the most important thing there is to keep in mind.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The (Potentially) Lost Books

Following a post from a couple of weeks back, I thought I'd lay out which books I'm all but certain couldn't get published in today's increasing shrill and politically correct environment.  Seeing as there are books on such "controversial" topics as make believe witches and heroines having the audacity to live in a world where slavery still exists(as it did in most of the world until about 200 years ago), I'm sure that the following books would never work today.

1.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Never mind that this was already one of the most banned books in the nation prior to the current trend of woke-scolds, Twain's use of racial language, appropriate at the time but verboten today, would never get past the censors.  Never mind that it's actually a story about overcoming racism - this classic wouldn't get past an agent's desk today, much less past a publisher's.

2.  To Kill A Mockingbird.  When I was a kid, this Harper Lee classic was far and away one of my favorites.  The story it wove about a small southern town gripped by racial fears and one man's quest to overcome that environment captivated me.  Of course, in today's climate, the tale about a man being falsely accused of rape so the woman involved could hide her affection for a black man would be immediately denounced as victim blaming.  Again, two pieces of scorn from the woke-scolds - common racism and some people lying to cover up other stuff, especially involving sexual assault - would be banned before it ever hit shelves.

3.  The Scarlet Letter.  There's a disconnect in today's society between sexual liberation and sexual victimhood.  We are supposed to see women as both sexually independent and hiding from potential rapists around every corner.  The Scarlet Letter stomps on this concept by showing the way the Puritans shamed women who strayed outside of the bounds of what they saw as "moral."  That the novel is about the overbearing nature of puritanical society, as well as its critique of only one sex standing up against such a burdensome society, would be overlooked by the "shaming" aspect.  It would be seen less as a morality tale about one woman standing strong, but rather as "victim shaming."

4.  Guns Of The South.  I decided to look at a "modern" book(if a novel more than 25 years old can be seen as "modern").  Harry Turtledove is one of my favorites and is a master of alternate history.  That said, his use of racial language alone would be enough to get this incredible sci-fi novel banned.  Then there's the not-woke-enough concept of the South winning the Civil War(never mind that the only way they were able to do so was through the use of AK47s brought in by time travelers who ended up being the book's main villains).  After the controversy surrounding the potential(not-even-seen-yet) series called Confederate, the mere concept would bring out pearl-clutchers of every stripe.

These are just some of the books I don't think could get anywhere close to being made today.  What books do you think would get beaten down?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Backup Plans Versus Exclusivity

In spite of what I've done for a living the past 24 years, I'm actually a pretty risk averse person.  Most notably, I like to know where my next paycheck is coming from.  And for that reason, I cannot write exclusively for a living without hitting some success beforehand.

Being a success as a writer is a bit like playing a perfect game of Pacman - many try, but only a few succeed.  Okay, maybe it's not quite that rare, but the fact of the matter is that more writers starve than thrive in this business.  It takes both talent and luck to make it big, and as some like Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame have shown, luck can sometimes play a greater part than talent.

I admire those folks who can shove off other, more secure pursuits and write for a living before reaching success; I just can't do it.  I really wish I could slough off all of my other cares and dive full into this career.  However, with other people counting on me for stuff like "food" and "shelter," I find myself unable to devote everything to writing.

This is where choice comes in.  I accept that my inability to go all in on this may mean I won't reach the level of success I'd like.  But, there's a flip side to that too - all of you who do jump in with nothing to back you up, please don't gripe about how things are unfair if you can't string together more than two weeks without resorting to the Ramen Noodle Diet.  Those that are so dedicated that they can live on bike rides and mac-n-cheese, I think that's awesome.  You have a more adventurous nature than I.  But those who do it and want to live it up before making it, I can't muster a great deal of sympathy.

Maybe I'll make it.  Maybe I won't.  I have to live with that.  And I can.  Can you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Common Facts

I get it - in fiction, we suspend disbelief.  That's the very essence of fiction since it's just not reality to have genies granting wishes or to actually travel faster than light.  That said, that doesn't mean we can just dismiss basic facts by saying, "Lighten up - it's just fiction."

As we consider our audience, we have to figure out how much an audience knows.  Most folks won't know the details of a particle accelerator, but they'll know that there's not a lot of gravity in space(one of my biggest critiques of The Last Jedi).  A "normal" group of folks may think that you can be a crack enough of a shot to simply hit someone in the arm or the leg, but a police officer or Soldier is going to know that no one is trained that way, and that there are arteries in those things anyway that can lead to people bleeding out.  Therefore, if you're shooting for a general audience and can handle the sniping from a loud minority who will pick at anything, then you can have your Terminator shoot a guard in the legs and give the laugh-out-loud line that, "He'll live."  If, on the other hand, you're shooting for a more refined audience of professional athletes, then you can't have Keanu Reeves come out of nowhere to lead Washington to the playoffs without catching some major flack.

In other words, know your audience and don't be stupid.

Readers like to suspend their disbelief, but things still have to not go too far off the rails.  Don't have trees eating lions or the sun blowing up at the end of each day.  Yes, many of us wonder if our audience will get our stuff - for we are obviously sooooo much smarter than they are(insert obligatory eye roll here) - but most readers are pretty smart.  That's why they'll dismiss wild, over-the-top stuff quickly.

If your world requires Soldiers to brazenly disobey orders on a routine basis and still keep their jobs, or for every cop to shoot suspects on sight, or for a non-trained novice to beat a classically trained swordsman on his or her first try, then you should probably go back and figure out why you aren't more creative, as well as why you think your readers are dumb.

Fiction still requires some suspension of disbelief, but not the complete turning off of the brain.  After all, engaging the brain is why a great number of folks read our stuff in the first place.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Slacking Again

I told y'all earlier that more hiatuses were possible.  I promise they're not intentional, but life is getting hectic once again as I prepare for my transition to civilian life.  I will post as often as life allows.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Woke Scolds Strike Again

Last week, I waded into controversy that I rarely wade into.  I was sure that would be my most political/controversial post about society for a while, and that I'd soon go back to talking about what makes a good title or why emotion is the key to drawing in readers.  Unfortunately, current events have interceded, and I feel obliged to speak out yet again.

A new author named Amelie Wen Zhao was excitedly looking forward to the publication of her first YA novel when she ran headlong into the woke-scold crowd.  Her novel, Blood Heir, was a retelling of the story of Anastasia from a fantasy standpoint and based largely on her own upbringing in Beijing and other parts of her life(obviously exaggerated for the purposes of fiction...a blurb from the book read "In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin color, and good and evil exists in shades of gray").  Unfortunately, a group of self-appointed moral monitors read her work through distinctly American and looking-for-offense eyes and badgered her to pull her work.  Rumor has it that Zhao received at least a $500,000 advance, an amount that any author would dream of getting with a debut novel.

The book was deemed as sufficiently offensive because it talks about slavery(within the context of the book) and has the audacity to mention the skin color of a few of the characters.  OH THE HORROR!  The offense taken to the references in the book require a uniquely American view based on our history and would relegate everything to a one-perspective view of the world.  Zhao herself says the tale is about modern day indentured servitude and has nothing to do with the historical shame of any one nation.

Let me say upfront that if you are so angry at the world that you seek out offense in order to destroy the career of someone you've never met and who was trying to reach for her dreams, you need serious mental help.  No, don't chuckle and say, "Oh, that RD Meyer is quite a card."  I'm dead fucking serious.  Seek help.  Professional help.

This kind of pre-publication offense(we saw something similar with The Black Witch) is the equivalent of modern day book burning.  Thirty to fifty years ago, we were all worried that church-going fundamentalists would ban anything that offended their sensibilities and conduct public book burnings.  Today, the woke-scolds are the ones looking to prevent anything they deem insufficiently sensitive from getting out.  Some have tried to say that they were simply registering their opinion, and that Zhao could've published anyway, but that's a crock of shit.  Their aim is to harass writers into not publishing work they feel is offensive.  They have no interest in letting people read and decide for themselves - they want to be the moral arbiters of our society, and that we will be made to care in the way they see fit.  Yes, it is every bit as much book banning as the fundamentalists we were all brought up to fear as children.

This kind of shrieking and clutching of pearls is destroying books.  People are so afraid of the online mobs that they'll bow before anyone.  We have given these assholes power by refusing to fight back against their idiocy.  If we continue to let these modern day puritans continue to have sway, we will be left with nothing that challenges us, nothing that goes outside of a very tight boundary, and no one will care enough about a story to even write one.  Look, I get that some books are offensive, but you don't a) decide in advance what people should read, and b) stop bad ideas by banning them.  Instead, you ocunter them with your own good ideas.  You debate.  You discuss.  You don't shout down others because their writings aren't for you.  How about letting others decide for themselves if they want to read this stuff, as well as decide fro themselves whether or not it's actually offensive?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Answering Comments

As I said earlier this week, life has started to get real hectic again.  I know some folks have left some comments, and I swear I'm working on time to answer them.  I appreciate all comments, and I will respond to them at some point.  Seems like it should be easy and not time consuming, but my time is severely rationed right now, so it's more challenging than it seems.  Still, I'll get back into it at some point, so if you see a post you find interesting, please comment on it.

(BTW, if you're wondering why I'm writing this post instead of taking ten minutes to respond to a comment, it's honestly because I believe the blog is more important.  Sorry.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Contest Commentary

I recently entered both Salvation Day and Wrongful Death into a writing contest, and although neither one won, I at least got some encouraging feedback(some I agreed with, and some I didn't).

For Salvation Day:
Salvation Day mixes science fiction and Christianity together to create a novel that provides some shocking moments and ultimately reestablishes a fairly traditional, and hopeful, Christian worldview. The novel starts by pulling the reader into the character’s emotional state right away, which is handled deftly, establishing recent events in Mike’s life and really making the reader feel the emotion instead of just know what his emotion is. However, after the strong opening, the set-up leading to the main story takes far too long. It’s not clear to readers why they should be interested in Mike’s work when they’re waiting for something to happen. Instead of going on about Mike at work and his relationships with the other workers, the author could have conveyed all this fairly quickly over a couple of pages that time was passing, and key events in their could have been included in passing as well—because those events are still not really the story. There are also some typos cropping up here and there from the beginning, which is off-putting for a new reader. The first time something out of the ordinary (in a sci-fi sense) happens is the demonic transformation of Reverend Walsh, but this was not as effective or engaging as it could have been. Instead of describing what’s going on and using evocative imagery, the transformation is mostly conveyed through Mike’s thoughts. And instead of simply including the thoughts, it would have been interesting to see Mike reacting to what he thinks he’s seeing; as it is, he only reacts to the normal conversation that’s going on at the same time. Still, the thought behind this novel should be moving for some readers, and once things got moving it was an interesting book to read. 

For Wrongful Death:
Wrongful Death presents with simple yet effective cover art design. The over-all production quality of the book is good—no real issues there. As to the plot and story appeal, the novel opens strong and really grips you from the get go. I enjoyed the story very much and really felt a connection to Christian. The author did a nice job with character development and interwoven plot points. Having a character suffer teenage trauma such as this will be something that your young readers can really absorb and learn from. I love the way you put your special twists and turns in the book—surprises for the reader don’t let up! This book is a solid thriller. Not totally unique, but a great effort and I enjoyed it very much. Your voice and writing style is perfectly suited for the genre. On the technical editing side, keep an eye out for overused punctuation (exclamation points), and incorrect use of dialogue tags. For instance, you can’t chuckle words. You can say words and then chuckle—but it is incorrect as a dialogue tag. Just a really strong entry. Thank you for sharing your world with us and best of luck with your writing endeavors. 

Obviously I wish both commentaries had been universally positive(or that one of them had won), but it's nice to know I'm not a complete hack.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

More Hiatuses Possible

Folks, I'm trying very hard to stay on track with my blogging, but life is really growing hectic right now.  I'm in the middle of trying to retire from the military, I'm trying to get a decent civilian job, and I'm learning about a professional certification to try and beef up my resume.  Things are getting intense, so while I will do all I can to stay up, none of you are paying me, so I can't promise I won't miss a few from time to time.  I will be grateful to all who can be patient, and maybe life will return some time to me at some point.