author C.C.Cole's blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Jailbait, Dragons, and Pantyhose


While risking my blog following by posting another article about my past life as a role-playing gamer, the story behind it is a little more than the mere meeting of awkward kids at college that weren’t at frat parties. 

My introduction to role-playing games was early in high school, a time I call my “jailbait dating days.”  Before I’m written off as an early starting wild-child hear (read) me out.  From the third grade, I was sentenced to a lifetime of nerdom due to incurable nearsightedness with one sure thing:  nobody would ever ask a girl out that wore glasses.  Then my life changed at age thirteen.

I broke my glasses. 

Then enter the new me with contacts!  Not exactly “The Princess Diaries” (are you kidding? I wish!), but it put me in the lower-tier of the “pretty girls” at school by age fourteen.  This gave way to several problems:  I looked a bit older to some than I really was and the older guys weren’t smart enough to ask my age.  Before writing my Mom off as reckless by allowing me to date at such a young age, she knew me well enough and I was always home by ten, and usually took my own car.

So one night, on a typical double date, one of my loser eighteen-year-old boyfriends stood me up.  What an outrage!  And the reason?  Playing a role-playing game?  Out of the question!  I answered by releasing the air out of a tire and tying pantyhose around the antenna of his car.  I got home to my Mom on the telephone reassuring the guy’s father there’s no way I’d do such a thing.  (Whew!)

A couple of years pass, and loser boyfriend goes to college where my brother already is enrolled and works in the dorm.  I tell him my stupid ex will be there and make sure he can find his way in and out the door.  Which is exactly how they met.

Ex shows up on college break at a fast food place where I worked with great news:  My brother has become interested in his game!  What!  All I remember is chasing him with a shower of ice and fries. 

I end up at the same college, re-break up with the ex, and join my brother in the game.  We had a lot of fun.  But rules were nobody could ask me out without asking my brother.  To me, it was moot, as any friend of his was un-cool, and totally ancient.

Years later, I showed up for a guest appearance with a new group.  My brother and I had a yelling argument about who-knows-what before I sat down to start.  (Those of us with siblings understand our arguments have no audience).  Afterward, I asked him who the cute guy was.   Over two decades later, I no longer play role-playing games, but I know all too well where the cute guy is.   We had dinner out tonight and celebrate our wedding anniversary soon.

So my dark fantasy journey began from childhood fascination with monsters, medieval role playing games, jailbait dating, and pantyhose.

On Medieval Dark Fantasy at Its Finest

After plowing through “The Sword and the Dragon” by ace author M.R. Mathias, I was swept in along with the rest of the masses of his fans into his world of post-Tolkien non-Martin medieval dark fantasy.  Though this book has the elements of role-playing games, there is a story there, and not a simple one, but is a good one.  There’s action, a love interest, magical rings, a magic sword, an evil wizard, and last, but not least, a dragon.  Ah, and don’t forget the eggs!  Literally.  This book is great, because the story has all of the goodies we like in our memories of role-playing games, but it doesn’t feel like I’m rolling dice when I’m reading it.  By combining a well balance of action, intrigue, family ties, and a love interest, Mathias has created a clever novel that’s hard to put down.  Excellent work, five stars!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On Children’s Rights, Dark Fantasy, and Oranges

Several months ago I was invited to a writers’ group; ultra-cool talented authors of various genres featuring together, tweeting together, and by the efforts of ace author Dr. Niamh Clune and several others have formed “Orangeberry Books.”

When “Orangeberry” was established, an inspiration was Niamh’s high-rated book “Orange Petals in a Storm,” a moving paranormal account of a child finding her way out of despair.

Now as I adjust the telescope to broaden and focus backwards in distance, I think how often the issues of the pain of terrible childhoods are written in a variety of genres.  Reflex answers are classics “Oliver Twist” or “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens.   A recent example would be “A Girl Nobody Wants” by Lily O’Brien I reviewed recently.

Let’s move the telescope again and re-focus on my genre, dark fantasy.  To keep my work at the most brevity, it’s obvious that my kick-behind heroine Shevata who was raised in a workhouse to be a war-child clearly doesn’t represent a protected loving family life.   More recent dark fantasy mega-hits include “Harry Potter” a childhood where he grew up disdained by his aunt and uncle. 

Now I’d like to pull away and hand my blog space over for a moment for this group of whip-smart, ace authors where it’s due, the upcoming “Orangeberry Books” and “Every Child is Entitled to Innocence.”

Every Child is Entitled to Innocence will be the first publication of the newly- formed Orangeberry Publishing Group. Due to release on February 14th, profits from the sales of this e-book will be donated to Child Helpline International.

Says initiator of the project, Dr. Niamh Clune, “I met many writers through the Internet that experienced difficult childhoods yet have overcome their brutal beginnings. I wanted to make the first Orangeberry publication a celebration of creative imagination. This powerful friend of damaged children plays an essential role in an abused child’s recovery. Gathering this series of stories was a joy. Orangeberry Books has developed special, vibrant relationships with contributors and has forged many lasting friendships.

We encouraged happy stories that reflected the innocence of childhood when infants feel wrapped in the warmth of loving arms. We wanted to contrast these with the sad ones, making them stand out in relief against a bright backdrop. We felt this comparison would demonstrate, without explanation, what happens when innocence is stolen.

In this book, the reader will find many wonderful, heart-warming stories; whilst the sad ones demonstrate the magnificence of the human spirit as it triumphs against all odds."

Executive Editor, Karen S. Elliott stated, “While I looked at all the stories in the Every Child anthology, I edited only a few. I thought it was important, for this tome, that the writers be able to express the heartbreak and joy of childhoods past without censorship.”

Spokesperson for Orangeberry Books, Niamh Clune, explained how The Orangeberry Group is at the vanguard of a new wave of Internet publishing companies. Orangeberry aims to put quality first and bring exciting, exceptionally talented authors to the reader’s attention. Its focus is not on commercialism, but on quality, beautifully written, well-told stories. Orangeberry will also publish poetry. A further aim of the publishing company is to bring a collection of exceptional artists from across many different art disciplines to collaborate on projects in a personal, hands-on, mutually supportive manner.

The motto of the company is, ‘Paying it Forward.’ The company relies on a well-developed social network, the dedication of the core team members, their talent and enthusiasm coupled with a socially entrepreneurial spirit. Supporters and members of this group will also benefit from on-line mentoring, a book-club, the Youth Tube Channel, and the OBBlog.

For further information visitwww.orangeberrybooks.com www.theobblog.com


I hope readers/writers will embrace this every important disturbing issue about children and to visit the many talented authors at Orangeberry.  I thank Niamh and her talented colleagues for giving me the privilege of featuring this important work here, and I’m honored to participate.

Rights for Children!!  Hey, writers and readers out there!  We know, we may not say, we may know we may not think because we don’t want to, but we know things happen to children through our childhoods; be it witnessed or experienced.  Let’s bring the rights for children to the light in the fashion only writers and readers can.  In this case, a cliché is spot on: The pen is mightier than the sword.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On The Dark Fantasy Confession

"Perry Mason"

Like the old TV show “Perry Mason” everyone always admitted to his or her crimes and he never lost a case.  At one time or another, dark fantasy writers have to face their accusers, answer these questions truthfully, and throw your destiny onto the mercy of your readers.

Writer, do you admit to being a lifetime nerd? Yes.

Isn’t it true that you and some of your awkward friends in college sat around a table and played role-playing games like you were some kind of medieval war heroes?  Uh..yea.

Isn’t it true that you are completely familiar with a medieval role-playing game having memorized every rule in the Player’s Handbook, every creature in the Monster Manual, and have familiarity with the Dungeon Master’s Guide?  Uh..not the DM guide.
Isn’t it true that you know the difference between a longsword, a shortsword, a bastard sword, and a two-handed sword, which is a bit unusual for 18-year old college girls?  Uh..nod.

Isn’t it true that you used to roll dice with three sides, six sides, and 20 sides, and some of your friends carried these around in bags?  I rolled other people’s dice.  I didn’t have my own.

Isn’t it true that you shout expletives when you roll a “one” or a “double ought” or when you “lose initiative” and nobody knows what you’re talking about but your carb-consuming friends?  Yes.

Isn’t it true that you played characters like elves and pretended to cast spells like some kind of wizard out of cartoons and kids’ books?  I didn’t play an elf.

Isn’t it true that you carry an entire satchel of details about your character, including costumes, statistics about intelligence, looks, strength, and add “levels” as you continue to play in twelve-hour sessions?  Not all were twelve hours.  Most were just ten.  I didn’t use a satchel.

And is it appropriate to assume you belong to a group in costumes acting out these fights in weapons and costumes?  No.  But you know what it is?  Yes.  So there!  You do know it, and you know people that belong to it?  Yes, but..

Isn’t it true that you’re completely familiar with “modules” like “Ravenloft,” “Fafhrid and Gray Mouser,” and “The World of Greyhawk?”
I didn’t play Gray Mouser or Ravenloft.

Isn’t it true that you know the difference between chain mail, plate armor, leather armor and the number of gold pieces it takes to purchase?  I didn’t play characters wearing armor.

And last, but not least, Writer, do you have any clue whatsoever how to play the online game “WarCraft?”  No. 

Writer, admit to the readers that you are guilty, a former role-playing gamer, eternal nerd, and dark fantasy writer.  Yes, sob.

Guilty as charged!

Friday, January 27, 2012

On Early Dark Fantasy Inspiration

Barnabas Collins in "Dark Shadows"

Dark Fantasy, sometimes, I believe I was destined to write as a genre.
“Destiny” described in the pure sense, has no other factors, it will happen no matter what.  So I can’t describe my current writing as destiny from birth, but I can from childhood. 

I’ve written before how kids like monsters.  We had little plastic dinosaurs from Sinclair gas stations in our windowsills.  I could recite genus species of dinosaurs better before I started school at 5 than when it was required for school.  Early nursery rhymes like Mother Goose had weird creatures that seemed cool.  Any popular music on AM radio that featured any kind of critter was always a hit to us as we walked down gravel roads singing the lyrics of “Amos Moses” (Jerry Reed), “Swamp Witch” (Jim Stafford), and last but not least, “Werewolves in London” (Warren Zevon…I have this CD, love it) at the top of our lungs; fortunately so far in the country nobody could hear us. 

While I was still preschool, the well known soap series “Dark Shadows” aired daily around 3pm.  Missing any episode was unacceptable at our house.  If the TV didn’t work, there was howling comparable to werewolves.  When my brother and sister got off the school bus, I’d have the TV on and ready and be waiting for them up the road, egging them to hurry up and get to the house, “Hurry, Barnabas is on!”

When the old series aired again in the 1990’s, I watched it again from the beginning and never saw a more slow moving soap opera.  How stunning adulthood can be, as maturity allows us to see what we once thought was genius we see again as boring.  But to give creator Dan Curtis his due:  Back in its day, he gave us a daily dose of low key horror with a center-character vampire, a beautiful blonde witch, historical backdrops, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, the scary “west wing,” and clueless main characters that would say “How could a door possibly open by itself?”  When the witch Angelique built a house of cards and lit them to burn down a house somewhere, I decided to try it myself.  I did get the house of cards built, but my Mom caught me with matches and corrected my non-witchcraft dabbling in short order with sharp words and a spanking.

As I look back on dark fantasy inspirations, it began very early in my life, though childhood poems, music, and television.  Some of it may look cheesy today, but the history still speaks for itself.  And considering the remakes of “Dark Shadows” not-so-bad in the ‘80’s with a Burton version I’ve heard is upcoming, I look forward to seeing Barnabas again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On the Mathematics of Ads

"The Social Network"

Times Square, NYC
Going back to some of my original articles about being a new author, I mentioned some of the non-cheap “promotion packages” offered by self-publishing companies who found my book so fascinating they didn’t need to read it.  Being overly eager and overly stupid, I tried a few of these “fantastic, state-of-the-art” marketing programs.  The end result was similar to what John Locke described in his “How to” bestseller; lots of bucks shelled out on my end and minimal book sales from their end. 

When I look back at these “packages” wondering how many Coach handbags I could have purchased instead and put to better use, I remember the methods used.  One was an “email blast.”  On hindsight, this was spamming my work I actually paid for.  Then I succumbed to temptation of social site ads.  After paying for “clicks” for about six months, I had a full credit card and an empty sales account.  When I decided I could hardly get any worse, I took on search-engine ads, with some strange hope that when someone surfs the Internet, he/she would somehow find my book and decide it looks so brilliant the day could not go on without purchasing it.

Only after epic-failing at every attempt at getting noticed, I started networking at small doses with gradual increases over time.  After lots of dollars down the drain, I spent small, single-time sums on the right services for advice to get me started on blogging and Twitter.  The results aren’t “sudden fame” but it’s a slow, steady, growing Internet presence all of us get as we use social networking. 

Question:  Why do ads fail for new authors?  Why does the single tried-and-true method for selling pretty much everything else from real estate, lingerie, and diet soda not work for newbie writers?  Ads come natural for big-name authors.  Car insurance sells by clever commercials featuring a cute reptile.  Wireless cell phone services are sold with obnoxious music.  Beautiful women sell anything/everything.  So, what’s the deal with books?

I don’t really know the answer to this question.  I noted on “The Social Network” when they said, “Ads aren’t cool.”  OK.  If ads are so un-cool, why are they used to sell just about everything?  The reflex answer is:  “Ads look spammy.”  OK.  Ads look spammy.  So how many handbags or computer gadgets are we purchasing with no knowledge about them from advertising?  It’s no secret that big companies shell out the big bucks to sell their products, be it the food, clothing, film, or publishing industry for bestsellers.  We live in a world of advertising, and rely on it for entertainment during the Superbowl, but for new authors, it’s truly a hard sell.

I find it interesting what we tag as value to consumption.  It’s easier for Coach to sell a $900 handbag than for a new author to sell a $2.99 book.  Of course, many reasons include competition and alternate modes of entertainment.  Whatever the reason is, for new authors, if traditional routes of advertising works, that’s great.  I don’t tell people what to do with their money, but I will say to be careful before stepping into the deep chasm of purchasing ads.   The mathematics don’t “ad” up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On The Love and Hate of the English Language

"Inglourious Basterds"
As an American from the Deep South, I can say with 99.9% certainty that 99.9% of the people I grew up with speak only English.  When it was cleverly pointed out in “Inglourious Basterds” how Americans tend to speak no other languages, I couldn’t help laughing at the plain truth.  Sure, it’d been great as a kid to learn other languages before my southern drawl set in, but in those days and in the rural setting where I’m from, not only were other languages not taught, I don’t believe anyone thought about it.  These days, I hope schools offer more languages for kids.

Like so many English-only speakers, the first language I attempted to learn was Spanish.  I’ve been told it’s easy, and certainly useful when we meet Spanish-speakers who haven’t perfected English.  So, believing I can do anything, I got a Rosetta Stone program.  Now that I have the program, I can learn Spanish, presto, like on TV, right?  Well, not so right.  The Rosetta Stone is a great program and I became so proud of myself as I scored 95% on grammar and recognition.  But then came the speech.  Ouch.  25% at best.  How embarrassing!  Deep South dialects are tough to break, and I can’t roll R’s with “A Smith & Wesson pointed at my head,” as we say where I live. 

Despite my vast hard science education, I do have some understanding of the difference between written and spoken language. To state the obvious, the written language stands out as the most important for any author, any language.  In college as a focused, competitive student, English 101 was to me an afterthought and some kind of due punishment for those of us seeking higher education.  When I began writing, I looked back and saw the shortsightedness of my youth. 

Now as a writer, I love English.  It’s my language; I love to read the words of others, and creating stories of my own.  With all the negatives about the publishing industry, look at all of these great books!  Sure, the ebook revolution spawned more and more books, is that all bad?  I think not.  We have more choices to read, and more options for new authors.

But yes, sometimes I hate the English language.  But I don’t blame the language; I blame myself.  Editors understandably see authors like me as lazy and failing to understand and follow basic grammar. Though I’ve improved, I’m not returning to college for an English degree (can’t afford it, otherwise I’d consider it).  Why can’t I use so many semicolons?  What’s so terrible about ellipses…?  Who is the ghost that shows up in my computer at night and viciously types in adverbs I’m certain I didn’t write?  As I strive to become more active in suppressing passive voice, I become more passive!

Writer frustration affects we new authors at many levels, from the first sentence to the last period of our work.  But as I’ve written before, I’ll keep copy editors working, so that’s not such a bad thing.  I don’t mind an editor correcting me, as I want to learn.  I’m sure if an editor wanted to learn how to solve chemistry problems he/she could ask me.  English is a great language, and I continue to work toward creating a story worthy of it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On New Author Back Scratching

As I continue to ponder over controversial topics involving new authors, there’s another issue moving amongst us in cyber-space.  We help each other.  It’s great.  Features, interviews, Likes, and sometimes, depending on the author(s), we purchase and review each other’s books (not suggesting the latter’s a fit for all).  I have a habit of doing what I want, so if I want to review a book, I buy it, read it and post a review if above two stars, if not email, as written before.

The question I have is, leaving out purchases and reviews, do the “Likes,” and features help with sales?  What about interviews?  I’ve done radio, blog and podcast interviews, but as a new author, it’s quite a dream indeed to be interviewed on a radio show then hit a bestseller list. 

Let’s bring the question to something more specific:  Tweeting.  Does hyper-tweeting others’ books outside of reviews help?  I love to tweet, so why not tweet about a colleague's new work?  But, does tweeting about reviews help? If I forget to tweet a virtual friend, is that a betrayal?  Am I making a battalion of on-line new author enemies by asking these questions? 

I don’t consider myself any kind of oracle of answers to these questions, but the answers, if out there, are important for the new author.  I don't mind doing favors for talented people.  If we’re going the distance to do all this work for our virtual writer friends, will they “Like” and “Tweet” for us?  Who gets the most results?  Are we taking sales away from ourselves by using so much energy promoting others?  Another question:  Are we driving away our blog traffic?

Let’s turn the question around.  I know writers that self-promote only.  Sure, they may throw out a tweet or two for someone, but I had no idea a year ago that some writers on social sites say Hi, join the networking, and on twitter, tweet so much about themselves it’s like a Xerox machine.  And one of them may be C.C.Cole!  I never point out defects in others without also pointing out I may not be so different.

This virtual back scratching gets complicated quickly.  I don’t consider myself outside of this loop; as I’ve checked out blogs and FB fan pages.  But now, when asked to do so, now I expect a bit of quid pro quo.   For months I found myself Liking FB pages from DMs on Twitter, and finally thought, “Hey, why can’t they do that for me?”  So now, I ask.  It’s hardly an obligation on the part of either writer.  Ask me to follow your blog, I ask to follow my blog.  I've never directly asked for someone to buy my books and haven't seen others do that often.  "Check out my book" translates for most readers.

So, what’s to be learned from all of this virtual back scratching for the new author?  I say quid pro quo for the simple things, such as a tweet, at least, sometimes.  Check out a FB page and “Like” it.  No biggie, these aren’t lies.  You've seen the pages, you've seen the author profiles.  False reviews?  No.  Joining blogs?  Up to the author.  Purchasing books?  Totally up to the author, and don’t expect a return there; when one gets involved in money, that gets a bit personal, so tread lightly. 

Promotion is necessary.  New authors, in the beginning, your best friends are other authors.  Some will get more mileage out of the promotion you give them.  But that's life; it doesn't help to make on-line enemies.   Plenty of people are available to provide that service.

On the Full Circle of Book Reviews

Once again, at risk of touching the hot stove with this controversial topic, I’ve seen in authors’ groups and Tweep-writers a run on one/two star reviews following big features/giveaways done around Christmas.  Some of them had great success leading to increased sales, while others are suffering the mental heartbreak of bad reviews over hard work they gave away for free with current slumping sales numbers.  I didn’t participate in the programs (there were more than one), because of publishing issues out of my control.  (Yes, it even happens with self-published authors).

I’ve made it no secret that I don’t post reviews under three out of five stars.  Reasons:  1) I’m not a paid “professional” reviewer, just a reader
2) I see no gain for new authors by slamming their work in a public forum. 

I do handle negative opinions by private email, which has worked out well.   I learned this strategy by other authors/reviewers and follow their example.  Also, as I wrote in “One of My First Reviews” I know all too well the heartbreak of my work being blasted in public.

Other reviewers often disagree with my strategy, saying that it looks like “puff” reviews and it doesn’t look “real” on sale sites like amazon because a well rounded audience has good and bad reviews (defining bad as two or less stars).  I respect the opinions of other reviewers, as well as their right to say/write their opinion, like anyone else. But at the same time, I respectfully disagree with some of them.  Not all of them.

I agree that reviewers should be honest, and reviews are subjective.  But to rationalize that bad reviews bring favorable attention to your work, I respectfully disagree with those that say so.  I’ll give my own books as an example:  In “Act of Redemption” after several five-star reviews, including Midwest Book Review, one gave me two stars for something like “clunky prose and awkward pacing.”  As an observer, its no big deal, but it slammed the door on my sales for the next several months.  Let me clarify that it wouldn’t have been a blockbuster without the review, but it certainly didn’t help me get readers.   We new authors have small audiences so small numbers affect small numbers, including a small number of negative reviews.

But lately, we’ve come full circle.  Since the infamous Howlett on-line meltdown, which I posted as a bad example for a reaction to a reviewer, now writers have slammed reviewers on their blogs and other social sites.  I’ve read these too, and are every bit as mean as any review I’ve read on anyone.  Now some reviewers are feeling their own pain and I’m not saying they deserve it. 

In this ebook revolution, I believe what we’re seeing is the scrutiny of reviewers being turned back to them with the easy usage of cyber-space and public forums like blogs and Twitter.  Our opinions as readers and writers didn’t matter in the past while we relied on paper to communicate.  Now with cyber-space, we make our opinions matter because we are able to show them to hundreds/thousands/millions of people. 

I’m not going to patronize and say do away with negative reviews.  As writers, we need to give reviewers their freedom to give us the freedom to feature our work as something of value.  As reviewers, we need to remember if we knock a new author down, they will rise up and it will not look nice.  There are professional ways to handle reviews on both sides, and that’s what we should strive for.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Non-Fiction


As the saying goes “truth is stranger than fiction” as I continue to value my experiences in this world, not only is it true, but sometimes, truth is at least, if not more, compelling than fiction. 

When non-fiction enters my mind, I immediately think of biographies, a long time favorite read since childhood.  I’ve read about the lives of Judy Garland to Napoleon and find them all amazing (isn’t that the catch-word these days? Yes, I use it too.)  They began as regular people, like us, and their lives were far from perfect despite great achievements, being entertainer or emperor.   Like I wrote in “On the Lives of Writers” in biographies legendary people love, hate, feel happiness, despair, and sometimes live out long fulfilling lives while others fall from grace. 

In non-fictional stories, on my short list of favorites is “Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand.  With my usual see movie/read book habit, I really couldn’t believe how great this book was as I read it.  And it’s one of my favorite films.  Books and films for me rarely pair together as close as these did.  The film gave us the stories of the three men behind the rise of the legendary racehorse, and Hillenbrand told a magnificent story sparing the reader no details about the lives of all of them, including rules behind the horse racing industry (serious business), the appalling lives of jockeys back then, and what happened to everyone after Seabiscuit’s retirement.  The saddest to me was the fate of acclaimed jockey George Woolf; sometimes the brightest lights burn the shortest time. 

In non-fiction writing, I admire these writers, because to me, they are creators as well, like a huge term paper that’s researched while entertaining to read.  That’s doesn’t look like an easy effort to me.  At least the world is already created, but the author still needs to educate the reader about the world we know during the time he/she writes about.  There is a non-fiction story I’d like to tell, but when I sat down to put together the data I gathered, I realized quickly as a writer, I’m not ready.  When a writer steps up to tell fiction, that’s what it is:  Fiction, research helpful, but not an absolute necessity.  For non-fiction:  Writer, you’d better do your research and get your facts straight, because there’s always someone who thinks they know the history better.  (Though I’ve never seen “Seabiscuit” the book challenged).

Writers, if you’re writing non-fiction, I’d like to hear (read) about it, even though fiction is the main topic of this blog.  While I like my dark fantasy dagger wielding knee-biter heroine Shevata, someday I hope to write the piece of non-fiction that I think deserves telling.  And most of all, non-fiction gives us remembrance to those who lived before us, and in their passing left us with something we can learn from their lives.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Good Writing

"The King's Speech"

"The Tourist"

As an unapologetic movie nut, I attach myself to films like I do with books.  Stories reel me in and when written well, I take it in hook, line, sinker, inhaling, exhaling, with a full analysis of every detail, every line of dialogue, almost down to last wardrobe description.  I feel what the characters feel; happy when they’re happy, angry when they’re angry, and devastated when bad things happen to good people.

Now let’s return to my second sentence:  when written well.   I find this to be an interesting assessment because of the variability of interpretation.  In other words, good writing to some is garbage to others.  I don’t consider myself particularly scrutinizing when it comes to story design; if it flows and makes general sense, that’s fine.  But like writers, no readers are created the same.  I’ve read bestsellers that are mediocre to me, and new self-published authors with incredible work, and vice-versa. 

So how do we define “good writing?”  I’m not sure we can.  Especially in fiction, part of “good” is “entertainment.”  Let’s try it backwards:  “bad writing.”  So would that be my bad habit of semicolon overuse, or a boring story?  There’s no clear line one can draw to make these distinctions most of the time.  I’ve seen on countless blogs and social sites about concerns about various self-published author’s whose work isn’t “any good.”  “Any good” to who?  Excuse me, where’s the writing jury?  The obvious answer is the audience of readers who comprise a mixed collection of tastes.

In films, good writing stands out like a blowtorch at midnight.  Talented actors carry the storytelling, but without a well-written story to tell, not even the best and most beautiful can rescue a movie from scathing critics and stay-at-home audiences.  I believe I see the distinction more clearly in films because in writing I “see” what’s in my mind and use words to translate them onto the printed page.  When I read a story, it’s vice-versa; I translate the printed words into images in my mind.  In films the images are created for us, therefore there’s no room for extrapolation; the burden is upon the industry to create something that’s truly outstanding. 

New authors, the reason we recognize good writing when we see it or read it is because there’s no disguise.  Now go forth and write something great.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Reigning in the Magic

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
When I read fantasy books and watch films, another of the many challenges I see is variation of magic in storytelling.  “Magic” can be used as a broad term meaning anything from the abilities of a seer with clairvoyant abilities, a magician extending power to affect others miles away while surrounded in ethereal mist, or wand-wielding wizards so familiar to readers today. 

When I decided to create magical scenes in my stories, I arrived at a T-stop in the road of writing.  Magic, generally will be something supernatural, usually giving a hero/heroine/enemy a “edge” that gives them the memorable power.  The first hurdle is defining the power.  Is it invisibility, mind reading, or human torch?  The next hurdle is the source of the power.   Is the character born with it, or does he/she acquire it through special items, like rings, spell books, suits, cosmic radiation or wands?  How is it used?  Do certain words need to be said, or can the character just use the power by will?  How far a distance can the ability extend?  Can someone across the world feel the effects? 

Though it’s difficult to imagine now, my initial idea for Shevata was for her to be a wizard.  (That was before the Harry Potter-mania, so I’m glad I changed my mind).  I made the change in favor of a more physical character with innate abilities resembling comic book heroes.  Though some readers tell me her abilities seem limitless, her blade can only reach so far despite her best efforts. 

Fantasy novels spun off from popular role-playing games I read mostly in the 1980’s usually did a great job in describing magic, which is extending to current authors I’m reading now.  But the lines need to be drawn in the limitations to avoid the omnipotent character (example “Q” in the “Next Generation” Star Trek series).  Telling the future is one thing, but moving a planet is another.  (I’ll make an exception with Galactus in the old “Fantastic 4” comics; the idea of eating a planet was cool to me as a kid).  Every character must have limitations, and the way the author reveals them is part of what every writer adds to the creative experience.  In filmmaking, fortunately, magical storytelling to me has improved through the years given the necessary core elements of good writing, acting, directing, and production. 

New authors, if magic or special super abilities are your subject, as always, tweet to us about it.  There’s not a single super-ability to outweigh another unless one’s a bona fide unwavering Superman fan.  But even he has that kryptonite problem.