First and foremost, as the new president of Rough Writers, I want to apologize for an unnecessarily large lack of activity on the blog. With so many things going on this year and with an almost entirely new group of people, the blog has sadly fallen by the wayside. As such, I have decided to reblog a post from my primary blog, Gilleland Creations. Hope you enjoy!

The Write Corner

dread

Writing is fun. At least, for me it is. I first started trying to write stories when I was 3 years old. Granted, my “writing” consisted of a bunch of illegible squiggly lines accompanied by pictures of disfigured people, flowers, horses, and mosquito larvae (don’t ask), but I tried. Occasionally I would get my mom to write the words under the pictures. That helped a little bit.

By the time I was 8 or 9, I had moved to typing stories on my grandmother’s computer. My friends and family still talk about some of those old stories, particularly about the one with a bunch of kids living in a tree. (Sound familiar to anyone?) The “chapters” were only about a paragraph, and little if any of it was believable.

When I was 12 I wrote my first complete story, a 32-page “book” about wild horses and evil wolves called Romanzarnon…

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The Writer-Audience Contract

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Hello, everybody! I know there are some of you out there who are really looking forward to the next post of the “New Canon” series, but there are some minor hurdles that need to be dealt with before we can post it. Not to worry, though! It’s day will come.

Until then, however, I have a topic I would like to discuss, specifically, the writer/audience contract – also known as making promises to the audience.

I suppose if I’m to discuss the issue I should give it some definition first. As a writer draws the audience into the story, they introduce themes, challenges and elements to their stories that, through their presence, make promises to the reader. A successful writer must keep these promises in mind, and fulfill them somehow, to have a successful story.

For example, let’s say we have a strong-chinned, dashing rogue of a hero who has set off to save the country. Now, the hero of our hypothetical tale has a rival, someone he met from time to time through the first half of the story, and they worked as foils for one another, gave each other conflict and drama. Now let’s say that halfway through the story, said rival moves to another country and simply drops out of the story without any resolution to their tale, and instead the hero ends up facing off against a nobleman he’s never met before in his life.

The writer, by introducing the rival, and the drama involved between the two characters, has made a promise to the audience. He has promised that a.) The rival is important to the story and b.) the rival plays a prominent, nay integral role in the outcome, the ending, of the story.

By dropping the rival character, the author has broken his promise. He has shattered the contract. Even if the nobleman is a good character, the audience won’t care because the trust in the author has been broken.

This element of the writing process is one of the most important things for writers to consider when plotting their stories, and ending them. What promises has the author made to their audience? Sometimes, realizing that a promise the author has made isn’t being addressed will give that author the tool they need to finish their story properly. Sometimes, realizing that a promise that has been made cannot be kept will also be a tool for revision. An erased promise is always preferable to a broken one.

This is an issue I’m considering in my novel “Jaine.” I have been asking myself these questions. What promises have I made? Can I keep them?

One particular promise is a major stumbling block for me. See, not all promises are plot promises. Some promises are made in the writing style itself. I’ve written the majority of my book from inside the head of one of my two main characters, Robert. Since the other main character is currently inside Robert’s head too, this has worked out fine. But having written so much of the story from this perspective means that I have promised my readers that this perspective is the only perspective I’ll tell the story in. And yet I find myself needing, for the sake of the plot I currently have in mind, to step outside of that perspective and into another.

I find myself having to judge how important this promise is. Do I have to go back to the drawing board for my plot, or is it a promise the audience will let me break? I haven’t figured it out yet. But I may have made this easier on myself if I had considered my promises earlier and done something about it then.

A recent example of the failure to fulfill promises with the audience can be seen in the game Mass Effect 3. (For the curious, you can see my review of the game Here – For those of you wishing to avoid spoilers, skip the paragraph after this one.) The Mass Effect series, having run for three entries now, has made a lot of promises to its audience: 1.) The plot is fairly straightforward, understandable, and makes sense. 2.) The choices of the players matter, and have a lasting impact on the game’s world and narrative. 3.) The players can chart their own destiny, forming vastly different outcomes based on they way each person plays their game. 4.) The core themes of the games focus on unity, tolerance, and overcoming nigh impossible odds.

But when the ending comes, it fails to fulfill these promises to the audience. The events surrounding the ending become cluttered, full of plot holes, statements and actions that make little to no sense, especially when compared to the established universe of the player’s experience up to this point. Every ending is nearly identical, with minor changes. The choices each player has made up to this point matter either very little or not at all. Almost nothing changes based on the entire series’ sequence of choices. Due to the similar endings, all of which end in the death of Commander Shepherd (and no, the shot of a chest breathing at the end of the “Destroy” option doesn’t count), the player’s choice is reduced to nothing. The elimination of the Mass Effect Relays sends every planet in the galaxy into virtual isolation, utterly dropping the theme of unity and coming together. For that matter, it’s difficult, in the end, to discern whether or not Shepherd even truly wins (as I discuss in my personal Blog Post on the topic).

If you read My Review of the game, it becomes apparent quickly that I adore the game, the series and everything that it means to me. But that emotional investment is also what made the broken promises at the end hurt so much. The game’s developer, Bioware, broke its promises. Their writing failed to deliver.

In most stories, whose endings fail to live up to their beginnings, the reasons for their failure almost always boiled down to this core concept. Think of stories in “The Matrix” trilogy, “Signs,” or the video game “Borderlands” and many others .

To put it simply, Authors need to keep in mind their promises to their audience. There is no faster way to break the emotional ties and investment of a reader, viewer or player than breaking that contract. For more thoughts on the Writer/Audience contract, listen to This Podcast Over at Writing Excuses.

Are there any examples of broken promises in stories that you would like to share? Any stories you feel truly fulfilled its promises? Share in the comments below!

Have a great day,

– Edward L. Cheever II

Glen and Matt’s Excellent Adventure in Self Publishing

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I teach writing–among other things. But one of the first things I tell my students is that a writer never stops becoming a student, that is, if he or she takes writing seriously. I continue to grow as a writer, and it is my joy to include my own personal growth as part of my teaching process.

The area of growth for me these days has to do with the changing face of book publishing. The World Wide Web, social networks and the ease in self-publishing has pretty much changed everything having to do with book publishing. It used to be that a writer would write a book, submit it to a publisher, and wait for the checks to roll in (OK, I am simplifying it a great deal, but you get the idea). Today, even if you do get a contract with a big publisher, the onus is on the author to develop his or her own following through intense personal marketing.

I’ve learned this the hard way through the years. A dozen years ago, I wrote the book If Tomorrow Comes, a novel that I still consider one of my best. It was a flash in the pan, so to speak. It got good reviews, got a few people excited about it, then promptly died on the vine. I was under the mistaken impression that once I wrote it, my job was done.

Fast forward to 2012. I have five books I have written that are unpublished, as well as the rights to If Tomorrow Comes. I also have ideas for a graphic novel and an audio book. In addition, I have a son with artistic and video talent who is very much interested in helping me get something rolling. The result? We have started–for better or worse–our own publishing enterprise entitled Prevail Publications. I do the writing and editing, take care of the financial end and the marketing end. Matt does the design work, including covers and ads. He also is responsible for developing book trailers, which is a new thing for all of us, but seem to be the direction that book promotion is going.

We started in early January. Since then we developed two books–Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp and The Kiss of Night–as both ebooks and Print on Demand books. They are available at Smashwords, Amazon and soon at Barnes and Nobles and other stores. Last night, I added an updated version of If Tomorrow Comes into the mix.

I’ve written before in my own personal blog (http://www.glenchen.com) about why I made the move to self publishing. And I still can’t tell if it will be a brilliant idea or a mistake in the long run. But the whole process of doing something new and exciting like this fits hand in glove with the idea of writers being students.

Hit or miss, we are learning a lot. And so far, it’s a lot of fun.

The Classic Natures of Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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Over the past few weeks, Me and Scott’s continuing series, “The New Canon” (which you can begin reading HERE) has prompted me to think about the nature of these genres. We had mentioned how Science Fiction is generally treated better in academic circles than Fantasy, and I want to know why.

There was always the possibility that Science Fiction, due to its obvious focus on science, could be considered more “realistic,” and therefore more palatable since it lessens the “fiction” element of the story. This relies of course on the assumption that “fiction” is a dirty word in academia. In many ways I take this assumption to be at least partially true, but I have come upon something that I feel is a little bit more significant: Their respective portrayals of humanity.

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Science Fiction, in general, shows mankind as we are. Flawed. Broken. Hollow and cruel, despite our smarts and skills. Not, perhaps, all of the time, but in general Sci-Fi shows us the darker side of who we are. Fantasy, on the other hand, tends to show us who we could, or should be. Noble. Heroic. Flying in the face of danger for love and doing what’s right, despite our inadequacies. Fantasy is often an empowering and uplifting medium.

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Note my use of “often.” There are exceptions. But in the cases of these exceptions, they often begin to blur the line between Fantasy and Science Fiction. Dune, John Carter, Star Wars and other heroic science fiction could just as easily be classified as Fantasy as Science Fiction in most cases. Meanwhile, extremely technical or cynical fantasy begins to look more and more like Science Fiction, with rules and sources of supposed “magic” that begin to look like science with a sheen of superstition, or lead characters that are so damaged, the fantasy is in service of their self destructiveness. Despite clearly science fictional elements, or fantasy elements, we tend to question the authenticity of those labels when the work acts counter to, or outside of, our presuppositions about the way those genres are supposed to look at the world, and at humanity.

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Mainstream literature tends to focus on those cracks in the human psyche. It focuses on what is wrong with us. It aspires to be a mirror to show us our darker selves, ostensibly so that we may acknowledge it and change (Whether that change actually happens, or as to whether or not showing it to us is enough motivation to change is another question entirely). Because this goal is much closer to the nature of general science fiction, rather than fantasy, it makes Science Fiction more palatable to the academic audience who already hold mainstream literature to be superior. Fantasy meanwhile shows the best possible of humanity, a romantic view of nobility and heroism, and therefore must be trash.

I do agree that showing us the flaws in ourselves is a useful literary tool, and is worth lauding and celebrating, especially when done well and with skill. In that vein I appreciate good mainstream literature, or the academic perspective, as it were.

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But I do not agree with the underlying assumption that showing us the best possible of ourselves is somehow base or not worthy of intellectual thought.

In fact, these two perspectives in tandem may be the best way to achieve the actual goals of literature itself, which is to spark growth in the reader (as well as to entertain, of course). Gaining both perspectives, a dissatisfaction with where we are as a society, and as individuals, coupled with some end goal of positive progress, may be enough to spur that growth.

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It is for this reason that I do not understand the ghettoization of good fantasy literature, in academic circles. Shouldn’t fantasy and science fiction both be appreciated for the types of messages they are, and what they bring to the existential discussion? Of course they should.

  • Edward L. Cheever II

P.S.

I also do not believe that Science Fiction and Fantasy have to provide those general perspectives on humanity. I enjoy uplifting, heroic Science Fiction, and cynical Fantasy as much as their more archetypical brethren.

The art of the short story, and other ramblings on writing

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I previously posted this on my own blog, but I wanted to post it on here because I feel it touches on some important issues.

So, I am finishing my last short story for Narrative Writing. It has been a grand adventure and I have learned so much. Our “textbook” for this class is called The Art of the Short Story compiled by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn. The book contains examples of short stories from authors throughout literature. After each story is a one to two page blurb about some aspect of writing called Author’s Perspective In the very back are these Gioia and Gwynn’s views on The Elements of Short Fiction which includes Plot, Characterization, Points of View, Setting, Theme, and Style. They also discuss Writing About Fiction and lastly they have compiled a section on The types of Literary Criticism. First of all, The reason I am talking about this is because this book really gets into the details what makes a short story. My second reason is that many people feel that short story writing is so simple, it’s a short story.

However, I know two people in particular who write novels (just for fun) and writing a short story is torture because the approach is so different than a novel because the short story is astronomically shorter than the novel. In a novel, a person can focus on the story and plot because essentially a novel almost has a limitless length, but with a short story I feel that characterization is the key. Because the story is so short, in order to get a good view of your character you need to have this strong characterization.

This has been my struggle with short stories, not because I write novels (I’ve started quite a few but never finished them), but because my strength is the emotion and mood of the story not in the characterization. My use of this element has improved but it still needs a lot of refining and tuning. One of the things I love about writing is that there is always room for improvement. I may write a story I feel is good, and editors, friends, and critics, can show me how to make it better. It teaches you to not settle but to keep striving not for perfection (no one is perfect) but to strive to keep learning, to keep fine tuning, and it teaches the writer to accept criticism. I know that that through my university creative writing group I was able to accept criticism and learn from it. Yes, it’s hard to accept criticism of your writing. It’s special to you, however, these criticisms can be such a blessing. Yes sometimes they are hard to hear, personally I would rather be told the truth than lied to, but, not everyone is like that.

Okay so I know I have gone all over the place and my title of ramblings fits this quite well, but, this what was on my mind at the moment so I hope it isn’t too disconnected to understand.

Until next time.

A Continuing Series: the New Canon – Science Fiction

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Edward: Welcome back, everyone, to our continuing series on new entries to the English canon from genre fiction!

Scott:
Last post, we finished up with our favorites from the world of fantasy that we didn’t have much hope for. But we are back with a whole new genre.

Edward: It was hard to say that those works would not make it, as they are dear to our hearts, but that just means it’s time to perk ourselves up by talking about works that will take us to the stars!

Scott: *facepalm*

Science Fiction:

Edward: “Sci-Fi is an interesting genre in that it encompassed what we now think of as fantasy, horror and alternative history, along with its aliens, space-ships and robots. Science Fiction is still the broadest genre, taking in stories that, in form, may have very little in terms of similarity. These stories can be subtle, taking place merely a few years into our future, dealing with small but impacting scientific advances, or they can be bombastic space operas. That range, along with the often-times serious nature of the stories that defy mere escapism, has made Science Fiction the most favorably viewed of the popular genres by academia and intelligentsia. Furthermore, there have been a number of relatively recent authors of this type who have made it into the Canon. I say recently, but that’s something of a stretch as I am thinking of Jules Verne, primarily. But modern Science Fiction, for all its growing presence and power, is still not seen as valuable as other literature.

“This will change. So let’s get to predicting, shall we?

Edward’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #1:

Dune, by Frank Herbert

“I always feel a bit of shame whenever I predict the inclusion of a book I have not yet read. This is again the case. Nevertheless, even with my tangential exposure to the book, I can say with certainty that it is an utter classic, and a shoe-in for the Canon. Smashing cultures, political-religio machinations and philosophy, Herbert has managed to create a complete and detailed world that has extraordinary depth, influencing writers across multiple genres and leaving a huge mark on the literary landscape that is impossible to ignore.

“You know, Scott, that Dune was a major influence on Robert Jordan?”

Scott: “No, I’m afraid I didn’t. Dune is very much a classic work already among the Sci-Fi readers and I think it is only a matter of time for it to be included in the canon. Science Fiction has been steadily gaining popularity with readers and now that we live in a world where some of these things seem feasible, there is less of a stigma attached to Sci-Fi works. I’ve noticed many similarities between Western novels and Science Fiction, most notably the concept of unknown space. With that, I’d like to introduce my first prediction:

Scotts’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #1:

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

“This book was really one of my favorite works growing up, and to this day I see a lot of promise for its inclusion. Card has really created a work that epitomizes the change from innocence to experience. In some ways this has all the elements of a coming of age story, but with all that space and war represents as a realm of mystery and the unknown. It forces us to deal with the concept of childhood in an age that has become overcautious with the mental strain placed on young minds.

“The sequels to Ender’s Game are one of the things that make the story truly unique. The second work, perhaps even defining its own series, deals with the story of Ender’s second-in-command, Bean. While Ender’s books wax philosophical at times, Bean’s books mirror the events in the same universe, but deal with the struggles of politics and war among the nations of earth. Both are fascinating reads, but Ender’s Game is the cornerstone for the series and a book that will be enjoyed by both young and old.”

Edward: “Yes, Ender’s game is one of my favorites too, and an excellent choice.”

Scott: “Ed, have you recognized any similarities between the Western and Science fiction genres?”

Edward: “I have, though the similarity varies. At times it is as obvious as Joss Whedon’s TV show Firefly, and other times it is more subtle. And then there are the crossovers (such as last year’s movie, Cowboys and Aliens). Of course, Sci-Fi is a wide genre that covers many types of stories, some of which are very different from the tropes familiar to fans of westerns and space opera; such as my next pick for Sci-Fi works that will be entered into the Canon:

Edward’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #2:

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr.

“The post-apocalyptic subgenre is almost an entire genre unto itself, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll wrap it up into Sci-Fi. This book, following the story of the human race after a nuclear holocaust, is a marvelous portrait of human society and civilization. It is a study in how we perceive the world around us, how we react to it, and how, if we’re not careful, we will fall into these same old traps. Religion and the circular nature of things take center stage as well. Infusing the writing with a sometimes dark humor, Miller manages to create a compelling narrative of the human race spanning centuries. An excellent read that chooses not to spell out things for the reader, and instead let them piece things together for themselves. A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the best examples of the genre, its subgenre, and a great addition to the Canon.”

Scott: “The post-apocalyptic has always been a source of intrigue for me. Personally, I enjoy the vivid exploration of the anarchy that follow these events and how humanity reestablishes civilization in some form or another. The creation of civilization, though it is usually portrayed in fiction, is something much closer to home. It deals with how we deal with our desires without the formal structure of society. The rise of the Interweb brings me to my next pick, one that has had a significant impact on literature, but also represents our own reflection in the digital age.”

Scott’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #2:

Neuromancer, by William Gibson

“Out of all the literary works that have popped up over the year, I would say that Neuromancer has probably the best chance of being included in the canon. Therefore, the fact it is second on my list might raise a few eyebrows; however, I’m not putting these in order of preference, but as they came to mind. Many people will recognize the word cyberspace. How can we not? It has become the embodiment of a large part of our modern world. The word cyberspace was popularized by William Gibson in Neuromancer, though he coined the phrase in an earlier work.”

“This book has become a classic among many cyberpunk and net enthusiasts and it represents a drastic change in the way we began to perceive the “hacker”. If there is any book that defines us as the computer-deluged civilization we’ve become, it is Neuromancer.”

Edward: “Yet another fantastic sounding book I need to read. One might wonder if we’re really qualified for this, Scott!”

Scott: “I begin to think you are right, but the purpose of this is partially to recommend books for each other as well. That being said, do you have any other picks I’ve not added to my reading list?”

Edward: “Well, you’ve set my mind at ease, Scott. True enough, part of the wonder that is the breadth of genre fiction is how much of it there is yet to explore. And in that vein, I highly recommend to you…

Scott: ah AH wait! This is getting a bit long and our readers might be tired. So lets continue next time with our picks that are personal favorite, but probably not likely to join the Canon.

Edward: Yikes! You’re right, the time has just flown by. Well, until next time!

A Continuing Series: The New Canon – Fantasy Part: 2

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Edward: “Hello everyone! We’re back! If you missed the first entry in this series you can find it right Here. Now um… where were we?”

Scott: “Oh yes, our hopefuls. These are a few of the books that we’ve admired over the years, but doubt they’ll meet the cut.

Edward: “Yes indeed. This is our time to name works that sit in the Canon of our hearts, though not, perhaps, one day in the Literary Canon as a whole.

My first pick is easy –

Edward’s Pick That We Aren’t Holding Our Breath For #1:

Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis

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“Don’t get me wrong, I think that Till We Have Faces is easily of a high enough quality to be considered for the Canon. Lewis’ fantasy work, a new take on the story of Eros and Psyche through the eyes of Psyche’s sister (a character compiled from Psyche’s sisters in the original tale), is Lewis’ best fictional work. It is a masterpiece of storytelling, with compelling and strong, but deeply flawed, female characters that is a must read for any fan of fantasy, Greek myth, or C.S. Lewis. What will ultimately keep this choice from entry into the Canon is its obscurity. You never hear it mentioned whenever anyone talks about Lewis and his work, and that is an utter shame. I do not know how many can lay claim to having read it, but I assure you, it is not nearly enough.

“Now I’m intrigued, Scott. What is your choice going to be?”

Scott: “I truly haven’t read your first choice, but this back-and-forth has given me a lot of great recommendations.”

Edward: “Good recommendations are half the fun of lists like these!”

Scott: “And here is mine:”

Scott’s Pick That We Aren’t Holding Our Breath For #1:

The Discworld Series, by Terry Pratchett

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Scott: “The Discworld series is a vast collection of books written about a world laced with myth, legend, and fun all rolled into one. Personally, I’d love to see these wonderful books in the canon, especially Nightwatch, which is a personal favorite of mine. Pratchett is really able to not only access a large variety of myths: trolls, dwarves, ogres, vampires, zombies, Egypt, and really anything you can think of. However, he stacks them together in a world where myth meets the day to day life of cities and there aren’t enough hills for mad scientists to build castles. One of the reasons I doubt this will be added is because of its humor, it is masterfully done, but the canon tends not to lean towards the comic.”

Edward: “Another tragedy, in my book, Scott; I completely agree that it faces a steep climb to Canon-hood. It’s strange for a Canon that includes such humorous entries as Gulliver’s Travels and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to snub modern humor. Another unfortunate sign of the Canon’s dwindling relevance.

“My second pick was hard, deciding between my final choice and The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (which I ultimately decided against because I think it does have a shot at Canon-hood.)

Edward’s Pick That We Aren’t Holding Our Breath For #2:

The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson

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“The Mistborn trilogy is excellent in a number of ways. First is its impeccable world building. Sanderson knows how to create a unique and immediately identifiable landscape, culture and mythos, not to mention a very inventive magical system that is as tactically interesting as it is cinematically described. Secondly, it has very well drawn characters that, while occasionally bordering on stereotypes, land more firmly on the archetype side of the fence, with the important characters especially going through interesting growth and changes. Thirdly, Sanderson does a marvelous job of undercutting some of the foundations of the fantasy genre. One of the major influences on the story was the simple question, “What if the hero lost?” This sets up a fascinating plot that is unique in the genre.

“What will keep this out of the Canon is ultimately the fact that as interesting as the series is, it doesn’t have nearly the impact or weight of the heavy-hitters in the genre, and outside of some interesting musings on religion, it has little commentary or importance outside of itself. The events and plot are great, but they also feel somewhat remote from the reader, and don’t have much relevance in real life. This is not a knock at the story’s quality, but it is a problem when it comes to inclusion in the Canon.”

Scott: “Sanderson has been truly impressive with the additions to the Wheel of Time, but I personally haven’t read the Mistborn trilogy. Even though these books aren’t exactly our primary choices for the canon, they are all fantastic books with many others out there.”

Scott’s Pick That We Aren’t Holding Our Breath For #2:

The Crown of Stars, by Kate Elliot

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“Elliot’s series examines a world reminiscent of our dark ages; a land controlled by religious paranoia and the fear of war with an unknown force. Though this work will not be familiar to a large group, Elliot’s introduction of magic into a medieval world makes it a highly philosophical series, but not without a dramatic story of war and feudal honor. Those with historical training will be able to understand the full extent in which the series mimics the Church’s overwhelming influence over Europe. Unfortunately, I doubt it’s inclusion in the canon because, although Elliot creates a vivid and complex world, the story sometimes becomes bogged down with too much complexity and extensive desciption. Even so, I would recommend this as this has been one of my favorite fantasy series.”

Edward: “Yeah, that’s another one that I’ve never really heard of before. The middle ages have been a source for fantasy inspiration for a long time, and the politics of the Catholic Church is full of material for plots and world scenarios. It’s always good to see it when somebody does it right.

“Well, I’m sure we could go on and on about specific works in the Fantasy Genre, but it’s time we turned our gaze elsewhere. To the stars!

“… Next time!”

A Continuing Series: The New Canon – Fantasy

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Welcome, friends! Today we’re doing something a bit out of the norm. The bloggers of EdwardCheever.Wordpress.com and NeuroReverb.Wordpress.com have joined forces to have a special discussion about the future direction of the English Literary Canon. This post will go up on both sites, which we recommend you visit in the future. 🙂

Edward: “Alright, shifting out of the “We” business, let me get to the heart of the matter. This will be something of a conversational blog post in which Scott and I talk about the future of the English Canon. Now, to put things into perspective, we’ve already talked a bit about this. Modern inclusions into the Canon are growing thin and wane. Yes, you get your DeLillos and Pynchons in there, but two or three major Literary I-Just-Saw-Them-Mentioned-On-Double-Jeapordy authors since the 60s? Them is slim pickins’.

“The Canon is many things to may people. To some, it is the definitive list of “good and respectable” writing in the English language. To some, it is a list of the works which have had the broadest impact on culture. To others, it represents the jewels amongst the muck. To some, it represents the finest examples of wordcraft. To others, it is a list of the greatest stories ever told. To some, it is an arbitrary list created by elitists in the polished halls of expensive Universities. To others, it is a guideline for teachable materials. To still others, it’s that list of English reading homework that they never did exactly get around to, ‘You know… I was kinda busy that night, and…’

“No matter what your personal feelings about the Canon are, in practice it is the definition of “artistic merit” and “high culture.” So when works we feel need to be added to the Canon are pushed aside as rubbish, well it rubs some of us the wrong way. This hard-nosed, elitist and close-minded feel to the Canon has, along with various other factors, led to the disintegration of the relevance and vitality of the Canon, starting as early as the post World War II generation and before. That is why Scott and I think that the only way, the natural way, for this to change is for those in charge of the Canon (so to speak) to get over themselves and seriously consider the inclusion of excellent representatives of Genre Fiction. Take it away Scott!”

Scott: “Thanks Ed.
“The literary canon for the past century has had many representations of what people believe to be ‘Great Literature’, but what I’ve primarily seen in the canon are books that represent cultural ideas and beliefs of the day. If there’s one thing that has blossomed in the 21st century it is Genre Fiction. I think we have some biases in the literary world against anything sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or graphic novel related. However, the thinking is beginning to shift.

“Genres have become a large part of the literary market. Fiction has become an overall classification for the many different genres, as many of the books being published are a part of these genres. Without Genre fiction, we will miss out on a lot of the great literature that should be recognized.

“While content is of primary importance, medium can make a difference in the way a work is received. Graphic novels are beginning to deal with more than just the simple superheroics of the Biff-Boom-Pow! variety, and are beginning to deal with lasting issues. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi, deals with modern issues and has become a new medium for great works. I’m sure Ed has some Graphic Novels he’d like to talk about too.”

Edward: “Absolutely, Scott! But we’ll get around to Graphic Novels later, (we may even have to save it for a “Part 2” if this gets too long). Let’s start with what kicked off this discussion, my pick for our first Genre.”

Fantasy:
“Fantasy is one of the oldest genres, with close ties to the English Canon going back throughout the history of English lit. Classic novels and poems like Beowulf, The Faerie Queen, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have made an indelible mark on the Canon. This is why it stumps me that starting around the turn of the century Fantasy has been relegated to the rubbish heap as far as the Canon is concerned. It is probably connected with the gritty realism of the Modernist and Postmodernist periods and the rise of suburban lit like that of my relative John Cheever. Either way, this gap has gone on too long, and it is already being closed by my first choice for Fantasy works of this last century to make it into the Canon.”

Edward’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #1:

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings Cover Art
“Sorry I took the easiest one on the list, Scott. But I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that no work of Fantasy in the past century is as immediately obvious in its inclusion to the English Canon as the monumental work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Even if we were judging by mere impact alone, we would have to include LotR, which is the father of the modern Fantasy genre and still remains the standard by which all other works in the field are judged. But impact is not at all the end of what Tolkien’s work offers. It is a work of terrific scope and impeccable writing skill. It is a story with character and implications that are as applicable to the human condition as anything in the Canon. What Tolkien accomplished is not some throwaway novelty of a fad, it is a work of art, and its why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Wouldn’t you agree Scott?”

Scott: “I’d agree. Fantasy is one of the oldest Genres and LotR definitely takes a prominent place in the new canon. Tolkien links the old fantasy to the new. It represents some of the timeless characteristics of great literature. Well Ed, I have to agree with your first choice. However, there is another book series which may become influential in the Canon. My choice for fantasy is a difficult one, as some of my favorites tend to stray into other territory. With the Fantasy genre in mind there is one pick that stands out to me:

Scott’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #1:

The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan
Eye of the World Cover Art
“Though this series hasn’t gained as much literary fame as Tolkien, I believe that Jordan has been tremendously influential in the fantasy world. I believe you are a fellow fan of this series, just as I am of Tolkien. I balanced my first and second choice for this genre against two considerations: impact on literature versus reflection of society. I choose The Wheel of Time as my first consideration for the canon because of the tremendous impact it has had on much of the other literature in the field, just as Tolkien has. I believe Tolkien and Jordan are both excellent examples, but I’m curious as to your second choice. Do you think it’s more difficult to place a first or second choice in this genre?”

Edward: “The Wheel of Time is definitely a pick that plays a tune I’d dance to, my friend. But Robert Jordan has been criticized for many perceived flaws in his writing, whether it is his penchant for drawn out description scenes, his complex political plot-lines or his portrayals of women, he is a controversial figure.”

Scott: ”Indeed, Jordan may have some detractors; however, there aren’t many figures in the established canon that haven’t had their flaws pointed out.”

Edward: “I absolutely agree. And in my book, Jordan is a master of world building and characterization which cannot be adequately denied. Not only that, but though he is criticized for the ways he tackles certain topics such as gender roles, he has had the bravery to do so in a genre that for many years enforced old-fashioned viewpoints. Add on to that the fact that, as you’ve said, he has had a large impact on modern fantasy and I’d say that he is ripe for entry into the Canon.

“As for which choice is harder, well I’d say it’s probably the second pick. The Lord of the Rings and the Wheel of Time are easy choices, but it’s when you have to sort out the rest that things get complicated. For instance, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series was really tempting. Nevertheless, I still had little trouble choosing my number two for this category:

Edward’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #2:

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
American Gods Cover art
“Neil Gaiman is a name you won’t see the last of in this post of ours, and for a very good reason. Some authors put out one or two great works and that is all they are known for, and then there are some authors that put out work after work of absolute quality. Gaiman is fully one of the latter. What was hard about this choice wasn’t whether or not a Neil Gaiman work should be chosen, but rather which of his works I should choose. In the end, though, no matter how much I adored Neverwhere, the writing skill and the vision of so thoroughly mixing modern Americana with old world gods, all covering an interesting critique of American culture and themes of where the past and present meet and conflict… well, let’s just say it was a shoe-in.”

Scott: “The first time I read American Gods at your recommendation, I was thrown off somewhat by the style of the writing; however, as the book progressed I really began to appreciate the detail and subtly that went into making the characters. I am personally a huge fan of mythological tales especially those of the far north and Gaiman’s research was not lost on me.”

“For my second pick, I lean towards the reflection-of-society aspect of literature. This second series is not nearly as well know as my first choice (or either of Ed picks) but I consider the message as a look into not only American culture, but western thought:

Scott’s Prediction for Canon Inclusion #2:

The Soldier Son Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
Soldier Son Trilogy Cover Art
“Robin Hobbs is better known for her Farseer books than for her most recent books. However, many of the summaries of this series don’t do it justice. Though the work appears more post-colonial, it represents a backlash of the “ideal” and well written commentary on western thought. But before I frighten people away with too much literary jargon, this series is an a excellent read for both critics and for fantasy enthusiasts.”

Edward: “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I am not familiar with Mrs. Hobbs’ work. Your recommendation intrigues me, though. I’ll have to check that one out.”

Scott: “That’s perfectly alright Ed, I hope you give it a look sometime. Hobbs’ work is still somewhat buried under a few of the larger names and we both know that it’s hard getting to all of them. Well Ed, I think that wraps up our predictions for the fantasy genre’s entries to the canon, but I know there are a few books that both of us would like to see in the canon that probably won’t make it in, our personal favorites besides the big ones.”

Edward: “That’s absolutely correct. Both Scott and I here are genre literature enthusiasts, as you no doubt can tell, but despite the occasional “fan-boy” tendencies we may both have, we are not deluding ourselves into thinking that all of our favorites will make it into the Canon. To that end, we’re including a sort of Honorable Mentions category…

Scott: “Wait a second, Ed. This is getting entirely too long for one post. How about we call it a night and continue next week?”

Edward: “Oh, wow, you’re right. Look at that clock!” *stares at clock his readers can’t see* “I agree. Let’s pick this back up again next week.”

Signing off for the night: Edward and Scott. See you next time.

Writing and Self-Publishing

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Greetings!

My name is Tiffany Collier. I operate under the pen name Lyn Gilleland and, having written four books, three of which are novel-length, I get a lot of questions about the writing and self-publishing process. For those who have questions about how to write and self-publish a book, I thought I’d tell you how I have gone about it. In order to do so, I am re-posting something that I posted on my own blog, Gilleland Creations.

I have had many people stare at me in disbelief when I pull out a copy of one of my books, particularly the 619 page compilation of my trilogy (which, like the rest of my books, is currently on holiday for some much-needed editing). This often sets off a string of questions: When did you write this? How long did it take? How did you get it published? Can I find it in a store? etc. etc.

While I will be the first to tell you that my books are merely self-published, something that anyone can do, I will admit that I take a certain pride in my work none-the-less. My books, though self-published, are the results of years of practice, hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of hand-written ideas, and hours upon hours of planning, drafting, typing, editing, and designing.

Call me old-fashioned, but to me there is nothing like the feeling of scrawling down words using pen and paper. I am a highly physical person (this doesn’t have anything to do with all those years that I refused to wear my glasses, does it?), and I like to feel the pen in my hand, feel the texture of the paper under my skin as I move along, and watch as the ink is applied to the paper. Evidence of this can be seen all over my room, with bookshelves and floor space chock-full of notebooks, some completely filled, others half empty. I am quite positive that my story notebooks alone contain at least a thousand, if not more, pages of mostly failed attempts. People often go on and on about my writing ability, yet they don’t realize that, for every story I finish (the list is quite small), there are at least a dozen stories that I have started and never finished.

Writing a novel is fun but certainly not easy. Rarely does a person naturally write 50,000+ words without much thought. (Unless, of course, you are one particular friend of mine, whose name will remain anonymous).

For me, each story, particularly my novel-length work, is the result of detailed planning. My inspiration comes from many sources. However, my most common areas of reference are my friends, old half-baked story ideas, dreams, and National Geographic.

I start out by envisioning a certain scene in my head. I am highly imaginative, so the scenes play like movies in my mind’s eye. I formulate appearances, choose character traits, and conduct character interactions during this time, imagining that I am there and witnessing everything. Sometimes I become so engrossed in the story that I take on the role of the main character, hearing, feeling, and occasionally even expressing what that character would. I take this time to become familiar with the world that I am creating, deciding rules and guidelines for how the world operates. Because I am a fantasy writer, this step is crucial.

Once I get a feel for the story, and if I think that there is enough plot to actually make it worth my time, I pull out a pen and a college-ruled, one-subject, spiral-bound notebook – yes, I am that particular about what I use – and begin jotting down notes.

I almost always start out with a list of characters and their information. I include their name, age, race, hair color, eye color, vocation, skills, weapons (if necessary), and a short bio indicating origin and any relatives that might be involved. Often, I will also make sure to note the gender, as some names are unisex.

After jotting down information about the main characters, I often create a list of side characters, whose appearances and backgrounds are not particularly important. This is followed by a plot overview and a tentative outline.

For the outline, I go chapter by chapter, giving phrase names to each in order to get a better idea for where I want to go with the story. Sometimes I leave it at that, allowing my imagination and the flow of the story to dictate its final outcome. Other times, I write out expanded explanations of what should happen in each chapter, allowing for deviation should the need arise.

The actual story, like the notes, is handwritten, typically in the same notebook. For my novels, my rule is usually approximately 14 handwritten pages per chapter. This allows me to estimate the length of the story, and is useful if I am aiming for novel-length material. Many think that I’m crazy for doing this, and perhaps I am. The Four Stars consists of about 145 pages of handwritten material, The Secret of Erris around 170, Rebirth ranging around 190, and Ancient Vengeance coming in at 287. Of course, the handwritten copies are all first drafts, and usually grow dramatically when I go to type them.

After writing the first draft of each story, I proceed to type everything up in a pre-designed format. This format, done in Microsoft Word, is something that I created myself by measuring and studying professionally published books. Using those as a reference, I create a copyright page, lay out headers and page numbers, and designate margins and tab points.

Typing takes time, but luckily for me I have had plenty of practice over the years. Averaging at about 65 words per minute, my typing skills allow me to type up large amounts of work at one time, especially when the work has already been written. However, for a person like myself, typing up the story isn’t the end of my work.

As a self-publishing individual, I am not only the author, but the agent, editor, designer, artist, and publisher as well. I go back through my work multiple times once I have finished and recruit friends to help me look for errors when possible. Unfortunately, things often get missed, as being the writer creates the chronic issue of mentally filling in the gaps without noticing the problem. I also do the layout for my book, as I mentioned above, around this time.

Even though words are the meat of any story, pictures never hurt, and for fantasy novels this is doubly true. For this reason, I am not only the writer but the artist. I draw maps and sketch out characters and places. I also do the cover art for my book. Lacking the digital programs of professional designers, my cover art is done almost entirely by hand using paint and brush.

It takes hours, days, weeks, even months to put together a single book even after it has been written. However, the end results make all that work worth it.

The final step is the actual self-publishing. Of all the questions I get about my writing, self-publishing ranks #1.

There are tons of different self-publishing companies out there on the internet, each sporting various features. The company I use is called Lulu.

I discovered Lulu.com via a self-publishing e-zine, an email newsletter dedicated to helping people master the ins and outs of self-publishing. Ranked as one of the top self-publishing companies, Lulu is reliable, helpful, and, more importantly, free. The only charges incurred are if you choose to buy a print copy of your own book.

The process itself is very simple, and Lulu’s publishing wizard makes putting the book together a walk in the park.

Creating an account is the first step. It’s simple, free, and helps you track any projects you have started or completed.

Once you have obtained an account, simply clicking on the “Publish” tab will lead you through a several-step process in which you will select book dimensions, gray scale vs. color, upload files, enter book information, select visibility settings, and put the book up for sale (or leave it private for individual printing later on).

Lulu comes with an “Author Spotlight”, an online bookstore displaying any work designated as public.

From there, it is all a matter of the author publicizing their work and getting it out there. For me, my favorite thing to do is to give copies of my books to my friends and family for birthdays, Christmas, graduations, etc. This comes in handy for getting my name out there, particularly when in the hands of an ardent admirer such as my little brother.

While the likelihood of becoming famous through self-publishing is rather slim, and the thought of getting rich on such an endeavor is rather far-fetched, self-publishing creates a sense of fulfillment for an author that simply writing a story could never do. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than to hold that hard-back, professional-looking book in my hand, to look down at the name, and say, “Lyn Gilleland…that’s me.”

The Drafting Process

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Hi, I’m Scott Laue from NeuroReverb and I wanted to share some of the issues that I have with writing and how I work to surpass them, because I think we all run into mental roadblocks when writing.

My current project is a novel length work entitled: As Kingfishers Catch Fire. I plan for the book to have a sequel and have been working on the drafting process. Here is where I hit my snag. I am a writer that loves to play with words and the meanings behind words, history, allusions to literature, conventions (New and Old), and just general weirdness. I struggle with the drafting process because there is too much information that I want readers to be able to follow throughout the book. For example: The main character must have had intimate knowledge of the secret passageways in a building in order to escape the enemy.

Knowing that this information must come into play there are several methods I could take, probably more, but I’ll give three:

  • Knowledge of them through childhood exploration.
  • He and his love interest use them to see each other.
  • They are mapped out in some book that he happens to have on hand.

Each of these choices is viable; however, remembering that one, or all, of these things need to be included can be difficult in the drafting process. This is a simpler example than I actually need to be reminded of, but the concept is still there. That is why I created a sheet to help me with the drafting process (Coincidentally, it works for Academic papers as well).

Writing Scene Chart

The purpose behind this is that I can make a brief outline of a chapter or paper based on information I need to convey. As I write through my draft I can go back and fill in details that may be needed to give the story cohesion or allude to unexplained circumstances that lead into the next story.

I hope it is helpful for all of you who struggle with keeping stories cohesive or papers relevant.

-Scott