Sunday, August 08, 2010

Who killed the RPG Star?

With another GenCon over, I find myself how it has changed over the years - and I've ha quite a few years to follow the changes. In the previous century, finding a warrior, wizard, elf, or orc was easy stuff. Stand in one place for a minute or so, and soon a costumed person would pass by. I think for years elves and wizards dominated.

Of course, there has always been a fair number on pop culture icons - Klingons, Darth Vaders, stormtroopers, and "redshirts." After all, GenCon was and still is the largest gaming convention, and the above characters were all part of a role-playing game at some time or another.

But this year something changed. Finding one of the classic RPG classes was difficult. Instead, there was an abundance of anime characters, film costumes (most from dead RPGs), and a plethora of video game characters. Is venture to say "Solid Snake" was one if the most popular ones. At one point, I saw a group of guys asking two bikini-like clad girls to step out of frame with Solid Snake. And Snake seemed to have his own entourage of anime females.

Other video game characters included John Marston (Red Dead), and several Big Daddies and Big Sisters (BioShock).

Sadly, most of my photos are blurry, but you get the point. Where are the traditional RPG characters, and what is the present RPG icon. Or is the RPG hero dead?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Writing a Novel: Step 2

There are many ways to learn the art/craft of writing. One common approach is formal education - studying literature, writing, communications, etc. Another, and perhaps more common approach, is reading. But when I say reading, I'm going to add a caveat. I don't mean reading books on how to write. While these books are certainly useful, and offer plenty of insights, they can be overdone. I'm not saying is to avoid such books. No. Read them. Find the ones you like and read them over and again. But don't make a career out of reading books on the topic of writing (unless that is your career). My reasoning here is simple: I do not believe writing can be taught; rather, it can only be learned.

Honestly, I'm not playing with semantics with that last statement. I've taught writing to countless students at various levels; I've worked in seminars and workshops; I've written about writing - as I'm doing now. What has become clear to me from all of this is that the fundamental elements of writing can be passed along to those wanting to learn. But only those with a desire to learn will actually gain anything useful from the process. In other words, writing is self-taught, and along the way there are things to be learned at every level. Teachers and books on writing can offer information, but in the end it all rests upon the person wanting to learn. There comes a point when a writer must write to improve his or her craft.

What I'm saying is that the best approach to learning how to write is through reading and writing. The "writing" part I suppose is self-evident, although there are many writers to dislike writing. They either overcome this, or spend much time reading books on writing, looking for that one secret to suddenly make them a writer.

In the realm of writing, there are many aspects to be learned: grammar, style, tone, mood, theme, vocabulary among others. These are the terms that can be found through formal study. They can also be leaned simply by reading. Admittedly, the labels might not readily jump to mind, but the seeds are planted. This makes learning the "technical" side of writing easier. And with that said, there is no best approach. It varies with each writer. But know that reading is a fantastic means of learning how to write. In fact, I'd suggest reading books you dislike. Readers tend to be less engaged in such works, and highly critical from the start. This prevents you from getting lost in an engrossing text, allowing you to analyze the writing - usually identifying what it is you dislike about the book. And like everything else in life, avoid going to an extreme. It is equally important to read what you enjoy (as mentioned in the last post about writing). In the end, this method trains the reader in form, approach, style, grammar, and countless other aspects because he or she is repeatedly exposed to these things.

Of course, if it where that simple everyone would be a talented and wonderfully skilled writer. This obviously isn't the case if all of us have books we dislike. In part, that's because there is no "secret," no "formula," no "right" way to write. Creating a novel is both an art and a craft. This means aesthetics are involved, and through-out history there has never been one aesthetic that rules them all (although the topic has been written about plenty, starting with Plato).

Lastly, it is important to love words if you're a writer. Know them, friend them on Facebook, learn their nuances. And if you're reading a book, don't take them for granted. Pull out a dictionary and consider the definitions. Writers often use particular words with specific meanings, or multiple meanings. This is a part of the art. The words used are not random, although admittedly they are not always purposeful. As a reader and writer, you need to learn when there is more to a word than the word itself. This can open an entirely new world in a novel for a reader. And sometimes it is the difference between a good book and a great book. But for this to happen, you have to trust the writer. Start with the assumption that the writer knows what he or she is doing. In the end, even if the assumption was incorrect, you'll likely have learned something useful about writing.

*Note: I love adding notes to my blog posts. It seems quite silly and pointless. Nonetheless, here is one: In the above post, I've used to rhetorical tropes in the form of repetition. I confess, "rhetorical tropes" sounds stuffy. Even so, they are useful to writers, and come naturally to those who are avid readers. But sometimes it is useful to understand there names (yes, both repetitions have names). Why this is important is because once you learn many or all of the tropes, you can apply them in your writing with purpose - rather than simply "feeling" that the trope works. Also, knowing some or all of these tropes will allow you to expand your writing style. Now these tropes are rhetorical, not literary tropes/cliches such as "it was a dark and stormy night." I mention these for those who are interested in finding them in the above text and prowling the Internet for there formal names. I promise, they are not very difficult to find, and are worth the time it takes. I'll also be post a little bit more about tropes the next time.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Penguicon Happenings

Here are a few photos from Penguicon. The crowds are gathering in the dealers' hall, and the gaming room. Next will come a few panel photos.

Upcoming Blade and Twilight film?

I found this on the Internet and thought I'd pass it along.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing a Novel: Step 1

Usually when someone asks me about my approach to writing a novel, I offer the answer: Everyone writes differently. This is very much true, and it is what often makes "How to write a novel" books frustrating. Some writers outline a novel, some don't. Some layout the plot chapter by chapter, others just start typing. There really is no right way, except maybe the way that works best for the writer. That would be the "right" way.

Now that I've given a few reasons on why a post like this shouldn't be helpful, let me see if I can turn it around. There are some common elements in all writing approaches. While their priority might vary from person to person, these elements tend to be the foundation to all novel writing - and short fiction writing. So to start with I'll try to offer up a few things that will cover the early groundwork:

1: Write about something you enjoy.
This seems obvious, but often writers get frustrated and start writing whatever they think will get published. There is nothing wrong with writing what publishers are publishing, but try to match that with something you enjoy. In the end, if the writer has no passion for the subject, it will come through in the writing.

2: Write about what you know.
We've all heard this one before. But I'm not sure everyone interrupts it the same way. It is important to have knowledge of your subject, but it doesn't have to be limited to the knowledge you already have. Research can help. And, it is possible that you might have a passion for a topic you know nothing about. Does that mean you shouldn't write a novel on the subject? No. It means you'll want to spend some time researching it, getting a strong grasp on the matter, and then venture into it. Once again, passion for the subject will likely carry you through the research, making it all the easier.

3: Read.
This one is pretty easy. Before you start your novel, read a few books in the genre. Learn what the readers expect and how the genre is usually approached. You don't have to read every book out there. In fact, I'd suggest you avoid even thinking about that. All you want to do is read enough to comprehend the form of the genre. In other words, if you're writing a mystery novel, know that usually someone is murdered in these genre novels, and quite often the reader expects someone to be murdered. Again, passion for the subject should help here, and if you have passion for it, you've most likely read a number of books already.

Along with this suggestion comes a warning. Some writers are "mimics." That is to say, they write in the style of the author they most commonly read, or enjoyed. This sometimes leads to a writer appropriating the style of another author. To avoid this, put some time between the genre reading and the writing. In fact, it might be a great time to do research. I usually put a few months between my writing and any reading in the genre - even though I love the genres I write. This also helps me find new approaches and create characters and plots that are hopefully unique. Mind you "unique" in genre is difficult as there are certain things which are expected. Monsters must appear in a novel about monsters - well, at least they should. And typically someone is killed in a murder mystery. With that said, feel free to play with the "form." It is important to understand and use the form of a genre without becoming "formulaic."

Friday, April 02, 2010

Blood and Devotion Anthology

Here's a new anthology to try.

Quoting from the copy:

The clash of steel. The scent of blood. The heat of fire from heaven. The cries of the dying and of the dead.

Brave warriors and devotees to the gods follow the paths their faiths have put before them, and when religious fervor meets skill of arms and magic, kings will fall, armies will collide, and men and women will perish for their beliefs.
I'm pleased to post that this anthology is now available. I have a tale of war, magic, and treachery in the anthology (the fire from the Heavens tale). The anthology has several wonderful interior illustrations, and the editor William H. Horner (W. H. Horner) did a fantastic job in putting this project together. He even tolerated my dry humor!

I urge anyone interested, or slightly interested in the book, to read all of the stories. They work together quite nicely. Below is a TOC:

Editor, W. H. Horner
Cover Art. Nicole Cardiff

Introduction by David B. Coe

“The Daughters of Desire” by Jay Lake
“In the Light of Dying Fires” by Gerard Houarner
“Hammer Song” by K. L. Van der Veer
“The Treachery of Stone” by William Jones
“The Perils of Twilight” by Peter Andrew Smith
“The Gifts of the Avalea” by I. M. McHugh
“Eye of the Destroyer” by Aliette de Bodard
“Greatshadow” by James Maxey
“Magic’s Choice” by R. W. Day

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Zombie Literature banned by U.S. Supreme Court

Below are some snippets from the L.A. Daily (Lapeer Area Daily Newspaper). The article from the newspaper deals with the surprising Supreme Court decision to ban zombie literature:

...In an unexpected pronouncement, a unanimous decision by the highest court in the land called for the immediate banning of all fiction "associated or related to the walking dead, undead, or commonly termed 'zombies'."

No one in Washington is commenting on this startling ruling. All members of the U.S. Supreme Court have refused to discuss the issue. This silence extends to Congress and all the way to the President himself. One inside source revealed, "there is a growing concern about zombies in politics. Not to say that all politicians are zombies, but quite often they share some of the traits of the undead, and don't want to be mistaken for one by overly zealous fans of the genre." The insider went on to explain that there is a general fear among politicians and the corporate elite of being attacked, mistakenly, for being a zombie. The insider also revealed that vampires are next on the Supreme Court's targeted list.

Locally, the decision drew attention by several university professors. While none were willing to have their names printed, at least one agreed to offer some insight:

"Washington's fear of being mistaken for zombies is decades old. Mostly it was due to unfortunate timing. George Romero released the cult classic, 'Dawn of the Dead,' and soon the Reagan administration was under fire with charges of being zombies. Naturally, the glassy-eye gaze of President Reagan, and what some termed 'voodoo economics' didn't help the image.

The fear has continued ever since then, culminating with several Congresses that seem to be unable to make decisions, or find their way back to D.C. But this problem isn't limited to the U.S. political system. Every day in the halls of my university, I come face to face with zombies. Blank-faced students, seemingly asleep, yet able to walk, and text one another. They moan and grunt and groan when asked questions, and randomly lift their hands in the air when no question is asked. On several occasions, I have covertly taken their temperatures, only to find they were no higher than room temperature - which can be in the hundreds at a Michigan university in June or September.

Personally, I see this as a growing threat, but one that doesn't need to have all literature on the subject be banned. Clearly, the Supreme Court is trying to hide something, if not themselves, from the public eye. It is important that everyone be aware of how to identify a zombie, and how to avoid contact or stop an attack. Banning the literature is moving in the wrong direction. In these desperate times, the public needs more of such literature. This growing threat is moving from every direction. Fast food restaurants, schools and colleges, hospitals, local and nation-wide politics. It is obvious there is an overthrow in progress, and the U.S. is shambling into that revolution with the walking dead leading the charge.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Metaphor: What is it good for?

Recently, I've read several educational surveys that indicate that art and tools of literature are passing way. Primarily, metaphor, simile, and personification. For those who enjoy writing and reading, this is certainly sad news. For those who enjoy language as logic, it is also sad news. Orators, prose writers, poets, lyricists, all can be affected by the seemingly decreasing understanding of the purpose, function, and meaning of these tropes.

A few lines of Shakespeare will reveal the power of these figures of speech. He was a master of their use - particularly personification. However, it seems modern readers are having more difficulty catching-on to lines such as "...Up from my cabin / My sea-gown scarf'd about me, in the dark..." (Hamlet). Okay, I admit, that one is a bit of a challenge. Given we don't think of the fog on the sea that often, to be "scarf'd" in fog and darkness requires some work to figure out. But what a wondeful imae.

Mmost writers today don't work at the level of Shakespeare, and the metaphors are a touch more modern in meaning. "The clouds padded across the night sky" (A. A. Attanasio) is wonderful example of modern usage. Of course, clouds don't "pad" about. It is the image that works; the underlying meaning, the poetry of the line add to its "feeling." It transforms the clouds into something more than vapor - more than the literal.

Naturally, the weaker forms of metaphor are falling by the wayside as well. What this adds up to is a loss in the depth and pleasure of reading. While film can compensate for written metaphor by imagery, it is very different - and something that also appears lost to more and more film viewers.

At the root of all of this is the sub-textual meaning of a fiction work. Yes, fiction sometimes has such a thing, and quite often the aforementioned literary tropes build the foundation of that meaning or theme.

Recently in my novel Pallid Light: The Waking Dead, I opted to move away from the common theme of "zombies as consumers." It's a good one, but I was interested in personal and group identity. And it so happens that "zombies" are a natural fit for dealing with identity. Throughout the novel I used character reversals (for the living characters) and semi-intelligent and mindless zombies as well. I suppose, to be cliche, I was saying, "you can't judge a book by it's cover" (hopefully that still has meaning today). Convicts, tough guys, nerds, the poor and the wealthy all get a chance to appear as their stereotypes, and then attempt to reverse those stereotypes as the reader engages with the characters. Even the zombies join in the fun.

Personally, I think the novel can be read without any attention given to the sub-text, but part of the fun of reading and writing for me is exploring the sub-text, the themes. And while we do live in a consumer nation, the traditional zombie fiction theme, we also live in a world of lost identities. In fact, it seems people might even consume to find personal identity - you are what you eat and what you buy, after all.

For me the locus of the issue rests with the individual. What defines us? Work, clothing, actions, public opinion, vocabulary, education, social status? It's an endless list, and one, to me, worth investigating.

In a culture driven to achieve, to succeed, to "win," I can think of no greater disaster than the fall of the structure of society. All that remains are people without their belongings, without the former social order, without the things they strove so long to acquire to "identify" themselves. And while people can be taken at face value, in order to trust them, we as individuals must look deeper. To maker matters worse, if we all experience an identity crisis, how can we know ourselves, much less anyone else.

In the end, words, simile, metaphor, and various other approaches attempt to tell two stories in Pallid Light. One story is obvious: the end of the world. But at every turn, fast on the heels of the apocalypse are character questioning who they are and what they are.

I mention all of this not because I want people to read the sub-text of Pallid Light. Rather, I can speak on the novel with some authority as I wrote the book. My real goal is to convince some readers to give more thought to any author's selection or words, phrases, comparisons. It is a part of what makes written fiction so wonderful. Sometimes a word is just a word. But other times, we catch ourselves asking, "What did you mean by that?" To return to Hamlet, his utterance of "Get thee to a nunnery" has been the topic of countless debates over the centuries. Most of us today know what a nunnery is - but in Shakespeare's day, it also could mean a "whore house." He said this to Ophelia, shortly after uttering, "I did love you ... but I don't love you." The meaning of his words depends upon whether Ophelia thought Hamlet was speaking in metaphor or literary... or maybe both. Either way, there's something rotten in the State of Denmark.