The Use of Maps (and Illustrations) in Post-Tolkien Fantasy

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For as underpaid and under-appreciated as present day authors / artists often feel, we display a shocking amount of tribalism toward one-another and are inclined to dismiss artists whose art form is not our own:

Composers think lyricists are overrated.

Animators think voice actors are overrated.

And authors of “real books” think the authors of picture books are seriously overrated, and don’t even get them started on the illustrators.

Each of these remedial schools thoughts is wrong-headed folly, but since this is – more or less –  an author blog, let us pick on the wrong-headednesss that pertains to attitudes against picture books.

See, it’s not entirely their fault.

Grownup readers have been duped to think “real books” are thousands of words long and contain few pictures, if any, but they do not necessarily know why.

I do not necessarily know why, either, but I believe it is because illustrated books are expensive to produce, and publishers don’t want to pay extra for the manufacture of those books any more than the average reader wants to pay extra to offset production costs. Therefore, it makes good, economic sense to train your readers not to expect illustrations after the age of nine or so, which theoretically allows everyone to keep a little more of their money.

Except the illustrator who has to get creative in order to eke out a living in an industry that does not want to pay them.

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The thing is trying to paint a picture with words is nice, but illustrations have always been a valuable addition to the text. Before there were libraries, flushy potties, equal (-ish) rights, and wide-spread literacy, most of Dark Ages Europe. So the pretty pictures were sometimes all that stood between a book’s staying intact or getting torn up for shattock tissue.

The function of illustrations today are much the same as they were back then:

  1. To enhance the story.
  2. To increase the value of any given book.

There is a third way by which illustrations lead to better books: one that applies more-so to the writer than to his or her readers. And that is as a reference point for longer, more cohesive descriptions.

If you are already great at descriptions, and pictures seem like they are a superfluous, unnecessary step, that is quite alright.

If, on the other hand, you are a severe underwriter, or you struggle to include all the appropriate details as I sometimes do, perhaps the referencing of pictures might be a goodness.

My conclusion that pictures (and maps, specifically) are the best things ever for keeping your fictional details straight is one at which I arrived begrudgingly.

See I started out writing works that were pretty graphic-heavy. As a result, I never had to describe anything. I was spoiled absolutely rotten because I could just draw my persons, places, and things, and maintain a kind of tunnel vision for good dialogue while still filling the pages of my books.

Then, I could not.

18. Dragon in Extrordinarium color.0 amended backgroundThis fantasy story (against which I’ve periodically beaten my head in frustration for the last 3 years) kept taking up more and more space in my head, and it became apparent that I was going to have to become– a “real” writer.

It is currently 45,000 words long.

Which is to say, not lengthy at all by long-standing fantasy tradition (first established by what’s-his-name). But it started out as a 3,000 word short story. When I began writing it, I envisioned this story as a picture book. I had even drawn a series of illustrations, and tried desperately to whittle the whole thing down to the customary 1,000 word maximum.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I could not bear to part with my two thousand word surplus.

Fun fact: This is one of my shorter articles, and it is still too long for picture book-dom  by about 200 words (not that I think it belongs there).

Anyway, having no inking of how to sell a short story, it reckoned I’d have to make the book longer if I wanted any chance of selling it.

A some point thereafter, someone smarter than me (probably my fiancé) looked at my drawings, then at me and said, “Why don’t you beef up your word count by describing what you see in the pictures?”

So I did (after a thorough sulk), and turns out my pictures were not worth a thousand words, because I am merely the cheapest illustrator I know, not the best. My pictures were only worth around 2 to 500 words apiece.

The single exception was my map which originally, I only drew because The Hobbit had a map, and The Phantom Tollbooth had a map, and damn it, I wanted a map, too!

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But where my the rest of my pictures were worth far less than a thousand words worth of descriptions for the story, my map was worth something like 20,000 words.

Every time I got stuck, I could refer back to the map and go, “Okay, how do my protagonist’s actions affect people in the Tribal Territories? Who trades with his kin folk if their country is so very isolated by the mountains and the sea? Who drew the map in the context of the story, and how does their political bias effect the way borders were drawn?”

Also, in addition to helping me assemble many thousands of words I would have otherwise chosen, my use of a map for quick reference helped me choose a half-dozen correct words in continuity situations such as making sure my protagonist and I are still headed “East” not “West,” or that we’re getting ready to cross “a valley,” not “the plains” depending on the landmark we passed in the previous chapter.

So those are some great reasons to keep a map of your fantasy realm on hand. That does not mean every book needs a map in it. If, for instance, you’re not the best artist and aren’t able to hire the best artist to draw your map, maybe just use it help you in times of spatial dyslexia when you’ve gotten turned around regarding which fortress is where rather than assume a less-than-fantastic sketch by the lofty, distant “author” is going to wow your readers. bad map

Also, not all locations are exotic enough to require a map. If the landmarks of your urban fantasy set in Los Angeles bear an uncanny resemblance to that which a reader could find on Google Maps, maybe just let your readers look stuff up if they’re curious (?)

Then again, if your magical underground has hidden the pieces of king So-and-So’s mystic MacGuffin in a network of sanitary sewers under Little Tokyo, a stylized map of those sewers might be an awesome addition that helps immerse readers in your urban underworld.

At, as Mr. Tolkien might say, “…the end of all things,” I cannot promise you will sell more books if you opt to include a map in your fictional work, but for what it’s worth, one reader to another, I tend to think it’s a nice surprise when I encounter one, and know some readers who feel the same way. One of the more quotable things I read on Twitter lately came from editor and apparent clever person, Adam Morgan (@adamm0rgan) who says, “sex is great but have you ever opened a book with a map in the front?”sex is great

I do believe that’s the gist of what I hoped to share with you, today. If you’d like to check out a video featuring my drawing of map-related things (as well as a voice-over with script that sounds suspiciously like the contents of this article) I will link that below.

Until next time, write on, y’all.

Death of “Death of the Author?” and What Bill Cosby and Adolf Hitler Have in Common

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Since way, way back, before there was a Rome, an Egypt, or a Babylon, the word “author” has been synonymous  with the word “writer.” This is a fact that is reflected to this day by entry No. 2 under “author” in reference books the likes Webster’s New World Dictionary.

Before that – like back when the ancient Sumerians were, in fact, the contemporary Sumerians — the meaning of the word “author” was used in a context more along the lines of Dictionary Entry No. 1 which identifies the author as “one who originates or creates something.”

I say this because I’d to talk about a specific originator or “author” and how his work relates to the topic at hand, though his authorship pertains to lyrics and music more-so than it does to books.

So…

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Beloved singer-song writer, Marvin Gaye began his career as a fairly typical Motown entertainer. He dressed nice, he shaved on the regular, and sang songs that were pretty good;  not awe-inspiring, or life-changing by any means, but solid, catchy, songs that reliably made money for Mr. Gaye as well as legendary Detroit-born star-maker, Barry Gordy.

Then came the 1960s and with them, an era of civil unrest, police brutally, a war in Vietnam, and a couple of presidents so absurdly corrupt, the political cartoons practically wrote themselves.

(Whew!  Glad that’s all over)

Suddenly, the world was a bloodier, sweatier, less trustworthy place than Americans had hitherto believed it was.

In response this era of tears and turmoil, Mr. Gaye recorded his landmark album, “What’s Going On,” a collection of protest songs that producer Barry Gordy was certain would ruin Gaye’s career.

It did not.

Instead, the album resonated with listeners like few albums before or since and inspired generations of music makers thereafter.

Rather than take personal pride in a job well done, Mr. Gaye felt that this album belonged to the world, that it had always belonged to the world, and that he was merely the person through whom it chose to enter.

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The attitude Gaye showed toward what many consider to be his greatest work bears an uncanny resemblance to a concept known in literary circles as “death of the author,” a school of thought which suggests that art should be judged separately from the artist, as if the artist is, well, dead and can offer no rebuttal for any fault we find with either the art or the artist who made it.

For the sake of example, let’s say you’re a little kid, and like other little kids before you, you drew a tree.

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Also, like other little kids before you, you make the tactical error of seeking validation from the critics.

If a critic loves you and is therefore predisposed to like anything you do (AKA “Grandma”), the worst she is likely to say in regards to your work is, “Tell me more about your picture, Sweetie. What were you feeling when you drew it?”

If on the other hand, your critics are indifferent to you and your feelings (AKA: any number of random kids from school), they will be more inclined to judge the work with a less bias viewpoint heedless to the fact that your ego may or may not be made of eggshells.

This is both an advantage and a disadvantage of dead authorhood.

On the one hand, sadistic critics may feel empowered to say extra harsh things when acting as though the author is dead and can’t fight back.

On the other hand, if you manage to impress the critics who don’t necessarily like you personally, you can get a less falsely-inflated notion of how good your work truly is.

Yet, with the shift in marketing trends due to the prevalence of social media, the whole concept of the so-called “dead author” is an increasingly unrealistic one. As recently as the 1990s, Anne Rice and Stephen King were, for all intents and purposes, dead authors.

The average reader did not necessarily care what these authors ate for breakfast, what their writing process was, whether or not they were nice to their fans, or if suffered from terrible drug problems. “Rice and King” were merely names in bold print across a host of paperback that gave us a pretty good idea about what to expect from these books should we choose to, um, peek beneath their covers.

Now-a-days, thanks to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, we see lots of “living authors” who cannot help but impose their intent on the reader. This makes it nearly impossible to shield ourselves from authorial intent, and in many cases, this ready access to the author’s thoughts and personal life has not done any favors for these author or their books.

Would you believe there was a time when J.K. Rowling was “a dead author,” and readers could enjoy her books without thinking about Professor Dumbledore’s sex life?

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Would you have believed back in 1992 that at this point in history, Adolf Hitler would be a more marketable author than Bill Cosby?

Then again, Stephen King has become a live author in recent years, and his candidness regarding his drug addiction and recovery have served to humanize him and make him more loved in some ways, so “life of the author” certainly doesn’t kill all public images equally across the board.

Anyway, if an author becomes notorious for good or evil, is it even possible to judge his or her work on its own merit, not the author’s reputation?

Well, that depends on the author and how irreplaceable we as readers believe the artist is, and the truth is there are very few irreplaceable authors out there.

Let’s take a closer look at Adolf Hitler and Bill Cosby – who are technically writers.

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To be absolutely clear, I never, ever want to see Hitler’s name on the New York Times best seller list, but having worked in a bookstore the year the “originator” of Fat Albert guest starred on a very special Law and Order SVU, I totally could have expected to sell out of Mein Kemf quicker than any 12 books from the Little Bill series.

The principle difference is that Adolph Hitler was a loud-mouthed, bigoted tyrant who never strayed from his brand.

Unlike Cosby, Hitler did not speak with authority of this love for Jello Pudding, and he did not spend decades of his life carefully crafting the image of childhood friend and mentor, Dr. Huxtable.

Have you ever heard people in sales talk about how people buy you, not your product?

Well, Cosby’s “product” was an idyllic picture of what domestic life could look like for the average American family, specifically, average American families of color.

That is the legacy Bill Cosby meant “author.”

But at this point in the game, does what he meant to do matter in light of what he did?

I’m not sure we can know the answer to that question in Cosby’s lifetime. One of the benefits of not being a dead author is the potential to change your image.

It’s unlikely that the world will see Bill Cosby as kindly Dr. Huxstable again, but who knows? Maybe he’ll write a best-selling tell-all about appalling prison conditions or become an animal rights activist for the dwindling wild chicken population of the Florida Keys .

My incredibly bias take-away from this weird and convoluted talk on “death of the author” is this:

  1. An author is a guy or gal makes something  that is often but not always a book.
  2. An author is entitled to his own take on what said thing is or is not, but
  3. Said author cannot control their audience’s reaction to the thing they have made.
  4. Marvin Gaye is a proper noun related to musical excellence, unlike other nouns such as Robin Thicke.

I have opinions.

Thank you for stopping by the website, today. If you’d like to check out a video on YouTube with content remarkably like this blog post (with a few extra pictures and my awkward-but-sincere narration attempts thrown in), click the link below.

Existential-itis Versus Transcendental Repair

In Eva Figgis’s brief but quotable book entitled Light, she describes a morning as she envisions it as it unfolds for the Impressionist painter, Claude Monet:monet.png

“The sky was dark when he opened his eyes and saw it through the uncurtained window. He was upright within seconds, out of bed, and had opened his window to study the signs…

His appetite for the day thoroughly aroused, his elated mood turned to energy, and he was in his dressing room into the cold bath which sent his senses tingling humming an unknown tune under his breath…”

Yeah. I have never known an artist who liked mornings that much.

As we know, artists – yes, even the actors- are human beings.

Because there are all kinds of human beings who deal with mornings in all kinds of ways, I can’t presume to know what makes other artists reluctant to leave their beds behind them each morning.

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What I do know is that the most consistent thing that makes me personally reluctant to propel myself upward and face the day is the emotional paralysis caused by anxiety and depression.

Again, I can’t claim to know what causes anxiety and depression for other artists / authors, and your experience might vastly differ from mine.

But for me, it starts with a feeling that there are amazing things to do, see, and write about in this ol’ world, the time I have to do those things is running out, and if I don’t do everything in my power to lead a worthwhile life every second of every day, before long I will have wasted my life.

Sound irrational?

You bet it does.

Anxiety IS irrational. Sorry.

However, I am not the first or last writer wrestle with this particular locus of anxiety.

In 18th century Europe, there lived a generation of poets, painters, and musicians who felt dehumanized by dismal factories and industrial progress. These poets, painters, and musicians, dubbed “romantics,” looked to nature for an antidote to re-humanization and believed that death was preferable to a beauty-less existence.

A little later in the early 19th century, Americans adapted this love of nature for a similar philosophical movement called…

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If ever you attended public high school in the USA, some well-meaning teacher may have introduced you to the works of Transcendental writers the likes of Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, or Louisa May Alcott.

Those who considered themselves transcendent believed, among other things, that life is wonderful, everything matters, and self-reliance is the only way to gain spiritual insight.

On paper, the path of Transcendence is an enviable way of life, but the idea that everything matters all the time can put a lotta pressure on a dumb high school kid, and later on a lotta of pressure on a grown-ass man or woman who was gullible enough to take their teachers seriously that one time.

It is perhaps worth noting that the transcendentalists were not universally well received. One particularly harsh critic, a bitter Bostonian who went by the unlikely name of Edgar Allan Poe, satirized his transcendental peers in a story called “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” where in he referred to them as “Frogpondians” and their beliefs a “disease.”

But seriously Ed, how do you really feel?

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Also, if you look up a comprehensive list of Transcendentalists, you’ll find a whole lot of writers who go by all 3 names. That is because most of the transcendentalists were rich people to whom “self-reliance” likely meant something different than would it to a struggling writer like Edgar Allan Poe.

And for all Henry David Thoreau’s lofty boasts of self-reliance in his days on Walden Pond, he never grew so self-reliant as to do his own laundry. He took it home to Mother.

That part never came up in class. Teachers who wanted us to take American Lit seriously must have left that out for some reason.

Nevertheless, at their best, the transcendentalist writings on mortality awareness encourage folks live life as fully as possible.

At their worst, they precipitate in the reader a downward spiral of indecision, despair, and a much harder time getting out of bed in the morning.

Even decisions about simple things like “Do I want chicken or steak for supper,” become an anxious ordeal, if you believe everything matters. It feels as though your next judgment call could be the one that makes your life go to hell, particularly if you’re a ruminator who has made a few dumb decisions in your time and live in fear of  making another.

So how do you get past the fear that the Trancendentalists were right; that everything is important, and screwing some of those things up is an inevitable part of your day?

Incredibly, the answer comes from a bunch of fatalists who founded a completely different school of thought known as “Existentialism.”

Ever hear someone throw around phrases, “existential crisis” or “the existential blues”?

The concept behind these phrases may have been best summed up by a certain comic from Cleveland, Ohio with the deceptively simple words,

“Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.”

Well loved in his day, that Cleveland comic. I wonder what ever happened to that guy.

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Anyway, in contrast to the Transcendentalists who believed everything matters, the Existentialists the likes of (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus Friedrich Nietzsche believed that freedom of thought and deed comes from the acceptance that nothing matters…

which you’d think would make an anxious depressive less inclined to get out of bed, not moreso. Stick around. I swear I’m going somewhere with this.

The existential dread or crisis experienced by persons in distress likely comes from a feeling of loneliness and futility in a seemingly hostile universe.

But according the Existentialists, the fact that the universe is big and hostile means a couple things:

1)  No matter how big our decisions feel to us, the universe is so much bigger, we could not mess it all up, even if we tried.

2)  If everything is equally meaningless, that means everything is equally meaningful, and any given item has meaning only when we give it meaning.

So, the perfect prom dress, the illusive fame / fortune, the unspoken “I love yous,” and the smoldering embers of a well-kept grudge?

They only matter if we say they matter.

Again, anxiety is irrational, so I don’t know if the idea we might be free to decide what matters will be helpful to… anyone who’s not me.

This is kinda something new I’m trying to better prompt myself out of semi-perpetual anxious / depressive spirals.

If any of this was helpful or provocative of thoughts and feelings (including the nasty ones), you are 12 kinds of welcome to talk to me about it in the comments.

If you’d like experience the audio / visual version of this article with some extra pictures and a screwy narrator, check out the link below.

The Case for Genre Fiction

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Few concepts  in the book world inspire bursts of sarcastic laughter and outright scorn like those brought to mind by the phrase, “genre fiction.”

I knew nothing of this scorn when I started out in the publishing racket and wrote 2 books-worth of genre fiction before I even knew what it was.

Not wishing to look like a confused tourist among my fellow writers, I snooped around on the internet and tried to figure out what it was.

It turns out that “genre fiction” pertains to fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.”

Well, that clears it up. I guess (?)

Chances are if your book is blighted by the name, “genre fiction,” it means your book has marketing potential among the masses as opposed to “literary fiction,” which the same internet defines as “novels regarded as having more literary merit than most commercial or ‘genre fiction’.”

Wait, what?

You’re telling me genre fiction is anything not good enough to be literary fiction, and literary fiction is anything too good to be genre fiction?

Thanks, Internet.

You are, as ever, a font of endless wisdom.

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The point is, a writer who creates a successful piece of genre fiction is likely to be taken less seriously than the one who creates a commercially unsuccessful piece of literary fiction or even contemporary fiction.

Some well-known books that are widely accepted as examples of literary fiction include The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse 5, and Lolita.

In contrast, some well-known genre fiction titles of lesser acclaim include The Hobbit, The Time Machine, Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Dracula, The Horse and his Boy, and Dune.

And the moral of the story boys and girls?

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And critics like it that way (?)

I think some of them must like it that way, or there wouldn’t be such a pervasive misconception in certain sectors of the book community that

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Now, I freely concede I am bias as a writer of genre fiction, and I’m glad literary fiction such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Flowers for Algernon are on the planet, but anyone in the book biz who tells you a novel lacks merit because it achieved commercial success is being a little disingenuous.

Every work of fiction the publisher signs is sent to print with the hope it will make money.

Granted, if they had their choice, most publishers would pick a prestige magnet like The Hate U Give over a tawdry cash grab like Fifty Shades of Gray, but at the end of the day, money achieves a resounding victory over art 10 times out of 9.

Long-time readers will often get to a point when they realize life is too short for bad books.

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When that happens, they DNF more frequently and leave the Lolitas, and the Great Gatsbys to the masochists who read insufferable books of critical acclaim purely for the bragging rights of having read them.

Becth!

Now, in all fairness to snobby book critics and their darlings, sometimes the book snobs have a point. Many titles beloved of the masses are truly bad… and I can’t believe my life and times are those in which Twilight is the new Gone with the Wind.

Meanwhile, in a similar vein of dismissive attitudes toward genre fiction, there are some intellectual purists who dismiss fictional narratives of any kind in saying, “But why fiction? If you’re a good writer who something important to say, shouldn’t you be able to say it plainly in essays, documentaries, or any number of excellent non-fiction outlets?”

*sigh* YesBut…

There’s a reason Aesop’s fictional fables are still taught in schools while the instructional proverbs of King Solomon are not.

The fables of Aesop give context to the signature lessons he wished to impart. King Solomon’s dreary list of 9 or so hundred random sayings that are lofty and artistic but they kinda blur together and are not readily accessibly to the reader.

Also, like the skilled photographer who uses different lenses to get the effect he desires, a lens of fiction, non-fiction, or genre fiction can color one story any number of ways in order to make it appealing to a variety of audiences.

Say you’re a kid in school and your teacher wants to impress on you the importance of the civil rights movement.

There is no single right way to do this because each student is different.

Megan might respond to a biography on Martin Luther King whereas Lucus might jive better with a dramatic reading of To Kill A Mockingbird or Huckleberry Finn.

The civil rights paradigm that hit me hardest in my formative years was Marvel Comics’ X-Men because it was an ongoing, action-packed saga about oppression and bigotry complete with a house divided and feuding factions among the oppressed.

I’m kinda dense sometimes, so it didn’t click with me how closely the fight for human equality in 60s era America mirrored the X-Men’s  fight for mutant equality in the 80s and 90s until I saw this shot of Professor X and Magneto side by side in X3.

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It was at that point, the sleepy little man who sits at the controls of my hippocampus woke up enough to flip the appropriate switch, and I heard my brain go,

“Hey, this isn’t just a couple old white dudes in colorful costumes. It’s Dr. King and Malcom X.”

For those of who want to fight me on this and say, “It’s not a civil rights metaphor, Stupid. It’s a coming out metaphor,” to you I say, “Para no dos?”

Well-done genre fiction has endless avenues of interpretation. Civil rights and coming out narratives are only 2 of them.

While we’re more ore less on the subject, one virtue that is somewhat unique to genre fiction is how easily it lends itself to adaptation and coding. Before freedom of speech / the written word was a thing (like for most of human existence), writers of what we would now consider “genre fiction” could criticize their government without facing prison time or a traitor’s death on the gallows.

For a couple quick examples, let’s take a look at the work of Jonathon Swift Virginia Woolf.

Fun Fact: Did you know Virginia Woolfe’s full married name was “Adeline Virginia Stephen-Woolf”?

Kinda gets your motor runnin,’ no?

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Anyway, either Swift or Woolf could have easily been killed or imprisoned, if Swift had plainly said “The monarchy is a bunch of oversexed lunatics,” or Woolfe had plainly said “I’m not unambiguously heterosexual.”

Instead, they filtered their worldviews through the fish-eye lens of satire, setting Orlando in the distant, enchanted past and giving Gulliver foreign lands like “Lilliput,” and “Bromdingnag” to criticize instead of  “England.” The parallels to real life absurdities from the world they knew were apparent enough that readers could “Tee-hee” with the author but different enough the ruling class wouldn’t assume they got dissed and start killin’ fools.

So I guess to sum up,

1) Genre fiction has a long, proud history.

2) Critical acclaim isn’t everything. If it was, we wouldn’t know who Jules Vern is, but we wouldn’t know who Stephanie Meyer is, either. So if you prefer a world with no sparkly, emo vampires that also has no submarines and helicopters…too bad. This is the one we got. Sorry.

3)  If feminist fore-runner, Virginia Stephan-Woolf never in her life liked to dream – yes, yes– right between the saw machine… I believe life as we know it would be still more unfair than it is.

Thanks for stopping by the website.

If you’d like to check out a video  with information in it that is astoundingly like the that contained in this article (with more pictures and my wacky voice attached to it) check out the YouTube version in the link below:

 

Sexism and the Publishing Industry

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Since the days of King Alfred way back in the year 927, England and therefore America later on, was a patriarchy.
To the publishing industry, this meant the next thousand years-worth of books were written by pale males for pale males. The few exceptions were almost exclusively wealthy pale females like Mary Shelly or pale females who took male monikers, like George Elliott.
To the casual observer, today’s publishing industry at a passing glance appears to be dominated by women.
As an author, I’ve taken to opening my query letters with “Dear Madam or Sir,” the likelihood my letter will reach a female editor, reviewer, or agent is so high.
And yet, it seems I still sell books in an age in which white-haired men of a certain age can visit my booth at book festivals and without so much as a “Hello,” kick off a bewildering conversation by asking,
“Why do women in writing these days insist on being called ‘author’ not ‘authoress’?”
True story.
I couldn’t have been more astonished or outraged if the man had called me names and slapped my face.
What do you say to that as a mature, confident woman who had hoped we as a society were past all this?
I didn’t know at the time, but on my third or so draft of re-writing this scene in my head the way it should have gone, I should have said,
“Well, Sir, we don’t call ourselves ‘authoress’ for the same reason you don’t call your MD a ‘doctoress’ or your legal representative a ‘lawyeress.’ The title should denote enough respect to make gender irrelevant.”
This incendiary event led me for the first time to wonder, “Just how common is sexism in the publishing industry,” especially since I had hitherto assumed it was biased in favor of women, not against it.
So asked the internet about it.
Julie Crisp, editor at Tor UK seems to be one of the few industry pros who say “It is not at all common,” and the sole reason Tor publishes so many more men than women is that there’s a greater volume of men who submit Sci-fi and fantasy over women.
In stark contrast, the ladies at Tramp Press of Ireland report an infuriating number of industry peers who dismiss their work outright in telling them, “I don’t read women’s fiction,” as though it were beneath them to do so.
And let’s not forget the attitudes like those famously summed up by writer and activist Norman Mailer:
“I can only say that the sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquillé in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn.”
Readers under 40 years of age may never have heard of Mr. Mailer.
The over 40 crowd might remember him as a controversial writer-man who advocated for the release of cold-blooded killers in exchange for exclusive expose material and stabbed his wife with a pen knife.
What a guy.
Maybe that’s what’s what separates the authors from the authoresses?
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In the spirit of adding journalistic significance to my otherwise typical rage-rant, I asked my buddy, Amanda Lamkin (founder of Line By Lion Publications) for her take on the sexism in the industry.
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She said in her experience, she has noticed a difference between masculine and feminine writing styles, but not necessarily an inequity:
“Women tend to be more descriptive. Men tend to be matter-of-fact in their writing styles which can be good. But especially for first time male authors, the manuscript often reads like a list of events with lots of telling and little showing. ‘My dad and I did this when I was growing up. Then we did this, and soon, we did that’.”
She went on to report that as a female publisher, she finds she has less credibility than men whose publishing houses faithfully use copyrighted fonts without permission or even the ones who have gone bankrupt. Men and women come up to her on the regular after she’s told them she’s the publisher and ask to speak with her husband assuming he is in charge by virtue of his… art endowment.
As far as diva-style attitudes among her authors are concerned, Lamkin says, ‘The phrase ‘I work with you, not for you,’ has crossed my lips a couple times, and it’s always been with men.”
So the sexism, though less obvious than it was in the days of the suffragettes, is still a thing, and that sucks.
However, my hope for the publishing world lies not in the fact that diverse authors are more welcome than they ever have been or in women finding success filling roles that have historically seen as a man’s domain or that it took me three years in the book biz to catch my first whiff of bullshit as it pertains to gender inequality inside and outside of the industry.
It comes from the fact that when I left high school, I did not know who J.K. Rowling was, but I knew who Harry Potter was. In those days, there were only 4 books in the series, and I did not know or care that someone wrote them, while someone else delegated the editing, printing, and cover art to a bunch of other someones.
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For all I knew, the books were made by elves. All that mattered to me as a consumer of these books was the quality of the writing.
That said, the reason we know her as is J. K. Rowling is because when she was a broke and shopping her book to a thus far Potter-less literary world, she feared publishers would evaluate her work less favorably if they knew from the start she was a woman.
Was she right?
And if she had presumed the best of people, submitted her work as a woman, and the folks at Bloomsbury had been a tad more bias, even by accident, against female writers, would we be trying to escape reality in a book world where-in Harry Potter never existed?
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I don’t know the answer to those questions.
I do know (well, I think at least) that having a  whole genre dubbed “Women’s Fiction” feels like both a helpful and unhelpful step in the battle for equality.
On the one hand, it calls attention to the concept that women write stuff.
On the other hand it sets their work apart, leading critics of the genre to think, “Okay, ladies. If you can’t be exceptional among your male peers, isn’t introducing a separate judging system in the form of ‘Women’s Fiction’ kinda like conceding you are, as they say, ‘Not bad for a girl’?”
Also, as Lamkin pointed out in the course my talking with her, “We have to accept work based on literary merit and not to fill arbitrary quotas. If we start checking off boxes (like gay guy, trans person, or pacific islander) we lower our standards and cheapen our product.”

Valid point, that.

No publisher should feel obligated to publish someone because she’s a woman or he’s a gay druidic shaman. The publisher should feel obligated to publish a book when its writing is exceptional.

Or, you know, if it’ll make crap-tons of money.

So, I guess the moral of the story is keep writing quality work whatever your sex or orientation. When possible treat sexist assholes to a heaping handful of whatever salt and sulfur helped you get this far in life.
And no matter what pompous pale men of a certain age may tell you, “Author” is a gender-neutral title.
So there!
Thank you for stopping by the website. If you’d like to check out a YouTube video remarkably like this article with more pictures and my wacky voice in the background, check out the linked below:
…with the thumbnail that looks remarkably like this:
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Have a great week and write on!
(also, leave a comment if you wanna dispute “write on” as an appropriate catch phrase. Please and thank you 😉 )

Substance Abuse and The Arts

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Contrary to the opinions of certain, not-me cynics out there, artists (yes, even the actors) are human beings. As such, some of them gravitate toward drugs and alcohol for reasons of their own: mood regulation, the killing of pain, plain-and-simple habit.

Substance abuse is so common in the artistic community it is the second leg of the misbehavior triangle of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll

However, I am by no means a tea-totaller, and this video is in no way meant to be a temperance lecture.

What I would like to talk about is a specific kind of artsy type who believes he is a better artist when he partakes in his drug of choice. I use the pronoun “he” because in my experience, this artsy person is usually a man, but if your societal cross-section is different from mine, feel free to tell me about your experience in the comments.

 

While I am not an expert on addiction psychology, my own experience with alcohol has been a colorful one. I would therefore like to tell you a little about my own story as it relates to substance abuse and the arts. From there, you are welcome judge my hypothesis sound or unsound and conduct your own experiments.

Back when I was a wee baby author, I spent a couple summers learning how to better sell novels at convention-style venues. I did this by working a booth at various outdoor events where I sold both books and trappings related a drink called absinthe.

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Yes, some of those venues were Renaissance Faires. And yes, that’s me in the costume.

Tightly-laced frillies helps us sell things. Who knew?

Anyway, for those of you who have never seen Moulin Rouge or Francis Ford Copella’s Dracula (the one in which Gary Oldman’s hair kind of looks like a butt), Absinthe is a green, alcoholic drink that is historically distilled with wormwood: an herb from the Artemisia family that is synonymous with taboos, bitterness, and a heavy influence on the art of 18 and 1900s Europe.

The credit / blame for the origin of absinthe actually goes to the Swiss as some point in the 1700s. But they knew better than to drink the stuff for fun.

Later on in the1800s, the French got hold of it and started drinking it for recreational purposes (a story, by the way that mirrors pretty completely the way Germans and Americans are inclined to consume Jagermeister).

Later still, in the early 1900s, someone had the good sense to outlaw the stuff, and for closer to a century than a decade, Absinthe was banned, leading laymen who had never tried it to believe the lawmakers were trying to cover up a good thing.

They were not.

In 2006, someone in America remembered “Gee, absinthe is expensive stuff. We could totally make money on it!”

So the absinthe ban in the United States was repealed which led to distilleries specializing in its manufacture and ultimately… to my questionable summer employment adventures.

So Absinthe doesn’t actually taste very good. If you’ve never had it and don’t want to pay $17/glass at your local absinthe house, picture a good, stiff cocktail made with Sambuca and Everclear.

Sound tasty?

Great!

You can have all my absinthe if I can have all your Turkish Delight.

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Because of Absinthe’s off-putting flavor, part of my sales pitch involved pointing out how it was the favored drink of painters like Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso as well as musicians like Erik Satie and authors like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway.

Like tarragon, mugwort, and other, less terrible-tasting herbs in the Artemisia family, wormwood is a mild neuro-stimulant. So in addition to getting drunk on absinthe, some consumers report feeling more creative, seeing brighter colors, tasting tastier tastes, and various sensory side-effects that could sound intriguing to the artist in search of inspiration.

When my summertime sales gig turned into a web maintenance gig on the off-season, I gagged down the company absinthe and made art while under the influence in hopes of getting some jazzy pictures with which to decorate the website.

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And I did.

I learned some hitherto unlearned and unpleasant lessons about alcohol consumption and the art I was inclined to generate under its influence:

1. Alcohol is not liquid talent. It can break down your inhibitions as an artist and help you get started if you’re feeling anxious about the task at hand, but if you’re a crap artist when you’re sober, you’ll be a crap artist when you’re drunk.

2. The sensory affect is kind of a thing (?) It never turned Metalacolypse into Fantasia, but I did spend a little to much time on a particular absinthe trip staring at the TV screen going, “You know, Murderface’s Eyes are truly green. I can’t believe I never noticed how green Murderface’s eyes are.” That said, I wasn’t an especially seasoned drinker when I made those observations. Having now gotten a little more experience with other kinds of alcohol under my belt, I have a hard time isolating in my memory what was “Artemisia-infused Euphoria” and what was… just my getting drunk.

3. Adding alcohol to my art made me less inclined to do art if I wasn’t drinking. This led both to less alcohol and less art for me, but if I had been doing art for a living, I could have easily fallen into a toxic daily ritual.

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So, to sum up, alcohol as a tool for the generation of better poetry, paintings, or symphonic works is less effectual than talent and practice.

While addiction is a painful, potentially deadly thing with which to wrestle… absinthe would not be my drink of choice. If you’re inclined to self-medicate, here are oodles of substances out there to abuse that are tastier and less pricy.

And sometimes you have to dress like saucy wench to sell your boss’s shady merch.

It’s a living.

 

Thank you for stopping by the website. If you’d like to take a look at a video remarkably like this article with some extra pictures and my goofy voice in the background, check out the video version of this post at https://youtu.be/I22DdKwf4Ws

Strong Beginnings: How much should you stress out about your novel’s first line?

If your novel is newly started, well-underway, or nearly finished, you may be looking ahead to the day you aim to sell your book.
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While an excellent novel is always the goal, burgeoning authors may feel constrained by the pressure to craft the perfect first chapter, the perfect first page, the perfect first paragraph, or the perfect first word.
Strong beginnings seem especially freak-out for those who seek a traditional publisher for their books because those who pitch an agent or a publisher will get only 1-3 chapters in which to make an impression.
This is not an exaggeration. My buddy, the indie publisher, says she knows within the first 5 pages whether or not she wants to sign the author.
So between the first chapter, page, paragraph or line, which of these monumental firsts should we stress ourselves out about perfecting above all the others?
Um, none of ’em?
I mean, you need good to impress an agent, but how well your book sells will likely have more to do with the quality of the cover and the back-of-the-book blurb than a kick-ass opening line.
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That said, what we a readers hope to find in a book is the same thing an agent is hoping to find in a book:  that love-at-first-sight feeling instilled in us by a well-crafted story that connected with us in some way and will be a book worth re-kindling a romance with 10 years down the road.
Experts dispute how long it takes for a reader to fall in love with a novel, but in my own experience, the novels that most likely make me love them will do so with paragraph one or even line one.
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
 
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Pride and Prejudice
Like the back cover, believers in the first line of a book see it as a microcosm of everything that comes after it:
A herald for the coming of a book that will engage the reader, pose questions to which the reader will seek an answer, and keep that reader turning the pages.
*Bonus points if your opening line is less than a dozen words like “Call me Ishmael” or “All children, except one, grow up.”
Kick-ass opening lines are not a universal concern among writers. In fact, there are some writers who vary wildly on the quality of their opening lines book to book.
For evidence of this, check out Charles Dickens’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
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Readers’ millage may very depending on their love of Dickens. Personally, I hate this opening so much.
Granted, Dickens was on a deadline, and his melodramas were published as a series, so there was no option to go back and fix things later on.
But this parade of comma-splice and contradiction is 60 words long and tells the reader little about the plot to come except that it’s writer has a good vocabulary and was likely getting paid by the word.
Now, compare the start of A Tale of Two Cities to that of A Christmas Carol and its tiny 7-word opening:
“Marley was dead to begin with.”
This streamlined first impression is all Dickens needs to plant the seeds of intrigue in the reader mind.
Who is Marley?
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How did he die?
“What might his death mean for the living among characters I haven’t met yet? And why don’t more Christmas stories kick off murder-mystery style with a dead guy at the start it all?
That said, there are some masterworks out there that kinda hook you with the first line, but they don’t actually reel you in until the second. For the most famous example of this that I know, take a look at the first and second lines of Huckleberry Finn:
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
-In line one, a first person narrator with a colorful dialect reminds us he’s that kid from that Mark Twain book.
By line two, this narrator challenges Twain’s authority and let’s us know this is going to be a different book.
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So to sum up my cynical opinions on the subject…
What gets a book and a reader together is not what keeps them together.
Yet, like a tawdry romance that blossoms into a life-long love affair, the sexy cover is
what catches our eye.
What’s on the inside is what makes us take it to bed with us more than once.
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