Thursday, July 24, 2014

Realism Versus Believability

I wish I could recall who it was, and if someone who reads this knows the answer, please tell me and I will gladly give credit. But a while back someone mentioned the issue of making a world seem real to a reader when so many people have unrealistic ideas about things. It's a subject well worth spending time on, in my opinion. Hollywood and tv are prime culprits in promoting this state of affairs, but they are not solely to blame.

The article I read used caves as an example. Someone who is a spelunker might be thrown out of a story when they encounter an unrealistic description of a cave, as for example describing a volcanic type of interior when the hero is actually going into a limestone cavern. Things like that.

But we have been conditioned to think of certain things in certain ways, and sometimes when you put them realistically, it throws people out of the story worse than if you just went along with the erroneous assumptions that the mainstream clings to. Swords for example.

Nothing on earth is any farther from realistic than the depiction of swordplay as it is presented in movies, on tv, and on stage. It bears very nearly no resemblance at all to actually using a sword. All you have to do is watch an Olympic fencing match, which itself is as fake as a three dollar bill in terms of actual combat, to see that dramatic representations of swordplay are a joke. Scenes where two men are banging huge two-handed longswords against each other like they were fencing foils? One man standing off three attackers, out in an open field with no cover anywhere around? Right.

Even one man holding off a group on a narrow stairway is iffy, if one of the group has a crossbow and a clear shot at his leg. But you can put a scene like that in a story and a lot of people will swallow it without bothering to think it through, because they are so used to seeing things like that.

So you have to meet people's expectations. I got a review recently where someone thought the dialogue in my fantasy book sounded too modern, and it grated on their ear. The setting is  not Earth, it is another human world, in a kingdom with a technological level approximately equal to that of late Middle Ages/early Renaissance Europe. Not exactly, but close.

The people don't speak English, but rather than do what some writers have done and try to invent an entirely new language, I simply offered their speech in modern colloquial American. The reader was subconsciously expecting, in that setting, to hear archaic speech patterns.  Even though it wasn't Earth and they weren't speaking English, reading the dialogue with words like 'guy' instead of 'fellow' or 'sirrah' annoyed them.

It isn't a matter of right or wrong. It's a matter of effective story telling and audience appeal. The small details like that make a difference to people. And it's not the job of the reader to adapt to the writer's story. It's the story teller's job to reach out and snatch the reader so tightly that they can't escape.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Here's A New Review

A blogger named Jefferson Smith wrote a review of "Athame". He has a somewhat different approach to evaluating books. As I understand it, he reads them during his exercise routine, and gives them up to forty minutes to hold his attention. Each book is allowed three misses, or three WTF moments as he puts it, before he quits with it.

A somewhat interesting approach, I thought. So I submitted my work. The review is HERE.

My book made it to 34:40, which is actually better than most. Considering that it was my maiden effort at a commercial novel, I am not complaining. He finished the review with a complimentary note:
Note: Despite the WTFs, I really enjoyed this. The forest folk live in a very well thought out world, and their existence felt like a believable balance, pitting their lore and hedge magics against the roaming predators of the night. The characters are well drawn and have some charm. And there’s an underlying thread of unrevealed secrets that kept me wanting to learn more.
It could have been a lot worse. Some of what he cited was subjective, but that's a big part of any review. One point in particular, the dwarven sword and how Peteros gets it, was entirely understandable, since the significance doesn't become clear until the second book. Overall I have to say it seemed like a fair and objective assessment to me. I'm glad I sent it to him.

People Need To Calm Down About Amazon

They really do. I'm getting old, and I've seen this before. Trust this doddering old fossil. Amazon is not going to take over the world, run every publishing company out of business, and end up chaining us poor hapless authors to the walls of its dungeon so we can write 23 hours a day under the whips of our overlords. Not gonna happen.

Today I saw someone growling about how a person absolutely HAD TO join up with Amazon's new book sharing service (In which they are imitating Scribd, Oyster, and a bunch of others that are already operating and have been for some time.) The person was of the opinion that if they didn't join Kindle Select and sign up, they would be left behind in the dust. So they decided to go with another sales option than Amazon.

Permit me to reiterate this:
1) They think that Amazon is on the verge of establishing an inescapable monopoly, that there is no hope of anyone escaping Amazon's grip, and that not joining Amazon's new program will destroy their chance for success.
2) Their response to this is to avoid joining Amazon's new program. Instead, they are going to sell their book using one of Amazon's competitors.

Inconsistency?

Chill, people. This kind of economic shift and rearranging goes on all the time in a free market. Always has, always will. It's not worth worrying over. If Amazon gets out of hand, it's not a problem. New competitors to Amazon are springing up already.

IBM once ruled the computer world with an iron fist. I remember those days. Until Microsoft came along. And Apple. For a time those two behemoths stomped anyone who dared to stick their head up. Then some college kid designed his own operating system. Then some upstart company took a flavor of that operating system, called it Android, and slapped it on some cheap hardware. Now Microsoft is going door to door with a tin cup, begging people not to throw it out in the street and let its children starve.

This kind of constant innovation and shifting of power is a good thing, not a bad one. Seize the day. Or the evening, whichever time zone you happen to be located in. More change means more options. More options means more opportunity for the mavericks like us indie publishers. This is a good thing.

No, I am not in kindle select and have no plans to join. I might do it someday, I might not. I was in the Smashwords version of the loaner program, and had no luck with it. Maybe Amazon's arrangement will work better. But I will wait and see. Meanwhile, I have two books underway, and a third one pending. I am too busy to worry about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New Chapters Added

I have posted a draft of the first fifty pages of my new novel, "Recompense" in sample format for public browsing. Click the link at the top of the page to read the new material if you are interested. These chapters are subject to editing and revision, but they give some idea of the book's direction to date.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Come On, This Is Ridiculous

I have been reading some online debates, and some articles on entertainment sites lately that have had my head shaking like a metronome. It's silly to my way of thinking, but then again, it goes far to illustrate one of my pet peeves. The almost blatant lack of creativity in 'mainstream' entertainment. I am talking about the recent modifications to Thor and Captain America.

Now, first of all, I think it is just sad that Hollywood has been reduced to cannibalizing fifty year old comic books in order to come up with stories for movies. Tapped out doesn't begin to describe the state of their creative desolation. But ok. The movies with Thor and Captain America made money by the heaping truckloads, so plainly they were onto something.

Naturally, there was a feedback effect and the popular movies did good things for sales of the comics. Just as it should. Then it gets weird.

Some people have been pitching fits over the fact that comic book heroes are overwhelmingly either white males who are built like weight lifters, or nearly naked young white females who are built like porn stars. They object, and I admit quite reasonably, that there is no reason that the comics shouldn't have more female and minority superheroes.

A perfectly reasonable and acceptable idea. I think about anyone could get behind that one. But to do it, did the comic companies put their heads together and come up with a black superhero, or a new female superhero of color? Oh, hell no. That would require imagination. They made Thor, the ancient Viking god of thunder, a woman. Then they made Captain American black.

No reason Captain American couldn't be black, except that He's Not Black. There have been countless black men who have served this country with distinction, and who would provide archetypes if they wanted to invent a new black hero with a military background. But why bother, when you can just grab a pen and scribble over the graphic you already drew?

By the same reasoning, there would be no reason that, for example, Blade couldn't be lily white. He could do just as good a job as a sword wielding vampire hunter if he was pink as a bunny ear. Except that Blade Is Not White.

And Thor is just silly. They already have a goddess hero, or demi-goddess anyway, named Wonder Woman. If they wanted another female war goddess, what's wrong with picking Athene? Or a Viking Valkyrie? Or tapping into the the mythology of China, or India, or Japan, or maybe some of the vast cultural wealth of the Amerindians? But Noooooo. It was so much simpler and lazier to take an existing character, with an established back story, and an established fan base, and turn them inside out.

Maybe they were afraid that if they tried to actually used their brains to create something original, they might come to an unsettling recognition of the quality that they have been puking out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Poetry Is Nothing To Write Home About

I'm re-thinking the idea of putting excerpts from the ballad that predicts Agrahain's return at the beginning of each part in the concluding book of my fantasy trilogy. It's supposed to foreshadow the events of each section. But I'm second guessing. I'm just not that good a poet. For instance, the beginning of Part Three has:

Bone for bone and skin for skin,
Deathless hunger never born,
Flesh for flesh to cleanse the sin, 
Heart's blood from a mother torn.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Review of The Shaman's Curse

Once again, I say and maintain that this is not a review blog. It just happens that I read and reviewed two books within a short time. This one is by an indie author whose books I really enjoy, named +Meredith Mansfield . She writes slightly off-beat fantasy books with a strong romance element to them, and seems to prefer writing a series over stand alone books. I understand that, because I do too. My Amazon/Smashwords review is below:

Disclaimer. I requested a review copy of this book because I had enjoyed the author's previous work.

The protagonist in this story is a young man who belongs to a plains dwelling, nomadic people. At first glance they seem a bit primitive, but as the book progresses we realize that they are actually at about the same level of technological sophistication as the city-dwellers that they trade with. The story line unfolds smoothly, at a steady, even pace, and held my interest through the entire book without any real shocks. There was a lot of foreshadowing along the way, and it was done quite skillfully. Overall, you can see the storm front building up, and the next book should bring the lightning. I look forward to reading it. Highly recommended.
As a matter of principle, I suggest reading all her books. They are worth the money.