Monthly Archives: January 2014

Escape Plug

I have a story to plug this week!

It’s called The Golden Glass, and its about booze, small group dynamics, and inter-dimensional evil twins. The usual. It’s up now, and you can go read it or since this is Escape Pod, listen to it. And please think about tipping the Pod. They put out a lot of great stuff.

Two things about this-

Usually I try to promote new stories right when they come out. This one actually came out last week though. I didn’t plug it earlier because I had no idea that it was out until I happened to check their site. See, the contract didn’t say when it was appearing. They often don’t– usually the publisher will tell you that in an email. Turns out this one was published pretty much instantly, which for a podcast (which requires somebody recording the story) is really fast. This isn’t a complaint– it’s nice to see the stuff get out there. It’s just a little hey-whoa-okay.

Second, just a bit of biographical information. I lived in Wyoming for a few years. While there, I drove over to visit Salt Lake City a few times, mostly for snow boarding. Right on the Wyoming side of the state line is a little town called Evanston. Now, let’s just say that there is a bit of a cultural difference between Wyoming and Utah, which is reflected by certain state laws about what products are available to the fine citizens of each state. Crossing back into Wyoming on the way home, I was always amused by the billboards in Evanston. Billboards advertising fireworks, booze, and porn.

Driving past those billboards may have influenced this story.

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Worldbuilding Oddities

Last week, Kelly said

If the story is well-told and fully-realized, then perhaps we don’t mind as much if the world is just a bit off.

This was timely because I just started reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent, which I’m enjoying and which is bugging me. In it, society is divided into factions based on personality: honesty, bravery, and so on. At 16 everyone takes a test that tells them what faction they’re best suited for. During the test, the main character (this is not a spoiler) gets inconclusive results, which she has to keep a secret because very bad unspecified things will happen if anyone finds out.

Here’s the part that bugs me. The next day, all the 16-year-olds *choose* which faction to join. They know their test result, but they don’t have to choose the faction that the test said they should. So…why is it dangerous to be divergent? If your test says “choose one of these three factions” then you choose one of those three factions. End of story. This doesn’t make sense to me.

I’m hoping my questions will be answered, but even if not, I’m enjoying the story. The world is interesting, but the focus is on the characters. As long as they make sense, the occasional oddity in the world won’t make me quit reading.

It helps that no one’s used a blender to make a sandwich yet.

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Reality vs. Fiction

My answer, as it usually does, comes down to story. If the story is engaging and compelling, readers are willing to forgive a certain amount of inaccuracies and illogical assumptions. It’s tricky, though. It doesn’t matter how great a story is; at a certain point the weight of “unreality” will crush it.

I agree! But let me expand. I think there’s two important times when it’s fine for a story to be unrealistic.

One- When you’re making crap up. Magic isn’t real–there are no dragons or fae or sparkly vampires, and you can mutter charms all you wish but your neighbor’s dog won’t stop pooping in your lawn. But you can write about these things in fantasy and its fine. That unrealism is baked in, it’s a fundamental part of the story. Same thing goes for time travel and faster-than-light in science fiction. They make the story work, and the reader doesn’t care about Einstein’s judgmental glare.

Two- When it’s important for the drama. Most people will acknowledge that things like science, forensic investigation, and computer cracking are long, tedious processes mostly done in brightly lit fluorescent rooms by average looking people who drink too much caffeine. People who almost never engage in witty, flirty banter. When these things come up in stories though, reality gets ignored and everyone pretty much accepts it. Why? Because reality is BORING. Science should be done in dark labs, lit only by snazzy glass touch screens. And all lab techs should be hotties who can spin dialogue like DJ’s of snark. It’s unreal, but we’ve all decided to pretend it’s really that way, because fun.

This is where Hunger Games falls for me. Is the books political structure realistic? No, but it’s fun, so I’ll forgive it.

The thing that breaks people out of a story and makes them go What? is when the unrealistic thing is something they deal with commonly. If a SF character asks the replicator for a PB&J and it shimmers into existence, fine. If an urban fantasy character drops peanut butter, jelly, and bread into a blender and pulls out a sandwich, the story better explain how that’s a magic blender. Because that isn’t how it works, and we all know that. It’s why my wife the doctor can’t stand medical shows, while most people are fine with them. She can’t tune out all the stupid medical things they are saying and doing to appreciate the drama. Meanwhile, all that stuff is flying over my head and I’m way too busy wondering how Dr. Handsome’s drunken screw up of little Billy’s head transplant will effect his divorce.

Stories are unrealistic. The good guys don’t always win, true love only occasionally wins out, and there’s never a prophecy guiding everything along. Hell, there’s seldom an identifiable point. So I think not being realistic is not only okay in fiction, but necessary. Just don’t screw up the little stuff.

Like sandwiches.

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Reality vs. Fiction

So a few weeks ago I read this article about how the world in the Hunger Games is basically bullshit. If you don’t want to click the linky (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t because don’t we all click every link in an article or is that just me), this is the article in a nutshell: using the Hungar Games to politically control the populace wouldn’t work in the real world. (Really, go read the article. The author says it way better than I can). This fact hasn’t done anything to dampen the popularity of these books or movies. Even my friends (writers and mundanes alike) who would agree with the points of this article like the books and watch the movies. The lack of reality hasn’t dampened their enjoyment of the story at all.

Which brings me to the point of this post. How much do readers care about accuracy in fiction, anyway? Is it a function of popularity? If all our friends like a book, are we less likely to care if it’s completely accurate? Or maybe it’s the characters. If the characters are likable–the argument can be made that Katniss is likable, or at the very least a Strong Female Protagonist–then do we care less if the situations the characters find themselves in are less than real? Or maybe it’s all about story. If the story is well-told and fully-realized, then perhaps we don’t mind as much if the world is just a bit off.

My answer, as it usually does, comes down to story. If the story is engaging and compelling, readers are willing to forgive a certain amount of inaccuracies and illogical assumptions. It’s tricky, though. It doesn’t matter how great a story is; at a certain point the weight of “unreality” will crush it.

 

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Paneled!

I spent last weekend at ConFusion in Detroit. This was one of the first conventions I ever went to, before I took a several-years break from going to any conventions, and I still like it.

This year, there was a big difference: I was on programming, which was a lot of fun. I had thought I would be nervous, but I wasn’t, at all. Which was very weird–I joined Toastmasters to get over my fear of speaking in front of people, but I didn’t expect it to work so well. I think it helped that the audiences were not huge and there were always several other people up there with me.

I’ve never been good at shoving my words into a conversation or meeting. Half the time I open my mouth to speak someone else jumps in (at times this is frustrating). I left a lot of things unsaid. That’s just something that takes practice.

Another useful skill would be the ability to steer the conversation towards the direction I had prepared for, rather than having it go off in other directions hat I didn’t have as much to say about. That’s even harder to practice, but I’ll have to figure it out. I’d like to do this again, and I’d like to be good at it.

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Full circle

I’ve been going through a lot of old photos lately while putting together a presentation for my upcoming school visits for THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY.  It’s going to take time, but it’s been an interesting experience already.  Heck, reliving my hairdo throughout the 90s has been worth a chuckle or two.  Fireball red, really?  Why did I ever think that was a good idea?

One picture in particular caught my attention.  It’s from my first  trip to Gen Con, back in 1995.  I was 16 years old, attending my first  author signing at a convention.  My brother snapped the picture while Ed Greenwood signed my copy of REALMS OF VALOR.  It’s not a great picture.  You can really only see the back of my head and Ed’s beard, but oh, the feelings that picture brought up, especially when you consider that 13 years later we’d be doing an author signing together at the same convention.  I have pictures of that too, which I think will make nice bookends for the presentation.  That 16-year-old kid in that first picture had no idea where she was going, but the place she ended up was pretty great.

And to answer the obvious question, “why don’t I post the photos?”  It’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not the hair.  Truth is, I just don’t have my new scanner hooked up yet, which again proves that I still have a lot of stuff to work on and figure out.

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Real Advice

To be honest, there’s not really much genuinely useful writing advice that I can give. So much of this stuff is YMMV. What isn’t is usually bleeding obvious- Write! Don’t stalk agents! Spellcheck is out to get you!

This week I had a reminder, though, of one really useful piece of advice.

Back your sh*t up.

I had one of those little panics where something seemed like it hadn’t saved, and that I had just lost a days work. Turns out it had, but that was not a fun five minutes. Another writer I knew had a similar experience, except she thought that she had lost a lot more writing, and had a lot more panic time before she recovered it.

This might seem like one of those obvious things, but I get lazy, and I know other people get lazy. We have to remember though that all this work is only so many electrons, and it can go poof so easily. Save multiple copies. Save them on multiple computers. Have a cloud storage service- I love Dropbox. Burn a disc occasionally, or save your files on a thumb drive. Email your stuff to yourself. Hell, you can even print it out. 

This is one of those fiddly little jobs that can become incredibly important in an instant. Especially when you have children. Or cats. Or both.

 

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