Posts Tagged ‘Recommendations

13
Feb
10

getting it right vs. getting it done

/* Special note! I just got my copy of Nora’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and it is awesome! The book is beautiful and the story is fantastic so far. If you aren’t reading it already, do yourself a favor and check it out! You won’t be sorry, promise! */

I just recently turned in edits for the second book in my series for Orbit. When I first got the manuscript back from my editor, I estimated it would take about 2 weeks to go through and get the book into publishable shape. Boy, was I wrong. The deeper I got into the text, the more I realized the text had problems. Nothing huge, but there were lots of small discrepancies, little matters of timing, congruency, and continuity that had to be adjusted. As I worked I was very aware of my approaching deadlines. I had a third book to get out, after all. I couldn’t afford to be sitting here nitpicking timelines on a book that was otherwise completely fine.

And yet… I couldn’t just be sloppy. This was my book. This was going to be purchased by my fans (I’d assume, since they would have had to have read the first book and liked it to care about the second), they deserved a good story, the best I could give them. So these two needs go back and forth, getting the book right vs. getting it done, finally coming to a head in a scene towards the end of the book.

First off, it was a pivotal scene for one of my favorite characters, one that I’d been thinking of for a long, long time. I could not afford for this scene to suck. I’d thought I’d gotten it good enough, but rereading it, I realized it wasn’t what it needed to be. And yet, it was just one scene, a thousand words, and I was so close to finished and pushing my deadlines already. So I sat there, going one way, then the other until, finally I gave in and rewrote the stupid thing. It took me 2 days to get it right. Two days! For a thousand words! But I got it right this time, or as close to right as I could get.

This constant tug-of-war between getting the book finished and getting it right is actually good for both book and writer. If it was all about getting it done, my books would be sloppy and dull. If it was all about getting it right, I’d never finish anything. Between the constant pulling I end up with a book that’s good, not perfect (let’s face it, there will always be things I’d wish I’d done differently), but good enough that I’m proud to put my name on it and delivered to the publisher in a timely fashion so people can actually read the sucker, because that’s what this is all about.

Now that I’m finished editing and the novel is turned in, I can sit back and revel in the feeling that I’ve written the best book I could have written. Not the best book I’ll ever write (because how depressing would that be? Peaking this early in my life), but a book that I’m proud of and that was delivered within the appropriate amount of time. I feel I’ve created something worth reading, and even if it isn’t perfect, I couldn’t be happier. This time I won on all fronts, I got it done and got it right, and that’s good enough for me.

Advertisements
07
Aug
09

Dissecting the Devil

Dissecting the Devil
Today I’d like to talk about everyone’s favorite characters – villains. A good villain can make an otherwise normal story unforgettable. Silence of the Lambs would be nothing but a serial killer novel without Hannibal Lector. And I Claudius wouldn’t be much of anything except an historical drama without the incredible machinations of Livia. What’s Star Wars without force lightning? Villains are everything we love about fiction.
In my first novel, I didn’t worry too much about my villain, and while I think I still managed to pull it off, I didn’t want to ignore the villain in my next book. But what makes a truly memorable villain? I sat down to find out.
Your villain is your antagonist, so it seems reasonable that your reader should hate them as a by-product of cheering for your main characters. It isn’t hard to inspire hate in a reader, just have your villain do something awful. Burning down the main character’s village is classic, so is killing your swordsman’s beautiful and far too saintly wife, preferably on their wedding day. If you’re looking for something a little quicker, you can just have the bastard abuse a child, or better, a puppy, and you’ll have instant, rabid hatred.
But simple, hated villains rarely end up on top ten lists. There’s only so much evil cackling they can do before they start sounding like every other cackling villain. True, hated villains play their parts with great aplomb and push the story along admirably, but I can’t help feeling that simple hate isn’t enough. Pure evil is just as boring as pure good. For a villain to truly go down as an amazing character, they have to be a character, which means a mixed bag. A truly good villain must be someone readers love, or at least, love to hate, and to achieve this, you must capture the reader, trapping them into feeling empathy, admiration, or even simple watching-the-trainwreck fascination.
Empathy is perhaps the rarest and the trickiest. My favorite empathetic villain is Salieri from Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. Here is a composer who has dedicated his life to music, who did everything right, but who was unfortunate enough to be a competitor with Mozart, who, in the movie (and the play), is a horrible, irresponsible, dirty little man, but whose music transcends the best of what Salieri can produce. In one of the most moving scenes, Salieri, a devout Christain who had dedicated his life to making music for the glory of god, turns his back on his creator, saying:
“From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation. Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You, I swear it. I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able.”
It is at this moment that Salieri becomes the villain, and the viewer can not help but empathize. Salieri has been the movie’s central character. He’s charming, genteel, and his love of Mozart’s music, even though he hates the man with a murderous passion, constantly redeems him. He can not hate such beauty, and neither can we. He represents the inadequacy and mediocrity we all feel, tapping into an extremely human feeling of jealousy combined with seemingly justified wrath. For all that he does horrible things, we as the audience can not help loving and empathizing with Salieri.
Admiration is its own kind of tricky. How do you make the audience hate and admire a villain at the same time? It’s all about character. One of most masterful portrayals of this I ever saw was Livia in I Claudius. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, I Claudius is a so-so book and a fantastic BBC mini-series about the family life of the early Roman Emperors, from Augustus to Nero, following the life of Claudius, later Emperor Claudius, the stuttering grandson of Augustus.
The first part of the series is undoubtedly my favorite because it features Augustus’s wife, Livia, as the primary villain. Livia is desperately ambitious that her son, Tiberius, become Emperor on Augustus’s death, never mind that there are quite a few other heirs before him, or that neither Augustus nor Tiberius himself is very keen on Tiberius being Emperor.
None of this stops Livia, and she removes every obstacle in her path with such precision, such cunning, such ruthless efficiency, you can’t help but admire her. Here is a woman so skilled at what she does, namely bumping off family members, I found myself almost cheering for her because it was so much fun to watch someone so clever get around seemingly impossible obstacles. Through it all, Livia is a constant character, and, other than her murderous streak, a very no-nonsense, entertaining lady who happens to be a sociopath. She is, in short, murderously charming, and you can’t help admiring her as much as you hate her.
The villain as can’t-look-away train wreck is a difficult beast. It’s so easy to go from captivating to cliché. The best example I’ve seen of this kind of villain is the Joker from Batman, particularly in the Dark Knight movie. Here is a true maniac who, through excellent writing and characterization, manages to be completely original. You simply can not look away, there’s always this wonder of what will he do next, and how can such an insane, reckless genius be stopped? The tension in Batman and Joker’s antagonism comes not from us hating the Joker, but of our desperation to see how on earth Batman can beat him.
The truth is that, if the movie was centered around the Joker, and not Batman, we’d be cheering for him with pure murderous glee, and that, that right there, is the truest hallmark of a good villain. If the viewpoints were switched, you would still cheer for the villain as the hero because you love the character for themselves. A good antagonist is exactly that, an equal opponent for the hero in strength, cleverness, and characterization. A true threat, not just through armies or super weapons or power, but a clever, ruthless competitor who can stand up on their own.
These three types are certainly not the only options for villainy, just the ones I’ve encountered that I happen to like the most. In everything I’ve written, villains have always been my greatest challenge, and I still don’t think I’ve gotten it quite right. So if you have any suggestions for villains I should get to know, please leave them in the comments. I’m always looking to learn a new twist on how to make a great antagonist.

Today I’d like to talk about everyone’s favorite characters – villains. A good villain can make an otherwise normal story unforgettable. Silence of the Lambs would be nothing but a serial killer novel without Hannibal Lector. And I Claudius wouldn’t be much of anything except an historical drama without the incredible machinations of Livia. What’s Star Wars without force lightning? Villains are everything we love about fiction.

In my first novel, I didn’t worry too much about my villain, and while I think I still managed to pull it off, I didn’t want to ignore the villain in my next book. But what makes a truly memorable villain? I sat down to find out.

Continue reading ‘Dissecting the Devil’

10
Jul
09

Wait, I have to do what?

So I’m editing editing editing sleep eat dayjob editing crying editing right now, and sadly found myself without time to write the long post about villians I had slated for this week. (But strangely not without time to read Mark of the Demon, nom nom nom!!)

ANYWAY, instead, I thought I’d take the opportunity/copout to ask a question I’ve been quietly fretting over for some time and, as several of our Magic District denizens have had first hand experience with this of late, now seems to be a good time to ask. Namely, how does one go about marketing ones book?

I know Diana has a great ad up on Smart Bitches, and internet ads on sites full of people who would be interested in your book does seem pretty optimal, but I was wondering, what else is there? What else have my fellow authors tried, and of those, what worked the best? How do you even tell if advertising/promotionals work? What was the most fun to do?

I’ve read several articles on self promotion, but most of the advice doesn’t feel right for my book. If I had a romance, I think it would be easier. Romance reader have well known online hangouts. But my series is light action fantasy, all swordfights and magic mixed with comedy. I don’t  know where I should focus my efforts, and with a baby on the way and a day job freshly given notice, I don’t have the luxury of boucou bucks to experiment with lots of different approaches.

And so I turn to you, gentle, clever reader! If you ever saw something and thought “man, that’s an awesome way to promote a fantasy!” I’m all ears! If I try something, I’ll report back on how it works! If you read a good article, I’d love to see it, and if you tried something that you wish you hadn’t bothered with, then I’d really love to know. Even if you were just wandering around and saw something that made you want to buy a book, I want to know what and why. Nothing is too small to further my knowledge!  Thank you in advance, anything at all is greatly appreciated.

26
Apr
09

Rachel’s Sunday Quickie – fangirling

The challenge this week is to name your favorite recent fantasy character. Now, I’ve said before that this is an awesome time to read fantasy, and so this question was really hard for me! Who to choose? Of course, I love Sarah Monette’s deep, complex characters, but they’re a little intense and troubled for every day adoration.  I’m also crushing hardcore on Marla Mason right now (Poison Sleep is like, eating my life in delicious, awesome bites, and I’m not just saying that because Tim paid me).  What can I say, I love my kick ass ladies. 

All things considered, I think the character I love the most for themselves, and not just the world they live in, has got to be Len from China Mieville’s  Perdido Street Station. Len is a relatively minor character, but the force of her character shines out through the bit nature of her part. In a city full of weird creatures, outsiders, and freaks, she is a freak supreme, and yet, despite that, she lives her life with such ragged determination, you can’t help coming along. Len’s an artist, a sculpter, and her love of art, her need to express herself, is one of the most truthful, resounding emotions I’ve ever felt in a novel. In fact, I loved Len so much, I almost stopped reading when bad things happened and she stopped being a part of the narrative for awhile (no spoilers! read the book!). 

All the books I mentioned are awesome, and my favorite character is constantly in flux. Ask me next week and I’ll probably have a different answer. That’s the best part of being a reader! I get to have so many favorites!

27
Mar
09

It is an amazing time to read fantasy

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an awful nerd who plays World of Warcraft. It is, in fact, the #1 way I interact with people I don’t know. Spending several hours in a voip server with 25 people you don’t know very well can be a harrowing experience, especially if things are going badly and there’s a lot of downtime while we wait for the main tank to get back from his 25th cigarette break. This is time I like to fill by recommending books.

See, I think that the number one reason people don’t read isn’t that they don’t like to. Most people like books just like they like any story medium, they’re just used to thinking of reading as a pleasure activity, and there’s very little out there in the way of book advertising. Book reviews are generally in newspapers and tend to favor literary, “good for you” books. Genre review websites are generally aimed at people who already like reading for pleasure and are looking for something new. However, there’s not much for people who are nerds, but just don’t know there’s fantasy out there besides Dragonlance and LotR. This last category especially applies to WoW players.

So, as someone who plays WoW and thinks books are awesome, I take it upon myself to spread the word. I tell people about awesome books I’ve read, and why they’re awesome. Generally speaking it works out well, and I actually get tells from people asking me for more book recommendations. The other day, however, I encountered something that sent me into furious nerd rage. I was in a raid that had stalled out, (imagine 20 bored people between 18 and 35 sitting at the computers with nothing to do, chatting over on screen text and via headsets), and I was passing the time by talking about Tim’s Marla Mason series (gotta give a shout out to mah peeps!) which I’ve been reading and loving. People were interested, as they usually are, and then this total ass (who’d been an ass all night, but that’s another story) opened his mouth.

“Fantasy is boring,” he said. “It’s all stereotypical dragons and elves.”

Needless to say, I couldn’t let that slide. Someone was wrong on the internet. But, as I laid out all the dozens of amazing, interesting books that did not fit his blanket statement but couldn’t be classified as anything other than fantasy, I realized something I hadn’t really thought about before.

It is an amazing time to read fantasy (or spec fic, or scifi, everything really!). Gone are the days of fantasy novels being the sole purview of the nerd in the corner. Thanks to videogames and other popular media that openly embrace fantastical elements, fantasy is cool again (maybe for the first time?). But even better than mainstream acceptance of the genre are the amazing stories coming out of fantasy authors. I mean, we’ve got Neal Gaiman, Ellen Kushner, Sharon Shinn, Naomi Novik, Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, Sarah Monette. We’ve got Harry fricken Potter. We’ve got the whole New Weird movement, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, we’ve got subgenres we can’t even categorize. I walk into a bookstore (or, more likely, cruise over to Amazon) and I am literally stunned in place by the amazing variety of fantasy I can read. Sure there’s stuff I don’t care for, but the point is that there is just so much awesome out there, so many amazing, interesting, unique, inventive books, it’s almost impossible not to find something that grabs you.

In the end, I managed to convince the asshole to give Jeff Vandermeer’s Veniss Underground a try, since he said he liked Bioshock. I’ll probably never know if he read it, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that somewhere in the wide world are 20 people who now know there are awesome things happening in the genre. The good word is spread a little further, and that’s good enough for me.

So, in the spirit of the post, what are you reading? Give me more books to be excited about!