Guest Post: “‘You’re doing what?’ – Why I Decided to Self-Publish My Next Series” by Rachel Aaron

RachelBach-authorphotoWhenever a New York published author decides to self-publish, there’s always the implicit assumption that Something Happened. Why else, after all, would an author who was presumably happily settled in a nice, big publishing house suddenly strike out on her own, like a child running away from home? Clearly, something terrible must have occurred. Was there a fight? A hot tempered editorial phone call where bridges were burned like kindling? Or perhaps it was the book itself? Maybe the story failed to meet the publisher’s expectations, and now the slighted author is unloading drek onto her fans for a quick buck?

Whatever imagined tragedy you prefer, they all start with the same opening: Something Happened. Something fundamental went horribly wrong in the publishing relationship. There’s simply no other plausible explanation why an author who’d already “made it,” who’d cleared the slush pile, gotten the agent and the book deal and gone on to write multiple series would give it all up and go it alone in self-publishing, the last refuge of the desperate and rejected. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Writing Real Women” by Jon Wallace

WallaceJon-AuthorPicI reckon that one of the hardest things in the world, when you’re starting out as a writer, is when a friend critiques something you’ve written. You’ve put (what you regard) as a lot into it, you’re convinced it’s unparalleled genius, and when you meet to discuss your work you sit there confidently expecting praise.

Your friend normally starts off by giving you what you want: “I loved this, that bit was cool, I really enjoyed the way you did such and such”. You sit there, nod in agreement that it’s all great and think: Excellent, my skill is acknowledged. Then come the words:

“The only thing is…” Continue reading

Guest Post: “SEEDS IN THE DESERT” by Peter Liney (Detainee Blog Tour)

Liney-DetaineeI’m not exactly sure when THE DETAINEE started to take shape in my mind. For a long time I had this notion that I wanted to write a book about the human spirit, about the fact that, no matter how dark the situation, given hope, we always find a way to survive. Like those seeds that lie dormant in the desert, year in, year out, waiting for rain, and when it comes, suddenly burst into the most beautiful of life. Or the victims of kidnapping, political prisoners, those held for no reason and often under the most appalling of circumstances, where do they find the will to survive? To wait for the arrival of that shower of life-giving rain? Continue reading

Guest Post: “On Writing Fiction vs. Writing Games” by Richard Dansky

A 14 year veteran of the video game industry, Richard Dansky is the Central Clancy Writer for Ubisoft/Red Storm. Named by Gamasutra as one of the top 20 game writers in 2009, he has written for games ranging from OUTLAND to the upcoming SPLINTER CELL: BLACKLIST (which I’m rather looking forward to). Richard is also the author of six novels, including the critically praised Firefly Rain. He lives and works in North Carolina with his wife and their statistically improbable collections of books, scotch and cats. His latest novel is Vaporware.

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ON WRITING FICTION VS. WRITING GAMES

RichardDansky-DinosaurPicThe big difference between writing games and writing fiction is whose story you’re actually telling. When you’re writing fiction, you’re writing a singular, defined narrative. The characters do what you want them to do. They say what you want them to say, when you want them to say it, and the plot moves, one page at a time, toward the conclusion. The reader receives the narrative; the story’s told in linear fashion, and while the reader can adjust the way they receive it by reading out of order – or by skipping the bits with Tom Bombadil and getting straight to the barrow-wights – the text is set on the page. It’s the writer’s story, not the reader’s.

In games, it’s not your story, it’s the player’s. Every piece of writing you do, every word you put on the page isn’t there to advance your story to a singular conclusion. It’s there for the player to pick up and put on and experience, and then to make their own. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Without the player actually playing, those story elements sit there inert. They’re pure potential, waiting to be actualized by the player engaging with them. Until then, they just sit in memory, waiting to be triggered by the player’s actions.

What this produces is a very different kind of story. For all the classical genre tropes that so heavily infest game writing, classical storytelling techniques need to be adjusted to allow the player room to play. It’s what I called “the player-shaped hole” at my Game Developers Conference talk a few years ago, the possibility space around what the player might do at any given moment. And even in the most straightforward game, the list of things the player can do at any given moment is surprisingly large. Shoot? Maybe, but even with that there are innumerable choices to be made (weapon, rate of fire, choice of target, etc.). Move? Duck? Jump? Check inventory? Use a healthpack? Fiddle with the controller? All of these things the player can do, things that might be incorporated into their personal story of playing have to be accounted for so that when the player looks back on their experience, it feels like all the choices they made were the right ones at the time. Before it happens, it has to be open; in hindsight, it has to be seamless.

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That’s not to say that the gap between writing fiction and writing games is insurmountable, though I confess, as someone who’s done both, it’s often easier to go from the ultimately interactive scenario of game writing to the ultimately dictated scenario of fiction than the other way around. And a look at the writers working both sides of the fence these days – Austin Grossman, Erin Hoffman, Lucien Soulban, Jay Posey, and many more – might even suggest that there’s some potential benefit to laboring in the vineyards of games and learning the hard way to tell stories not your own.

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If you want to learn more about Richard Dansky and his work, be sure to check out his website and follow him on Twitter.

Guest Post: “The Monster Within” by Richard Thomas

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Richard Thomas is the author of STARING INTO THE ABYSS (Kraken Press – awesome cover, above), and while I do some catching up on my ever-growing TBR Mountain, I thought it would be a great idea to invite him over to CR to write a little something. He kindly took the time to put together a post (despite my hectic, less-than-speedy correspondence). Check it out…

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“The Monster Within” by Richard Thomas

When we look at classic horror stories, and the need to update them, the way that so many authors today are trying to build on the beasts we all grew up with – werewolves, vampires, demons – I often take a step back, away from these creatures and ask myself what we’re really writing about. Is it a matter of graphic violence, the gore, do we just want to see a creature transform under the full moon, limbs stretching, bones popping, nails pushing through fingertips? Or the evidence of their feeding – necks ripped out, blood drained from pale flesh, muscle and sinew scattered across the forest floor, painting an abstract vision of the grotesque?

What fascinates me more is not a new version of the beast, the boogeyman, the creatures that hide in the shadows, swim in our waters, and hide beneath the earth. What I find the most terrifying, is the monster within us all.

Let me tell you a little story. It’s a true story, at least up to the endings I’m going to give you. When I lived in Wicker Park, a hip neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago, I used to grill out on a little barbeque pit I bought at Home Depot. Maybe $200 total for the gas range, easier to light in a hurry. I make these chicken wings every year for the Super Bowl, a mixture of hot wings, with the standard spices and hot sauces, but with an Asian flair—a bit of teriyaki, soy, ginger and Sriracha. I baste a ten-pound bag of wings overnight, stirring it, sucking the liquid up with a baster, and then squirting it back over the wings. It’s a labor of love.

Well, one year I was standing out in the cold cooking up the wings, after a night of marinating them, off to a party – not the Super Bowl, I know that much, because it was hot out – I kept running back upstairs to grab a cold can of Budweiser. Across the street from us was a block of Section 8 Housing – government property for those that were struggling to get by. I lived with my girlfriend at the time, Lisa, who is now my wife, and the mother of my children. These guys across the street, they were mostly black, a few Hispanics, nobody white. They would stand on the porch, smoke cigarettes, and at night the cars would stop, buy their drugs, and move on. They had kids of course – they were people you know, not monsters. I would nod to them when I walked past – I didn’t bother them, and they didn’t bother me. But I knew they had guns, I knew about the drugs of course – there would be fights, screaming, glass breaking, and the police would show up now and then.

RichardThomas-AuthorPicI was about halfway done with the wings, when I ran back up to get a beer. I was only gone about twenty seconds, but in that time the boys across the street had run over, grabbed the giant metal bowl of cooked wings, and disappeared. I stood at the barbeque, a slow rage building. I looked across the street, and they were all gone, not a single person in sight. I’d even given a few of the wings to some kids that had wandered over, not fifteen minutes early, as they’d walked by, saying, “Man, those wings smell GOOD.” I had paused – should I share with them, I had a lot of wings. “Here you go, have one,” I said, holding out the bowl. They each took one and walked away – happy, I thought. I guess not. One was not enough. They took them all.

As I started to walk across the street to go get my wings, I stopped. I asked myself, “What the hell are you doing?” The guns, the violence I’d seen, black eyes and bloody lips, kids crying, police cars. I turned around and went back to the grill, and cooked the other half of my wings. The bastards even kept the metal bowl.

Why did I stop? Because I knew violence, and I knew that it would escalate, that in the end, I might be the one to suffer, my girl. I’d been in fistfights where the only end to the beating is when one person didn’t get back up. I’d seen faces stomped into the curb. I knew that the monster that lived in me would be happy to get into it, to start something – baseball bat in hand, bricks through windows, slashed tires in the dead of night. I looked at my car parked right in front of the house. How long would it last? Not long, I imagined. The ending I imagined, the one I’m making up here, that didn’t happen (but could have) involved terror – looking out the window, waiting for my girl to get home, standing outside smoking a cigarette, and then a gun is pushed in my temple, and what then? I’d be lucky with a beating.

A few weeks later, a woman was raped in the gangway between our apartment building and the one next door. This is not fiction – this is true. A man beat her, tore off her clothes, and shoved his hard cock in her most private and delicate area and fucked her until she bled, leaving her crying on the concrete. Above, merely feet away, my girlfriend and I slept soundly, the air conditioner blasting, never hearing a thing. The only evidence on the concrete sidewalk was a dark stain that would never quite fade away, some broken glass, and the idea that violence knows no rules, no laws – random chaos that can descend at any moment, and come home to roost.

This is what scares me – not werewolves, vampires or demons. (Okay, maybe demons a little bit, but that also comes back to religion and some sort of factual evidence.) These are the stories that fascinate me, the Dexters and Hannibals, or even the unnamed evil that lurks in the heart of all men, all women – the desire to hurt another human being, the need for vengeance, to be right at any cost. So quite often, in my stories, it’s not that yeti, the chupacabra, or a zombie. No, it’s the guy next door, drunk, running over a child in the street. It’s a moment of selfishness that results in the death of a wife, and the magic and voodoo that any man would trade to get her back, the love of his life. It’s the feeling of loss, of disintegrating, losing yourself in the madness of a moment in time, that tipping point, something you can never get back. It’s the monster within us all, flawed as we are – that’s what scares me.

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ThomasR-StaringIntoTheAbyssFor more, Richard Thomas can be found on Twitter and his website. Here’s the cover (again) and synopsis for Staring Into The Abyss:

As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.” In this collection of short stories Richard Thomas shows us in dark, layered prose the human condition in all of its beauty and dysfunction. A man sits in a high tower making tiny, mechanical birds, longing for the day when he might see the sky again. A couple spends an evening in an underground sex club where jealousy and possession are the means of barter. A woman is victimized as a child, and turns that rage and vengeance into a lifelong mission, only to self-destruct, and become exactly what she battled against. A couple hears the echo of the many reasons they’ve stayed together, and the one reason the finally have to part. And a boy deals with a beast that visits him on a nightly basis, not so much a shadow, as a fixture in his home. These 20 stories will take you into the darkness, and sometimes bring you back. But now and then there is no getting out, the lights have faded, the pitch black wrapping around you like a festering blanket of lies. What will you do now? It’s eat or be eaten – so bring a strong stomach and a hearty appetite.

Guest Post: “Influences & Inspirations” by Fredrik Brounéus

Brouneus-PrinceOfSoul&TheLighthouseCivilian Reader has not featured enough authors from Down Under. Aside from some of the better-known SFF authors from all the way over there (e.g. Helen Lowe), not many people realise that there’s a huge SFF community down there. So, after a very amusing email from their head publicist, I discovered Steam Press (there was a very good joke about sheep and Hobbits). Anyway, I reached out for some guest posts and interviews with some of their authors. I hope to feature more Australian and New Zealand authors on the blog in the coming weeks and months, so watch this space!

To kick things off, I bring you a guest post from Fredrik Brounéus, a Swedish writer who has lived in Dunedin since 2009. His previous books include a children’s thriller and a young adult pop novel, both of which were published in Swedish. His first English-language novel is The Prince of Soul and The Lighthouse.

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“Influences & Inspirations”

Having read some of the excellent Influences & Inspiration guest posts on the Civilian Reader blog, I was inspired to share a piece about one of my own muses: my worries.

I’m the worrying kind. Don’t know if it’s in my genes (my dad – a great worrier; my mom – a legendary Amazon worrier) or just a hobby turned into a habit. As a kid I kept coming up with new stuff to fear – such as the TFM (Toilet Flush Monster), who’d grab me if I didn’t reach the carpet outside the bathroom in time; or the ghoul disguised as a magpies’ nest outside our house, which had me darting past the living room window to get to the kitchen alive.

What I worry about nowadays? Throw me a topic and I’ll worry about it. Yes – you in the back; tax returns – thank you. Root canals – good one. Funny-looking birthmarks – why not. All good everyday subjects for a casual worry; but let’s think bigger. Let’s raise our eyes to greater worries. Like Great White Sharks, plane crashes, gun-wielding psychopaths, Great White Sharks, terrorists, aliens, Great White Sharks, the Meaning of Life, climate change, death (in general), overpopulation, asteroids, tsunamis, super volcanoes, antibiotic resistance and Great White Sharks.

Through the years I’ve always found comfort in the assumption that this worrying side is the inevitable Mr. Hyde of a vivid imagination. And if you’re a writer, imagination is a good thing, right? (Though my writing has occasionally caused the fantasy/reality fault line to grow a bit shaky; such as the time when I was working on a scene where a character had fallen seriously ill from an infected wound. After a couple of hours, feeling utterly sick and dizzy, I staggered up from my desk. It took a few minutes and a couple of Panadols before I remembered that it actually wasn’t me who had the fever, but the character in the manuscript.)

My Swedish books all have a firm base in favorite worries: Yoga for Rock Stars (the Meaning of Life), The Hunt for the Energy Gizmo (climate change, use of fossil fuels), Drugs and Bugs (antibiotic resistance). All in all, my worries have been an ample source of inspiration for my writing. But the last couple of years I’ve also discovered a positive feedback mechanism: my writing seems to have a therapeutic effect on my worrying mind. My layman analysis is that by writing about things that worry me, I put myself in control; I get to twist, turn and shake the hell out of stuff that would otherwise be keeping me awake at night. It works as a kind of self-hypnosis – a magic trick to soothe the synapses.

For example, during the writing of my first English novel, The Prince of Soul and The Lighthouse, I was worrying a lot about overpopulation, climate change and death. As luck would have it, it turned out that two of these worries were – inadvertently – caused by an 18th century invention by an earlier reincarnation of my 18-year old protagonist. And the third (death) wasn’t all the doom and gloom I’d feared it to be. At the end of the book [spoiler alert] all problems were resolved and haven’t bothered me since. Not much anyway.

One of my two current works in progress deals with the Meaning of Life, aliens and an asteroid strike; while the other is juggling The Meaning of Life (it’s a big question) and every bad idea humanity has ever come up with. And so far my self-hypnosis hypothesis holds true; I actually can’t believe how gullible my brain is. It seems to believe anything I write (but don’t tell it I said that).

My next book is an underwater steam punkish adventure which includes a certain species of shark as a major plot element. Result? I now live on the Otago Peninsula, New Zealand – known to be a regional hot spot for Great Whites – and I’ve actually been in the water. (And I used to be nervous about swimming in the Dalecarlia River in central Sweden.) Been thinking of going kayaking even. Surfing? No way in hell. Will need to write a couple of sequels first.

Fredrik Brouneus

P.S. My brain – however susceptible it may be – knows perfectly well that I cannot make real life worries go away by just writing about them. I still recycle my plastics, take the bike instead of the car and avoid swimming near seal colonies.

Guest Post: “Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy” by Brian McClellan

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Brian McClellan is the author of the upcoming PROMISE OF BLOOD, the first in the Powder Mage Trilogy (Orbit, April 2013). Here he discusses age conventions in Epic Fantasy…

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“Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy”

The young farm boy is so common in fiction that it’s become a cliché. I grew up reading about farm boys, or some other young, naive laborer, in the works of David Eddings, Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, or William Goldman. My favorite movie as a kid – Star Wars – centered around a farm boy who, like those in the books I liked, yearned for adventure and then was booted out of his home in a twist of fate and became savior of the nation! Or country. Or world. Or galaxy.

You get the point.

So why the young farm boy? Continue reading