On Shifting Perspectives…

InfinityMirrors


Infinity Mirror Room–Phalli’s Field
Credit Parker Miles Blohm

As a writer, they tell you not to read your reviews.  Once your work gets some traction and a broader audience, what happens is people come across it that turn out to not like it.  And they like to let you know, sometimes in perplexing ways.  This is the internet, after all.  Thankfully, I have yet to be sent a picture of a gaping anus.

Yet.

I go through periods of reading my reviews and then stepping away from them, not so much because I can’t take the criticism but because when I start nearing the end of a current work in progress (as I am with Commune 4 right now), I tend to go into lurk mode and focus hard on the finish line.  When the end is in sight, I start charging for the barn like a tired, old horse.

So yeah.  Periods of reading reviews and periods of reading nothing at all.  They tell you not to read them, mostly out of some fear that the budding author will see either criticism or praise for a given narrative “thingy” and start to second guess themselves regarding the direction of their story, especially if that direction is a bold departure.

Unless you’re a guy like me, and you tend to read the negative reviews for a laugh.

And I don’t mean the well thought-out critiques – those I read just to learn from.  A well written, educated criticism is fucking gold if you have the brains to see it that way.  Nah, I’m talking about the other stuff.  You know what I mean.  This is the internet, after all.

I never respond to this latter form of…oh, let’s call it feedback.  Until now.  But I’m not doing so for the person who left it – that would be a waste of both my time and the “critic’s”.  Given the wording, I’m fairly certain my response would fall on deaf ears.

But I figure I’d better explain myself to you guys – the ones coming along for the ride, and enjoying yourselves along the way (thank you).  Mostly, because there are no small amount of you who have pointed out explicitly that one of the things you’ve loved about these books thus far is the interview format in which they’re presented.  That the first-person delivery allows you to feel as though your seeing the world through the characters’ eyes.

I’ll post an excerpt of the criticism to which I refer regarding Commune: Book Three here:

For a series that’s supposed to be the history of a commune transcribed from interviews with it’s [SIC] members the switch to third person narrative was a terrible idea.

Firstly, I can tell you guys that I, as the author of this series, was thoroughly astonished to learn that I had so totally misunderstood what these books were supposed to be.  All I can really say is: where the hell was this guy to guide me when I was writing the damned thing?  I feel like had I just had access to his clear expertise earlier in the process, we could have avoided this critical blunder; assuming, as I am, that he knows how the story is going to end, the overall plan, etc…

Joking aside, I don’t really care that this guy took issue with C3 – it seems he read the book and ended up with a sour face because he wanted more of book two.  That’s cool.  I’m glad he liked C2 and a little apologetic (but only barely) that the 3rd didn’t live up to his specific expectations.

Barely.

But I did want to let the rest of you know what’s going on and why things have to shift the way they do.  Yeah, the third book isn’t told in an interview format.  It’s third-person, past tense all the way, with excerpts from Brian Chamber’s journals scattered throughout to kind of ween you folks off the old formula.  There were a few reasons why it had to be this way, as I hope you’ll agree:

  1. Foremost, the world had to expand in this book.  I needed to get into the concept of factions (large groups of people aligning against each other) and there really wasn’t any good way to stick to the first person narrative style while realizing this goal.  I mean, I guess I could have done, but you would have been left with complete strangers just showing up out of nowhere with zero explanation, wondering why you should care at all about anything that happens to them.  Lame.  The third book jumps between several different geographic locations and, as the author, I needed a little more narrative freedom to shift from place to place and group to group.  Trying to make this work while maintaining the interview format felt, to me, like those shaky-cam found footage movies.  You always get to a point about halfway through where the heroes are running away from the monster or the asteroid or the ghost, or whatever the hell it is, and you begin to wonder, “Why the fuck is that guy still carrying the camera around?!  Just drop the goddamned thing and run!  Get the gun!  Drop the camera and get the Christing gun!!!”  Well, me maintaining the interview mechanic into the third book felt like the asshole holding onto the camera while the monster was busy eating me from the legs up.  It’s kind of idiotic when you think about it.  I had to drop the camera and run my ass off.
  2. Books One and Two happened in the past, so it made sense to do them in the manner I chose.  Starting at book Three, things are happening NOW.  This is the present.  This was always the plan.  The only way I could have made it more NOW would have been to write the story in present tense, which I goddamn refuse to do; I hate present tense narrative more than butt-chugging college douche-bags.  Call it a personal taste.  Like butt-chugging.
  3. And this is just a minor one, though still significant: you eagle-eyed so-and-sos were starting to use the mechanic to figure out who lives and who dies.  Pretty simple: if a person has a POV chapter, they pretty obviously survived long enough to tell their story.  Yeah, I’m on to you, buster.  I’m not that bent out of shape over it but…sorry.  You don’t have that hint anymore.  All of the time spent with people sitting down with Brian and relating their tales?  That’s in the past.  That happened in the before.  Nothing’s set in stone from this point forward.  Buckle up.

So hopefully this will serve as a reasonable explanation as to why I’m shifting from a narrative style that so many of you seem to have fallen in love with.  I get it, man, new shit is uncomfortable.  But we have to go explore the new shit, guys, I’m sorry.  If I keep doing the same old thing over and over again, this is going to get stale really fast.  And then we’ll be here after the twenty third book or whatever, nothing at all will have been resolved within the story, and we’ll all be discussing how tired my writing has gotten and how things just feel like they’re drudging on with no end in sight.

Repetition is no good.  The formulae that worked yesterday needs to be burned to the ground on the day after, such that you’ve good fertilizer for the new.  It’s that or the story turns into that one joke you’ve heard for the fifteenth time, probably from a precocious kid who fucked up the punchline.  We tell ourselves we want more of the same thing, but you know what happens when you actually get it?

Jaws 3D, man.

Screw.  That.

– Josh

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Happy Trails, Mr. Hawking

I was curious about how things work from a very early age.  Much to the displeasure of my poor parents, I was often taking things apart to see what made them tick, sometimes putting those things back together…and sometimes not.  Sometimes those widgets and doo-dads had parts, man.  Do you have any idea how many different things you can do with a DC motor?  I’m not bloody likely to put that back where I found it!

It didn’t mater what a thing was – I wanted to understand it.  It’s just water?  Well, why does it behave the way it does?  Why is it different from a rock?  Why do we need it?  Most of the stuff I wanted to understand, I could figure out the answer to, either by breaking it in some spectacular way, by asking my dad about it, or by reading about it.  The only thing that really ever defeated me (the only thing I cared about at that age, anyway – I would discover girls later) was the universe.  Such as: how big is it?  What shape does it assume?  What’s on the other side?  I couldn’t find those questions anywhere (this was well before the internet, mind you, back when you had to walk to this ancient place of learning called a library (lie-brair-ry) to read these things called books (buks) – they’re like the internet but with no scroll bar or cat videos).

So, not being able to answer these questions kind of pissed me off.  And then, almost as though my prayer had been answered, A Brief History of Time was published and my dear old mom went out and got me a copy.  I was either ten or eleven at the time.  I won’t pretend that I understood all of it but an awful lot of what Hawking wrote seemed to make some good sense to me; and besides, it was a bit of an epiphany to me that there probably weren’t that many real problems we couldn’t solve without a little bit of thought, persistence, and ingenuity.  Believe me, when you’re eleven and ask the question, “How big is the universe?” and there’s a person out there who can say with authority, “We’re pretty sure it’s this big, and here’s all of the data and math to prove it,” well…that’s a hell of a thing isn’t it?

Stephen Hawking was one of my earliest heroes (outside of the ones who raised me, of course) and I’ve spent a few days processing his exit from the world.  Sometimes I turn a great big circle and look at all of the stupid out there (and there is so very much of it, isn’t there?) and I can’t help but wonder if his greatness was wasted on this place.  But this is an incredibly selfish way to view a man’s life.  He didn’t know the vast majority of the people who knew of him and, despite any general leanings of altruism, the loss of a few of us wouldn’t have impacted him terribly much.

Viewing his loss as a loss to the world is selfish, though we can’t help but do so; his loss being as tremendous as it was.  But from his point of view, I’m sure the man wanted to live his life the best way he could and attempt to solve a few puzzlers while he was here.  I do not believe he sought prestige, fame, or acceptance.  I think only that he wanted to understand and then share those things he understood with the rest of us assholes.

He was diagnosed with ALS in his twenties and his doctors gave him a two-year life expectancy.  He married, had children, and later became a grandfather.  He lived to be seventy six years old and discovered the way to a full, productive, and beautiful life despite tremendous challenges and setbacks.

I am not sorry.

What a great way to celebrate the release of my third book! Thank you, Dusty!

http://www.dustysharp.com/book-review-commune-3-by-joshua-gayou/

As this is the third book in Joshua Gayou’s Commune Series, I thought I’d take a look back at my reviews of the first two installments. Of the first book I said it was an “excellent first book by a new author.” By the second book, I had dropped the “by a new author” caveat and said that it was simply remarkable. And now, with Commune Book 3, I can faithfully say it is extraordinary. And I’ll add that I believe it is on par with some of the best writers I’ve read, and easily surpasses just about anything else I’ve ever read in the post-apacolyptic genre.

That was a long-winded way of saying C3 is the best one so far. In this one, Mr. Gayou shakes things up a bit with a shift in perspective, switching to third-person narrative versus the multiple-POV first person format of the first two books. It’s immediately evident why he has done so. The story world has expanded, to include narrative threads from people and groups beyond the titular commune. But the change in format also gives Gayou the opportunity to fully stretch his wings as a storyteller. And the result is…well, as I said, nothing short of extraordinary. In addition to the commune members we already know, we’re introduced to a host of new characters (and wow, what characters they are!). With the third-person perspective, the author is no longer stuck inside the head of the POV character. This allows him to paint a picture of every scene that is crisp, vivid, and memorable. And the characters are brought to life in technicolor. Now we, the reader, get to see their own narrow perspectives (or their unreliable memories of events, as the previous books were fashioned as re-tellings by each character), and see every side of each conversation, including a drone’s-eye-view of the POV character, his/her behavior, mannerisms and appearance. And Gayou seems to have an inexhaustible supply of character material to draw on, as the depth and detail of these varied personalities is astonishing. And my god are these characters entertaining! From heart-wrenching moments that leave you on the brink of tears, to hilariously disgusting antics that will leave your sides splitting. These are some of the most memorable characters I’ve read.

One gets the sense that Mr. Gayou isn’t simply showing off. He has a rare talent in sketching these people, but there seems to be a profound reason for this, which we can feel ratcheting up tighter and tigher as the story progresses. Everything is coming to a head at some point. And Mr. Gayou is setting us all up for a fall. He’s doing a masterful job of investing us in these people (both the good guys and bad, I might add), so that the stakes are ever higher when the proverbial feces finally hits the fan.

I won’t spoil any of the plot for you (surely you’ve already read C1 and C2 if you’re considering reading Commune 3). I’ll just say that C3 is a riveting continuation of the story line, expands the cast and , stress-tests a few of the characters (both old and new), and gives more background on some of the more mysterious cast members.

Commune 3 is extraordinary. If I could give it 6 stars, I would.

Hopeful Writers – LISTEN TO THIS @michaelstephenf ‎@IamWilliamOday

This is MUST LISTEN material for anyone interested in getting into the writing business. Valuable insight from my buddy [more of an on-line acquaintance who has been ridiculously cool and supportive of my efforts] Michael Stephen Fuchs:

http://williamoday.com/episode-6-michael-stephen-fuchs/

Game of Thrones S7 – A Monument to Lazy Writing #GoT #GotS7

gotwtfWell, season 7 is in the bag and we’re all gnashing our teeth again with the realization that another two years stares us all in the face before we’ll have another round of episodes to watch.

Now to start, let me get this out of the way: I enjoyed the hell out of this season.  With the exception of the first couple of episodes, this damned show had me alert and engaged throughout the run of this season and there were tons of payoffs that I can honestly say I’ve finally been rewarded with after waiting for years.  Originally, I griped pretty hard when I learned that the season’s episode count would be truncated but now, having watched it all, it’s really easy to see where all of that money went.  Towards the end of this season, nearly every episode was an epic explosion of incredible effects, massive set piece battles, and ever increasing stakes.  That kind of thing takes money, so they cut the number of episodes down to ensure that each entry for the season got the absolute maximum bang for its buck.

I noticed something, though, while watching the second to last episode.  The continent of Westeros sure was seeming mighty small…

Yes, apparently, ravens and dragons can fly really freaking fast!  Now, I’m clearly not the only guy to have noticed this.  I had my argument all laid out and everything, ready to share the distances involved between the wall and Dragonstone, the average airspeed of a raven (not to be confused with a laden swallow), and so forth, but the guys at Nerdist have already done and incredible job of laying all of this out, so I’m just going to link their video here.

As stated in the video, director Alan Taylor addresses the issue by stating, “There’s a thing called plausible impossibilities, which is what you try to achieve, rather than impossible plausibilities.  So I think we were straining plausibility a little bit, but I hope the story’s momentum carries over some of that stuff.”

So, my problem with that statement is that he’s essentially stating that they hope the awesomeness of the action sequences help you to miss all of the plot holes.

The problem is, it didn’t.  I didn’t know what it was specifically when I was watching the episode; I only knew that the world I was being shown suddenly felt incredibly small.  I could see how fast that dragon was flying.  It appeared to be about the speed of a WWI era biplane.  So whatever flight she took had to happen in a time frame that those men stranded out in the middle of the frozen lake would be able to stand there, realistically, as they waited for her to arrive.  Right away, I’m asking questions.  Just how close is Dragonstone to The Wall, anyway???

This kind of thing drives me crazy in any kind of media.  I get it; there are dragons in the show.  As a story teller, you’re allowed to ask your audience to believe the impossible, absolutely.  Zombies exist, dragons fly, dead men can be resurrected, and so forth.  What you are not allowed to do is ask your audience to believe the improbable.  They cannot and will not buy it.

The distances involved in this show should have been a major component in how the story works itself out.  A major challenge in any conflict is the Fog of War, which is essentially defined by uncertainty due to a lack of information.  In the GOT universe, this is compounded by the fact that any new information sent by courier would already be days old by its very nature.  This alone could have constituted a major challenge within the framework of the season and been made into a major asset to the story telling in general.  Instead, the creators of the show chose to ignore it in favor of fast, easy storytelling.  Was it a good gamble?  I leave it up to the viewers to decide but, for me, it was not.  I’m made aware of all the possibilities that could have been had the writers just worked a little harder.

Here is a quick example that I can rattle right off the top of my head.  At the end of the episode in question, the walkers are hauling the dragon out of the frozen lake through the use of several massive chains.

GOT Chains

Now, before you nerd out on me, I’m well aware of the various theories stating that walkers can’t cross water, can’t swim, etc, etc.  They seemed to even come out and state this explicitly in the final episode of S7, where the Hound stated that, no, they won’t cross water.

Putting that aside, the Hound only knows what he observed, and that was that the walkers wouldn’t walk across that lake when the ice was broken.  Being honest, however, the rules are rather fast and loose on this show.  Personally, I suspect they just sink to the bottom and can’t swim back up again.  Having walkers be destroyed by the application of water would be idiotic (I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan).

So the question here becomes: where did they get that chain?  The forged the thing or just had it laying around or…?

The thing is, you can come up with all sorts of reasons why the walkers would have such a thing, but not a single one was actually given in the episode.  They needed a big ass chain because the imagery would look cool for the scene; therefore a chain appears.  Lazy writing.

And the issue with that is, again, the audience is now taken out of the episode wondering where the hell that chain came from rather than what a big deal it is that the Night King now has a dragon.

The frustrating thing is that a little rewriting and extra thought could have made this scene work just fine.  The walkers are undead.  They don’t need to breathe.  I’ll assume this extends to the Night King.  Can you imagine how cool it would have been if that scene opened up with the Night King silently slipping beneath the surface of that lake while the entirety of his army stood around the hole, motionless?  Just quietly waiting for a drawn out, pregnant period; call it 20 or 30 seconds of real screen time.  Following that period, the resurrected dragon bursts from the surface of the lake, clawing its way into the air, this time with the Night King perched upon its back.

Something like the above conveys the exact same information as what the show actually went with.  It is arguably just as dramatic, if not more so, and has the added benefit of not inspiring the viewers to ask a bunch of uncomfortable questions.  It keeps them in the moment, rather than taking them out of it and reminding them that they’re just watching a TV show.

And that should always be a concern on the forefront of any writer’s mind.

 

That time I became a successful writer #writeeveryday #author #amwriting

RockyBalboaIf I had to come up with a specific trigger that decided me on writing a book, I guess I’d come up empty.  Put an experience a year behind you and things start to go out of focus, I suppose.  There had been plenty of false starts before I wrote Commune One, so I can’t really tell you why this one stuck and the others didn’t.  Maybe I wasn’t the right kind of person to write a book back then, whereas now I’m the kind of person I need to be.  Maybe it really was just all about learning discipline.

What I can say for sure is that, at some point, I sat down and started writing a story and, after hitting around the 90 or 100 page mark (I used to measure things in terms of pages at first), I realized that I was probably going to finish.  Moreover, I realized the story I had was probably going to take a few books to complete, and that seemed okay to me.  At no point did it occur to me that I might not get these done.  So, I suppose you can legitimately call me a writer now.  Or a hack.  That works too.

As I put the finishing touches on that first book, it occurred to me that I’d have to start worrying about publishing the damned thing, so I dove into that process as well (and learned a whole bunch of new and important lessons through its execution).  I learned how critical patience is, for example.  You don’t want to rush this stuff, definitely.

As the first couple of sales started to trickle in, I started looking towards what would be next.  For one thing, I knew I had two more books to write.  For another, I got curious about audio books.  If you’ve read some of my other stuff on here, you’ll know that I’m a passionate believer in audio books, given that they turn my daily commute into something I can look forward to rather than dread.  And it just seemed to me that, in a market completely saturated with new entrants at various levels of quality (I’ve seen self published works of outstanding caliber right alongside those of stunning mediocrity), it behooved a fella to do something to stand out from the herd.  This is just one of those important life lessons you pick up when you compete at anything for any given amount of time…and this market absolutely is a competition, make no mistake.  Writers are competing for time and attention, so step one is not getting lost in the crowd.

An audio book with your name on it is just such a way to stand out from that herd.  See, anyone can publish a book now; that’s not an amazing achievement anymore.  Signing with a publisher: big deal.  Putting your ebook up on the internet: not so much.  But an audio book…well.  That’s a thing that has to get produced.  Someone (other than you, your friends, or your family) needs to believe enough in the story you’ve created that they’re willing to invest time and effort into it.  In essence, you need other people to believe that your work is good enough that you can all make some money on it.  Readers (and listeners) know this instinctively: if they see that your novel has been released as an audio book, they figure maybe there’s more to what you created than just some random person button-mashing away on a keyboard.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was pondering this industry, R. C. Bray (my hands-down favorite narrator in the audio book business) decided to host a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which his fans could, you guessed it, ask him whatever they wanted.

Before I continue with this, I need to confess that, as I spent my wee hours of the morning contemplating the process of getting an audio book produced, I fantasized about having Bray one day narrate one of my books.  I vividly recall thinking that if such a thing ever happened, I’d consider myself a success as a writer.  For me, it wasn’t down to book sales or some big, fat publishing deal.  My meter stick was just being able to hear something I’d written alongside the likes of The Martian or The Mountain Man series or even the Arisen series.  I thought about that, silently, unwilling to mention such a conceit even to my wife, and advised myself to dream on.

During the AMA, I asked what I thought was a simple question: “Given the cost to produce the average audio book (I had read it could run anywhere from $10K-$20K, depending), could he offer any advice on breaking into the market for a newbie?”

His response was kind but clear: That’s a pretty deep question, honestly, and there isn’t enough time to answer that here.

He didn’t blow me off, though.  He sent me his e-mail address and said, “E-mail me this question so I know its you and, when I have the time tomorrow morning, I’ll give you the answer it deserves.”

So I did that and we got to talking offline.

There was a bit of back and forth and I explained what my situation was to him, insofar as stating that I was interested in getting my book produced in audio format but that I didn’t have $10K to put up to get that done.  Turns out that there are a few different ways to get the job done, some of which include profit splitting…in which case I only had to find a narrator who believed that my book was good enough to bet his/her time and effort on.

Now, as this conversation was going on, it happened that Bray went over to Amazon and bought the ebook of my novel without telling me.  You can imagine my surprise when, after getting a few chapters in, he told me he wanted to narrate the series.  I won’t belabor the point but I will say that I immediately called my wife and lost my damned mind into the phone.  I don’t recall exactly what was said anymore but she did have to remind me to breathe several times.

Commune - Audio Cover

My second book is now finished and in the editing process, soon to be sent out to my narrator (mostly so I can get it into his queue; he’s ridiculously busy).  I haven’t really gotten rich doing this and I honestly don’t care if I do or I don’t.  I decided a while ago what success as a writer meant to me: write something that people would enjoy and maybe one day hear it performed by my favorite audio book narrator.  Money is kind of besides the point.

I can’t really offer any advice to aspiring writers to replicate such a thing.  I can’t write an article that tells you how to craft a good story (hell, I’m not even sure that I’m 100% on the process) or even how to write competently.  A lot of what happened to me over the last year had more to do with luck and random timing than anything else.  How do I advise someone to be in the right place at the right time?

The best I can really do for you is to say that if I hadn’t tried, it wouldn’t have happened.  At no point during this entire process did I believe I was good enough for any of this to take place.  Even so, I said “screw it” and put my chips forward.

And that’s what it takes.  Have a little faith in yourself, despite any evidence to the contrary that you can dream up.