How Does I Critique Good? Redux

My previous entry on how to do critique partnerships may have been a bit heavy on demands and rules. I’ve come up with something a lot simpler. You give me as much of your writing as you want. I’ll get back to you in 30 days. All I ask in return is that you extend to me the same courtesy.

And that’s it. For critique partners, I’m looking for fellow writers who will read with a writer’s eye. I need help on characterization, pacing, and unpacking of scenes. Once the critiquing stage is done, I’ll move on to beta readers.

Beta readers can be anybody. All I ask for them is to read as much as they can in 30 days then get back to me with general “Is this story good?” type of feedback.

That said, I currently have 1 critique partner, and I’m in need of about 4 more. People from different cultural backgrounds is a plus. It’s always nice to get a good cross-section of society.

Does this mean my book is ready for CPs?

Basically, yeah. The book is done. Unless I decide to include book two as the second half of the same book. Then it’s about half-done. Still toying with that idea. Will make a final decision by September.

Something Something Dark Side. Something something something complete.

Hey, kids! Book is coming along nicely. Current draft is done, and I am looking for feedback on the first three chapters. Going to be soliciting for CPs on Twitter shortly. Let me know if you’re interested in being a beta reader. Comment below.

Beta readers read as much of the book as they’d like and send me their initial impressions. CPs, I expect some more in-depth, writerly guidance. That’s why I ask other writers to be CPs. We can’t help ourselves. Try to resist the urge to edit as you go! I don’t want anyone editing and not getting paid for it. If you’re good at something, never do it for free. Ha ha! Been guilty of that myself.

In other news, I’m thinking of converting this blog to twice a month or monthly, and then doing a weekly video rather than weekly blog posts. That way you get more bang for your buck, and I don’t have to write something captivating every freakin’ week.

Of course, I could do both. Weekly blog and weekly vlog. That could be fun. Hm…What do you think? Comments welcome!

When the Classics Hurt

I love old stuff. I think you know I love old stuff. From classic rock to Claremont-era X-Men, Conan the Barbarian to the Dark Crystal. I love old media. But old media has a LOT of problems. Namely, racism, sexism, and all the other evils we of the post-modern era are heir to. (Also, could we enter a new era already? Post-modern was always such a pretentious title. Even worse than calling the period between 1870s and 1930s “modern.”)

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how older media often contains harmful depictions of women, people of color, African or Asian culture, Jewish stereotypes, LGBTQ stereotypes, etc. Do I really have to draw this out? Conan the Barbarian comes right out and says it: Between the times when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas. Who’s Aryas? Who do you think? He’s Robert E. Howard’s fictional ancestor to the “Aryan Race” because Robert E. Howard was a big ol’ racist. Fantasy has deep roots in racism and colonialism. There’s no denying that. I mean, you could deny it. You’d be wrong, but you could deny it.

“Colors of the Wind” is a beautiful song, but Pocahontas is an ahistorical mess, filled with noble savage stereotypes and reeking of the white savior narrative. I love “John Carter” to death, but it’s no coincidence that the movie version skips over the awkwardness of a white guy from Earth (A Confederate soldier, no less) being the most powerful man on a multicultural world. (Fun Fact: If they’d recast John Carter as a freed slave fighting for the North who becomes the most powerful man on Mars, suddenly the movie gets 10x better.)

Look, racism is real, alive, and well in the 21st century. Most white people like myself are blind to it. Worse, most refuse to even acknowledge the fact.

What do we do? In this case, the obvious answer is to chuck the classics. And I’d gleefully do so, faster than you can say “Tear down that Robert E. Lee statue.” But there’s a problem. Much of this old stuff is an integral part of my childhood, my upbringing. Of me. They’re my stories. They’re a part of me, warts and all. I can no sooner deny them than deny my own family.

And that’s my main problem with the Left nowadays. Anything less than 100% commitment to anti-bigotry is unacceptable. And in truth, that’s probably a good thing. Bigotry is, after all, bad.

But is there a way to embrace the old stuff without embracing the bigotry embodied within it? I don’t know. I hope so. Is all this just an exercise in white guilt, wherein I pray for absolution from the New Gods of Social Justice? Maybe. Probably. I don’t have any answers, just questions. And sometimes, questions are what we need.

Book News: 6/20/20

Listening to classic rock while I type in our book update for today. Current draft is complete! Sending it out to a couple more people to look over. At least the first three chapters. If those are good, I should be ok.

Classic rock figures because I’m a very old-fashioned kind of guy. I like old TV shows and old movies, old comics and old novels. I like the new stuff too. I’m just not as familiar with it. I think it comes from having older parents who preferred older things themselves. My mom loves antiquing, and I love older toys. There you go.

My novel is somewhat old-fashioned in the sense that it’s a quest story. Those are harder to sell nowadays in fantasy circles. The whole “Chosen One” trope has been done to death. Heck, it had been done to death by the time Robert Jordan came around, and that was 30 years ago now.

Anyway, my novel does have a twist on the chosen one trope, though you don’t know it until the very end. I can’t tell you what it is, but don’t worry. I’ll tell any interested agents/editors. That way, I can sell the darn thing.

And then when this book is done, I have enough material for at least one sequel. Will it be a trilogy? Maybe. Aiming for more of an ongoing series feel, opening up into a shared world at some point. That’s the dream. Create an intriguing enough setting so fanfic–ahem–other authors can come in and tell their own stories there.

This book is set during the Third Age, the last “civilized” age before the unrestricted chaos of the Fourth Age and the watery grave of the Fifth. The world is destined to eventually be run over with monsters before the sea swallows the land again. Then the cycle repeats, with the sky and the sea renewing their ages-old conflict. It’s a whole thing.

But you don’t care about that. What about the characters? Well, there’s Terrwyn, my dark-skinned, female protagonist. Is she a Strong Woman? I guess. She can fight really well. She has her own thoughts and opinions, strengths and insecurities as anyone else. Same with Calin, the shapechanger who accompanies her. Croli’s probably the most stable of the bunch. He’s the wizard/mentor figure. Gets some of the best lines. Elenne is the smarty-pants. She comes in around the two-thirds mark.

Previous feedback informed me she was giving too much exposition, so I cut that stuff back. Now I just have characters alluding to stuff without explaining it immediately after. It works. Mostly. I think it works.

Anyway, the whole thing is about 75,000 words, which is somewhat short for a fantasy novel. That’s by design. I don’t want to write another door-stopper. I love them, but they move so freakin’ slow. And I generally have three or four books going at once. Door-stoppers make it harder to read multiple books at once because you have to keep track of so much stuff.

At least I have plenty of time.

Also, I made this:

It’s cute, right?

Book Update 6-2-20

Ok, first off, WOW WAS LAST WEEK’S POST ILL-TIMED! HAHA…Sorry.

Seriously, though. I try not to get political on social media so as to appear appetizing to potential employers, customers, and friends. But I’m not an appetizer. I’m a person with thoughts and feelings. Right now I know and feel that what is happening right now is exactly what needs to happen. We need positive change in America. White supremacy has to end. The evil must be vanquished once and for all. No matter the cost.

What can we do to that end? I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.

Now for your regularly-scheduled book progress thing:

Currently working on chapter 30 of what’s looking to be a 37-chapter book. Probably around 80,000 to 85,000 words. Which is still pretty short for an adult fantasy novel. As if selling a quest story wasn’t hard enough in today’s market.

Anyway, I can always take out the swear words, dial back on the violence (not much sex to dial back on), and market it as YA. But there’s so much YA fantasy already.

Granted, a lot of it is YA romance, but them’s the breaks.

Actually, I’m not altogether sure on that last bit. I know YA romance is huge, but I don’t think it’s as big a component as it was in the Twilight days. Maybe, maybe not. More research is needed.

I know I need more gender diversity in my writing. The current novel really has none. There’s an argument to be made for the wizards being gay, but if it’s not mentioned in-text, it ain’t canon. Sorry, fanfic writers!

At least there’s plenty of cultural and racial diversity. Somewhat, anyway. My main character is a dark-skinned female human. Her companions are a dark-skinned male, a pale nokken, and a pale female. Not many elves in this one, not in the first half, anyway. Elves are all white-skinned. That has more to do with what elves are. Their paleness is where their name comes from. Elf derives from “alba,” Latin for white.

Keep in mind, pale skin was and is quite rare among humans. It was seen as a sign of otherworldliness by the ancients.

Or maybe I’m just making stuff up. I’m no anthropologist. Anyway, the elves are white, and the goblins are green.

No orcs, though. Leave those to Tolkien.

Politics is Not the Solution: Or The Problem of Power

Right now there is a crisis in America, and I don’t just mean the pandemic. There is a clash of cultures going on, one which prizes empowerment of the disenfranchised and another which prizes profits over people.

One side claims that government regulations are the only way to curb irresponsible overreach by corporations. Government regulations keep us safe from pollution and climate change and ensure equity and fairness for the less fortunate in the community and those who live on the margins of WASP society. The other side claims that the first side just wants a socialist nightmare where the government controls every aspect of life.

Socialism and capitalism have been at war for over a century, and the only casualties so far have been the working poor, the oppressed, and other social minority groups. Even when environmental or other types of regulations are passed, small businesses suffer to live up to these regulations while large corporations are able to buy their way out of the rules.

It is no secret that there exists one set of rules for the super-rich and another set of rules for you and me. The solution, it would seem, would be to imitate Europe, tax the super-rich into nonexistence, and institute a socialist state, one in which equity and fairness for all could be ensured at the cost of individual choice. In short, if you won’t play by our rules, you don’t get to play at all.

Unfortunately, I fear the redistribution of wealth would only bring about a super-powerful government with powers unlimited by the Constitution or the petty demands of the little people.

Once again, the rich and powerful would clamber to the top on the backs of the poor. It seems to be the way of things.

Another possible solution would be armed revolt, as exemplified in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. If America itself were to undergo an armed socialist insurrection, what power on Earth would be able to intervene? It wouldn’t be like the communist revolutions in the Third World, where the CIA was able to use its influence to sabotage socialist movements, assassinate leaders, or install puppet regimes. Who could stop such a revolution?

Possibly the rest of the world. Or possibly no one. What would be the outcome? I’ve no earthly idea.

But if armed revolt fall to the same bane of compromise and corruption as peaceful, diplomatic strategies for social change, what then is left for those of us who still want to effect the improvement of our shining blue marble?

A great philosopher once said that is not enough to bash in heads. You have to bash in minds. But how do you win hearts and minds? Christian missionaries have been asking this question for over 2000 years. Too often, the answer we’ve come up with has been beating people until they concede the point. That answer is no longer acceptable.

But art and literature can touch us in ways no weapon can. If we devote ourselves to inspiring others, to spreading knowledge and sharing our wisdom, we have no choice but to prevail. It’s not a glamorous route. We run the risk of being mocked, hated, or worst of all ignored. But it seems to me the only sure avenue of success.

Words, sounds, pictures, and constructions can succeed where bullets and berating fail.

So write your writing. Draw your drawing. Make the world better by being in it.

And vote. Because there’s no reason not to have a backup plan.

What To Do: Can’t Write

Here’s seven quick things you can do to get the creative juices flowing.

Creative juices. Ew. What are creative juices anyway? Is it like blood? Some kind of special brain phlegm? Spinal fluid, maybe? Or maybe it’s cranberry juice. I bet it’s cranberry juice.

You know, I was having trouble working on the novel today. Just couldn’t seem to get in the zone. So I thought I’d make this list post about how to get the creative juices flowing. But now I’m hung up on juices. What carries creative juices? And why “juice?” Why that word? Why not “creative waters” or “creative liquids?”

And why is it plural? Is there more than one type of creative juice? Is there a diet creative juice? How many calories are in creative juices? Can you buy it at the store? Clearly not.

Do adding tags do anything to my stats? I’m guessing not since I average about 5 readers a week. Not to insult any of you. I’m sure you’re lovely people. But it’d be nice to get into double digits now and again. Ah well.

Anyway, the book is coming along. Trying to get in 1000 words a day, but it’s tough. Because I’m lazy and easily distracted.

Distracted by juices.

How to Arc Characters?

In the dark times before Youtube, there was a website called Homestar Runner. It was written all in flash, with pages for characters, games, toons, etc. The character page introduced each of the characters you could find in the games and videos on the site. Every character had a thing they wanted, something that stood in their way, and a flaw to work on.

Of course, characters never got what they wanted or worked on their flaws much because then the stories would’ve stopped. Much like how Spider-Man can never learn how to be responsible, Clark Kent can never figure out how to relate to humanity, etc. without their respective comics ending.

That’s why marrying Lois Lane should have been the culmination of Superman’s arc and the end of his story, but that’s a topic for another day.

Anyway, I’ve been watching Brandon Sanderson’s awesome Youtube videos in which he talks about how to write fantasy and science fiction novels. I haven’t gotten to the lecture on characters yet, but he’s been mentioning characters throughout and the importance of character arcs.

Having characters that change, that learn something, or fail to learn something, and the consequences of that. It’s what stories are really all about: The human condition. Who we are, how we became who we are, and what we will do to become who we want to be.

And it’s just that process of becoming which I struggle with as an author. How to portray that? How do I portray change in my characters effectively? So far, the characters in my book have been mainly static. There have been hints at ways they should change, but I’ve struggled to actually show them changing. Why is that?

I know for myself, it’s hard for me to see my own progress as a writer and as a man. I’ve come a long way in life. Plenty of people can see it. But I couldn’t tell you because I don’t see it. I feel the same at 36 as I did at 26 and 16, more or less. It’s hard for me to see my own growth, so I’m not sure how to portray growth in my characters.

How do you writers portray this character change in your own novels? Send me a link to your writing or leave a comment/advice in the space below. I’m eager to hear what you have to say. Maybe it’s less complicated than I’m making it sound.

Reading List

Lately, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the hottest fantasy novels of the year. When I say lately, I mean over the last several years, as it’s taken me forever lately to finish a book. What that means is that I’m currently 2/3 of the way through the Mistborn trilogy, which I heartily recommend. Sanderson is a wonderful author with an astute grasp of characterization and turning tropes on their head.

I’ve also been reading the Cycle of Galand series by Edward W. Robertson. He’s a self-published author (I think), and his work is delicious. Dante and Blays make an entertaining duo. I’ve enjoyed following their journeys and adventures, though I missed the original Cycle of Arawn. What I treasure about Robertson’s writing is how he’s able to combine adventure stories with an element of puzzle-solving. Each story has at least one central problem which requires outside-of-the-box thinking to solve. Sometimes it’s simple battle tactics, other times it’s something related to the unique magical system he’s created. Right now, I’m on book three of the series “The Wound of the World.”

Alex Marshall is the pseudonym for another author I hadn’t read previously (Jesse Bullington). His “Crown for Cold Silver” stretches the limits of traditional European-based fantasy by including influences from Vedic myth, as well as offering true gender diversity in an empowering way. His world-building is astounding, and I can’t wait to read part two of his trilogy, which is only ten years newer than Mistborn. I told you I’m taking a long time to finish books.

“The Ten Thousand Doors of January” did not take me long to read at all. I only wish I’d picked it up sooner. Alix Harrow‘s stunning portal fantasy transports the reader (sorry, couldn’t resist) to a world where anything can happen. Or rather, it takes the protagonist, a woman of color, on a journey far from the bounds of her racist, elitist 19th century society to worlds where witch-queens rule, panther-women stalk, and vampires lurk. Some worlds are closer than she thinks. It’s beautiful. I nearly cried near the end. (Don’t worry, there is a happy ending.)

As writers, we need to fill the well occasionally. Sometimes that means reading The Metabarons. Sometimes that means catching up on well-written fantasy by some of the greatest masters on Earth.