I’ve been super busy the last week or so. Let me show you the list:
I’ve got the paperback of Malicious formatted and almost ready to go. Just waiting on my proof copy to show up. Not quite ready for sale yet, alas!
The whole Puzzle Box trilogy, Malevolent, Malcontent, and Malicious, are available in a single omnibus now. I’m debating turning it into a paperback, because it’s kind of a tome. For sale now on the platform of your choice! Except Smashwords. Smashwords is a pain.
I also got off my tush and finished the edits on the second dragon cozy mystery I’ve been working on. Here it is!
A fad diet has swept Carefree, Arizona. Tianna, drake shifter, has her hands full trying to invent a type of ice cream that meets the diet’s rigorous standards before the celebrity creator arrives. But when the diet creator turns up dead, Tianna must call upon her drake skills to sniff out the culprit.
A whirlwind of intrigue sweeps her in, from shifty cameramen to secretive publicists, as well as an abandoned chihuahua who knows more than she lets on. Helped (and hindered) by her friends Katie and Bruce, Tianna must find the killer hidden among the tour team before they leave town, letting the killer escape and strike again … or before Tianna gets too close and winds up on ice.
There you have it, folks. Where I’ve been when I’m not shmoozing around social media … working! Next project is launching this superhero trilogy. Still working through edits on that, as well as building covers for it. Trying to make it look as epic as the story inside truly is. 😀
When Disney’s Frozen came out, at first people loved it. But as the popularity, ahem, snowballed, the next reaction was to nitpick at it and find reasons to dislike it.
This annoyed me, but I didn’t bother to argue with anybody because that would mean reiterating the same argument every day over and over.
Anyway, I’ve had sick kids all week. That means renting piles of videos off Amazon and watching them as many times as possible. The sick ones alternate between Frozen and Cars. So it’s kind of a split between Pixar and Disney.
I’ve had time to think about all those old complaints about Frozen’s plot. And since I’m sitting here just waiting for somebody else to start puking, I figured I might as well rant about it on the ol’ blog.
Since everybody and their dog has seen Frozen by now, I’m going to assume that the following isn’t spoilers. But if you haven’t seen it, spoilers ahead.
The main complaint people make about Frozen is the plot twist with Prince Hans turning evil. “It wasn’t foreshadowed,” they whine. “There was no reason for him to turn evil. It was an arbitrary plot decision.”
Sure, it was a heck of a twist, especially since Hans had appeared to be doing the right thing until then. But I’d like to argue that Hans’s betrayal was foreshadowed. It’s mentioned early on that he has about 13 older brothers. Applying a single brain cell shows that he won’t be king. He’ll be lucky to be a lesser duke or something.
Hans doesn’t even decide to take over until it’s clear that Elsa can’t be stopped and Anna can’t be saved. Then he coldly stages a very quiet coup. Why not? The monarchy of this kingdom is doomed, and his tiny relationship with Anna is enough to give him the political standing he needs to be accepted by the local nobles and be crowned king.
It’s a shock in the movie, but then, it’s also a Pixar standard twist. Watching it, I actually laughed when Hans did his heel-turn.
In Monsters Inc, we’re set up to think that Randal, the lizard-like chameleon monster, is the bad guy. Heel turn! The kindly old CEO of Monsters Inc is the one funding Randal’s evil deeds.
In Toy Story 2, we’re set up to see Al as the antagonist. Heel-turn! It’s actually the kindly old prospector who is in league with Al.
In Toy Story 3, we’re led to believe that Ken is the villain of a ring of toy thugs. Heel-turn! It’s actually the kindly old teddy bear running the show.
Starting to see the pattern?
Pixar did this particular plot twist so often that audiences were getting bored, so they had to try different formulas in movies like Brave and Up. (Although in Up, the kindly old man explorer who Carl adores is–heel-turn!–the bad guy.)
I think where Frozen got into trouble was that it was Disney, not Pixar. Despite most of the Pixar talent migrating to Disney, people didn’t expect the standard Pixar plot twist in a Disney movie. And Hans was the handsome love-interest spoof, not a kindly old man. We were set up to expect the Duke of Weaseltown to be the bad guy. Whoops, Pixar standard plot twist happened.
So, when people whine about Frozen’s plot twist with Hans being bad, go watch a bunch of Pixar instead. None of those other heel-turns had much foreshadowing, either, unless you knew exactly what to look for. It gets pretty predictable, really.
Well, I’m off to watch Tangled. At least we know from the start that her witchy stepmom is the villain.
Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m going all literary analysis on you today.
So I’ve been getting into the games Destiny and Destiny 2. These are multiplayer online shooters where you shoot aliens and collect loot. Pretty straightforward and pretty fun (and often, just downright pretty.)
But the game also hints at a deeper backstory that it doesn’t explain super well, unless you’re willing to spend hours piecing together tidbits scattered throughout the games. So I’ve been watching lore videos on YouTube, where other people take all those tidbits and string them together into a cohesive story.
I’ve been increasingly delighted with the meta-narrative of Destiny.
Like most science fiction, the story operates from a humanist worldview: mankind can become gods if we just put aside our differences and work hard enough. But then the metaplot comes into play, and it’s decidedly not humanist. In fact, it swings decidedly Christian. I wonder if the writers at Bungie realize what they hath wrought and its significance.
The big picture story goes like this. There is this alien-machine god-thing called the Traveler that looks like a small white moon. It’s power is called Light. It shows up in our solar system, grants humans the Light, and terraforms the inner planets and the various moons of the gas giants. Humans go live on these planets. Humans also develop longer lives, better tech, etc, and go into a Golden Age.
This doesn’t last, of course. There’s an evil force called the Darkness that chases the Traveler from place to place. Its weapons are four alien races that serve it, but all who crave the Light–or hate it. They stomp humanity, destroy their colonies, and ruin Earth.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The Traveler actually battles the Darkness one on one. The game is very vague about this point, and the lore videos have multiple theories about what exactly happened. Point is, the Traveler won, but it was wounded and stopped terraforming and things.
Instead, it sent out these tiny robots made of Light called Ghosts. Each Ghost resurrects a single person, basically a zombie (or revenant, since they have their soul) powered by Light. They became known as Guardians. If one of these guardians is killed, they can be resurrected so long as their Ghost is unharmed. If their Ghost dies, no more resurrections for them, it’s lights out.
See the metaphor going on, here? It’s super interesting. Almost a Holy Ghost thing.
Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor. In real life, the God is the source of all Light, and He was not only before the Darkness, he already defeated it. The Darkness itself has a name and a face. Once known as the Light Bearer, he has become the Enemy, and his sin was pride. “I will become like the Most High!”
Jesus battled the Darkness and overcame it, being wounded on our behalf. In Destiny terms, the Last City in the shadow of the Traveler might as well be built at the foot of the Cross, because the symbolism is so similar.
Now, it’s really too bad that Destiny clings to its humanist philosophy. In its lore, the Traveler gives Light without making any demands of humanity. No devotion to righteousness, no forsaking sin and Darkness. In real life, there are two sides, and we have to pick one. If that was the case in Destiny, then the battle between Light and Darkness would go beyond meta-narrative and become the personal struggle of every Guardian. The story of the Warlords–guardians who abused their power–would become even more vile.
If such a choosing of sides was possible, then redemption would also be possible for the four alien races who serve the Darkness, however unwittingly. It would be possible for them to abandon Darkness and serve the Light, too, thus becoming very interesting allies.
But Destiny keeps things very Tao, with Light and Darkness equally matched and no ultimate victory is possible. Mankind doesn’t have to seek righteousness and abandon sin in order to receive power. (Which, the more you think about it, is so strange. Why aren’t Guardians forced to pick sides? There are in-game stories of Guardians who joined the Darkness, so maybe, in a way, that choice is still there, just buried out of sight.)
So, that’s Destiny’s meta-narrative, a lot of Christian ideas underlying a humanist story. And it’s funny, because if you make the game more humanist (the Light is ours because humanity is awesome), then the battle between Light and Darkness falls apart, with no real difference between them. If you make the game more Christian, with the Light actually having conditions and everyone being forced to pick sides, then the story becomes much more profound.
Maybe that’s one reason the story is intentionally left vague, scattered throughout the game in hints and tidbits. Breadcrumbs for those to see who can. I’m continually shocked at the Christian terminology these lore gamers use to describe these concepts.
I think it’s a good lesson for us Christian writers. Tell a good story and don’t be afraid to pull in delicious metaphor about the struggle between good and evil. It rings true for everyone.
Ah, Dean Wesley Smith, so much food for thought while challenging paradigms.
Anyway, he pointed out in a recent blog post that writers get really fixated on creating a product. We want to crank out books like bottle caps on a conveyor belt. More is better, we’re told. Make it a great product so customers will keep coming back.
Then I read an interesting thread on the Writer’s Cafe on kboards. People were talking about the low quality of these books being cranked out. Particularly the short stories or secret series prologues that are given out as bait for getting people to subscribe to mailing lists. They’re referred to as reader magnets.
One person said:
Most readers don’t want free or cheap books so much as they want entertaining books. Most of these reader magnets are marketing tools that offer little appeal to the reader.
Value is such a nebulous term as to be almost meaningless, but I think the shortest answer is this: the reader magnet should be your absolute best work. What I see, instead, is authors giving readers a blah free story, then wonder why readers don’t come back for more (often accompanied by a proclamation lamenting “freebie hoarders”).
Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is crap (tongue in cheek, of course), but I’d suspect that rate is more like 99% for the reader magnets I see. Your magnet has to be a pro-quality product that you could charge money for, and I don’t see that with most of them. If we are being honest, most of them are written because some person on a forum or book said we needed one, and it was just a little thing to tick off on the massive to do list. This is generally not a recipe for compelling fiction.
Between that little discussion about good quality books, and Dean’s observation about how authors fixate on product over story, it’s given me a lot to think about. Do I want to be an author who cranks out Products? Or do I want to be an author who takes care to craft a really engaging, entertaining story that is a fun, fantastic escape?
As a reader, I respect the heck out of my own readers. I want to give them a great experience when they crack one of my books. It’s why I took down the Spacetime books. If I couldn’t stand to read them, what reader would? They weren’t a good experience.
So, what do you think? Would you rather read a Product? Or a book that an author had worked very hard to make Quality Entertainment?
A few days ago, Dean Wesley Smith, a career writer who has written hundreds of books, wrote a blog post about how to be creative while writing. Namely, how it works and how to destroy it.
Outlining… Absolutely the quickest way to make sure the creative voice won’t even show up. Why should it bother? Your critical voice has already figured out what the book will be, so the creative voice just goes off and pouts, leaving you the hard work of writing from critical voice. And having no fun.
Knowing Your Ending… This, to the creative voice, is exactly like you picking up a book, flipping to the last pages, reading the ending, then thinking the book will be interesting to read. This comes from fear, brought on by the critical voice being afraid of “wasting” your time and so on. You know, stuff parents said to you in the real world. If you need to figure out the ending because of fear, you will lose your creative voice almost instantly and the project will lose excitement and mostly just die.
Writing is Hard Work… No creative voice wants to show up with that belief system. That is all a myth and remember, the creative voice is like a two-year-old in nature. It doesn’t want to do anything it is forced to do. So when you keep repeating over and over to make your ego feel better that writing is hard work to be suffered over, your creative voice says screw that and leaves. And then writing from critical voice does become hard work and your books are dull.
1… Stop caring so much about the final product, just do the best you can.
2… Write one draft, clean with cycling in creative voice, and release with a promise to yourself you won’t touch it again.
3… Have fun. Make writing fun again. Make it play.
I know a lot of writers dislike Dean Wesley Smith because he comes off as so opinionated. But you know what? He’s 67 and he’s been at this writer thing for longer than I’ve been alive. For longer than most of my friends, even. Not to mention that he and his wife self publish all their own books and have for years. He’s done things that none of my newbie author friends have ever thought of (like selling signed paperbacks to the voracious book market on eBay.)
There are basically two kinds of writers. Those who outline everything, and those who “write by the seat of their pants”, that is, those who rely exclusively on the “creative voice” DWS mentions above.
When I started writing, I always found that outlining killed my inspiration. I’ve since found methods of outlining that kind of work, but they still give rise to stories that are … well, only passable. I mean, they were okay, but they weren’t my best work. I had the idea that the stories could have risen to amazing heights, but … that takes a genius place in my brain, and I can’t hit that genius place while coldly outlining.
This has always quietly baffled me. When I was writing fanfiction, at most, the only outlining I would do was to write a list of “cool stuff I wanted to happen” so I didn’t forget to put it in. And I cranked out some storylines that were pure genius. Even now, years later, people still track me down to tell me how much they loved my old fanfics.
Then I started writing books for publication, which I dutifully outlined. And they just … weren’t as good. The sparkle wasn’t there, somehow. So I went back to fanfics, just writing with no outline, only a brief list of things I wanted to happen. And the genius returned.
So … I don’t know if DWS’s advice up there applies to everyone. But for me, writing with very little outline, just following the conflicts and the characters’ reactions to them, is where the sparkle and the genius lies. I’m going to toss out the outline for my next book and just write into the dark. I know my characters and their arcs, and I know my bad guys and what they’re trying to do. Beyond that, I think I’m capable of setting them loose and watching the feathers fly. If I can do it with fanfics, I can do it with original characters, too.
Well, my urban fantasy book that was on submission with a small press got an official rejection. They cited issues that I was aware of and was planning to fix in another draft, anyway.
In a way, I’m hugely relieved. The longer I waited to hear back from the publisher, the more I realized how much control I was relinquishing. I couldn’t pick my own cover artist. I couldn’t set price promotions. I’ve been indie so long, going under the yoke of a publisher was just too hard for me. Maybe I’m too much of a rebel.
Anyway, one of the issues they cited was the worldbuilding. It was flabby and didn’t make sense.
In my previous post, I talked about the fanfic series I’m turning into original fiction. (Hey, if Cinder, Mortal Instruments, the Vorkosigan Saga, the Temeraire books, and Firebird all started life as fanfiction … I can do it, too!)
Anyway, my husband latched onto it, and we’ve been doing spectacular amounts of worldbuilding. He asked me, “What about the metaplot?” So we’ve been building that. We’ve actually built back across world borders into the urban fantasy universe, explaining the villains there, and how they’re going to interact with the characters in both series. Our going idea is to write, say, five books in each series, and then have one book that has the big Cosmic Crossover event and finishes up both storylines.
It’s crazy ambitious, but I’ve written far more bonkers things before.
Anyway, all this worldbuilding definitely fixes the issues the publisher has. I’m going to have to rewrite the entire book, I think, but I’ve done it before.
My biggest problem is that all my friends tend to read and write fairytale fantasy romance featuring female protagonists. I’m going to have to fish around to find a male audience who will follow male characters being awesome and not having much romance. I think my action movie history is showing.
Last year, I wrote a novella and two novels back to back. But you wouldn’t know it, because they were fanfics. I’m hugely proud of them … but they have a very limited audience.
So I started wondering how hard it would be to change the names and make them into fantasy. After all, most of the setting and a lot of the characters are my own.
So I’ve been undergoing the labyrinthine task of changing a story from fanfiction to original fiction. Can we say I underestimated how difficult it was going to be? With fanfic, your readers already know the setting and characters. With original fiction, they don’t, and you have to establish them. Doing that without dropping a slab of exposition on the reader has been massively difficult. Fortunately I have a group of patient beta readers who can look at it and go, “Nope, it’s not there yet.”
As I’m chewing on this massive revision, I look at authors like Kathy Tyers for inspiration. Her Firebird series is renamed Star Wars fanfiction. Supposedly there’s a plot line in there about “what if Jesus came to the Jedi?” But what I got out of it was, “When a Jedi Psychic finds his Empire royal soulmate, things get hot.” They use crystal swords instead of lightsabers and use psychic powers instead of the Force. If you didn’t know it was Star Wars, you might not ever pick up on it. It’s just Romance In Space. It’s skillfully done. That’s the kind of thing I want to pull off, here.
Trouble is, when you take the kind of stories I’ve been writing and turn it original, it comes out as superhero fantasy. Small-town superheroes with moderate powers who get way, way over their heads with foes beyond their strength. So I started looking up superhero fantasy on Amazon.
First off, there’s not really much there. Second, it all looks like this.
It’s either licensed novels, comic book anthologies, or indie offerings that … aren’t really that great. In my sniffing around, I found the Gender-Swapped Iron Man Saga, the X-Men Fanfic Saga, the Hey Guys My Hero Is Cool books, and Look Guys Aliens books. I even read the middle-grade Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. The first half was great. The second half devolved into “Spot who’s carrying the idiot ball in this scene!”
Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging. Either nobody reads this genre, or nobody writes anything good for it. (I’m leaning toward the latter, because I saw lots of reviews from people who said that they adore the genre and will read anything in it.)
So, I’m going to take a shot at contributing to the badly underdeveloped superhero genre and see how it goes. You know, once the thing is in a readable state.
Meanwhile, it has crossover potential with the other urban fantasy series I was planning, so we’ll be reworking the worldbuilding on that, too. So much fun!
Over the weekend, the kids and I hit the library. I’ve had a hankering for a nice, fun cozy mystery, so I browsed around and picked up one at random, pretty much because of the cover. I won’t give out the name of this unfortunate book to keep from embarrassing the author, but it’s probably nobody you know.
I started reading, and … well, oh my. It’s pretty bad when the detective commits almost as many crimes as the killer (and victim, in this case).
The premise is that the heroine runs a restaurant (like most culinary cozy heroines). She has the bad luck to find her shady business partner dead in the kitchen.
At this point, most books would go into the crime scene, the clues, all that jazz.
Not this one. The heroine and her sister grab the body and drag it into the alley behind the restaurant “so as not to ruin business”.
I was astonished at this, and utterly certain that this would come back to bite them. So I kept reading in suspense.
The heroine’s lowlife sister steals the dead man’s wallet and goes on a shopping spree with his credit card, leaving a plain trail for the police. This puts the spurs to the heroine to solve the mystery before the cops close in.
Continually astonished at the stupidity of these characters, I kept reading, waiting for the hammer to fall.
The body disappears, then reappears in a lake up the road. The investigation begins. The heroine is sweating bullets. The suspense mounts. Clues contradict each other and many secrets come to life as the suspects sing like canaries. Typical mystery stuff.
And then … the killer is found. And for some reason, the cops stop asking questions about who moved the body, and they quietly stop investigating the credit card fraud.
I got all the way to the end.
No consequences for the heroine and her sister’s asinine actions. The police just drop everything. Tampering with a crime scene is a felony! Credit card fraud is a felony! There should have been some kind of repercussions, but … just … nothing.
I got on Goodreads and found that a lot of people threw the book at the wall over this. I also learned that in book 2, the heroine steals the victim’s car. So … I think I’m done with this series. The detective can’t run around committing crimes and getting away with it. If she’d had to pay a fine, at LEAST, I would have bought it. But … just getting away scot-free?
Let that be a lesson to you, authors. Don’t let your characters get away with anything. Let them make bad choices, sure, but then let the consequences come back to bite them. Otherwise, readers will be throwing your book at the wall and saying nasty things on Goodreads.
Here are some other cozies you should read instead:
I don’t consider myself a horror writer. In fact, I can only read straight horror about once a year, at Halloween. And even then, I only do psychological thrillers. (Turn of the Screw is still excellent.)
Then somebody remarked about my fanfics, how the mind control aspects that one character dealt with ‘was such excellent horror’. It had never crossed my mind that this was horror. I was writing about the abuse of technology, and using it to make for some really excellent conflict.
While I don’t like to read a straight up horror novel, having some horror elements is like adding extra spice. You say you have a hero who animates zombies? Or a hero who is a werewolf and wrestling with his monstrous nature? Tell me more!
Kids books often have an element of horror. How about that moment in the first Harry Potter book when Quirrell unwraps his turban?
Oh yeah, deliciously horrifying. Or how about any of N.D. Wilson’s villains? In Outlaws of Time, the bad guy has interdimensional graveyards where he buries the bodies of people he has killed multiple times, and he visits them often. It’s creepy and awful.
But then, the villain isn’t a threat without some kind of horror. Look at every Marvel villain ever made. There’s an element of horror to everything they do and represent. They want to do truly awful things on a large scale, which is why the heroes have to stop them.
In my last story, I essentially did the chest-bursting scene from Alien. It was to underscore just how bad the villain was. It also turned another villain into an anti-hero. It was gross and awful, but it was also a huge turning point. The horror was necessary to drive the characters into the final confrontation.
So, what happens is, I find myself subconsciously studying horror. Not because I enjoy it, so much, but because it’s how you make your villains scary. You don’t want to overdo it, of course, but … if your villain’s not scary, then he’s not a good villain.
My husband and I have been watching an anime called My Hero Academia. Basically it’s Hogwarts for teen superheroes. It has all the interpersonal conflicts and cool power combos that I love seeing from my superhero fiction.
But the villains, in particular, are outright horrifying. There’s this one guy who is covered in severed hands. If he touches you with one of them, he disintegrates you. But when he gets upset, he loses control and starts scratching his neck like a tweaker. He’s scary as heck and also weirdly fascinating. Again, the horror element comes into play. It’s both the frightening appearance, and the kind of threat he represents.
So … I’ve been pondering my own relationship with the horror genre. I do enjoy many aspects of it. I mean, how else can you paint evil as evil? I don’t think I can ever write anything that is straight horror, because I tend to laugh at it. But a little bit used here and there? It becomes a delicious spice to add to the main dish of the rest of the story.
I just finished writing a fanfic that was 71k words long. That’s about 300 pages. And my brain is totally fried.
Last year, I read the most amazing book. It’s called the Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Basically, it details how little actions added up over time amount to a huge result. It doesn’t matter if you’re saving money, trying to build muscle, or writing a book. Doing a little bit each day toward that goal pays off.
When I sat down to write this fanfic, I was terrified. For one thing, it would be military science fiction, a genre I’ve read but never attempted to write. I would have to write battles and strategies and politics. For a writer who mostly messes about in the romance genres, this was incredibly daunting. But the game I was adapting had really hooked me with the things it left understated, and I wanted to explore them. I had readers who were hoping I’d take them on this crazy journey and improve on the game’s story. So I spent two weeks worldbuilding, and dove in.
Worldbuilding for a fanfic? Yep. When it comes to the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, the official worldbuilding is really squishy. There’s lots of hand-waving and stuff that is just outright never explained. So I had to figure out exactly how I wanted to explain EVERYTHING.
And who I wanted to kill off. Since this is a story about an apocalyptic war, basically.
Writing this story was terrifying and exhilarating. I’d read over the previous day’s work each day, and go, wow, this actually doesn’t suck.
Sometimes I’d bog down. But I don’t want to write another battle! my brain would whine. I would argue, But this time there’s AIRSHIPS. Don’t you want to write AIRSHIPS?
The compounding effect kicked in. Even on my worst days, when I was crawling through the story, bleeding emotion all over the page as another character died or was maimed, the words added up. It helped that my characters were keeping secrets all over the place. Anne R Allen wrote a blog post about how important it is for characters to have secrets. And boy, does it keep the story rolling and the readers reading. I’ve had almost 2k hits on this fanfic already, and I’ve only posted 8 chapters so far.
This week, I wrote The End. It was such a relief. Naturally, I’ve spent the last two days doubting that the story is actually any good. I think all writers go through this rebound period after finishing a massive project. 300 pages in two months. I think it’s a new personal record.
But dang it, I persevered. And the story is done, or at least the first draft is.
I’m on social media with a lot of other writers. One of my favorite writers mentioned having Imposter Syndrome very badly, wondering if she’s too old to write her books. It broke my heart. For one thing, she’s not much older than I am. I wanted to wave this 71k fanfic at her. “Look at this!” I would say. “You think you’re an imposter? I just wrote 300 pages about talking animals fighting a war against machines and magic where a sentient rock was the villain!”
Joking aside, just leverage the compound effect. It’s perseverance. A little bit every day adds up. Be like Nehemiah in the Bible, putting one more brick in that wall, even while your enemies laugh that if a fox jumped on your wall, it would fall down. Your enemies are in your head. Keep your sword nearby and keep putting bricks in that wall.