Archive for August, 2009

Symbolism and Controversy

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2009 by Jaym Gates

In the wake of a recent post at Fifthwind Forums where I invited controversy about personal opinion and controversy in genre fiction, I’ve been doing some general reading about the opinion of controversial f/sf.

From Jim Minz at SF Signal: Mindmeld, the following quote probably sums up my general opinion about as well as anything I’ve seen.

Certainly, SF has been tackling a number of potentially controversial issues that we as a society are only beginning to explore (e.g.the ethical implications of genetic engineering, which has been the stuff of sf for decades, but has barely begun to be explored legally and ethically on a practical basis), but I don’t see it as controversial. I see it as SF fulfilling its role of exploring ideas, creating fictionalized thought experiments that also entertain. In fact, there isn’t a work mentioned here that I truly consider controversial. Brilliant, inspiring, troubling, or any number of other adjectives, certainly. But I don’t consider them controversial, and that’s the question: What do I consider the most controversial. (No wonder I was unimpressed with “Rent”.)

Yes. Precisely. Although I think that Fantasy has as much of a reason to be exploring controversy too! Gritty themes don’t just belong in Science-Fiction, thankyouverymuch.

Minz:

So perhaps I have the wrong idea. Maybe SF should be all about controversy. How dare we explore ideas. How dare we create new worlds out of our own imagination. Somebody call CNN, we’ve got some freethinkers around here. Isn’t the US government against freethinkers?

Wait a minute, I know: Anybody out there want to introduce me to a cute dragon?

These two genres give the ability to explore anything we damn well want to. Abortion? Civil war? Old religions resurfacing? Stem-cell research? Yes please.

Should a book preach about the author’s opinion? I’d rather not read that thank you. Presented well? All over that!

When I wrote Red Sun, I explored the concept of old gods returning* as real–if diminished–entities, civil war**, and ethics*** in government. It wasn’t proper science-fiction in any form, it wasn’t really fantasy. Firmly speculative, and if I ever get around to rewriting it, possibly the only things remaining will be the themes and a few characters. I botched the writing itself badly, and so it does come across as preachy.

Inherent’s themes are softer, less opinionated. They are certainly still there. In fact, there’s a strong focus on the changing of faith from a female-led spirituality to a male-dominated religion. There’s the idea of *GASP* political and religious leaders taking responsibility for their actions. But it takes a backseat to the story itself.

I haven’t had a chance to read some of the classics of controversial genre yet. That’s the downside of used bookstores, often they don’t have the really great books. I did read Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale and a couple of others, and the themes in them were a welcome change to a bucketload of mindless entertainment.

Commercial fiction is well and good. But true, literary science-fiction and fantasy is all too rare, and I’d personally love to see more.

*I started Red Sun long before I actually got plugged into the worlds of alternative religion. Now it strikes me as amusing, because that is a popular opinion of where we’re headed…Well, popular in conservative religion, which seems to be concerned about the future of every religion but itself.

**And I got the shock of a lifetime when I started seeing the murmurs about civil war rather than a “black, Muslim, socialist president.” Almost as bad as the gas crisis that hit AS I was writing about the first sign of America’s collapse being a fuel crisis.

***Ethics in government? Now, THAT’S fantasy. I should know better.

Villains vs. Catalysts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 28, 2009 by Jaym Gates

In writing Red Sun and Inherent, my biggest struggle was with the villains. I kept creating these great villains, and then falling in love with them.

Red Sun was the worst. I made Alejandro Maduro and Dan Fordon my villains at first. But what fun are a psychopath and a brawler as villains? Been there, done that. So Calvin Playfair became my villain. As I started writing him, he became more and more of a strong character. I liked him, as much as I liked Alejandro and Fordon. Ok, let’s try Taranis as my villain.

Oops, an immortal prince descended from a couple of favorite characters? Yeah right he’s going to be a villain. I still think his story is the most powerful of the characters. In fact, if I rewrite the story, it will probably be from the viewpoint of Alejandro and Taranis.

I finally had to settle on a faceless entity as the villain. Even then I had trouble.

Inherent wasn’t so bad. I only went through falling in love with one villain before I gave up. So she’s still a bit of a villain, but a sympathetic one.

I have a problem with villains, because I automatically try and see the best in everyone. If I don’t like you, there’s probably a pretty strong reason (or else you are an idiot. But that’s not the point). I also have an easier time writing from the point of view of the villain.

Hell, I liked Sauron. I loathed Wormtongue, because he was a weak little traitor, but I actually had some sympathy and interest in Morgoth. Gods help me, if I can like Ultimate Evil, what hope is there? I don’t write morals, I write characters.

And so maybe villains aren’t the end-all-be-all. The concept of hero vs. villain is very past-tense to me, very Christian/Western thought. Usually in life, no one is the hero, no one is the villain. There’s just shades of gray. No, Watchmen had nothing to do with this opinion (well, it solidified the opinion), why do you ask?

Usually in life, there’s a catalyst. An event. For me, it was turning 18 and moving out of my grandparent’s house. There were no real villains involved, just a hell of a lot of opportunities that I’d never have had if I hadn’t moved.

America can’t point to one person for the economic crisis, it was everyone’s fault. But how many people got a springboard in the crisis because they had nothing to lose. Catalysts.

There are evil people. They are fun to write. But I’d like to see the focus of a book be on why the character made those choices, why they are not pure evil. I like villains that I almost want to win.

Anne Bishop’s Belladonna is a great example of this. I hated her villain. It was a force, non-person entity. But she made it understandable, and in the end, she made me feel a little sympathy for the way it was defeated. (In a side-note, there WAS a bit of a cop-out contortionism to get a happily-ever-after out of the story. That kinda annoyed me.)

Villains are people too. Tell their story with as much passion, depth and sympathy as the hero. And remember, it’s not always a single villain, more often it is an event, a catalyst that makes the big changes.

It NEVER Fails

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 28, 2009 by Jaym Gates

I’m supposed to work till 10pm next Thursday and leave at 4am, yes? Yes. So saith the plans.

Best laid plans of mice and men…

My schedule got jacked. So not only am I working until ELEVEN PM, it’s a nine-hour shift. Wait while I whimper please? (I do 9 hours all the time. But not right before I go to a convention, ideally.)

On top of that, we realized that leaving at 4am hits rush-hour traffic in Atlanta. Now I have a grudge against non-rush-hour traffic in Atlanta. So instead of leaving at 4am, we will leave at 2am. Notice something here? Oh yeah, I get home 3 hours before I need to leave again.

Somehow, this strange pattern developed where every big trip/attempted vacation involves at least one all-nighter. This one is worse than most because I won’t be able to catch up even when I get back. So it’s about two weeks of horribly jacked schedule.

Partly because, when I get back (on Monday), I have to go in Tuesday for an overnight construction project at the store. Sleep-cycle? What the hell is THAT?

Oh well. I thrive on challenge, right? Right. I’ll keep telling myself that.

Oh, but I do have the documents now for my press-pass. Nice, official-looking letter from Prime Books authorizing me to cover the event for Fantasy Magazine. Printed off my nice by-lined interview, have photo ID, here’s hoping we’re good. Although, come to think of it, I need to track something else down still too. Right then. Off to do that.

Wastelands: A History of the Breed Empire, Pt. 3

Posted in Guest Blogs, Wastelands with tags , , , , on August 28, 2009 by Jaym Gates

A little late, but here’s the next installment of Wastelands lore!

PART 3: The Fall

Centuries passed, and the Scarab Family kept the Empire united and under a firm control. Much of the progress was through technology, quickly gaining the Empire the position as the most technologically advanced faction on the planet. Programs arose in the fields of space exploration, medicine, fusion and most important to the Empire, blending of magic and technology. This was what allowed the Empire to rise to power in the first place and their understanding of how to do this elevated them even further.

However, population started to become a problem. The size was getting harder and harder to control and keep track of, so The Emperor, Horatio Scarab III, deemed it was time to expand. This would be a full-scale invasion of Central and South America and come to be known as The Tartarus Campaign, due to the level of chaos that took place during it. Virtually every legion was sent into South America to deal with the resistance. What the Empire expected was for something like the Six Months War. An enemy that underestimated them and would fall quickly. What they were in for though was a three year war against an enemy that knew their land and used it to their advantage.

A benefit that the Empire gained though was through a new Supreme Lord Arbiter named Vradeus Gaump. As the new supreme commander of the Imperial Legions, he quickly turned things around late in the second year and by the end of 2426, South America was under the control of the Empire. Most of this was due to the success of Gaump’s tactics and beliefs for a military force. This lead to him writing a book known as The Griffin’s Tome, which detailed numerous tactics, beliefs and philosophical standings that had led the legions to victory.

The next move of The Empire though was more out of spite, due to the chaos the Tartarus Campaign had caused, though there have been scholars arguing about if The Emperor actually made the right choice or not. This was the decision to commit genocide. To utterly annihilate the humans, orcs trolls and elves in North and South America. This was a controversial objective, which soon caused many of the non-hybrids to start fighting back. The small resistance groups that had existed since the beginning found new blood and soon were committing acts of terrorism against their oppressors.

The final nails in the coffin came when the Emperor ordered the nuclear strike on Boston, combined with the revelation of the genetic degregation. In mere centuries, many hybrids now looked stuck between a human and animal shape, where their once ability to shift between a hybrid and human state was one of their greatest advantages. When information about the genetic problems came to light, Gaump made the choice to leave, due to the fact that there had been no results in over a hundred years. He made the information public, and with his departure, several of the Western provinces joined Gaump’s ideals that these facts were not reasonable for the Empire to work. A clash of ideals ruined the Empire and gave birth to a new power that directly opposed them known as The Garadal Republic.

Everything that the first Scarab had worked for and fought to preserve for his own people, was destroyed that day. The provinces of South America became city states while the East and West of North America turned on one another and war came to the Breed. Despite all their advancements and propaganda stating they were superior then the other races, they had fallen to the human side of their nature.

Next time we’ll be back to talking about worldbuilding and other RP elements that make their way into forum-based gaming. That’s all for now!

-Havoc

Innocently Plotting

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 26, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Er, planning? Right.

So I was working on my Dragon*Con schedule and noticed something interesting: Browncoats and BSG both have big Shindigs on Saturday night, right around the same time.

Now, not much of a BSG fan here, but I AM a Browncoat, and I WILL be at the Browncoat shindig. And then a nefarious plan popped into my head.

BSG is just begging for a full-scale invasion. I mean, they look like Alliance, right? And it’s all in the spirit of good fun. But holy HELL that could be shiny. Who’s with me?

In other news, I want to die prematurely. I won’t be going to Atlanta Thursday night, like originally planned, but I might as well be. I work until 10pm Thursday. So I’ll be home around 11. Then I have to finish packing. And lord knows I’ll be giddy. Yeah, well I have to BE UP at 4am to drive to Atlanta.

Why? Because I have fond memories of the I-Ching, I really want the chance to drag out an old I-Ching joke, and there’s a panel at, uh, 11:30am on the I-Ching that looks fabulous. Only problem is, I have to register and get my media pass before the panel. So… earlyearlyearly morning.

But here’s a preliminary Dragon*Con schedule for your’s truly.

Friday Panels: I-Ching, Asian Philosophy and Mythology, Tarot Readings (fortuitous timing, since my current story is largely tarot-influenced), a Writer’s Workshop on ‘Rules of Writing’, Writer’s Workshop on World-building, City of Night, Writer’s Workshop on writing Fight Scenes, and the late-night ‘Tattooing in the Eastern World’. I also have Opening Ceremonies to attend. That’s where I’ll be looking for people! I’d love to see anyone who plans to be there.

Saturday: Tapping Your Psychic Potential (as many stories as I write about Witches, might want to know this stuff a bit more…), What Price Immortality (I don’t write many mortal characters…), then I send my mom off to ‘You Say Religion, I Say Magic’ while I run off to ‘Scary Fairytales’, Mom gets to run to ‘Marketing with Twitter’ while I go to Writer’s Workshop Style and Mood, Writer’s Workshop Plotting, Buffy and Angel Guest Extravaganza, Fun with Demonology while Mom is at Tattoo: History and Art, Goblins Minotaurs and Elves for me and Fairies and Fairytales for Mom, and then we both have to run to the aforementioned Shindig to stir up trouble. After that, Cruxshadows and Hellblinki.

Sunday: The Science of Paranormal Psychology, then the much-anticipated Browncoats: Redemption panel, Tai Chi Chu’an of Yin and Yang, Sherlock for Mom and Writer’s Workshop for me (Editing. Oh gods I need that), Things I wish Someone had Told Me for me and Tarot: Magic and Mystery for Mom. Hopefully we’ll be able to attend the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company’s production of Cthulu and the Pirate Fashion Show before I head to Creating a Viable Spiritual Base for Fiction.

Monday: 11:30-4: Writer’s Workshops for me while Mom entertains herself in suitably terrifying fashion.

Did I mention there is going to be a LOT of running? And little time for eating? I’m taking a massive financial risk going to the convention, so I’m getting everything out of it that I can.

I already feel the exhaustion setting in.

Oh my god…

Posted in Personal Life, Rants on August 26, 2009 by Jaym Gates

…I am going to be exhausted next weekend. And this day is already odd.

First off though, I went through some ‘junk’ folders on my desktop. Most of them are catch-alls for ideas, unfinished stories, etc. Now, in the days before I started writing short stories, most ideas got tossed in there for the eventual novel.

Well, uh, there are some pretty nice things in there. Things just BEGGING to be short stories. Which means that I have my writing scheduled until the end of the year most like. Woohoo?

In other news… I was told today that I’d make someone a great wife. I’ll spare you my rant, I’m proud of myself for sparing the offender the rant. But that really does make me see red. I mean, is that REALLY the best you can imagine for me?

Oh, and what triggered that comment? “You are always going aren’t you? Always working hard.” Um, yes. So apparently that means I will be great at keeping this mythical husband happy.

Bullshit. And this was a smart, attractive, 30-ish professional woman telling me that. Did I mention bullshit?

Writing Tip: Sonar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 25, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Well, uhh… I had a nice free-write all lined up. Wrote it and everything. Except that… I liked it to much to just post it. Somehow, it came out as a story. Completely unintended! So now I have a nice little piece of flash fiction to submit to Vestal Review tomorrow. Can’t complain I guess!

Anyways, speaking of submissions, here’s a program I’ve fallen in love with: Sonar.

What is Sonar? It’s a handy little tracker/spreadsheet that allows you to enter all your stories, your markets and then update them as necessary.

The Market entries are particularly helpful to me. Address, phone #, editor, notes, a box for guidelines, email, pretty much everything you need to know. Better yet, the program will then print a mailing label for you! Absolutely priceless now that I’ve started building inventory and getting serious about the short-story market.

I had a nice little reminder of how necessary a tracking program is the other day. I mentioned that Strange Horizons mentioned an issue with Gmail, and asked for queries about anything not heard about after a certain amount of time.

How long did it take me to track down which piece had gone there, how long it had been there, and make sure it hadn’t been turned down already? WAY too long. Thus, I’ve been slowly working on setting Sonar up.

Damn it’s slow though. I have about 20 markets that can be put in there right now. Then I have to add the stories. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as my grandmother says.

The good thing about the query? Wind-Loved is under consideration.

Yup. The first short story I wrote and finished (the one early piece just doesn’t count…). It’s not traditional fantasy or science-fiction. In fact, it is very, very much fairy-tale. Even if it doesn’t make it, this is a nice, happy place for me to be sitting.

Oh, and I finished the article for the Fifthwind Forums newsletter today, and am just wildly pleased with it. I actually got humor in it!

So I’m going to go keep listening to CruxShadows, planning for Dragon*Con and working on Fate-Dealer.

Confidence

Posted in Seven Deadly Sins with tags , , , on August 25, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Every time I get on a horse, I’m afraid.

Every time I hit ‘send’ on an email, I’m afraid.

Every time I walk into a room of people, I’m afraid.

I’m not afraid of injury on a horse, been there, done that.

I’m not afraid that I’ve said something wrong when I send the email, I almost always do.

I’m not afraid that people will think I’m strange, they usually do.

Fear has been a huge part of my life, for as long as I can remember. The form of religion I was raised to hardly celebrated confidence, personal strength or pride. On the contrary, I can’t help but compare my old self to the mice from ‘Despereaux’.

I had to be self-sufficient, but not self-confident. That’s not a real good balance. In fact, it tends to leave on feeling like there’s about half an earth under their feet. It leads to false fear…and false confidence.

I know that I’m good with horses. I know I’ve got the reflexes, the understanding, the strength to handle even the most difficult, demanding horse. Yeah, I might get beat up or kicked or be sore for a few days. But I will come out on top.

Why? Because there’s a point where fear gives way to instinct. When you don’t have time to think about it or be afraid, your reaction tells more about you than a dozen years of thought. Fight or flight.

Problem is, I can’t just react when I’m writing. I have to think. And damn is it hard.

It’s worse with a novel, not so hard with a short story. It takes months–at the least!–to write a novel. Months of thinking about how much of a failure this could be. Months of imagining how badly it could be received by test readers. Months of imagining months of work going to waste.

It’s tough. Really, really tough for someone like me. It’s almost paralyzing sometimes.

But isn’t that the foundation of success? Believing in yourself?

At least I know I don’t have to worry about my challenges for the next few, oh, decades. I’ll be over here working on getting over that fear issue.

Resources

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 22, 2009 by Jaym Gates

I am occasionally (read: usually) guilty of treating people like walking story-books, encyclopedias or possibly hilarious sources of entertainment.

Basically, I look at the world as being composed of books. But considering my stance on books versus my stance on people, it’s really much healthier to be considered a book.

Anyways, I happen to work in an environment that draws some interesting people. In CA, it was the go-to for creative types who needed flexible schedules, couldn’t stand an office, and needed the benefits. Out here, not so much. But we still get interesting people.

Like my dearly beloved zombie/vampire queen who can tell you just about anything about any part of literature or film dealing with those two categories. That’s beside the point.

More to the point of THIS ramble… One of my coworkers is a retired Brooklyn homicide detective. Stop and drool people, stop and drool. He’s Jewish too, and he loves me, and he’s willing to talk for hours about the force. Want aa bucket for that drool?

Now, I’ve not been one much for writing real-world settings. I usually err on the side of Apocalypse or primeval. But Fate-Dealer just begged for a real-life setting. Treading that ever-so-dangerous line of cliche, one of my main characters (For the record, TNT is almost entirely to blame for this. I’ve been watching Dark Blue with far too much interest) is a small-town cop. A small-town cop who served 8 years in the military in Iraq/Afghanistan.

Ok… So, I need a cop and a soldier. Bingo! I got the soldier. My cousin came home from his (third?) tour just this month. He’s been in 8 years. Ok, so that’s perfect. The cop? Bingo again.

So I sidled up to my friend yesterday and started asking questions about murder and procedure. Thank god people know me well there. He didn’t blink. Just launched into answers… and stories.

Like the time he and his friends were pulled over for speeding in Georgia. And how it was Saturday, so the cop trundled them off to see the judge…mowing his lawn. And then they had to pay the fine in cash, and drove away as the officer and judge divided the money between them.

Or how a friend was killed, and the man’s partner chased the killer into a church. The killer ran down some stairs, and the cop stood at the top, his gun aimed, ready to execute the man right then and there. But he felt a burning in his shoulder, like someone was touching him with a hot poker. Yeah, he beat the crap out of the guy, but he didn’t kill him.

I’ve heard plenty of stories like that. The point is, humans really are walking story-books. Now sure, I could have looked up my questions in a police procedural manual, or online. But really, even my obsession with words doesn’t go that far.

You all know by now my fascination with the oral tradition. There’s something about listening to a story that makes you pay attention to it. So if I can hear a story, rather than trying to piece together bits of dry jargon, by all means, talk away!

I started reading A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Haida Mythtellers and Their World last night. There’s a lot of translated, traditional poetry in there. I started reading it, and quickly switched to reading it out loud. It simply is made for a human voice, not for paper.

Interestingly, in one bit of history, it described a traditional story-teller and his anthropologist student and how they interacted with their translator. The translator repeated every line in a clear, slow voice, in both the Haida language and English. Not only for the anthropologist to write it down, but to prove to the elder that he, the translator, had heard and understood every word.

Isn’t that how we learn languages? By repeating words and phrases? Story-telling is an art, a language of its own. Some people have the gift. I don’t. I don’t like talking in general, so I stick to paper. But some people can tell entire mythologies with style, interest and a sincere love for what they are telling you.

But again, I digress.

The point is, listen to the people around you. Make an effort to find out about them. Some of them really may be that dull. Some might prove to be treasure-houses of stories, culture and ideas.

And isn’t that what we need? Resources?

‘Climb No Mountain’ and ‘Fate-Dealer’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 21, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Climb No Mountain finally edged just over 2000 words when I added the last touches to it. I’m happy with it, although feedback has been mixed. A few people like it, a few hate it. At any event, I’m sitting on it for the moment while I contemplate things.

I think it was Strange Horizons that had the announcement of a Gmail issue. Since I use Gmail, and have a story waiting with them, I need to find that announcement and query probably. However, I’m thinking that it was probably a rejection. So I’ll be pulling that story–which is much more fairytale than weird story–and send it to one of the fairytale mags.

I now have Climb No Mountain (2000 words), Wind-Loved (4000 words) and Hidden Fire in my inventory. I’m going to rework New Name at some point. I think there are some issues with it still.

Inherent is being the annoying five year old. I can’t make heads nor tails of the damn thing right now. Kicking my ass. I think the stress finally caught up to me. I need to just reread it, and let it shape back up in my head.

In the meantime, while I work on getting it to reform, I’ve started a new short project.

A friend mentioned a dream to me that sparked off a new idea. The premise was a demonic figure casting a 7 card tarot spread. Instead of pulling the cards out of a deck however, they seemed to be appearing out of thin air. There were five particular cards, and two blank ones.

Anyways, Fate-Dealer is edging up on 700 words. I’ve been working on it at night too, which is unusual. It’s shaping up to be a little longer (hopefully! be nice after Climb), so I’m aiming for 10,000 words right now. Which means a rough draft probably sometime after Dragon*Con.

It’s non-literary, third-person limited urban fantasy. Just a tad bit out of my norm… No dragons either. I take that back, it’s WAY out there.

Oh, and I have two gaming articles to finish up. And an article to write for the launching of the Fifthwind e-zine. And on top of that, it’s all the sudden like the faucet was turned on. After a couple of years of not being able to buy ideas, I’m now getting them way too fast. Four this last week alone! I’m behind!

Oh well. Better get working!