It’s You, Not The Reader: Owning Your Critiques.

Can you really be The Reader if you’re critiquing somebody else’s writing? Pure readers aren’t looking to improve the piece they’re reading. They only care about the story. If it works on an emotional level. All the technical reasoning behind a critique is nothing more than speed bumps to readers. Of course, too many speed bumps and people look for alternate routes. But basically, writers are not The Reader.

There. I’ve said it.

I understand what people mean, again, I’ve used the royal The Reader while critiquing other people’s work. But there’s something disingenuous about the term. At its best it’s a vague deflection, at its worst it’s a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing title without any foundation in reality.

Backstory: I need help writing. I try to get it from wherever I can. And I’ve heard the term from many, many people. One that prompted this new line of thought was a thorough, exceedingly helpful person who used The Reader scores of times to illustrate places that were confusing. As I read her comments there were a few parts that I thought might not be as confusing as stated. But how could I argue with The Reader?

Wait a second… It was only ever her.

Moving on.

Speaking as The Reader is a common qualifier at writing conferences and groups. I look past it to the meat of the comments and honestly, many more times than not, I can pull the positive meaning out of the critique. Editors and agents often describe things in terms of The Reader, too. Maybe that’s why novices like to use the term. I tend to cut industry insiders a little slack, but the same premise holds true. After all, Harry Potter was rejected by, what, twelve agents? Readers often surprise agents. Rarely to billion-dollar degrees. Not saying anything against the agents who passed on Harry Potter. Perhaps the story wasn’t a good fit for them or their agencies and they knew it. That’s being responsible.

Couching a comment from the perspective of The Reader does a couple things. First, it gives authority to the critiquer. The writer is in a subordinate position anyhow allowing someone else, often strangers, to judge a piece of art. Armored by the perspective of The Reader, the critiquer states a personal opinion as if it comes from the entire English reading population of Earth. The subjectivity of an opinion approaches zero as the sample size becomes all. An opinion from The Reader is not an opinion, but fact and the writer cannot disagree with the factual opinions of an entire planet.

Secondly, the term The Reader protects the critiquer from criticism. It’s a way for a person to say what they may not otherwise say. Let’s face it, this is a cruel business. Art is subjective, money is tight and human nature is petty. It is hard to say some of the things critiquers feel they need to say. I mean, we’re only trying to help each other. Strictly speaking. I know I’ve said things, based on a moral obligation to destroy because I only want to help.

Pffft. Bullshit.

But that was The Reader. Not me. I would never say things like that.

Without this, The Reader, to fall back on people would have to own their own ignorance. And who wants to show their ignorance? Nobody.

I’ve made the choice to announce my critiques as My Opinion. The comments are easier to shoot down as the ravings of an egotistical sociopath, but I’ve also come to the conclusion that my comments are not for me. I don’t need to convince anyone that my preferences regarding their work are better than their own. It’s not politics.

Oh, wait, it never works there, either.

The other side of this coin is proclaiming what agents do and don’t want. That’s the mystery in this industry. I’ve written tons of words, mostly in order with nonstop killing and sex. Why aren’t agents signing my enormous advances?

Because they’re smart business people.

I was in a group and one story of the bunch used a lot of dialect. In dialog and narrative. Someone said that agents don’t like dialect. My picky antennae prickled. I’ve heard that before and from well-placed authorities, but I cannot say specifically what agents want in a story. I haven’t hit the right chord, myself. I do know what they want from life. They want money. They want to sell the best story they can for the most money possible and if a dialect larded story is an unequivocal masterpiece, some agent will pick it up.

Speaking from The Agents’ perspective is a little different than The Readers’. Agents go to conferences, post on websites and plead with the writing community to deliver what they want. Critiquing other people’s work from The Agents’ perspective might be a little more realistic, but again, it’s leaning on the authority of industry leaders to stress a personal opinion.

So when someone says Agents don’t want dialect, space opera, or dreamy vampire love triangles, trust that for the right price everything works. And double trust that the right price is predicated on superlative skill.

I love writers. I haven’t met another group of people as imaginative that come from as many places, geographically, occupationally, or educationally. They’re interesting people who live amazing lives with a spark inside that wants to share abstract ideas. I love these people. It’s the group I identify with most closely. It’s just this one issue that I’ve head thousands of times, that I’ve said too many times myself, that got me thinking in a wider scope and made me face my own abilities with honesty and humility.

Writers have to own their words, both on the page and to their kind. And on that one day, when any single person can confidently speak for The Reader, that’s the day a dystopian novel opens and leads to the overthrow of a cruel and narrow-minded tyrant.

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Organizing the Written Word

The other day I got a chance to brag about writing. A proper chance, too. Not one of those long winded life stories that makes people’s eyes roll around like lazy Fentanyl drenched marbles. A writer friend was genuinely curious and asked what I had been up to regarding writing.

That’s a dangerous question to ask a person devoted to a lonely art.

So I described my current workload. To that novella of a text I was asked the follow-up, “How do you organize so many projects?”

Hmm. It’s not really that many, but I’ve seen the same question pop up a few other times recently. I answered my friend thusly.

Identify what needs the greatest imaginative attention. That’s usually rough drafts and early revisions. Those demand the most energy. For me that’s the first part of the day, when the coffee is fresh and the day is long.

Identify what needs attention, but not imagination. Sorry to say, but I typically reserve the after imagination hours to reading other people’s work. I simply can’t sacrifice my best for someone else’s revisions. Beyond that, I’ll take this time to hammer out my own edits. Simple stuff from tidier versions. Also blog posts and social media bits.

Identify the most mundane tasks. These I save for the last part of the day. I use paper so I spend the evening transcribing my day’s work. This is also when I do my research. Look for outlets, reply to emails, adjust plans. And it’s where I organize for the next day.

Identify with readers. How’s that? By reading. Always read before bed. And any other part of the day, but especially before bed. It puts words and ideas in your mind right before the subconscious jumbles them up and turns them into dreams of the future.

That’s my basic process. Pretty easy.

I’ve heard thousands of other scheduling formulas and every one of them works for the person espousing64bce91e-a691-4ec8-82ba-dc9efb46b54b_560_420 that system. Spend sixty minutes an hour and you’ll be published overnight. Commit just one minute a month and you’ll be on your way. Categorize according to moon cycles. Whatever works, as long as it works and what works for me is understanding my creative energy dwindles throughout the day so I prioritize accordingly. If you do your best work at night switch it all up. Read in the morning, research at noon, blogs and Twitter in the evening and novel write by cricket chirps.

I talked to another writer with this question and as she described her insanely hectic life I couldn’t help but admire her dedication. She asked because she was desperate. She can only commit one single hour a night to writing. She’s not happy about it, but work schedules, children and starting a business all consume her finite time, but she writes. She writes on top of all of that because she loves it. All I could say is that at the end of each night at least she has one hour closer then she was the previous night.

Then there’s the people who make me feel like I’m standing still. Writing tons, blogging, forming publishing companies, editing, continuing their education, marketing, hosting workshops and still managing the rest of life. Granted, their schedules are different than mine, but I’m still jealous.

That is the work life I’m striving for, though I’m not yet ready for the business end. I’m currently committed purely to writing.

But how do they do it? My busy friends take their responsibilities in bite sized chunks. There’s no way anyone can do all of that at once. So instead of committing their best hours to specific endeavors, they commit entire days to one aspect of the writing business. Covers, ISBNs, queries, websites, social media and the billion other details that go into self publishing.

And the number one way to maintain production throughout the constraints of life—Don’t play social media more than you have to. Sure, it’s important, but it doesn’t write your book. Only you can do that with the limited time you have. Now, quit reading this and go write.

 

Movie Review

Have you ever watched a movie so bad that it’s good? Maybe you have a favorite, a guilty pleasure from certain times or places. A crap movie that, by virtue of nostalgia, or absurdity, you absolutely love. Then there are those shows you loved as a kid, recall fondly, but they simply don’t hold up to your adult sensibilities. Lately I’ve found that many of the movies and television shows I liked as a kid I now find boring, slow and predictable. Styles have changed.

We have entered a new golden age of entertainment.

Yes, I’ve heard this before with respect to specific media—movies, television, books—but it all comes down to writing. So many people are vying for so few openings that all the creative industries have bred cut-throat competition, where people write harder, explore deeper topics, expand non-traditional markets. All of this dog-eat-dog for our entertainment.

Then came a recommendation that opened my eyes to the gold all around me. One of those off-the-cuff suggestions that always go ignored. This time bordered prevailed. I actually watched what was recommended. I was not disappointed. This wasn’t a movie so bad it was good. This is a movie so bad it’s genius. A movie so fantastic it could only be written by a film student studying an era. Whether a spoof or an homage, this film did not simply copy movie themes of the 1980s, but captured the experience. As best as my young self can remember. Movies, television dramas and cartoons, music and comic books.

The writer (also the director and star—yeah, it’s that kind of a movie) embraced writing clichés much to my delight. 1985 Miami with a dystopian Lower East Side feel. Random shootings, burning buildings, overwhelmed police, business as usual.

Okay, first off, remember my last post about knock-out scenes? Well, this took the concept in a different direction that worked. The action star is battling a maniacal robot, then the tracking goes out. A detail only connoisseur of VHS tapes would appreciate. When the tracking comes back the fight continues hanging from the skids of a helicopter. Tracking goes out, comes back, they’re fighting on a crane, all guns and lasers, back and forth. Tracking goes out, comes back again, the hero crashes backwards into the Hubble Space Telescope (which entered service in 1990, but I’ll forgive the continuity issue.) Then the robot and hero are about to clash in front of a full moon when tracking goes out. At last the hero stands over and shoots the robot dead with a cool, dry one-liner at the end. The entire sequence took about forty-five seconds. The idea of cutting out the how and only showing greater and greater action moved an introductory scene out the way fast while using a characteristics of 1980s technology to do it.

My second favorite cliché—the hacker. He appeared out of nowhere and turns out to be the world’s best, of course. This movie hacker could even hack time, but things go wildly wrong. The skinny nerd with glasses, an awesome ‘80s mullet and a wispy mustache who slowly faces the camera when introduced to signify his importance nailed the weak camera work from so long ago. Again, whether a spoof or an homage, it worked for this show where it couldn’t have for anything else.

(Exposition warning) Computer hackers have become the wizards of urban fantasy, able to whip up fixes to keep the characters moving through a story with little or no consideration as to how. Some hocus-pocus, geek-speak and voila. It’s fun to listen to professional programmers discuss the unrealistic abilities non-programming writers bestow upon their fictional hackers.

Reflecting it does seem there were never more instances than in 1980s shows of buddies standing back to back, guns drawn, shooting in all directions. So this movie had to have a back to back scene. Make them scantily clad women, a Viking with an Uzi and a barbarian with a minigun. A MINIGUN! One rides a giant wolf, the other a tyrannosaurus rex. Throw in some heavy metal montages and how can this be anything but the greatest movie of all

barbariana-gif

Yeah, that’s the minigun.

 

time!

 

Plus Kung freakin’ Fu!

Whoa. Slow it down.

Got a little off topic.

Some people I’ve talked to absolutely hate this movie. I can respect that. The plot’s ill-defined, there’s action, but no tension and the wild characters make no sense. Even when the main character dies, there’s no sense of dramatic loss. He is eventually hacked back to life. And the bad guy (Adolf Hitler) escapes. Where’s the closure?

Despite those shortcomings this movie spoke to me. It hit on so much of my childhood. Video games, skateboards, boom boxes, even the fonts nailed it. The hero epitomized all the action stars into one. Sunglasses, red bandana, black leather jacket, collar turned up, laying casually on top of a Lamborghini in front of a giant palm tree framed sunset. More than the nostalgic imagery, the purposefully bad acting, the plot that did more to serve the scenery and the guns that never ran out of bullets made me consider how bad eighties action movies were written compared to modern works.

It’s probably not fair to compare 2010s movies to 1980s movies. Consider 1950s to 1980s. Movies in the 2040s will be magical compared to today.

Looking back there is so much to criticize about ‘80s action shows that seemed so awesome at the time. Shows now need more story, more justification, more intrigue, more choreographed flippy martial arts fights, better special effects, deeper character arcs. All that seems to get lost to time, to nostalgia until something so over the top comes out and shines a light on what has become unacceptable, but in a fun way.

Here’s a list of movies, shows and things that I thought I noticed thematic references to.

  • Immediately Buckaroo Bonsai for the sheer absurdity, though it lacked the same excuse-for-a-bad-movie-produced-by-cocain-addicts-to-score-more-cocain-money kind of feel.
  • Every 1980s movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan the Barbarian, The Running Man, Predator, Commando. Maybe not Twins.
  • Lethal Weapon.
  • The Warriors.
  • Rambo. Not First Blood.
  • Karate Kid.
  • Bruce Lee movies for the awesome numchuck (I know how I spelled it) action using the ripped off arm of a Nazi.
  • Miami Vice.
  • Knight Rider for sure.
  • Cartoons—Transformers, GI Joe, M.A.S.K. (Yes, there was a cheesy PSA on teamwork from a talking dinosaur at the end.)
  • Bits and pieces from tons of comic books.
  • In the background there was a Tron video game. How much money did I spend on that one…?
  • And my favorite—the old school skate board, though I wouldn’t ride one today. Too bulky.

And the name of this movie. The first movie I’ve ever reviewed for writing. The only live action film I’ve ever wanted to discuss. Hold on to your seats. It’s…..Kung Fury!

Go here. Watch. Laugh.

Anonymous Book Review 18

What a unique story. This book was fun. Overall pace was good, characters likable, interesting plot. And it had big words. I like big words.

The scope was huge. Alternate history where a tiny colonial player had nullified the real life powers to retain authority over conquered lands. But that was pure setting and never elaborated upon.

Every aspect of the plot was bedded in dualities. This power against that. One religion against the other. The nature of free will versus slavery with a fair amount of contemplation on both. That part imposed an amazing duality on a single character. A Catholic priest secretly advocating freedom for robotic slaves, pushed to horrendous actions by his religious convictions, yet arguing free will. Then captured and implanted with a spell to force his actions through pain inducing compulsion while pleading that he no longer had free will. That flip I found so cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite duality throughout the book—alchemy versus chemistry. Yep. In this world they both exist and they’re employed by opposing forces for war. Magic clockwork robots built to slaughter can only be stopped by glue bombs with both sides engaged in an arms race to limit the other’s advantage. Yet another one of those “nailed it” parts of the story.

Now to the alchemically enhanced nuts and bolts of the story.

This was a good sized book. Four hundred and forty pages. Three point of view characters need a lot of space to work. The author wrote so floridly at the beginning, sprinkling in similes by the handful, that the story took a few chapters to get going. Not that there wasn’t a catchy hook and a compelling scene, but it all felt bogged down in the beauty of the world. Those big words that I love so much? Yeah, they became noticeable and to be honest I don’t feel good about pointing that out. Words need to be written and used, but a story isn’t about the words.

I thought this was a tremendous first novel. A bunch of subtle flags gave me that impression and after a meeting of the minds, I wasn’t the only one. Though the author actually has several other titles. Yes, the wordiness threw the first of those flags as though the industry hadn’t yet beaten the love of words out of him. Aspects of the narrative, too, waved another flag. Written in third person close perspective in the past tense (my favorite narrative form), the narrative itself had very strong opinions. The narrative used pejoratives for the opposing characters, even cussing about plot twists it had just informed me of. Yes, I understand the close perspective is interpreting the thoughts and feelings of the POV characters, but this almost treaded into a first person view that made me think it was edited from such. I found several typos, though none to suggest the perspective was actually changed, but taken together, they layered in the feel of a debut novel.

Throughout, this book was very visual. While that added to its all around goodness there was a lot of details paid to bodily functions. Including observations drawing lines to the many qualities of vomit. I could’ve done without. A little glossing over or hand waving would’ve been great for that and a few others seriously taxing sections.

Pacing…. If you read my previous post you’ll know how I like a well paced book. The hair is split with this one. Pacing in the big picture—Hit. Pacing through action scenes—Miss. Overall there wasn’t one throw-away scene, except, perhaps the gratuitous sex scene. Again, a hand wave could’ve done, but even that scene built tension that carried through the book. Things moved fast. I couldn’t tell what would happen from one scene to the next and even when I had an idea, the scene got there faster with consequences greater than I had expected. This is where the author showed his well seasoned writer chops. I liked it and it kept me reading.

The other part… this author is so descriptive he can put you where he wants. The down side to that is during tense, high impact scenes that need to flow really fast he describes the beauty around his characters. This ruined the pacing of many, many scenes. At one point his character even paused to acknowledge how funny it is that it should be observing beauty while in a race for its life from some impressively scary things. NO! I might be able to relate, (High school football, face down under a pile of animals, pondering the blades of grass poking through my facemask), but it sucked all the tension out of the scene and diminished my level of caring. (Coincidently, I wasn’t the best player, either.) This also led me to assume it was a first novel. But it’s not. He has a bunch. Sure, I turned out the light and went to bed during these parts, even cursed a little in frustration, but the story was still worth reading.

Okay, the finale. I kind of knew that this book began a series. I kind of figured there’d be a question leading into the next. And when every story line concluded with a cliff hanger I shrugged, a little crestfallen at such an open end. I would’ve preferred at least a semblance of resolution. Meh. Internet says the guy is friends with George R. R. Martin, so he gets a pass on conclusions. The part that put me over, the one scene that utterly, unequivocally disappointed, the one devise I’ve known about, yet never reacted to so strongly—? The knock-out scene. Right at the end. Right where an explanation was needed most.

A little exposition. Knock-out scenes; when the hero is in a dire situation, when tension is at its peak and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. The hero is knocked unconscious, then miraculously awakens in safety where the events of the rescue are recounted by another character. The hero survives through no fault of their own. It’s anticlimactic. Often a wave of the hand to speed along a difficult scene. I’ve even heard it called lazy writing. Personally I don’t mind if they come early in a story, they can set a tone or send a message, but this one….

Character has fought its way to the heart of the evil empire, battled enemies beyond its class. Its free falling into the center of an alchemical inferno surrounded by vats of acid with massive metal rings collapsing all around while the castle crumbles! It blinked off just before certain death. Next scene… the character wakes up safe. A nameless helper switches it on and says it was luckily buried in a gap when everything else in the chamber was incinerated and crushed. The few other survivors were found around the outskirts of the castle.

Great character. I’m glad it survived, but why did I have to read about so much vomit instead of how it managed to escape, other than knocking itself out. I would’ve preferred this character to die accepting some kind of metaphysical conciliation to living like that. It just didn’t fulfill my expectations.

Breathe….

It’s not until I looked into the structure that I saw things that robbed the tension and allowed me to take breaks during action scenes. And those are extremely picky reasons to disparage an otherwise great work of fiction. The unique alternate history, the perpetual dualities, the themes of free will and slavery, the beautiful description, the well drawn characters, all of it made such a fantastic book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It is one that I’ll wholeheartedly recommend.

Anonymous Book Review 17

What an amazing book series. This installment covers the third of a trilogy, the first two of which stunned and the last didn’t fail. The author wrote something special and I hope there will be more to this universein the future. Preferably from the unstoppable aliens’ perspective. They were funny.

As I approached the end, when the situation looked bleakest, I tried guessing where the story would go. I suspect that’s for my own comfort because the tension was so high that I wanted to imagine a victorious conclusion. The scene was set for outright devastation, odds were impossible and the main character’s only option was to give herself up to buy everyone else a little more time.

I thought of two fairly obvious ends. The main character should prevail (I’m taking comfort in the structural form of the narrative itself), but that would only solve a part of a problem which could only be resolved with more books, though I haven’t heard rumors of any more. Or the main character might die, which would have to be handled extremely well for the ending not to suck. The author is talented enough to pull that off.

Neither of those options occurred.

The pace of this book was incredible. I couldn’t tell where the end was going. In fact, at no point in the series could I tell where the next scene was headed. And not because a lot of stuff happened fast. Actually the opposite. People interacted, ships flew, aliens quibbled and the action scenes lasted only a few paragraphs, but the story moved.

This is the stroke of a master. The author stayed at least one step ahead of the reader. Granted, I’m not a very savvy reader. No decision made was apparent to me, yet every turn of this story made perfect sense. Even the end (which lacked the devastation I was hoping for) was set up in book two.

Everyone has read a book, acclaimed books, too, that drag. Where there’s never a surprise. The plot is good, the characters are likeable, action making or love scenes are handled well, but it’s an otherwise bore.

Enter pacing.

Listening to children is tedious, not because their lives are dull, but because they don’t know how to tell Child reading to elephantstories.

Enter pacing.

Radio talk show banter sounds natural until a caller tries to tell their tale.

Enter pacing.

When your coworker describes at length how his bombastic presidential candidate is better than your bombastic presidential candidate.

Enter, well… that’s just obnoxiousness.

See? That unnecessary scrap of information bogged down the pace, slowed the flow and let a reader’s mind wonder to topics outside the page in front of their face.

I once listened to a highly acclaimed author talk for a while. Audience members had asked if he was going to make a third book to the two he’d all ready released. The first was a stand alone, the second was written under popular pressure. The author revealed that he intends to write a third, that it’ll take place a few years after the others when the main character and his girlfriend are adults. Okay, none of that really intrigued me until he mentioned that the story following these adults would be written in a YA style. When asked about that he explained that word choice and pacing make the YA more so than the character’s age.

Pacing, again. There is too much to pacing, word choice, sentence length, talk styles in dialog, all of it to build the proper feeling for the right moment. But the idea to anticipate and stay ahead of a reader’s expectations delivers a surprise with every scene.

I like fast paced books and even though these books moved slow as far a locations they moved quickly in the interactions between people. And interactions make the story. Loyalties, motivations and tension move the story forward. The greater of all three, the faster the story will progress. Or slower, if the authors purpose is producing long, involved works. In this case it moved fast. Which led to the subplot which wound back to become the justification for the resolution I didn’t see coming until the very end.

I had an impression of an end I would’ve like, though that required several more books, and the pace of those books would have to change. To be honest, if I magically got my way I don’t think they’d change for the better.

The next time you find yourself either enjoying a book or bogged down and bored, take a moment to analyze the pacing. Do you know what’s coming, or is the next scene a mystery that keeps you reading?

 

Can I Brag?

The rough draft to my third legitimate novel is finished. Started November 5th, 2015. Ended June 24th, 2016. Seven and three quarters months. And it’s only 74,500 words. Not exactly what I was shooting for in terms of time or word count, but to some extent, every story writes itself.

This writing business is a strange and amazing process. So many twists and turns to the story of the story. Grandiose ideas that fizzle. Characters’ morphing arcs, motivations, genders. And here, at the end I’m sitting back thinking of all the turning points. How, if this didn’t happen in real life, than I wouldn’t have written that piece of fiction. In this story’s case, if events had happened differently two years ago, I would not be posting thisMonkey-typing-300x214 write-up today.

I’ve composed this post to brag about an accomplishment, but also to illustrate the importance of writer friends. I’m saying this now in the afterglow of a finished rough draft because I knew I was getting close, but insurmountable barriers obscured my view of the end.

That is, until I reached out for help.

I have been thinking of this novel for about three, maybe four years. There’s even initial hand-drawn sketches of scenes in my two-inch thick stack of notes. What was originally a pure action hero became a deeper character struggling to answer questions. Of his allegiances, of the plot, of life. Shit gets blowd up, too, don’t get me wrong, but the focus has changed.

In one of the stranger twists, if a demoralizing event didn’t occur to me almost two years ago, I wouldn’t have met (again) the person who brilliantly forced me to reevaluate aspects of my main character, then helped me with major road blocks.

A few years ago I had met this writer lady through a mutual writer friend. The meeting was brief, just introductions, really. My second novel was in the works at the time, off to an agent, per request, who never got back to me (part of, but not close to the demoralizing event).

The second novel had major structural issues so I quit it to write this third. I had what I thought was a good outline, knew the plot points, drawn all the supporting characters so last November I sat down and started writing. My goal was 100,000 words in about four months. I wanted to be finished, or nearly so, by February, 2016, in time for a writers conference.

Yeah, none of that happened. But I still attended the conference. After all, writers conferences are good places to meet like minded people. This writer thing is so isolating to begin with, getting out and talking to other cave dwelling humans who intimately understand the struggle is refreshing. And after said demoralizing episode the conference was exactly what I needed to believe in myself again.

lrg-786-monkeys_-_best_friendsOkay, back to friends. I had met the writer lady again at the conference, this time in a sociable setting with dozens of other inebriated writers all exhausted from the busy weekend, all recounting shared writerly experiences. At one point I talked to a dude. A romance writing dude. About sex scenes. At a bar. Where non-writers could hear. More than the subject matter, the subtext and technique he explained to me was amazing. The information translated in my mind at first in the form of fighting scenes (my specialty), but then I figured out that the questions should be asked and answered about every scene. That was an awkwardly transformative conversation.

Later the writer lady and I discussed our works-in-progress, found out we live vaguely near each other and agreed to meet at some time later. That’s common at conferences, though it usually never happens.

After the conference I contacted one fellow (not the dude), met him for coffee. I’ve always hated a specific enormous chain coffee shop, but hell if it isn’t a convenient place to meet writers. Anyhow, we made future plans, but his course in life is a little different than mine and we haven’t seen each other since. I met another writer from the conference shortly after, read some of her stuff, though she’s at a different place in her writing journey than I am. We still keep in touch. I never like it when people discount me because they’re ahead of me, so I make it a point to never brush off others who may be newer to the game than I am. Everyone has needed help and everyone has help to give.

Finally met the writer lady. We’re in similar places, writing wise. I told her about a major problem I’d been having with my main character. She asked me one question. One damn question that I couldn’t answer. That one damn question stuck with me the rest of the meeting, the entire drive home and into that night despite normal household chaos. Over and over the question recycled without answer. I couldn’t shake it. It bothered me. Simple enough, but I couldn’t answer a basic foundational question about my own freakin’ character.

Then it hit me. I scrambled for paper, pencil, scribbled, thought, rewrote the idea legibly, placed it in my notes, wrote it into the rough draft, although I was about half finished. It defines the character so needs to be mentioned as early as possible, but that’s what edits are for. I was amazed that the one question could affect my writing in such a way.

But it didn’t stop there.

Approaching the end. My main character has a few more obstacles to cross, but I can’t figure out how. First problem—should a lady character get beat up? In the story she deserves it, but I just didn’t like the arrangement considering the following scene. No matter, I’ll jot it down and ask my friend later. As I wrote out the set-up and problem, I thought of an alternative that produced a much more meaningful end. Still two more lingering issues, one about motivation, the other about logistics. Coffee, I posit my problems and though a series of questions, some back and forth brain storming, we came to some rough solutions. Not write-arounds, not writing over them, these solutions ran straight through my problem spots. These solutions worked so well I finished the story two weeks after the last meeting.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have been at that conference without the demoralizing episode, which means I wouldn’t have learned about sex scenes from a dude at the bar, nor would I have found that foundational trait for my main character. I would have a couple more pointless clumsy scenes in the current draft and a less satisfying ending if I hadn’t embraced people from the writer community and asked for their help.

I finished writing my third legitimate novel, but more importantly I know there are people out there willing to invest time and energy into helping me succeed. It’s not a one way street, however. I, too, am willing to help others succeed. By reading manuscripts, brain storming problems, or sharing posts. It’s the friendships built over time that help all of us writers become better at our art than we were the story before.

Anonymous Book Review 16

A masterpiece. The pacing, the characters, and in this case, the writing itself, all fell into the right seams. This book is the second in a trilogy and it thoroughly defied my expectations.

How’s that?

I’m not a fan of space station stories—DEFIED!

I’m not a fan of third person omniscient points of view—DEFIED! Sort of.

I get bored with long winded social messages—DEFIED!

Infallible captains are tiresome—DEFIED!

In general I haven’t enjoyed space station stories because it’s usually a ship that goes nowhere. All kinds of deceit and intrigue takes place among species whose dominant character traits resemble somethingAstronaut Pic human. Good, bad, caring, loving, militaristic, and then these traits come into conflict with only the station administrator or a good natured captain to mediate the tension. The problem is there’s never a good enough motivation to keep everyone playing the game fairly. Why not send troops to expel the ne’er-do-wells?

With this book the station stayed near a planet in a well traveled solar system. There were other ships, important ships, moving about. It was big with an organic environment that supported the inhabitants. And it was old. Generations of people, an entire subculture, grew and lived within the dilapidated portions of the station developing their own adaptations to an impoverished life. It added more depth to the space station than some structure drifting about. It had a reason to exit above good will to all.

The social message played into the story fairly quickly with the infallible captain immediately finding a cause for the poor. Take that imperialists. The B plot played out as the justice minded captain made enemies of the privileged who sought to destroy the interloper, opening up a reason to find the culprit, talk to the down trodden and reveal improprieties leading back to the A plot. This one quietly built a narrative that let me take a look at real life from another perspective using thinly veiled allegory. I love when that happens.

Only one alien made an appearance in this book. Its species feared by humans, the individual’s presence leading to suspicions within the A-plot, it had an unsettling way of subverting all human and AI security. And with a very funny disposition that added levity to an otherwise somber tone, it died within two pages of its introduction. That took the infallible captain to the planet’s surface where the B plot got going rounding out the rest of the book.

I sure hope the aliens return to destroy humanity if they’re this funny when they do it.

I can’t discuss why I liked this infallible captain without discussing the most crucial part of this author’s writing technique. The story is written in the first person, but the main character is plugged in (wirelessly, of course) to the surrounding artificial intelligences, a battle ship, a lesser war ship and the space station. Then all the ships’ crews and important people on the station were enhanced so the AIs could read thoughts and emotions while being able to see everything everyone did continuously with very few blind spots. Here’s the beauty of this book’s style. While written in the first person, the main character was able to narrate every action and emotion from all the characters in an omniscient style without ever breaking the first person POV. The scene switches were important, concise and always felt close. It was an omniscient view from a close perspective that worked amazingly well for me.

Now to the infallible captain. Everyone’s read a piece of sci-fi where the captain is perfectly confident in words and actions and never lets the crew down. Tough, but fair. To a great extent this is very much the same, however, this captain, acting upon authority vested by the tyrant emperor over the entire military apparatus, carries several secrets. Its origin, the truth about a very quiet civil war and the nature of its mission. With that kind of baggage every choice and decision, weighed in terms of secrecy and loyalty to unreadable factions, added tension and consequence throughout the book. Not a choice of this or that with only thin margins for success lesser men may not see, but conundrums that lead to greater conundrums always searching for missing pieces to the wider plot. The infallible captain moved the story forward, but not on orders for the sake of orders. With the pieces unfolding wider dangers hid just out of sight, dangers that threatened the whole of an empire this captain served, yet didn’t entirely agree with.

This may give the book away, but I don’t care. The author chose an interesting form of social order. Yes, imperialistic, yes, feudal, but even a step further. I can’t call it a matriarchy because lineage isn’t discussed in detail. Nearly all of the pronouns are feminine. Everyone is a she and a sister. My grasp of the pronouns was better this time than from the first book so I didn’t spend much energy thinking it through. At one point, in a less civilized community one girl had a brother, but the brother was later called a sister and referred to in terms of she. Interesting. So binary genders exist in this world, yet there was never any distinct gender identifying descriptions, or actions for any character throughout. Even though sexual propriety was discussed in some fair length, orientation never mattered which flowed into a greater theme that for the story narrative gender itself never mattered. From my writers perspective gender has always defined the who, as in the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story.

While the technique was interesting as an experiment to see if distinct binary pronouns are necessary to tell a good story, the overall effect did something every sci-fi story needs. It removed the reader from the real world, yet not so much as to make it unidentifiable. Naturally English readers can take comfort in the familiar pronoun she. Okay, grounded in the humanness, dealing with people similar to me. You know, human. But now that everyone is a she there’s something different. The culture is different and within the difference anything can happen. This notion of differentness allows for FTL travel, loving AI, and comedic domineering aliens. Sure, all of those have happened hundreds of times over without the gender ambiguity, but with the indistinct pronouns holding a question in the back of one’s mind, the reader is never permitted, not even for a sentence, to slip into the familiar world they inhabit. And the greatest accomplishment, the reader is never pushed into a world so foreign as to be uninteresting or boring. It’s a keen balancing act from a skilled and bold writer.

Huhhhh…. I’m out of breath. I’ve already got the last book and can’t wait till this post is finished so I can start reading. If anyone wants to know the name of the book and author leave me a message. It’s taking all my strength not to shout the names simply to preserve the theme of these book reviews.