GALEN STOOD UP. “LEAD WITH ACTION!”

First of all, be extremely cautious around “trendy” writing advice. If someone tells you that, for instance, no one ever reads prologues so never write a prologue… well, that one I’ve already debunked. Another that keeps popping up is that you should never use any sort of dialog attribution, especially verbs of speaking, including said. Instead, the New Way of Doing Things is to (hopefully) make it clear who said a particular line of dialog by putting an action that character is doing right next to it. I think the theory behind this is that words like “said,” “asked,” or “replied” somehow slow down your readers or even amount to “telling” rather than “showing.”

Of course, that’s nonsense.

Certain words, said included, are read more like punctuation, indicating that a particular character said that or is about to say this in much the same way a period indicates the end of a sentence. It in no way slows down or pulls your reader out of the action. Unless, of course, your reader is somehow infected by this goofball idea and so then starts to see that word when they shouldn’t.

And yes, it is possible to read wrong.

I don’t like to live in an either-or world, so let’s keep both “she said” and “He stood up” in our writers’ toolkits. Sometimes action in place of dialog attribution absolutely is the better way to go, or at least is just as good. Now the trick becomes where to put it.

You might be surprised how often I see something like this:

“Look over there! Do you see that?” Bronwyn pointed up into the sky.

“What? You’ve never seen a dragon before?” Galen looked up then smiled.

“No, not the dragon, the B-52 bomber behind it!” Bronwyn slapped him on the shoulder.

“Oh… that’s… weird…” Galen looked again and blinked in surprise.

What’s wrong with that? We clearly see what’s going on here. We know who’s saying what. The dialog and actions of the characters are set apart in their own paragraphs, but…

It’s in the wrong order.

Whenever possible, action comes first.

Sometimes you point and say “Look!” at the same time. Sometimes you point then say, “Look!” Rarely, I think, do you say “Look,” and then point, but I think I could be convinced that’s possible. But even then, what if your readers don’t know from other context cues that this is Bronwyn speaking until she points—that does take your readers out of the action. Starting with Bronwyn in action carries into the dialog.

In the second sentence, Galen has to look up before he sees the dragon, which makes him smile. That happening after the dialog would indicate that he already knows there’s a dragon there. And again—that might be precisely what you want to convey, since he doesn’t see the airplane yet.

Then Bronwyn slaps him on the shoulder after she tells him about the plane. The order here makes the slap on the shoulder mean different things. Is she mad at him for thinking she’s amazed by a dragon or is she trying to turn his attention to the airplane?

The last sentence is the worst in that we hear Galen’s response then see it. He should look first, then he can speak and blink in surprise in whatever order.

Maybe it’s as easy as changing all but one line?

Bronwyn pointed up into the sky. “Look over there! Do you see that?”

“What? You’ve never seen a dragon before?” Galen looked up then smiled.

Bronwyn slapped him on the shoulder. “No, not the dragon, the B-52 bomber behind it!”

Galen looked again and blinked in surprise. “Oh… that’s… weird…”

I think it would read even better if it was mixed up some, and a little more atmosphere was added. Remember, good storytelling is a balance between what the characters are doing and why the characters are doing it—it’s personal more than procedural.

Bronwyn pointed up into the sky and screamed, “Look over there! Do you see that?”

Galen looked up, his hand going to his sword. Then he smiled when he saw the young wyrm hovering above the castle. “What? You’ve never seen a dragon before?”

Bronwyn slapped him on the shoulder. “No, not the dragon, the B-52 bomber behind it!”

Galen looked again and blinked in surprise. “Oh…” he breathed. The sun glinted off the straight silver wings of the rapidly approaching aircraft. “That’s…” he said, his voice lost to the growing roar of the engines, “weird…”

There’s more to this than learning one rule and strictly adhering to it. Mix it up—listen to what your characters are saying and see what they’re doing. The standard advice for writing dialog is to say it out loud. That can help—do that! But sometimes, you may have to stand up and act it out, too. Have fun with that if you write on a laptop at the local Starbucks.

“Look, Mommy,” the little girl said, pointing at the writer across the coffeeshop, “that man is dancing!”

The author mimed a brutal swing of an imaginary battle-axe. “Take that, orc scum!”

 

—Philip Athans

 

STARTS THIS WEEK!

Two weeks of intensive training in intense horror starts this coming Thursday October, 17 in my online Writers Digest University course Horror Writing Intensive: Analyzing the Work of Genre Master Stephen King.

 

 

 

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, help for writers, helping writers become authors, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, Publishing Business, SF and Fantasy Authors, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

THE SPECTER PRIESTESS OF WRIGHTSTONE: EXPLORING WEIRD TALES Vol. 5, No. 1—PART 23

I continue to be amazed by the sheer volume of content contained in the January 1925 issue of Weird Tales, which has been keeping us busy for closing in on two dozen posts. Back in those days, fourteen years before Simon & Schuster introduced Pocket Books, not a lot of average everyday citizens could afford to buy books—at least, not a lot of books. But with a cover price of 25¢ (what is the equivalent of $3.67 in 2019) you get all this—enough to keep you busy until next month, or until another magazine comes out next week. When Pocket Books started publishing mass market paperbacks, their cover price was also 25¢, so Weird Tales, at least, was still a better value… at least in terms of quantity, if not always quality of fiction.

Though TV gets the lion’s share of the blame for the end of the pulp magazine era, the paperback book shares some of the responsibility (along with comic books), bringing literature to the Depression- and war-weary masses in a way that continues today. But even then, think about current mass market paperback prices. I looked up “mass market paperback best sellers” on Amazon, and found that cover prices for that trim size really haven’t gone up at all in the last ten years or so. The cover price for One Day at a Time by Danielle Steel is $8.99 (Amazon discounts it to $5.99, but that’s a weird tale for another time)—more costly in real dollars than 1925’s 25¢ pulp magazine with more or less the same number of words of, let’s go ahead and call it “low brow” entertainment fiction.

So, yeah, Weird Tales, 1925—a lot of bang for your quarter of a buck!

That aside, then, we’ve come to “The Specter Priestess of Wrightstone” by Herman F. Wright.

Here’s another author who seems to have no history. When I Googled him, the first hit was one of my own posts, starting this series looking at just the first and last sentences. The only work listed for him at ISFDB is this one. Short of launching a full investigation, it seems there’s nothing out there about Herman F. Wright. Though it is possible that Mr. Wright wrote a story, sent it in, it was accepted and published, then he died or decided not to write anymore (or…?), I have a feeling this was a pen name used once by some other author—and the author’s true identity has escaped the Internet.

This got me thinking… How cool would it be to write only under pen names, and with a different pen name every time? I’ve written as T.H. Lain and G.W. Tirpa before… how many more authors could I be?

In any case, it was extremely common for pulp authors to have different names for different genres or different magazines, or they’d come up with a different name to hide the fact that the same author wrote two (or more!) stories in the same issue of a single magazine.

Who was Herman F. Wright really?

Maybe it’s none of our business.

Hell, maybe this is Charles Dickens, recasting Scrooge as a butler!

Of course, Dickens died fifty-five years before this story was published, but maybe… it was his ghost!

The Ghost of Short Stories Future?

Probably not, but hey, pulp fiction inspires me to flights of weird fancy.

Here’s another theory: This is actually Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Maybe?

There’s the mention of a Sir Ernest Greystoke at the end…

Please actually follow the links to this story  and experience the curse of a druid priestess and the general weirdness of this tale for yourself. In style it definitely owes more to the traditional English ghost story in the tradition of M.R. James than it does the action-packed pulp tradition that was still in development in the mid-20s. This English gentleman has some problems with specters in his English estate, and in all ways, including the outright reference to Dickens, this is an English ghost story.

Herman F. Wright had a way with words, too. I love this bit:

The fiend has haunted the castle for generations, and an old legend tells that the specter can never be laid until two of the heads of the ruling family of Wrightstone have sacrificed their throbbing hearts to her gleaming scalpel.

Spooky!

And I want this printed on a t-shirt:

I am old, and age brings queer prognostications.

This is what I love about the written word in general. Essentially by accident of random happenstance, I’ve read your one and only published story, Herman F. Wright, on a device you could not have imagined in your time. I’ve heard you, and you’ve entertained and inspired me, ninety-four years into a future weirder than any of the tales in this magazine.

If you end up only ever writing one thing that’s published, the possibility exists that, in 2113, someone will find it, read it, love it, and do whatever version of “blogging” (which, I know, is already getting antiquated) might exist in that impossible to fathom future.

 

—Philip Athans

 

P.S. You gotta love the ad at the end of the story for a book by Houdini, no less, debunking spirit mediums. And look—it’s twice the price!

 

Starting Thursday October 17

Sign up now and let’s get “weird” together!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, comic books, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, help for writers, helping writers become authors, horror novels, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, Publishing Business, Pulp Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

WRITING ABOUT MUSIC IS LIKE…

Martin Mull (or so it is believed) once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I first read that attrbuted to Elvis Costello, but in any case, was he/were they right?

I think what Martin Mull (and Elvis Costello, and Laurie Anderson, and…) were trying to say is that music critics are awful. I can understand that. So are book critics—there’s no reason to get me started. This isn’t a blog about writing reviews, it’s a blog about writing fiction, but does this same warning (or is it a dismissal?) about the futility of capturing music in prose hold true for us?

In my online worldbuilding course I offer up this passage from George Orwell’s essay “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius”:

But in all societies the common people must live to some extent against the existing order. The genuinely popular culture of England is something that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned on by the authorities. One thing one notices if one looks directly at the common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not puritanical. They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world. They have to satisfy these tastes in the face of astonishing, hypocritical laws (licensing laws, lottery acts, etc., etc.) which are designed to interfere with everybody but in practice allow everything to happen. Also, the common people are without definite religious belief, and have been so for centuries. […] One can learn a good deal about the spirit of England from the comic coloured postcards that you see in the windows of cheap stationers’ shops. These things are a sort of diary upon which the English people have unconsciously recorded themselves. Their old-fashioned outlook, their graded snobberies, their mixture of bawdiness and hypocrisy, their extreme gentleness, their deeply moral attitude to life, are all mirrored there.

I point out that this gets into how people live, their behavior and interactions:

And this is how you bring a sense of personal involvement into your characters’ lives. It’s not all about the high-minded ideals of duty, honor, country… Sometimes, and I’ll side with George Orwell in asserting that this is true most of the time, what really defines us are cultural expressions like slang, fashion, music, courting, sports and games, and so on.

I would think that if you really spoke to most people who live in the developed world you’d get to know what sort of music they liked before you got into their opinions of the hot button political subject of the day. Likewise with their favorite food, their favorite movie, and so on.

So, yes, okay, maybe from the standpoint of an artist any critic of that art form is attempting the impossible, but authors of fiction—and certainly including science fiction, fantasy, and horror—set out to do just that with every word we write. Consider these passages from In the Court of the Dragon by Robert W. Chambers:

To-day, however, from the first choir I had felt a change for the worse, a sinister change. During vespers it had been chiefly the chancel organ which supported the beautiful choir, but now and again, quite wantonly as it seemed, from the west gallery where the great organ stands, a heavy hand had struck across the church, at the serene peace of those clear voices. It was something more than harsh and dissonant, and it betrayed no lack of skill. As it recurred again and again, it set me thinking of what my architect’s books say about the custom in early times to consecrate the choir as soon as it was built, and that the nave, being finished sometimes half a century later, often did not get any blessing at all: I wondered idly if that had been the case at St. Barnabé, and whether something not usually supposed to be at home in a Christian church, might have entered undetected, and taken possession of the west gallery. I had read of such thing happening too, but not in works on architecture.

Here, we see Chambers actually writing about singing about architecture… or something like that. And more…

I belong to those children of an older and simpler generation, who do not love to seek for psychological subtleties in art; and I have ever refused to find in music anything more than melody and harmony, but I felt that in the labyrinth of sounds now issuing from that instrument there was something being hunted. Up and down the pedals chased him, while the manuals blared approval. Poor devil! whoever he was, there seemed small hope of escape!

Sometimes, there are stories about music, and those stories can’t be dismissed out of hand, like “James Dean Garage Band” by Rick Moody:

Rocket threw down his guitar in front of the amp—already cranked to capacity—and stormed out of the shed. Into the rain, if I remember correctly. A sudden and vehement desert rain. And the feedback from the pickups in the amplifier, in conjunction with the primitive electronics of the amp, commenced to gloriously wail. As if the guitar, the circuitry, the tubes, the pickups, as if all of this equipment were falling into lamentation, as if they were doing call and response with the lightning, over the plains, over the hills. It was a lovely, fuzzy overtone, almost aboriginal in its way. Rocket walked around in circles out in the rain, trying to get straight in his head whether or not to punch out Dean, and then I suppose he heard us laughing, heard Wallace and Dean and me laughing at the racket the amp was making. So he came back. Drenched. And he heard it too. Listen to that, he said, grinning wildly. Damn. That is sweet.

The characters’ lives turn on their reaction to a sound:

Feedback changed everything. For our sound, for the band, for the members of the band. It was ritualistic somehow. Feedback foreshortened the great distances between things, and cleared up the mirages in the desert. It made all of the American West seem like a goddamned global village. It was the legend that wired up our thatched huts out in Lost Hills.

Consider the importance of music in both your worldbuilding and the story itself. What do these people listen to and sing? What instruments do they play? Do they dance? Is singing a part of their religious or even political lives? Back to Orwell, from 1984:

The new tune which was to be the theme song of Hate Week (the “Hate Song,” it was called) had already beeen composed and was being endlessly plugged on the telescreens. It had a savage, barking rhythym which could not exactly be called music, but resembled the beating of a drum. Roared out by the hundreds of voices to the tramp of marching feet, it was terrifying. The proles had taken a fancy to it, and in the midnight streets it competed with the still-popular “It Was Only a Hopeless Fancy.” The Parsons children played it at all hours of the night and day, unbearably, on a comb and a piece of toilet paper.

And previously, Orwell shows us a proletarian woman absent-mindedly singing while doing her chores:

She took two more pegs out of her mouth and sang with deep feeling:

“They sye that time ’eals all things,

They sye you can always forget;

But the smiles an’ the tears acrorss the years

They twist my ’eartstrings yet!

She knew the whole drivelling song by heart, it seemed. Her voice floated upward with the sweet summer air, very tuneful, charged with a sort of happy melancholy.

 

What more can I say?

Maybe next week I’ll make a sculpture about cinema.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

HORROR INTESIVE STARTS THIS MONTH

Starting Thursday October 17, get in touch with what scares your readers… and yourself in my two-week online Writers Digest University course

Horror Writing Intensive:

Analyzing the Work of Genre Master Stephen King.

 

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, helping writers become authors, horror novels, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I SEE YOUR POST-APOCALYPSE AND RAISE YOU ONE DYSTOPIA

I have to admit I’ve never been a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. I liked the movies Road Warrior and Mad Max: Fury Road. I liked the first few seasons of The Walking Dead. But beyond that?

I was forced to read a book in high school about survivors of a nuclear war that even at that tender age I felt was pretty far-fetched—not quite the life-changing scare tactic I think the Board of Education was going for. Still, I grew up in the Cold War era, when it was assumed that the evil Soviet Union was going to start hurling A-bombs at us any second, for no reason except, as George W. Bush would later so “eloquently” put it about the next enemy in line, “They hate our freedom.” I was living not just under constant threat of nuclear apocalypse but in the seventies we had one foot in the end of civilization already. If you don’t believe me, watch the movie Taxi Driver then any movie set in New York made in the last few years. Which of those two New Yorks would you rather live in?

But now it’s 2019 and we’ve not only avoided World War III but survived the crime waves that backed up the absurdity of Escape from New York (and yes, I do have a dog named Fresno Bob), the over-population that made Soylent Green (maybe my actual favorite dystopian apocalypse of all) seem like a documentary, got through (though hardly un-scarred) the feared species-killing AIDS plague… all of this and more good news goes largely unreported not just in the “news” (and yes, I’m going to keep putting quotes around that until the reestablishment of journalism) but in fiction as well.

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is stronger than ever, especially in the young adult space. Though I think books like 1984, Fail Safe, and others had something to do with the way we came together to get through or get past or grow out of potential disasters, is all this “the world is ending” fiction good for us? Is it good for our kids?

“I worry that the flood of dystopian fiction has changed the definition of normal—that it has acclimatised younger readers to an atmosphere of corruption and lying,” [Dorian Lynskey quoting Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the children’s author and screenwriter in “Is the Political Novel Dead?”]. “I do believe that one important duty which fiction seems not to be fulfilling is painting a picture of what good looks like. I guess to be truly political a work of art should be offering at least the possibility of change and a way forward.”

That does seem to be the case, with study after study showing that people all around the world believe that life is getting harder for everyone but themselves, the world is getting more dangerous except where they live, and no one is doing anything to stop the impending doom except them.

Weirdly, in his New York Magazine article “The Uninhabitable Earth,” David Wallace-Wells pondered what he and Amitv Ghosh see as a lack of post-apocalyptic fiction with climate change as its cause:

So why can’t we see it? In his recent book-length essay  The Great Derangement,  the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh wonders why global warming and natural disaster haven’t become major subjects of contemporary fiction—why we don’t seem able to imagine climate catastrophe, and why we haven’t yet had a spate of novels in the genre he basically imagines into half-existence and names “the environmental uncanny.” “Consider, for example, the stories that congeal around questions like, ‘Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell?’ or ‘Where were you on 9/11?’ ” he writes. “Will it ever be possible to ask, in the same vein, ‘Where were you at 400 ppm?’ or ‘Where were you when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up?’ ” His answer: Probably not, because the dilemmas and dramas of climate change are simply incompatible with the kinds of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, especially in novels, which tend to emphasize the journey of an individual conscience rather than the poisonous miasma of social fate.

Surely this blindness will not last—the world we are about to inhabit will not permit it.

But… The Wind-Up Girl, Memory of Water, Waterworld, Mad Max: Fury Road, AI’s flooded New York… and so many more post-climate change apocalypses than I could possibly list here. Once again we see the likes of New York Magazine criticizing science fiction without actually, y’know… reading or watching some.

Starting into this subject I was all ready to make a case against the post-apocalypse story. After all, I read Steven Pinker. I know things are actually much, much, much better than the twenty-four hour news networks or pretty much everyone else seems to want us to believe.

In his almost desperate sounding plea to try to get people to stop and see what has actually happened and what is actually likely to happen, Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker drives a stake into both nuclear and climate change apocalypses:

As societies have become healthier, wealthier, freer, happier, and better educated, they have set their sights on the most pressing global challenges. They have emitted fewer pollutants, cleared fewer forests, spilled less oil, set aside more preserves, extinguished fewer species, saved the ozone layer, and peaked in their consumption of oil, farmland, timber, paper, cars, coal, and perhaps even carbon. For all their differences, the world’s nations came to a historic agreement on climate change, as they did in previous years on nuclear testing, proliferation, security, and disarmament. Nuclear weapons, since the extraordinary circumstances of World War II, have not been used in the seventy-two years they have existed. Nuclear terrorism, in defiance of forty years of expert predictions, has never happened. The world’s nuclear stockpiles have been reduced by 85 percent, with more reductions to come, and testing has ceased (except by the tiny rogue regime in Pyongyang) and proliferation has frozen. The world’s two most pressing problems, then, though not yet solved, are solvable: practicable, long-term agendas have been laid out for eliminating nuclear weapons and for mitigating climate change.

Zombies, on the other hand, are still an unsolvable problem. Maybe because they’re completely imaginary. Still, isn’t it nice to know that the root causes of apocalyptic nightmares that ever might have happened are on a steady trend in the direction of non-existence?

One of the things that Steven Pinker cites as a possible reason things have been getting better is that we’ve gotten better at talking about things. We communicate about crime and violence, race and gender relations, sexuality and gender identity, and other things that used to be shunned in “polite company.” We know each other better, we read more, we have access to more people and more information, and so on. Why haven’t we already fallen into some kind of totalitarian dystopia? Because we’ve read 1984—and now The Hunger Games—and have decided not to allow that shit to actually go down. And we are aware of climate change, which is happening and is our fault, and we’re demanding something be done about it, while at least trying to do our individual part by maybe buying a more fuel efficient cars or eating less beef or voting for fewer Republicans.

Steven Pinker invokes Enlightenment ideals to show that we can and have and are thinking our way out of disasters, and oddly enough, the mad genius Alejandro Jodorowsky explored the same territory in his introduction to Screaming Planet:

If we consider that we humans also belong to the animal kingdom, we could well hope that, unable to stop the proliferation of the pollution of our water, land, and air, we might begin to beget children endowed with a different set of lungs, their now reptile-cold blood allowing them to resist global warming; or perhaps they would gain the capacity to quench their thirst with a single drop of water per day, etc. The key to our survival resides in future generations’ ability to adapt.

I won’t tell you not to write a post-apocalypse story. Yours might be the next 1984—the next book that sends thousand and thousands of readers out to try to make the world a better place. Just, whatever you do, make it original, and listen closely to this advice from the editors of Book Viral, who offered “The Most Important Top Tip For All Apocalyptic Fiction Authors”:

Be it famine, virus, genocide, natural disaster, alien invasion or hordes of rampaging Zombies the most important thing for an Apocalyptic fiction author to do, the one thing they must get right to really stand a chance of having a bestseller is to ensure they capture the human consequences. The choices, the hardships and the innermost feelings of the characters they create and it’s the authors who master this that really stand out.

All fiction, pre- or post-apocalyptic alike, are about people. And people in difficult, unusual circumstances tend to make the most compelling stories.

 

—Philip Athans

 

Look to Athans & Associates Creative Consulting for

story/line/developmental editing

at 3¢ per word.

Now scheduling projects for November 2019.

Where Story Meets World™

 

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, freelance editing, help for writers, helping writers become authors, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, science fiction technology, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A CHANGELING SOUL: EXPLORING WEIRD TALES Vol. 5, No. 1—PART 22

Our next story from the January 1925 issue of Weird Tales is “A Changeling Soul” by Victor Lauriston—another name that didn’t ring a bell for me. I find it fascinating how this issue of Weird Tales features such a range of authors, from popular and prolific names in the pulp magazines of the era, to authors who are still read and valued today, and authors who dropped in out of nowhere then dropped back out to nowhere having written very few short stories, at least very few genre stories. It shows that there must have been some sort of “slush pile” that editor Farnsworth Wright drew from, that lesser known or at least not-yet established authors were able to submit stories—and get them published.

I found some details of the life of Canadian author Victor Lauriston (1881-1973) thanks to the Canadian Encyclopedia. His real name was William Edward Park, but he legally changed it in 1918. A J.V. McAree Award-winning journalist working mostly in Chatham, Ontario, he published at least two novels: The Twenty-First Burr and Romantic Kent (his most successful). They’re difficult to find, essentially forgotten works, and this story is the only one listed on ISFDB, which means Mr. Lauriston didn’t pursue much of a career in genre fiction.

“A Changeling Soul” starts out on a strong emotional note, which I have to admit surprised me since I know going in that the author was a journalist. He’s successfully buried the lede, which is the worst thing a journalist can do but the best thing an author of fiction can do. This shows significant flexibility of thinking on Mr. Lauriston’s part and I applaud that.

We can learn different forms of writing. It is possible to write fiction then flip a switch in your brain and write journalism, flip another switch and write a memoir, another switch to poetry, and so on. In the same way, we can, if we remain flexible in our thinking, switch between genres, too. You do not have to limit yourself to fantasy, much less to some sub-genre within.

Be flexible. Write lots.

Look at that—a lesson learned on page one!

This story also shows that, with all our talk about pulp fiction formulas and the triumph of plot over all else, writing that is often rushed to meet impossible deadlines and padded to squeeze the most money out of a per-word payday, art still manages to struggle through. Maybe Victor Lauriston was secure in his living as a reporter, and clearly he didn’t write short stories for a living, this being (perhaps) his only one, so he allowed himself—and maybe more importantly, editor Wright allowed him—a light, readable, and evocative literary hand.

Don’t forget in your efforts to write entertaining or “saleable” fiction that there’s an art to all fiction as well, regardless of the genre of your choice. I say this because something about the line: About the visitor all things breathed the sensuous beauty of the East. appealed to me in some inexplicable way—and left me with no desire to explain it. It flowed over me. And I love that. That’s mostly why I read in general.

And this, by the way, was a bit of atmosphere that led into the introduction of what might be the single most archetypical of the character archetypes in the pulps of the 20s: an Egyptologist. See? There’s beauty in everything, if you put beauty into everything.

Even, alas, the heavy-handed:

“When I invited you here, my friends,” he said, “I spoke of an important experiment. You are to be the subjects. Be not alarmed—I offer you an honor, not a peril”

How many stories have we read so far in this issue alone that involve someone getting people together for an experiment that either goes terribly wrong or was intended to punish, murder, or otherwise mess with one or more participants? I’m actually afraid to go back and count in case it should reveal it’s been too many, but still, this was 1925. The parlor mystery, the gentleman’s agreement, and so on, like the Egyptologist (good or evil), was what a short story looked like.

This particular experiment goes in search of the soul, likewise not high on the “originality scale,” but I suppose that experiment keeps coming up because it keeps failing.

Mr. Lauriston reveals his journalistic skills when the morning newspaper reveals the murder of John M. Folke, flipping that switch in his head to give us the newspaper account, surrounded by what is an otherwise exceptional example of a tight POV, leading with the emotional responses of the characters. These guys both woke up in an agitated state, grew only more agitated, and are horrified by the news of Folke’s death. We read the newspaper article because they read the newspaper article—it’s not thrown at the reader as a separate bit of explanation, an info dump, but as an essential component to the enfolding action of the story.

This, in other words, is how you use a newspaper article (or TV news report, or letter, etc.) to move your story forward and keep the experience tied tightly to your POV character.

See?

Look at all we learned from a single rather short little pulp story!

 

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

LEARN EVEN MORE

STARTING THURSDAY!

In my four-week online Pulp Fiction Workshop we’ll learn storytelling techniques that transcend the pulp genres and make writing fun again.

Write a 6000-word short story, with edit, in any genre!

Sign up now!

 

 

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, help for writers, helping writers become authors, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, Publishing Business, Pulp Fiction, SF and Fantasy Authors, Story Structure, transmedia, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

YOUR BANK OF EXPERIENCE ACCOUNT REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ATTENTION

Like anyone who has an email address I’ve gotten my share of phishing emails demanding that I immediately reply to this email or my USAA account will be deactivated. Except I do not now have, nor have I ever had, any account of any kind with USAA.

I fancy myself a smart guy, so when I get these messages—even ones that mention a bank I actually am doing some business with—into the spam folder they go head first. No bank will ask you to email them your account number.

And that includes the Bank of Experience.

Writing is one of the cheapest businesses to get into, and if your books sell well that means they can be incredibly profitable, so having a good bank will, I hope, be really important for you. But before you can start depositing royalty checks into the Bank of America (or whatever) you have to carefully manage the balance of your Bank of Experience account.

Writers come in all shapes and sizes, writing in different genres and categories across a wide range of processes and not just “planners” or “pantsers” but a broad spectrum of approaches that makes it exceedingly difficult to describe the typical work day of an author. But if there’s one thing we all have in common it’s that we draw from ourselves to create something that communicates to others.

Pure journalism (just the facts, ma’am) and certain forms of technical writing aside, everything you write comes from you, from your experience and outlook, from your interactions with people and the world around you. In “The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers,” Andrew Solomon wrote:

A poor workman blames his tools, and we have only two: language and experience. Neither one is so poor as to hamper our ability to do what we dream of. The use of language gets taught at M.F.A. programs nationwide. The use of experience is far more elusive, a long-term game not easily won. Experience poses the questions we are asked to live, and our writing is the mere shadow of an answer.

Every time you sit down to write, you draw from your “Bank of Experience.” But like a literal bank account, you can’t just keep drawing experiences out without making the occasional deposit.

I tend to be of the opinion that we’re all constantly and unconsciously refilling that account not just in every waking moment, but with our dreams as well—ah, if only money could come that easily. Everything we hear, see, feel; every person we meet, work with, buy something from or sell something to; every cloud that passes in front of the sun, every drop of rain… all that stuff piles in there. And it’s there for us to sort out when it comes time to write a scene that needs to be carried by characters that feel real, that come with those same accounts full of experiences.

Then, every once in a while, something unusual happens—and this is where I think we need to be particularly conscious of our experience accounts.

Last Friday, I woke up with what I thought was a stomach ache—maybe didn’t eat the best quality food the day before… I don’t know. The pain quickly moved to my chest, then around the left side of my chest into my left shoulder blade. I started sweating profusely. Breathing was painful but possible. I started taking various over-the-counter medications and doing some light stretching exercises to try to get things under control.

Nothing worked.

And it got steadily worse.

Then I thought, I’ll be fine, just get to work and don’t think about it.

I sat down at my computer and found myself incapable of concentrating on the slightest thing. So of course I started Googling the symptoms and, as anyone who’s ever Googled symptoms knows, the first thing that comes back is some version of “You’re dying. Call 911, or just lay down and be at peace with the howling blackness of infinite oblivion.”

According to the Internet I was having a heart attack.

There were some fine-print alternatives that were slightly less scary, but I was one day ahead of my fifty-fifth birthday and at least a hundred pounds overweight, so I was definitely having a heart attack. But then, can you have a heart attack for four hours and still be walking around and, though in agonizing pain, alive?

I have no idea, but ultimately, even I had to surrender and go to the hospital.

Turns out the ER doctor and nurses thought I was having a heart attack, too, or at least that I might have been. They did all the essential tests, including ruling out heartburn.

I’ve had heartburn.

This was not heartburn.

But they numbed my esophagus anyway, which made it feel as though I had partially swallowed a golf ball.

Pain just as bad.

Electrocardiogram: fine.

Still, they gave me a nitroglycerin tablet to dissolve under my tongue. Imagine taking a drop of highly corrosive acid and holding it under your tongue while it burns your bottom jaw off.

Pain still the same.

Well, let’s see if it might be your aorta.

I’m not a doctor or anything, but I’m generally familiar with what the aorta is and does and that freaked me out.

Into the CT scan they load me, feet first.

The tech said he was going to give me a drug that will make it feel like I’ve peed my pants, but assured me that I will not pee my pants, just that it will really feel like I’ve peed my pants.

Holy shit, it felt like I peed my pants.

It really felt like I had really peed my pants. Really.

But really, I didn’t pee my pants.

Results: Aorta fine.

Pausing here, as a now fifty-five year old fat guy it is nice to know that my heart and aorta are both perfectly fine. I credit a tobacco-free life, because  in terms of cardiac health I’m basically doing everything else wrong.

But I got that going for me, which is nice.

However, the CT scan did find…

Gallstones.

Lots and lots and lots of little crystals had formed in my gallbladder, and had apparently been forming and moving around in there for years, which I now understand was the cause of chronic and sometimes debilitating back pain—it wasn’t my back, it was my gallbladder, but the pain, like a leaking roof, might show up in other places… somehow. In the past these stones had blocked things up, causing pain, then dislodged so the pain went away or was more manageable. This time they were not going away, and the pain was not manageable.

So they wheeled me out of the ER and right to the OR where I scooted over onto a table, was told they were going to strap my feet down, then they put a mask over my face. The really nice, young anesthesiologist said, “This is just oxygen, breathe normally.” They joked around with each other for a few seconds, then he said, “Okay,” and I was instantly transported to Isolation 14, a Nazi prison camp in the universe of Amazon Prime’s deplorable “adaptation” of Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece The Man in the High Castle.

Someone was holding my legs down and squeezing my ankles and the little clip on the index finger of my right hand was pissing me off so I flicked it away. I little tube was blowing freezing cold air into my right nostril and it was making my nose run. I couldn’t find my left hand under a pile of blankets. Something hurt on the right side of my abdomen and I was vaguely aware of nurses standing behind me so I said, “It hurts right here—there’s a bump here.” I thought they might want to know. They said they knew already and told me not to touch it but I had already.

The bump was actually a little wad of gauze covering one of four incisions they made to find, snip out, clip off, then remove my gallbladder.

I found out later the nurses told my wife I was being “combative,” in the recovery room, which was not Isolation 14, and I was not in an episode of The Man in the High Castle. There was a room right in front of me and the sign outside did read ISOLATION, but I was not in there. The curtained areas were numbered and the one next to me was 14, so there we have Isolation 14. I have it on good authority that neither of the nurses were Nazis, real or imaginary.

I wasn’t being “combative,” I just didn’t like having freezing cold air blown up my nose while people squeezed my ankles—and so what if there were no people squeezing my ankles but inflatable things meant to prevent me from getting a life-threatening blood clot. You just poured drugs into my body and I’m supposed to, what, wake up and just know that?

They also called me “controlling.”

That, I can… yeah. Okay.

In any case, all of this is now in the experience account.

I also now know what it feels like to recover from four stab wounds to the abdomen because, though it may have been done in a controlled environment by trained professionals, I have in fact been stabbed in the abdomen four times, sewn up, and sent home. For the record, it fucking hurts.

What does this sort of experience mean for a writer? Everything!

Like the old saying goes: “I lived to tell the tale.”

I had minor, routine surgery, and lived, now I get to tell the tale. You know I’m going to eventually write something set in Isolation 14, and it’s going to be at least as scary as my incoherent, drug-addled imagination experienced it in the moment. The Nazis will be all too real and my hero will be combative AF.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

Bring your painful, combative, Nazi-infested experiences to my four-week online

Pulp Fiction Workshop

and write a 6000-word short story that I will edit for maximum experience!

Next class starts Thursday September 19!

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, help for writers, helping writers become authors, horror novels, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, Pulp Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, science fiction technology, SF and Fantasy Authors, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

POLITICS REAL AND IMAGINARY

I feel as though, especially now, I could make a case that all politics is imaginary.

In the same way that lines on a map don’t tend to show up in real life, lines between political parties, functionaries, movements, and so on, are constructions not of nature but of the mind. As authors of fantasy and science fiction, politics can come in many forms in our work, from another evil empire bent on world domination to an honorable and just king deserving of protection. In the same way that all your characters are, whether you’re specifically attempting to do so or are unconscious of the similarities, based on real people you’ve encountered in some way in real life, in the fiction of others, in history books, or in what can be grouped together as “current events” should certain people not rise to the ever-in-flux definition of “newsworthy,” so are your institutions of power.

I’ve invoked both George Orwell and Frank Herbert as authors of two very different but rather overt political science fiction novels. J.R.R. Tolkien’s colonial-era politics might be a little more difficult to parse out, but they’re there. An award named for decades for the editor John W. Campbell has since been renamed as it’s become clear, like H.P. Lovecraft (whose bust is no longer given out as the World Fantasy Award), that he was not quite as good a man as he was an editor or author. This sort of artist/art dichotomy is not quite as new as it may seem. In a 1990 interview with the Paris Review, Mario Vargas Llosa said:

[Pablo] Neruda adored life. He was wild about everything—painting, art in general, books, rare editions, food, drink. Eating and drinking were almost a mystical experience for him. A wonderfully likable man, full of vitality—if you forget his poems in praise of Stalin, of course.

I tend to shy away from politics myself, though I do often tweet about organizations I support and by now people should know that no, I’m neither an Objectivist nor a Libertarian, that I support significant gun control, education, and healthcare reform in the United States that might lead some to call me a socialist, and I most certainly did not vote for the current occupant of the White House.

The question remains, though: So what? What does it matter what I think?

And my answer is… nothing. Nothing in particular, really, any more than any one of us can unilaterally set the political course for a nation of over three hundred million people, much less a world of some seven billion. I’m one citizen, with one vote.

But I can write fiction.

I have called out both Objectivism and its sworn enemy religion in Forgotten Realms novels—and almost no one seemed to notice, in the same way many Dune readers don’t really pick up on the whole “dangers of a single resource economy leading to catastrophic climate change” thread that was not just there but well ahead of its time.

And that’s fine by me. I’m not a politician. I’m not running for anything, and I never will. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party.

Are you a political author? Are you writing political novels? If so, what are you in for at the close of the second decade of the twenty-first century?

In “Is the political novel dead?” Dorian Lynskey wrote:

Manifestly political novels have always aroused some degree of suspicion. Orwell famously categorised Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) as a “good bad book”—crude yet effective—and Milan Kundera in turn dismissed Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) as “political thought disguised as a novel.” In a devastating review, Whittaker Chambers said that Ayn Rand’s colossal philosophical tract Atlas Shrugged (1957) “can be called a novel only by devaluing the term… Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message.”

This climate might seem worse in the era of unregulated social media that brings forth Lovecraftian horrors like “cancel culture,” and that whole absurd Sad Puppies nonsense. If you are writing a political science fiction novel like 1984, be ready for anything out there but—I say from the comfort of my own life that will not be screwed with because of your book—write it anyway.

Chinua Achebe, in conversation with James Baldwin, reminds us all that:

Art has a social purpose [and] art belongs to the people. It’s not something that is hanging out there that has no connection with the needs of man. And art is unashamedly, embarrassingly, if there is such a word, social. It is political; it is economic. The total life of man is reflected in his art.

So I guess we’re going to write political fiction anyway, but what of authors who do have something as clear to communicate as Orwell’s anti-totalitarian masterpiece 1984, or Ayn Rand’s stridently anti-communist novella Anthem?

Going back to Dorian Lynskey’s question “Is the political novel dead?”…

The average politician wouldn’t be wrong, however, to assume that political fiction lacks traction with voters and therefore a pressing claim on their attention. No recent book comes close to the reach of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Looking Backward or John Steinbeck’s dustbowl tragedy The Grapes of Wrath (1939): all runaway bestsellers that demanded some kind of response from politicians. This reflects the novel’s broader loss of cultural primacy. A century ago, it was still the dominant form of storytelling so any writer with a political message to disseminate was inclined to give it a shot. Campaigning writers believed that a veneer of fiction, however thin, was deemed necessary to sugarcoat the message. After the second world war, however, the evolution of the “non-fiction novel” removed the need for journalists to masquerade as novelists.

I’m not sure I agree. I think some messages spread better in fictional form—as parables, fables, morality plays—than as a straight up piece of editorial proselytizing. Based on the recent best sellers lists that inspired Dorian Lanskey’s article, I’m clearly unusual in my aversion to non-fiction books written specifically by politicians (including those politicians disguised as journalists) in support of or in opposition to a particular political movement, party, or whatever.

I’m smart enough to parse out your agenda in a novel, political or otherwise, and can still appreciate an entertaining, well-written story by an author I don’t agree with on a point of policy, ethics, or morality. And I don’t believe I’m somehow special, or smarter than anyone else—at least among people who are smart enough to read and write books!

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

 

Where Story Meets World

Look to Athans & Associates Creative Consulting for story/line/developmental editing at 3¢ per word.

Now scheduling projects for October 2019.

 

Posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, Dungeons & Dragons, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, freelance editing, helping writers become authors, horror novels, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment