Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

Being Part the First:

In Which I Declare My Official “To Read” List

During the past three years of grad school, I did very little writing and very little reading.  I finished one novelette-length short story.  I read two novels (both “Wheel of Time” books, and actually only half of the second), half of another novel and a few small volumes of short stories.

Since graduating a few months ago, I’ve upped the amps on my writing.  But my reading is still continuing at roughly the same pace.  Largely, I’d felt so deprived of writing while I worked on grad school that I wanted to focus my free time on writing, at least until I was in the thick of my novel and making solid progress (i.e. at least until I had actual draft wordcount on the novel, and not just background stuff).  But my slow reading these past few years hasn’t stopped a tsunami of excellent fiction from exploding into my consciousness.  It’s for that reason that my “To Read” list has grown into something of an unmanageable behemoth, and an unstoppable juggernaut.  To make anything like a dent in that list I’d have to take a few months off from work and dedicate a lot of time exclusively to reading.  Which… ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, I’m going to pivot some of my time to reading a little more again.  Because it’s not like other writers are going to stop writing awesome books just because I haven’t had time to read them.  And if I don’t read those awesome books, I might die unfulfilled.

Right now, my “To Read” list is broken into four parts, and looks like this:

I. Books I Own

A Clash of Kings* by George R. R. Martin

Mistborn: The Final Empire¹ by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings¹ (signed) by Brandon Sanderson

The Children of Amarid¹ (signed) by David B. Coe

The Name of the Wind¹ by Patrick Rothfuss

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with introduction by R. A. Salvatore

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of Writer’s Digest with introduction by Terry Brooks (this is a combo volume of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Writer’s Digest’s The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference) Continue reading

Prescriptive and Descriptive Genres

I’ve been involved in a number of discussions on genre, recently.  As I thought about the many genres and subgenres of speculative fiction – and indeed even outside speculative fiction – I realized that what defines one genre from another is not always consistent.  Some genres have more rules than others, or more specific rules, or rules about different things.  To put it in a simple dichotomy, some genres are more descriptive and some are more prescriptive.

What do I mean by that?  A descriptive genre merely describes what a genre or body of literature looks like.  A prescriptive genre is very codified, and if you fail to abide by that code, you can’t really be said to be writing in that genre.  As I thought about the subject deeper, I concluded that the difference lies in a specific subset of rules: those rules governing the form and structure of a genre.

Descriptive genres are less specific about rules governing form or structure.  They are less formulaic by default.  Instead, the rules governing a descriptive genre are rules of elements.  If certain elements are present in a work of literature, it can be said to belong to the associated genre.  If those elements are absent, it may not be a work of that genre.  These elements may be aspects of setting, character, plot, style and technique and so on.  Fantasy, in the general, categorical sense, is a fairly descriptive genre.  Does the story include elements of magic, mysticism, mythology, the supernatural, or the numinous?  If your work includes these elements of non-real, non-mundane, then it is a work of Fantasy.  Mainstream or Literary fiction is similarly fairly descriptive.  Does the novel employe so-called “literary” techniques (and usually, but not always, does it eschew the non-real elements for a mundane and frequently contemporary setting)?  Then it is a literary novel. 

But many genres are more restrictive and confining than that.  Continue reading

Boys vs. Girls: The Audience of Speculative Fiction

So, earlier this week, I wrapped the first draft of “Story of G”, and I put out a call hoping for some beta readers to provide some feedback.

I was extremely gratified by the response.  Besides my Dear Wife, I’ve got three others currently reading, and anticipate another one or two readers after that.  That’s a much better feedback response than I got with “PFTETD” last year.  Then, besides my Wife, I had a grand total of 2 readers before I went to final edits before submitting the piece.  But I noticed something curious this time around: all my latest beta readers are ladies.

That observation reminded me of this post by author Blake Charlton from last year.  In it, he asks whether the market for speculative fiction books has shifted to cater overwhelmingly, perhaps exclusively, to girls over boys.  I had wanted to blog about that, when I read it, but I guess I never quite felt up to the challenge.  It is a charged and sensitive topic.  In noticing now, however, a shift in my beta readers from all-boys to all-girls a year later, I feel compelled to consider the issue a little more.  I’m delving into some politically choppy waters here, and I know going in that I won’t arrive at any firm conclusions, but I’m very interested to explore issues like this. 

As a writer, I write first out of my own interest and love of speculative fiction – that is to say, I write to entertain myself.  But secondly, I write to be read by others.  Whether those others who read my work will be predominately female, male, or some more equitable mix of the genders will potentially matter to me, especially if the demands and tastes of the one gender group turn out to be very different from those of the other, in which case the question of how best to meet those different demands and tastes in my work becomes quite pertinent.

To dispense with the obvious: I am a boy.  Well, a boy of the somewhat grown-upish variety, but a boy nonetheless.  And I read (and write) speculative fiction – particularly of the Fantasy variety (though “Story of G” is not strictly Fantasy). Continue reading

“The Story of G” First Draft: Complete

Yesterday evening I finished a rough draft of my new short story, “The Story of G”.  As I’ve mentioned here before, “The Story of G” is my follow-up to last year’s Writers of the Future Honorable Mention “PFTETD”.  (I mean follow-up as in it’s my next short story and next potential entry into the WotF contest.)

“The Story of G” is not the actual title.  I’m not indicating what the real title is, yet, because I still haven’t decided on it.  That’s one of the bits of feedback I’ll be looking for from first readers (I have a few options I am mulling).

Dear Wife has already read it.  She says she likes it better than “PFTETD”.  That’s encouraging news.  There are some caveats, of course, but I won’t publicly share the specifics of her feedback – in part because the specifics of feedback are a private matter, and in part because I don’t want to taint future beta readers.

So… if you’re got a little free time and don’t mind lending a helping hand, I’m looking for beta readers to provide a little feedback.  It’s a fairly short story – a little under 8,000 words, which is quite a bit longer than my target of 6,000 words, but it’s still not terribly long.  Let me know if you’d be willing to help.  I’ll try to make myself available for beta reads and feedback in return.

Thanks everyone!

The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

I regularly read the Magical Words blog, whree a group of speculative fiction authors joined together to offer writing advice and stories from the word-mines.  Over time, I’ve become ever-so-slightly more active a commenter on the posts, sharing my own thoughts and experience.

One recent post got me thinking about Genre.  In it, fantasy author Misty Massey begins a series of genre-definition posts similar to what you’d find on fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s blog.  The post and ensuing discussion made me think about genre a lot (so much so that I was accused of overthinking the matter; I deny the charge as I don’t generally think it’s possible to overthink anything, and more likely to underthink something; I’m guilty of the latter as often as anybody else, but I’d rather be guilty of the former, which I think is no sin).  So, this is going to be a long post.  I’d split it up, but I think I’d lose something salient to my point in doing so.  My intention is to inspire deeper thinking on this topic – maybe even overthinking.  So put your thinking caps on.

Misty sets off on this whirlwind tour of the many genres and subgenres and subsubgenres of Speculative Fiction by discussing high and epic fantasy.  But before launching into discussion of individual genres, she says this:

When you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to send it out into the world, one of the most important things to know about it is what genre it belongs to. Once upon a time, if a book had magic in it, it was fantasy. Period. Tolkien was fantasy, Tim Powers was fantasy, Glen Cook was fantasy. That’s no longer true. Genres have split and split and split again, becoming more and more specialized as the audiences demanded. Where once agents said they read fantasy, now they say they only want comic paranormal romance, dark epic or dieselpunk. Which puts the writer into a quandary – how do you know what you’re writing? Continue reading

Tidbits of Inspiration: Culture & Kisses

For most speculative fiction writers Worldbuilding is an important part of writing – whether you do it up-front before you dive into your narrative or more on the back-end as an organic outgrowth of the writing process.  And  if you’re worldbuilding, you’ll probably have to think, at least a little, about culture.

And so it was that I was fascinated to listen to this story, today, on NPR: “Of War and Kisses: How Adversity Shapes Culture“.  The article is about a study that draws a link between national adversity (war and contention with neighbors and other problems and disasters) and population density with the relative strictness or tightness of a culture.  There seems to be, based on this study, some correlation between nations that are constantly embattled or face regular hardship and a very strict culture, and likewise between very dense populations and a very strict culture, whereas the reverse also seems to be true: nations that are not constantly embattled or which have very diffuse populations tend to be less strict or tight, and more accepting of cultural faux pas.  Although, there are, of course, exceptions.

Still, it’s an interesting thing to think about, when you get to the part of your worldbuilding where you’re thinking about the cultures you are portraying in your story.  Go take a look at the story on NPR and let it muddle around in your mind a bit…

Drumroll Please…

Today, everything changes.  Well, not everything

But I cross a threshold today.  Today I am not merely a writer.  I am not merely an aspiring author.  Today I am an author – an honest-to-goodness published author.

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

My piece, titled “Now Hiring in the Airship Lounge: Fantasy Archetypes Get Steampunked” appears today in Fantasy Magazine

I can’t even tell you how excited I am to share this news.  Obviously, I’ve been sitting on it for a while (for a lot longer than a week), but I didn’t want to say anything until I had something to show for it.  But now it’s here, and I’m letting the cat out of the bag at last.

My article, as you can guess by the title, isn’t a story: it’s nonfiction.  But as is also probably clear, it’s nonfiction of a sort that’s right up my alley, as a writer of fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s a great little piece on the relationship between character archetypes in Fantasy and Steampunk fiction.  If either genre is of interest to you, you should check it out!

Fantasy Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to fantasy fiction, in the broadest sense.  They publish stories of a variety of different fantastic types, making them available online  for free periodically throughout the month and in an ebook format available for purchase at the beginning of the month.  And, obviously, they publish fantasy-related nonfiction as well.  Of which my article is one.

And thus beginneth my reign of terror.  Today, a short article on the subject of Steampunk archetypes on Fantasy-Magazine.com… tomorrow, the world!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! [Insert evil steepling of fingers and evil petting of my evil dog Shasta here.] You poor fools. There’s nothing to stop me now!

Ahem.

So, I hope you go and check out Fantasy Magazine – and particularly my article and the story it is paired with (Genevieve Valentine’s “Study, for Solo Piano”).