genre thoughts

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#TBT Influences: Labyrinth

Published April 7, 2016 by admin

Olde School came out of about a thousand different places. I grew up with folklore and a love of fairy tales that led to a desire to delve in and explore all the nooks and crannies of the stories I adored. There’s a specific type of humor there, though, a specific type of tangent and re-directing of plot that I entirely blame on the 1980s. What can I say, it was a magical, weird time that probably led to more than one parallel universe. Fantasy, especially fantasy movies, back then had a slightly different feel than what we’re used to now, and I think that mentality fit with fairy tales nicely. There was always a slightly dark tint to things, even cartoons. There could be legit danger for characters, and that danger usually involved mind-bending punishments or soul-destroying hazards. You know, kid stuff. There’s one movie, though, that has followed me forever and probably will never let me go.

I actually wasn’t allowed to see Labyrinth when it first came out – I can’t remember if it was an age thing or because the family was dealing with a lot on the collective plate at the time. For whatever reason, I rented it when I was about ten, confident I would love it. I was one of the few of my friends who wasn’t fazed at all by The Dark Crystal, I survived The Storyteller when it aired, nothing Henson could dream up could get to me.

Yeah, about that…

I don’t know if it was because the danger was directed at a teen girl, I don’t know if it was because there was just so much to that movie, but it got to me. The objective part of me got that it was good, but it was probably more than my senses could process at the time,probably because it was also creeping into the 90’s and there was more of a sense of narrative, a sense of concrete good (naive but plucky hero) vs (obvious) evil instead of potentially unlikable protagonist having a million challenges flung at her all the time.

I didn’t go back to it until I was seventeen, and promptly fell in love with the movie. Truth told, hormones probably helped. I was already becoming a Bowie fan, and I’m sorry, I grew up in the eighties. What can I say? That does it for me.

I could write a million posts on why Labyrinth is an amazing movie. In a storytelling sense, it’s probably one of the few true modern fairy tales in that it doesn’t borrow other characters but uses tried and true archetypes and narratives. I could tell you a sequel will never work because that movie was beautifully closed and open-ended – there are countless ways of interpreting it depending on who you are and what you want to take from it. I could wax poetic about practical effects, I could talk to you about all the amazing characters that were developed, I could give you a dissertation on how it mirrors female coming of age and how it fits into eighties pop culture and thoughts of the times. I could school you on how well this thing was thought out, despite all the hiccups along the way. Case in point: there’s a theory that the (general) labyrinth design was based on intricate funereal/spiritual dance steps eons ago…magic dance, anyone?

For me, specifically, though, it’s like it gave me permission for my whole life. That second time I saw it, I was getting ready to graduate and wondering if I could make sense of all the things I wanted to be in my head vs all the very serious real world info I was getting in my daily life. Sure, I’m sure most teen girls want to act and sing, but also make puppets? Develop their own stories for those kind of projects? What kind of dream world was I living in? I became obsessed, and stayed that way for years.

The fact that the movie was made, though, was proof that anything was possible. It’s a metaphor for sticking to your guns to get through life. Think of it – if one path doesn’t work, you try another. And another. I’ve definitely felt Sarah’s frustration as she goes down the first passage and nothing seems to be happening and there are just walls and walls and…yep. But you stop, catch your breath, and look for another way. You see who will help you along the way, even if you have to bribe them a bit. You make friends. You make foes (are they foes or just doing what they do?). You have those people who you really can’t decide what they are. There are those who will want to control you, or maybe they see you as an equal, or a challenge, or a love interest, or not, or…maybe it depends on your own perception, as well. Things are not always what they seem, after all. You learn from everything.

I may not be doing what I thought I would be at seventeen, but I’ve at least delved in. I’m writing my own stories, I’ve been blessed to work on several awesome properties, I’ve done puppetry, I’ve built amazing characters and clothes. I’ve had music in my life, had performance in my life, and although I still fight the odds and the walls and oubliettes, I’m still going. I’ve made some extraordinary friends with stories of their own from that movie, and I know that should I need them, they’re there if I call.  Time isn’t up yet.

Also, can we talk about the line ‘You have no power over me’? Even though I have more freedom than a lot of those who came before me, being a woman comes with its own special set of frustrations. Growing up with that as a mantra, though? Being able to mutter that to myself when I’m irritated or frustrated at the way things are going? That no matter what, I can take back part of myself? That’s like having a giant sword made just for me.

Years upon years later I was reading articles in a Realm of Fantasy issue dedicated to the topic of labyrinths in general. It mentioned that no matter the story, one thing holds true of any hero who enters a labyrinth: they’re never the same person walking out as they are in. They can’t help but be changed.

A couple of months ago I saw the movie on the screen for the first time. I was blown away by how different some of the coloring looks vs the television, by how much detail is in every scene of that movie. Coming off of Bowie’s death, it was emotional. A packed house, I found myself watching everyone else as much as I was watching the screen. It was suddenly okay to embrace the love we all had for this thing. People were singing along, snickering at certain shots, and it was awesome that all ages were there. The kid next to me looked like their mind was being blown, and there were little kids asking questions about what was going on onscreen.

It was a special kind of magic that I don’t think any of us were prepared for, like we all had scurried out of our individual nooks and crannies in our own life mazes to gather at a castle for a few hours and find out what was going in other parts of the world. Sherry Amott Tippey, one of the conceptualists/builders/performers was there on hand to answer questions afterwards, but what blew me away is that she wanted to hear our stories. How did we get into the movie? What did it mean to us? And listening to everyone…it was incredible how many of us had similar yet different journeys.Talking to her afterward really hit home that it’s not a straight line, it really is circular, or twisty like a labyrinth if you prefer. If I hadn’t had that influence in my life I wouldn’t be doing any of what I am now. I don’t know how many people my work reaches, but I’d like to think it’s slowly making its way out there, and at least making people smile or inspiring them to do their own thing.

One of the biggest thrills for me when Olde School first came out was a review – not because of the number of stars it was, but because it mentioned that my characters were on par with things like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I’m not one for the comparison game and it wasn’t an intentional thing, but not gonna lie, that made me smile for days. It has influenced my storytelling, to some extent, but it’s also given me so many things to keep in mind, whether I’m trying to complete a task or find my way to a castle, facing down a goblin king or other people. As the world falls down, I know that there’s something bigger than me there for me, and that influence will never go away.

 

Persephone & Me by Corinne Desjardins

Published January 21, 2016 by admin

Persephone and Me Banner

It’s time to take a look at another new release! Come on, those who know my Jung kick, love of mythological archetypes, and such should know that I’d be all over this book. I also have a special love for Persephone, poetry, and creative nonfiction in general, so as soon as I saw the title, I was all in.

We’re talking to author Corinne Desjardins today, but first, let’s take a look at her book Persephone & Me.

Persephone and Me

Title:  Persephone & Me

Author:   Corinne Desjardins

Published:  December 10th, 2013

Genre:  Women’s Poetry

Recommended Age:  16+

Synopsis:

A poetry collection following my youthful fascination with Persephone and how she came to haunt me. I saw her constellation of characters within my own family and my own life. Ultimately, describing what I learned from the goddess.

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Grace

SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?

CD: I write poetry as a means of reflecting and processing, so I happened to have a bunch of poems that just seemed to fall naturally into the structure.  I have outlined two other projects, started them both, and then deviated from said outlines.

SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?

CD: I wish I had a cape!  That would be so cool.  Mine would be a warm red, like Little Red Riding Hood!

I did stop watching an entertaining TV series a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?

CD: I am not a planner at heart, I’ve only learnt to do some amount of planning for basic time management.  I often get random ideas from some quirk of television or some other thing. I suppose I do have some shady deal with my personal Hades, since I tasted the pomegranate seeds of marriage.  But I have come to understand Hades as not evil, just misunderstood (and socially challenged due to his lack of interaction with people of life.)

SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?

CD: ChickLit, because ultimately I don’t want to be depressed.  And ChickLit is always funny.  It’s important to celebrate the humor in life.

SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?

CD: Time. There just doesn’t ever seem to be enough time, or the writing/editing process just takes so much longer than anticipated.  Writing a novel in 30 days, a compellingly good novel, just isn’t feasible.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud NaNoWriMo, but I have never actually completed a novel during November, because, Life Happens.  I have had much more success with Camp NaNoWriMo in other months, choosing my own genre and word count goal.

SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?

CD: I am already kind of stuck in this book, being that it’s the creative non-fiction version of my life!  I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the Black section, however, that would be depressing. I might put an enemy in there, though.  It does kind of feel like a dungeon.  Maybe they can learn from their time there.

SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?

CD: I think the best stories are ones with a character arc of personal development and growth. There are different ways of highlighting this arc: hero’s journey, literary alchemy, the Pyramid, it’s all good.

SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?

CD: It’s not easy.  Mostly I write because I have to.  I’m not doing it for the money.  And I do hope that my story resonates with other women, and maybe they may become inspired to write their own stories, too.

SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.

CD: Creative Non-Fiction allows for therapeutic reflection and invites a new perspective or framework of understanding.  It’s healing. Poetry evokes the soul, of both the writer and the reader. It’s a mystical connection which we all crave.

SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?

CD: “That’s the book that made me consider my own life story, and made me realize that I could write my own book!”

SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!

CD:  I’m working on a novel called The Persephone Connection- it will be indirectly related to Persephone & Me in that the archetypes interact.  It is the second in this non-linear trilogy. This is taking a long time, it may be out sometime next year.

Perceiving Red

About the Author:

I am a writer. I love stories. I love to read. I love to write. Also love coffee, chocolate, and Merlot.

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TCM Presents: Nocturne Infernum by Elizabeth Donald

Published October 1, 2015 by admin

ElizabethDonaldTourBadge

I wanted to kick off October with something awesome, and when I found out Elizabeth Donald was touring her latest book, I definitely wanted to be part of the tour. I had a blast doing panels with her at Imaginarium, and she’s a fantastic author with a lot of insightful things to say.

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Nocturne Infernum includes the original three chapters in the Nocturnal Urges series, an alternate version of present-day Memphis in which vampires walk among us, but are not treated as our equals. They work the night shift, the jobs no one else wants, and they’re not too happy about it. Meanwhile, humans take advantage of the pleasures vampires can provide, but call them friends? Lovers? The gap between human and vampire stretches wide as death rises in the streets of Memphis.

Nocturnal Urges. It’s the most popular club in the Memphis nightlife. Part legal bordello, part feeding ground for the city’s vampires, Nocturnal Urges offers pleasure and pain in one sweet kiss. It’s the ultimate addiction: both drug and sex at once. For the vampires, it’s the only way to survive in a world where the creatures of the night are a dark underclass, ignored until the humans need another fix.

Into this world comes Isabel Nelson, a young woman seeking only a night’s pleasure. But after Isabel’s lover takes her to try the bite, she cannot stop thinking about Ryan, the dark vampire with whom she shared her lifeblood – and who is now suspected of murder. Isabel falls into a world where passion and love are miles apart, where life and unlike have little meaning… and someone is hunting in the shadows.

A More Perfect Union. Samantha Crews has lived a long time in the shadows of Memphis, working at Nocturnal Urges and hiding from the vampires that darken her past.

Det. Anne Freitas is stuck with a new partner, a young woman with a chip on her shoulder. Now they’re assigned to investigate a series of threats against congressional candidate Robert Carton, for whom Samantha volunteers.

But Samantha is falling for Danny Carton, the candidate’s son – an idealist who wants to make life better for humans and vampires alike. But there’s a lot Danny doesn’t know about Samantha.

He doesn’t know she’s a vampire.

He doesn’t know she works at Nocturnal Urges.

He doesn’t know his own father is one of her clients.

And he doesn’t know what’s stalking her…

Abaddon. The Lady Zorathenne requests the honor of your presence at a celebration. A toast, if you will. Followed by a feast.

Beneath the dark Memphis streets, something is stirring. Filled with ancient fury. Seeking revenge on the ones who live above. A revenge born in fire.

The fires are ranging in Memphis and no one is safe. Ryan and Samantha must descend into darkness beyond their imagining to find answers to the mysteries of the past, as Detectives Freitas and Parker seek the truth about the present.

And the return of an old foe could make the future a dark place indeed… save for the flames of Abaddon.

**

SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?

ED: There is an anthology for absolutely everything, from climate change speculative fiction to Christian inspirational werewolves. So I will frequently write to a call. Some of the calls are truly creative, and spur an idea. Other short stories are inspired by life, random thoughts or weird dreams after too much wine at dinner.

The novels, on the other hand, are self-generated. I never used to outline, but publishers are remarkably picky about knowing what the book is about before they’ll offer a contract, the twerps. So I started to outline, and found that it sometimes helps keep me on track when I get stuck. However, I have no problem whatsoever with flinging the outline into the nearest fan if I decide the story needs to go in a different direction.

SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?

ED: My quirkiest writing habit is probably my wrap ceremony. When I have finished a story or novel, I break out my authentic replica White Star Line wineglass and have a drink. I picked it up at a Titanic exhibit shortly before I finished my first real novel. I celebrated that accomplishment by drinking wine from that glass, and since then, I only drink from it when I finish a piece.

SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?

ED: I see no difference between believing in the muse and being a meticulous planner. I plan my work carefully, and then that wench shows up and throws live snakes into the plan. I used to transcribe conversations with my Muse, who is a chain-smoking, angry woman in a black leather jacket with a knife scar on her arm and lives in the basement of my mind, using a heavy bag whenever she’s not screwing up my stories. It’s really annoying that her occasional swings through the story generally make it much better than my meticulous plan.

Where do my ideas come from?

Schenectady. There’s an idea service there that sends you a six-pack of ideas every week. That smartass answer is to be attributed to Harlan Ellison, who uses that answer every time he’s asked where his ideas come from. As he says, “Aristotle can’t answer that question.” They come from the ether, from Neverland, from the place between awake and asleep. I believe just about everyone gets ideas – random creative thought-balloons that float through their minds. The trick isn’t getting ideas. The trick is grabbing hold of them when they come, winding the ribbons around your hand and letting them carry you off to Neverland. When you learn how to harness ideas and turn them into stories you can share with others, you’ve become a writer.

SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?

ED: You might as well ask me to pick a favorite child! Certainly I feel as though some of my books and stories are better written than others, and some were more fun to write than others. But I will say that the best book I have ever written has not yet been published, and I am committed to getting that book out someday.

SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?

ED: Horror, I suppose. Everything I write has a little bit of horror in it, whether it’s science fiction or fantasy or mystery or even romance. That darkness flows into everything I write.

SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?

ED: My biggest frustration is probably time. I am a newspaper reporter, which is a job I truly love and requires a great deal of time, energy and dedication. I am a wife and a mother. I am also chapter president of a journalism organization, on the vestry of my church and sing in the church choir, serve on a national ethics board, advisory board for a campus newspaper and am a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. That’s in addition to running the author cooperative Literary Underworld, a separate local writers’ group and side work as a nature and art photographer. The downside of being a writer is that all these projects eat up an enormous amount of time and energy, and sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and enough of me to go around. But I suppose everyone feels that way at some point or another. The cliche that writers – especially writers who work at home – do nothing but sit around and eat bonbons all day, that’s probably the one that drives me mad. As Harlan Ellison says, actual foot-pounds of energy are expended in writing, whether that writing is in the form of news, blogs, articles, essays or novels. It is hard work, and should be treated and respected as such.

SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?

ED: I wouldn’t mind living in the Blackfire world, if the zombies weren’t rising. It’s not the easiest life, working for a paramilitary organization to fight supernatural beasties and keep the general public safe. But I loved writing that team, and delighted in coming up with new critters for them to face – nearly all drawn from real myths and legends from various cultures, which is a fascination of mine. Things don’t often turn out perfectly for my Blackfire team, but I rather like their adventures. At least until the zombies show up.

My friends are pretty resourceful folks, so I might put them in the Sanctuary stories about Earth after we are occupied by an alien force. The resistance movement needs them. My enemies, if I have any, can go to Dreadmire. The undead cannibal elves will be pleased to make their acquaintance.

SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?

ED: If you’ve got that surefire recipe for writing success, please share! For James Patterson, it seems to be hiring a staff of co-writers and giving them outlines so he can put out 20 books a year. That works for him, but I wouldn’t trade writing my own books for… um, most of his money. Sure, you can package yourself and sell the sizzle instead of the steak. And you might make money that way. But then you have to ask yourself, why are you writing? For me, and for most of the writers I know, we’re doing it because we love the written word and we hear music that calls us to dance. The best thing about becoming a runaway financial success would be the time and freedom to write whatever you want, publish it, and still pay the rent. Once you’ve reached that point, why would you stop doing the writing part? Wasn’t that the whole point?

SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?

ED: I’ve said this before: the biggest challenge for beginning writers in this modern era is impatience. The ability to toss a book out onto the internet the instant you type THE END has put a lot of aspiring writers on fast forward, and the temptation to skip all that bothersome editing, submission and working with a publisher is very real. The problem is that most aspiring writers have a lot to learn, and we learn a great deal from the process, including rejection and wrestling with a recalcitrant editor over a comma. Skipping that process is generally the biggest mistake they can make, and so many of them do. Patience, grasshopper. Good writing eventually finds a home, and at the end of the marathon, it’s going to be a book you’ll be proud to call your own and a launch to a writing career.

SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.

ED: I hardly need to fight for horror; the monsters just eat those who would mock us. There generally seems to be a preconception that people who write horror are bent or twisted in some way, and that’s only partly true. But there’s also a preconception that science fiction writers are nerds, that romance and erotica writers have actually done all the perverted things they describe, that mystery writers are obsessed with murder. None of that is actually true. We write what we love, and clearly there are a lot of people who love it too. If there’s a genre I think doesn’t get enough love, it’s science fiction. It is the genre that forces us to look in a mirror, that uses other worlds and other times to show us things about ourselves that might be hard to face. Those who dismiss it as mindless ships banging into each other in an improbable future are missing the point.

SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?

ED: I hope they have come to expect a story that pulls them in through the hole in the paper and puts them in another place or time, with interesting people doing exciting things. I hope they laugh and cry and throw the book (but not the iPad!) and that they forget to stop reading so they can get some sleep before work the next morning. Or that they can’t sleep, because the teddy bear under the bed might get them. What I hear from my readers is that they expect to come to care about my imaginary friends, and then watch them die horribly. For a horror writer, that’s high praise. But it’s that first part that counts: They care. That means I’ve done my job.

SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!

ED: My latest release is Nocturne Infernum, a compendium that collects my three Nocturne vampire novels into one volume for the first time. It’s a trio of mysteries set in an alternate-history Memphis in which vampires walk among us, but they are treated as second-class citizens without the same rights as full humans. It’s a world based on the Jim Crow laws, and the vampires are getting peeved at their treatment. In the first part, a serial killer seems to be knocking off the clients of a vampire-run sex club in the seedy part of Memphis. In the second, someone is threatening members of a Congressional candidate’s staff as the debate rages about whether vampires and humans should be allowed to marry. In the third, someone is killing the human half of vampire-human couples with fire. It’s not easy stuff, not happily-ever-after romances despite the, er, occasional naughty sex scene. It was delightful fun to revisit those stories, and reminded me how many more stories wait to be told in the Nocturne world.

In the meantime, I’m working on a pulp space action-adventure novel, and I’ve recently finished compiling a short-story collection that should come out sometime next year. If only I can find the time…

 

 

ElizabethDonaldAuthorPhoto

Elizabeth Donald is a writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturnal Urges vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning newspaper reporter and lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. In her spare time, she… has no spare time. Find out more about her at elizabethdonald.com.

Website:  http://www.elizabethdonald.com

 Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/Elizabeth-Donald-147651731911508/timeline/

 Twitter:  @edonald

Excerpt: The Guru

Published September 14, 2015 by admin

I know, it’s a new week, but I’m probably sleeping the convention off, and I feel like giving you guys something to entertain yourselves with. We’ll get back to rants and weirdness soon enough, I swear.

Sometimes a story comes from a deep emotional place, and a lot of these times that’s a great big fat well of frustration. I can’t remember the situation this stemmed from, but I felt overwhelmed, trapped in a role. I tend to be fairly protective of those around me, and sometimes I probably overdo it, and sometimes I’m sure this gets exploited…or at the very least, people don’t realized that I’m like any other person and get exhausted. It’s also probably true that I try too hard and allow myself to get exhausted. Anyway, I was going through one of those times and suddenly this character of a little old man doomed to listen to other people’s inane questions when he really just wants to be left alone in the quiet and go swimming or something popped into my head, and off I went. this is just a piece of the story, and oddly I remember finding it a little hilarious, just so ridiculous after I wrote it. I have different emotions about this piece depending on how I feel at any given time, which is still really intriguing to me. Plus, I felt it was important to write this because as a reader, I want to know that I’m not alone in my very human feelings. If I can give that empathy and feeling of not being alone to anyone else, I’ve done my job.

I also admittedly wanted humanize the character of the mystic, because I refuse to believe that a person can’t feel negative emotions at some point in their life.

***

 Down the narrow path to the marketplace he goes, feet treading carefully on loose stones. A mishap could very well make a morning excursion his last habitual task on earth. Yet he always arrives safely in the village below, always goes to the market where he sits on the reed-wood chair. It is the only sign of his status. His wrinkled, dried-fig face could be that of any old man, his worn and ragged robe that of any beggar. He is much more, though his wealth is all inside his head. His appearance and carriage are only proof of his reclusive tendencies, not of who he is.

With slow purpose and movement that resembles a trembling leaf, he sits on his designated chair and waits for the people to come. They will not stop coming all day, even when he leaves to go back to his seclusion. From within each brain, from behind each set of lips pour out questions. Some inventive, but most he hears regularly.

From newly married couples: “What do I do so he doesn’t leave me?” or “Why does she nag me so?”

Young hearts that yearn for their first romance: “What must I do to interest him?” “How shall I keep her?” “What do I do so I do not to interest him too much? Does he love me? How can I make him love me?”

Young parents: “What do I do for colic?” “How do I get him to stop cying?”

Older parents: “Why won’t my child speak to me? How shall I get him to talk?”

Parents who are quite old: “How do I get him to leave my house?”

“What do I do with my life? Who should I be?” ask the young and filled with fear.

“Where do I go now?” ask those who are just afraid. There are the old who want to be proud of their years yet are feeble and filled with questions, for they have nothing left but to think of them. “How can I care for myself now? How can I love, how can I live?”

And there are always the ones that everyone wishes to know. “What is life about? Why is man here? Where do we go next?”

They come from everywhere. New faces show up every day, yet they quickly become old faces with new questions once they learn how accurate he is. He supposes having answers is an addiction, but it is his calling to provide what knowledge he can.

All day long he continues to sit and think and answer. He remembers how as a boy he used to be able to waste a day swimming in the river or walking through the forest. That was before his great gift was discovered. He has desires, too, though no one knows of them. He longs to travel the world, to see cities with tall buildings and deserts where living things have to spend their entire lifetimes surviving. He wants to see deep oceans, lush jungles where there are chirping birds, chittering insects, and the screams of predators. As long as there are no questions, he wants to go there. Silence is what he hopes for most.

At dusk he hobbles up the crooked path, his footsteps swaying between the little trees that try to grow between the rocks. As he flees in his dignified manner the questions of those not content to wait for tomorrow float up behind him, fading to a dull whisper the higher he goes.

“What about the harvest?”

“Am I mad or am I sick?”

“Should I kill my neighbor’s dog if it attacks my cows?”

“Will there be the heavy storms this year?”

Temptation strokes his balding head. “Lie to them,” it whispers in its throaty, beguiling voice. “Make it up and let them fail, then they will leave you be!” Frustration tugs his cottony beard that whispers to his knees. “Tell them where to go! Don’t go down the mountain tomorrow!”

But he is a decent man and casts his eyes to heaven for forgiveness. His throat is too tired to pray.

His hut welcomes him as do his goats. Their irritated cries lift to greet him and even their tone is questioning when he most wants to retreat to his solitude.

“Do you have to be so long?” their baahs seem to say, eyes hard as their foreheads. “Is it dinner time yet? Where were you, Old One, and why do you leave us all day?” He takes the time to milk and feed them. Slowly, tediously he does his chores and it is well beyond twilight when he is finished. He could take on a young boy as a helper or apprentice, send for someone to look after him, but he fears those who would take advantage of a position or the innocent questions of a young and hungry mind.

He eats a simple meal and curls upon his sleeping mat with resignation. He wants so badly to complain and tell someone about his fears, his desires, his pain of knowing

If he only had the courage and callousness to tell those fools to be curious! How he wishes he could tell them to find things out on their own, to learn and be happy with the learning and the knowing! But he is a gentle man graced with a large mind, but a small voice and timid disposition. He has no one to talk to. Not his departed, blessed wife; not his parents who instilled his curious nature; no teacher or friend or mentor.

***

Lost - 400x600

Kindle        Amazon Paperback      B&N Paperback

Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Short: September Children

Published September 9, 2015 by admin

Since today is my birthday (feel free to leave your gratuitous praise and adoration in the comments), I figured I’d post something appropriate. Since it’s a con week, I am going to be lazy and totally pimp my excerpts all this week because I am old and I can.

It is a known fact that people born in September are the best. They just are. No argument. Any argument just means you’re jealous. Other September babies have read this and totally agree with me, so we win. Granted, I find this month interesting because it can straddle summer and fall, though I identify more with the fall side. Without getting into the whole myth and legend of the birthing of SJ, here is a little short from Lost in the Shadows, all about my feelings on September.

You should totally buy the book, by the way. Since it’s my birthday and all.

***

September children are full of the light of the harvest moon. They are permeated by the sweet acrid musk of the smoke from burning leaves and the last of the barbecues. A child born in September acknowledges summer, relaxes in winter, but knows the real magic of the year comes with the falling of leaves and planting of pumpkins. They feel the pressure to like the start of school and they do for a week. But the distractions of the colors, the impending crisp air are enough to drive a true September child away from the books to walk down little side streets and paths in the woods to search for the remaining chipmunks and squirrels.

A September child always feels a little cheated that their mothers couldn’t keep them in the womb till October, but feel blessed that they came before the disappointment of November, the end of the real magic time of year. The winter may have its holidays, but it relies on marketing and icons to make it inviting.

A September child’s lips are kissed with cider and their cheeks are made for stuffing away doughnuts and sugary cookies. Their hair smells like deep sapphire sky no matter what the color and they haunt apple orchards, cemeteries, and destroy piles of leaves left carelessly to be crunched under their delighted feet.

September children are broody, stuck in a transition month with no real holidays. Labor Day and Grandparents Day pale in comparison to Halloween or Christmas. Being part summer and part autumn have made them determined. They watch for opportunity and adventure in their introverted hideaways in backyards. They feel no apologies for their month ending summer freedom and only a little jealousy at the months to come. But a smile from a September child means promise of things lurking in the future. They get things done. You can see possibility and fall sky in their open, wide eyes. They’re overlooked like so many others, but it helps their dreams and plottings for everyone else to be so distracted.

Their wrath is the lick of trash-burning flames, laughter the incoming of crows, their pleasure that of children playing tag on the way home from the first lazy week of school before the work really starts. September children are often ignored but full of possibility, the inhalation of breath before the year continues on, the thoughts and empty space before meditation. September children know how to live, most of all

Lost - 400x600

Kindle        Amazon Paperback      B&N Paperback

Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

***

In the Louisville area this weekend? Come see me at Imaginarium Convention and get a signed copy of Lost in the Shadows for your very own!

Also, be sure to go hunting for the hidden word on my blog and enter the Night Owl Reviews scavenger hunt before Sept 17! (hint: go look through the links at the top of the page…)

Fanfic Friday: Tangents, Characterizations, and All the Feels

Published July 17, 2015 by admin

Admittedly, I’ve tried to present a real-world view of how fanfic lines up with typical published fiction in past posts, but I thought I’d focus today on something that, in my opinion, the style absolutely gets right.

In a lot of professional writing, and in certain types of genre fiction, there’s a huge press to keep things streamlined, keep chapters short, keep focusing on momentum. Find the plot and stick with it, don’t deviate, don’t give your readers a chance to lose interest. While I agree with that, it does seem, at times, that character development and even some more in-depth descriptions/plot elements get sacrificed to pacing and momentum. The thought process is that in this day and age readers won’t hang on through massive books when there’s so much else going on in their lives to distract them. I’m sure we could have a whole other post devoted to that debate, but there is some truth there. I’ve seen books that resemble the structure of television shows or fast-paced movies do very well, no lie. As good as those are, though, I always feel like I’m stuck on the surface or outside of the plot, watching it happen through a window.

Something that I really love about fanfic is the utter freedom writers have to tangent within a story. A lot of this is because the works often focus on relationships. It’s a hard line, too, because it’s so easy to go off the deep end with that and ruin the overall feel of the story. I’ve seen that happen enough, too. Honestly, though, I’ve seen some stories on AO3 and other places that rival some romances I’ve read. Everyone takes a dig at Fifty Shades of Grey for originally being fanfic, but I have to tell you, I’ve read some stories that really sadden me because they aren’t original. They definitely deserve to be published, because they’re incredibly good at making me feel for the characters. Sometimes they even develop them in ways that may fail as fanfic because the canon characters may not seem the way they’re portrayed on screen or on a page or whatever…but they’re actually morphed into something that’s better if it was an original character. 

Here’s my thought on that. Generally, I definitely have a set expectation of how a character should act. You should respect the creator’s intent, etc. However, I think we can all agree that there’s only so much that can be covered in a two hour movie or one book or even a series. There’s always going to be a part of you wondering ‘what if’ for a specific character you like or connect with. Maybe you just want to see them be happy. Maybe you want to see them taken down a peg. Maybe you just want to read more about them and figure out what may have been going on in their head. This sort of style definitely gives a writer that opportunity. I’ve felt empathy and sympathy for characters I never thought I’d end up liking, and I’ve read some stories that just melted me because of how well the writers chose to match up a character with certain settings and emotions. If that takes things away from the original characterization a bit, well…who’s to say they wouldn’t act that way if given the opportunity? Make it believable, and I’ll at least give it a chance.

I will admit that there are times (usually in Alternate Universe fiction), where if the character ends up slowly showing a different side to them that makes sense, I’ll follow you there. The caveat is that it has to be done well – I don’t want to read a vaudeville-esque villain portrayal of any type of bad guy or someone mooning about just to do it. You have to give me a reason to believe this character might have a version of itself that would act that way. And, like I said earlier, often times this just makes me sad because I really wish there were other names attached to those characters in a book that I could buy.

For a very loose example – I’ve read a story based on an action/adventure-type movie genre movie, where the residence of the characters is reminiscent of Restoration culture and the plot is almost something out of Masterpiece Theatre. There is a plot, but a lot of the story is various interactions between the characters. You may have one chapter that suddenly throws a kink in the action, then three to five of the characters dealing with all the repercussions among themselves. You would not think in a million years that it would work, but it does, very well, in fact. It’s also brilliant in that it slightly morphs the main “good” guy in the actual movie to be arrogant and slightly dangerous in a believable way, and slightly tweaks the “villain” of the movie to be more sympathetic and easy to relate to – in a believable way. That absolutely works for me.

I’ve read “day in the life” type of stuff in various universes that, while I’m not sure how it would fit in with the original work’s canon, works really well emotionally and with some suspension of timeline. I could see something like that being a really, really interesting take on urban fantasy, beyond what paranormal romance has done from shooting off from that genre.

I can see where all of this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but something about the posting in chunks or chapter by chapter format really works for some writers. While pushing the story forward, they may throw in a couple of scenes that, while not really servicing the plot, do give you more of an insight to the characters and the reasons behind their actions. There’s also the opportunity for one shots – sometimes just for the hell of it, sometimes set within a fanfic writer’s own little version of the universe. Again, they may tangent the “main” series or story,but you get some really intimate interactions, some wonderfully angsty moments, some revealing dialogue that cranks everything up a few notches. I’ve seen a lot of this in AU (alternate universe, stories that may change a key element or twelve but keep the same characters) stories, and I have to admit that stumbling upon one of these tangent pieces (if it’s done really well) will, often, make me go look up the main story, or at least more of the writer’s work.

Drabbles work well for this, too. A writer may not have a long idea in mind, but has enough to do a little 800 word scene. There’s usually a very specific goal involved, usually a very specific moment between two characters or something that reveals a lot of emotional context for a specific character. Granted, sometimes these are gratuitous, but that’s not always a bad thing, either.

Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed Shojo manga does a lot of this, too. Those stories are also usually written chapter by chapter (so many pages have to be out each month or whatever the schedule is, depending on where it’s published). Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) goes all over the place, especially in the early volumes, and I never felt it got way, way out of control. If anything, you get a sense of the author really discovering a lot about her cast by putting them in these situations – something that’s honestly lost a little bit in the anime and drama versions, because the main story had to be streamlined to work better for those mediums. Skip Beat is incredible for character interactions. Pages and pages are devoted to Kyoko learning acting technique from Ren, and while it may seem frivolous at first, the author is usually great about bringing those moments up later and having them move Kyoko’s actions forward. Plus, they serve to show the growing relationship between the two characters, as well as Ren’s secret life and all of Kyoko’s emotional problems.

This is where I wish I felt better about linking to fanfic, but I don’t like calling people out without permission. I could show you some phenomenal character-driven pieces, though. Some are more traditionally paced than others and some meander around and are unapologetic about it. There are definitely times this doesn’t work, but when it does, it’s magical. You feel like you’ve seen another side to someone you thought you knew, or maybe you feel better about the whole original character technique because you come across a scene that just tears you open with empathy for that person. I’ve discovered some hilarious moments that I’m way jealous I never thought of, and it make me happy because it’s obvious the writer in question is having a blast. Honestly, isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway? Producing good work and having fun doing it isn’t a crime, and sometimes it gives you something just amazing to read.

Formula and discipline are all well and good, but I’d love to get to a point where I could incorporate both into my worlds, like maybe do a main series then do spin-off stories of little moments that really don’t amount to much except making the reader happy or allow them to discover something about characters they love. Plus, it would be fun for me, too, to just write to play with the casts I’ve worked so hard to create.

What about you, all you fanfic readers/writers out there? Do you think there’s a difference in form? Do you like reading character-centric pieces with no real goal, or is this the end of the free universe as we know it? Can this sort of thing be incorporated into genre fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Fanfic Friday: Instant Gratification

Published July 10, 2015 by admin

I’ve brought this up a little bit in posts here and on social media, but I think it really deserves to be explored a little bit.

While I have various feelings on fanfic and have had various personal experiences with it, there is something that I’ve noticed, and it’s one of the things that’s propelled me to jump in and really explore it as a medium.

Writing fan fiction isn’t the same as regular writing.

Now before you jump down my throat, bear with me. This isn’t going to be a post of me slamming the efforts of people who obviously are just as emotional about and devoted to stories as those who publish original fiction. However, there are some major differences in process that has a lot to do with a very big difference in timeline.

When I write a story to send to a publisher, it’s me and my keyboard or notebook or napkin and pen or whatever. I’ve got to map everything out, figure out what the basic plot is, decide if the characters are working or need to be restructured, figure out the pacing, make sure I’ve edited the manuscript enough to prove I’m a thinking human being – the usual.

I may use beta readers – maybe – but with my particular slant on things, I’ve had a hard time finding betas who will bear with me and believe that I actually know where I’m going with things. I may talk things out with friends or people I’m using for research. I don’t belong to official writing groups, but that’s an option, too. At the end of the day, though, it’s me and the manuscript until it’s all done – whether that’s five thousand words or a hundred and fifty thousand. I won’t know how the general public feels about my story until it’s out there and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can make assumptions about what will go over well, who they’ll get attached to in my cast, and all the rest. I can work with an editor, with betas, with a publisher, but the truth is once it’s out, it’s out. That’s it. Except for promotion, which I’ve likely got to do on my own, as well, without the help of cheerleaders and people helping me because they’ve been involved chapter by chapter and are just as attached to the story as I am. All I can do is work my tail off and hope and pray and move on to the next story.

Now, obviously, a major difference with fanfic is that the world building is done. The pressure’s off for the most part unless the author decides to build up a huge AU piece. That’s why fanfic can be good training wheels for those who really want to write: the author can focus on building effective characters and a strong plot.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s always been the case a little bit, but it’s especially true now. There’s another player in the fan fiction world besides the writer and the fandom. The audience, the love of certain fandoms and pairings, but also, one other little thing…

Instant gratification.

Now, there are some writers who will knock out big chunks of story ahead of time and post little by little, yet the trend is/has been to post chapter by chapter. This also gets you more hits, more comments, more replies, more likes, more kudos, more attention. And with the comments are usually people weighing in on what they love, they’re feelings overall, and the debate about what they want to see next. Yes, I know, there are plenty of people who will tell the author not to listen to haters (do we even still call people that?) or even well-meaning criticism, and to just do what they’re doing and write the story their way.

Call me cynical, but at some point it’s human nature to start listening to your audience, especially if it’s going to get you just a little bit more attention, especially if you’re writing in a fandom with pairings or plots that everyone else writes, too. Yes, community is important, but let’s not pretend that it’s not even just a little bit competitive, because of course it is.

The thing is, whether the author chooses to make use of this or not, it’s a little easier to figure out how to slant your story when you can get instant feedback chapter by chapter. It’s also a hell of a big encouragement when you get bunches of people giving you pats on the back and encouragement with every chapter you write. Hell, I wish I could hire a group of people to applaud me every time I knock out something, that’d be awesome and only marginally creepy.

The serial gets kinda close to this, except for the fact that fanfic is free and there are a ton more people obsessed with and ready to focus their energy on established worlds and the people in them than random original work. You write something with a pairing people are nuts over in a fandom people love? You’re golden, dude, you’re going to be told you’re amazing for a long, long time.

I may have experience with that one…and I can tell you it’s a big fat letdown when you find out the real world doesn’t work that way. It’s hard, man, especially when you kill yourself putting out a book you absolutely love, and you’ve had huge responses on your fic before, and then the public’s reaction to your sweat and imagination, your hard work, your baby is essentially: “meh”.. Those who publish original fiction know how hard it is to get reviews out of people, or even get people to crack open your books. I cannot tell you the amount of people I’ve had buy books from me and then admit to never reading them. Now, don’t get me wrong, thank you for allowing me to eat. I love that, that’s awesome, please keep that up. However, long term, if word of mouth fizzles, that’s pretty much the end of that.

With the fanfic model, not only does the author get constant encouragement, but the readers are constantly rewarded. Request fiction is becoming a big thing, and there are always people ready to help new fanfic authors with ideas and thoughts if they get too nervous or write themselves in a corner.

Honestly, it’s no wonder Fifty Shades of Grey succeeded because it started off as fan fiction. That’s become a joke, but think of it. You already have a tested audience who has let you know exactly what they like in your work and why they like it. They have held you up every step of the way, and if they know it’s based on a pairing they love anyway, of course they’re going to go purchase it when it’s transformed into an original work. Not only that, but because you’ve hardcore tapped into what people want to see in a pairing (I’ve noticed this really, really works with romance-themed stories or stories with high angst), it’s easily translated to the general public’s desires. It wasn’t just that women were comfortable reading about a very weird interpretation of bdsm that seemed safe and approachable to them. It was that it was written in a way that was already tuned to somehow press everyone’s buttons. Plus, there was a built-in street team with the fan fiction community, because if there is one thing fanfic gets right, it’s that the communities for each fandom can be big and intensely protective.

However, that example aside, there are problems. As an author, I like my autonomy. I don’t do requests and I never have. The moment I start trying to hit what I think people want (submission calls aside), I freeze up. I have problems. I do not like other expectations renting space in my head. I basically know what I’m doing, and aside from a select group of people who I trust, I’m not going to let the world weigh in on a work that’s supposed to be mine. It took me a good three years to stop getting comments regarding one specific work, and that wasn’t even in a big fandom. People were upset about my update speed, people wanted things to go a certain way, could I stop what I was doing and write certain characters for them?

I want no part of it. I just don’t. I do things for me, and while I’m grateful for the appreciation and the compliments, I don’t like to feel like they come with a catch.

That’s actually one thing that drives me a little crazy about fan fiction. How can I know if what I’m reading is good? Is it because it’s set in a world I love and the author is that amazing at reinterpreting it or is it because they’re really good at listening to their audience?

It’s not all that different from those who write niche fiction for a very specific audience. They learn what people like, pay attention to trends, limit themselves to a small area, and write the crap out of it. I can’t necessarily argue with numbers – be it cash or comments, but it still makes me wonder what the author can actually do. I don’t want to read people trying to work the system, honestly.

Now, there are fanfic authors who take everything completely from themselves and are damn good at what they do. I’ve known some and I’ve seen others. More and more, though, as we get more and more connected, it’s almost becoming about being a mentalist for your audience, which honestly takes away some of the fun.

At the end of the day I may not have ten pages of reviews on each of my books and I may not know chapter by chapter what people thing, but my books are mine, the product of everyone I’m influenced by and my own bizarre imaginings and machinations.

However, do I think there’s something to be said for being that connected with your audience? Definitely. Do I think it’s awesome that newbie writers of any sort can find that sort of empowerment and encouragement? Rock on, that’s fantastic. I really think all of us in original fiction ville could learn a few things from how strong community is in fan fiction and find a way to tap into that for outreach and street teams.

However, I’m also careful to mention when I do fan fiction panels or field questions from people whose only experience is writing fanfic, that no matter what you hear from self-publishing gurus or your friend’s friend’s uncle who knows someone in publishing, the real world isn’t like that. Unless you get lucky or have hella great connections, you’re not going to get five thousand comments every time you put out a book, let alone bit by bit of the book. Often times you’re going to have no idea what people really think of your work. All the decisions about when characters should fall in love or if the villain should be an antihero or if so-and-so should turn into a cat for five chapters…that’s suddenly all completely on you.

Original fiction isn’t just a marathon. If you want it to be a long-term career or even side career it’s a series of marathons. It’s a lifestyle of going from city to city and running marathons, except there may only be three people on the side of the road cheering for you in the whole of the race. You find out really quick what kind of a runner you are, and if the race (your idea, your art, your life as a writer) is important enough to keep going when you cramp up and want to die or if no one shows up.

There are good and bad points to each type of writing process, and there’s no one right answer to it all, of course.  I get that fanfic writers potentially face a ton of self-imposed pressure to stay on top in their circles if they’re not writing just as a fun little thing to do in the evenings. Being constantly told what people think of your work every time you put up something new isn’t easy, either, especially if you have an idea in your head and then feel pressured to change it because of public opinion.

I do think, however, that it’s time for original fiction writes to stop treating translated (originalized?) fanfiction as a fluke, because, in truth, it’s probably already been beta-tested to hell and back and been turned into something that’s definitely going to please at least one group of people and probably more.

I also think it’s important for fanfic writers to realize that this isn’t how things work in the real world. You may get lucky with one story or one string of ideas, but sooner or later people are going to be waiting for your next work, and then it’s all on you. Sure, you’re in charge of your own work, but that means you also get everything that comes with it.

So what about you? Do you feel one type of writing has it easier than the other? Is there a way to combine community with process to form a super-writing model? Am I totally off the mark? Let’s hear about your experiences!