Thursday, January 29, 2009
For a more detailed look at the situation, see the article on SFScope.
If you have a subscription with them, you have a few options.
My condolences to all their wonderful staff, writers, and artists.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Lon Prater (www.lonprater.com, http://lonfiction.livejournal.com) is an active duty Naval officer by day, writer of odd little tales by night. His short fiction has appeared in the Stoker-winning anthology Borderlands 5, Writers of the Future XXI, and the Origins Award finalist Frontier Cthulhu. His most recent publications include "A Road Like This, At Night" just out in latest issue of Talebones (#37) www.talebones.com and "Prelude to a Theme by Dougie Franz" in www.spacesuitsandsixguns.com.
I’ve met and hung out with (translation: consumed alcohol with) Lon at a few conventions and enjoyed his company tremendously, and we also haunt a few common forums. It was on one of these forums that a conversation developed on the subject of Plot, Character, and Structure, and I thought his post on the subject was one of the most articulately succinct musings on the topic that I had seen in a long time, so I asked his permission to reprint here in Side Show Freaks. If you are interested in understanding (and constructing) what makes for a good story, read on. -- Edmund
“Plot is tied to structure as muscle is connected to bone. In fiction that works really well for me, character is the nervous system telling those muscles where to take that skeleton. If any one of those is out of whack your story is out of whack, diseased, or disabled. Or at least achy with a head cold and acid reflux.
So IMHO it is most helpful to look at plot holistically in conjunction with the other two. A story is the intersection of plot, character, and structure. If you are better by far at one aspect than others, use that aspect to build and design and determine the other two. (I think all writers are better in one area at first and then grow stronger in the others as they develop.)
Character determines what a protagonist or any other agent within your story wants AND how they will try to get it.
Plot is what happens to the character to bring that need to the surface AND what happens when the protagonist takes those actions.
Structure is where the story starts, climaxes and ends; what order these and other bits of story information are presented to the reader; what happens to whom in each scene; whose POV we get that scene from; and the manner in which the story is told. (a.k.a. style)
Most writers come to a story inspired by one of these aspects. The idea is just there naturally, and it is this flash of inspiration that gets them interested in writing the story in the first place. The other two aspects must be either designed with significant work and forethought or fixed once the story is far enough along that they are discovered. (Or some mélange of both.)
If you are strong on plot, you need to go the extra mile to make sure that you have built characters who will be challenged in the most interesting and surprising ways by it.
If you are best at character, the trick is figuring out the sorts of things that need to happen to reveal and transform that character on the crucible of conflict. Knowing the character means knowing how to make them motivated to change their situation over and over until they finally realize they must change themselves to succeed.”
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
That's the (semi)official introduction anyway. The behind-the-scenes reality is that although I only met David a few years ago, he very quickly became one of my favorite people, not just in this business, but out of it as well. He's fun, funny, and smart, and a heck of a writer. If you enjoy fantasy at all, you really owe it to yourself to go find one of his many novels and wallow in it. They are rich and complex worlds, and you will quickly discover why he already has the immense fan-base he has. --- Edmund
Q) Can you tell us a bit about The Horseman's Gambit and the Blood of the Southlands series?
DBC) Blood of the Southlands begins with The Sorcerers' Plague as a sort of medieval medical thriller. An old woman named Lici has set out to avenge a injury done her decades before by conjuring a plague. Before long though, the plague spirals far beyond her control, and in The Horsemen's Gambit, the damage done by the plague to the Qirsi, the sorcerers of the Southlands, convinces their enemies, the Eandi, to attack Qirsi lands in the hopes of winning back territory lost during the Blood Wars. Along the way there's political intrigue, some romance, and a web of personal interactions tinged with all this ethnic baggage.
Those are the basic plot points. In a larger sense this series, like my five-book Winds of the Forelands sequence [Rules of Ascension, Seeds of Betrayal, Bonds of Vengeance, Shapers of Darkness, Weavers of War], which is set in the same world, deals with issues of race, ethnic identity, and prejudice. My characters, particularly those who seek to control the chaos unleashed by Lici's curse, are constantly fighting against the destructive power of ancient hatreds. Ultimately this newest book -- like those that came before it and the one that remains -- is about overcoming history and transcending bigotry.
Q) Race, prejudice, ethnic identity -- That all sounds pretty familiar. Is Blood of the Southlands set in a created world or our own?
DBC) It's definitely a created world, but as with all my work, Blood of the Southlands touches on issues of great importance in what we call, for lack of a better term, the "real" world. My LonTobyn series [Children of Amarid, The Outlanders, Eagle-Sage] touched on ecological themes. Winds of the Forelands and Blood of the Southlands deal with race. I have another project that I'm working on that focuses on drug addiction. I write books that I hope will entertain. I strive to make them fun -- as I said, there's lots of action and intrigue, romance and even humor. But they also deal with serious issues that resonate with social concerns in our own lives. I do this because I find it more interesting to write books that grapple with big questions. And if some of my readers come away from the books thinking about race or ecology or substance issues in a new way, all the better.
Q) What is it about fantasy that attracts you?
DBC) Well, in part I'm drawn to fantasy precisely because I can create worlds that then serve as mirrors for our own world. Admittedly, these are imperfect mirrors, but they're mirrors nevertheless. I can make the Forelands/Southlands universe and create racial tensions that are complex and compelling, and yet different enough from the racial problems in our own world that no one will be offended by the books. Speculative fiction offers us a unique opportunity to look at ourselves through a lens that both distorts and magnifies. The distortions allow us to distance ourselves and perhaps examine an emotionally fraught issue without so much emotional heat. The magnification can make us see things that we might otherwise miss.
I'm also drawn to fantasy, as well as science fiction, and dark fantasy, and horror, and all the other subgenres in our field, for the simple reason that they're so much fun to read. I love magic. As a friend of mine wrote elsewhere just the other day, I believe in magic on some level. And being able to write magic into the lives of my characters, giving them the ability to shape their world in ways that I can only dream of doing myself, is enormously entertaining.
Q) Why did you decide to make Besh, one of the protagonists of Blood of the Southlands, an old man?
DBC) Well, let me start by saying that I'm not certain I "make" any of my characters, any more than I'm certain that I control their actions. My characters present themselves to me. They clamor for my attention, and when I finally turn my mind's eye on any one of them, he or she tells me his or her story. When I first started conceiving of the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, Besh was the first character I met. I didn't know at the time why it was important that he tell so much of the story, but I trusted him and also my instincts as a writer, which told me that he was crucial to the entire series. I think I was drawn to him, at least in part, because he was so different from other protagonists I'd written and other heroes I'd encountered as a reader. Yes, he's old. He's also got that stubborn sense of "I know myself, and I know the world, and by God you're going to listen to me," that we sometimes find in our elderly friends. He's not particularly strong physically, and he wields little influence or political power. But he's clever and wise and uncommonly brave. He has a profound moral sense and is intensely loyal to his people and his family. Over the course of writing the three books of the Southlands series he became just about my favorite of all the characters I've ever written.
Q) You've been a historian, you've worked in politics -- it seems you came to writing relatively late in life. How did it happen?
DBC) I suppose I did come to it a bit late, but the irony is that I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I wrote and illustrated my first books in first and second grade -- and given the quality of my illustrations, it's a good thing I can write. I went to college with every intention of majoring in creative writing, but got sidetracked by concerns with practical considerations, like making a living. I tried political consulting, but found it disillusioning. So I went to grad school, got my degree in history, and applied for a bunch of teaching positions. But the summer after I completed my degree I found myself with lots of free time on my hands. My grad work was done, but the academic jobs hadn't been listed yet. And my wife said to me, "You know, since the day we met you've been talking about writing a book. You have some time now. Why don't you spend the summer writing?"
I did, and by the end of the summer I had several short stories written (none of them has ever seen the light of day, and none of them ever will) as well as the first five chapters of what would eventually be Children of Amarid, my first novel. A friend of mine agreed to act as my agent and he shopped the book around while I applied for teaching jobs. I got the perfect academic job offer -- teaching environmental history in Colorado -- and my first nibble from Tor Books within 24 hours of each other. I chose writing and have never looked back.
Q) Aside from writing, what do you do for fun?
DBC) Well, I'm a husband and a dad, which are the two things that mean the most to me. My daughters are 13 and 9, and a lot of my non-work time is taken up with stuff I do for or with them. I've been a Soccer Dad, a Swim Dad, a Dance Dad, a Music Dad, and a Theater Dad. And because my wife is a full-time college professor, I do most of the grocery shopping, a fair amount of laundry and house stuff, etc. In addition, I'm active in my community -- I run a local food cooperative, I'm on the parents' council of my older daughter's school, and I'm on the town council here in our little village. But when I'm not doing any of that I have quite a few outside interests. I like to hike and birdwatch. I'm a dedicated amateur photographer and actually had my first one-man exhibit in 2008. Nature and landscape photography mostly. I play guitar and sing -- folk, rock, a bit of bluegrass. I listen to music all the time. I look at butterflies and run a local butterfly census here in my home town. I'm a bit of a political junkie, and I'm confident that my professional output will be greater in 2009 than it was last year, simply because I won't be checking political web sites every 3 minutes.
Q) What's a typical day like for you?
DBC) A typical day? I'm not sure there's any such thing -- did I mention that I'm the father of a teenager? My routine looks something like this: We're up at 6:30 am. I make lunch for my younger daughter and do what I can to get the girls moving. After my wife and I get the girls to their schools, I go to the gym for an hour or so. Exercise is crucial for me; without my morning workout I'm not sure I could function. I get back, have a light breakfast, check my email, and begin the day's writing. I shoot for 6-8 manuscript pages a day, which translates to about 1500-2000 words. I'm not a particularly fast writer, but if I can write 35 to 40 pages a week, that's a book every 6 months or so, which isn't too bad a pace. I might have to pick up one of the girls from school or take them to dance or sports practice, but I can usually get back to work for a while longer. I knock off around 5:00 or 5:30 and the rest of the evening is family time. I don't work on weekends, and I don't work many nights. I work at home, so it would be very easy to be sucked into working all the time. To prevent this, I set strict boundaries. I have work time and family time. I'd probably get more written if I was less strict about this, but that's a choice I'm comfortable making.
Q) What are you working on now?
DBC) The third and final Blood of the Southlands book is finished and handed in to my editor (it's scheduled for release in January 2010). I'll have revisions to do eventually, but for now I'm working on a new project that is completely separate from anything I've done before. It's alternate world fantasy set in a place that's roughly analogous to early Renaissance Europe. There's a magical element and each book is a stand alone mystery with recurring characters. I don't generally like to talk too much about works in progress until I'm further along than I am with this series. Suffice it to say that I'm very excited about this one. I hope to see the first book in print sometime in 2010.
David B. Coe's personal website can be found at www.davidbcoe.com. He blogs with some regularity on both LiveJournal and WordPress, and he is part of the MagicalWords.net writing blog with fellow fantasy authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, and C.E. Murphy. The Horsemen's Gambit, book II of his Blood of the Southlands trilogy, can be purchased through Amazon.com. (Release date: January 20, 2009)
Friday, January 16, 2009
Please tell me that somewhere, all of this ends. The playing with the story, the revisions, the internal logic ... that all of it eventually gets onto the page and is published, and you let it go.
Did you find it difficult to let go of Dreaming Creek?
I didn't find it difficult to let go of Dreaming Creek; if anything it was a relief. I spent SO many hours and days and weeks and months and years on it that I was ready to move on. Very ready. However, in order to do so, I had to accept the fact that it would live with certain flaws.
I think there was a tipping point where I was satisfied that it was good enough, even if it wasn't as good as it could possibly be. Because every month that goes by, I learn things about the book, the characters, and about writing in general, that could be used to make the book better. But I don't want to spend the rest of my life 'perfecting' the same book, I want to write new ones. So I've let go of the last one; I hardly think about it all. I'm focused on the next one. Of course, that’s a lot easier to do once the book has been published… but eventually you have to decide it's good enough -- and move on.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
News from the IGMS Homepage:
In July of 2008 IGMS published a story by Alethea Kontis titled "Blood and Water," an outstanding dark retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "Little Mermaid." "Blood and Water" has received numerous recommendations for the HWA's Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story of 2008, and in order to both celebrate this recognition, and to make it easier for HWA members to read this story and continue to recommend it, IGMS is making the story free for everyone to read until the end of March of 2009. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
If you're an HWA member who hasn't made a recommendation yet, this is a wonderful story, wonderfully told, and deserves the recognition. If you're not, it's still a great read. Enjoy.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
One of the things that was uncovered today was an email about a review of my novel, Dreaming Creek. I don't know how long it's been up, but it's dated January 2009, so it can't be too terribly old. If you want to read the whole thing, it's on SFRevu.com:
Overall the reviewer enjoyed the book, though it's not all sunshine and daisies; he does point out several thing he considers to be flaws. But I forgive him for his transgressions, if only because of this paragraph:
"Schubert's writing style is almost thriller-like in its clarity and the short chapters make for quick reading. [He] has a very clear, very concise writing style. He does not bog down with detail, nor does he attempt to hammer the reader over the head with his own social observations. It appears, in fact, that he quite simply put the characters on the page and let them do their thing, allowing the reader to draw what conclusions they might. I imagine that's a hard thing to do, but Schubert does it quite well. If I hadn't researched and found out that this was his first novel I would have thought him an old pro. He certainly writes like one."
There's also an interview (in case you're not tired of those yet)(actually this interview was more interesting than many of the previous ones, if only because someone finally asked different questions; a lot of the previous ones covered a lot of the same territory, but not this one):