Wednesday 30 March 2016

Prologue or not to prologue?

Is "prologue" a dirty word? In my latest novel, I want to set the stage with a quick montage of scenes covering the last 40 years before the Real Action starts in the Present Day.

I submitted this opening and Ch.1 to one of the writing groups I belong to. WELL, to my naive surprise, I learned that the majority of the gang wouldn't touch a "Prologue" with a ten foot cattle prod. If the first pages of a book are so labeled, they skip right over them.

Verily, I did inquire, "Why, fer cryin' out loud?"  These are pages written by the author. Skipping them will no doubt make the ensuing plot unnecessarily cryptic, no? 

Their reply was but to shrug. A risk they chose to face rather than sully themselves in a Prologue.

Have I found a nest of lovable, talented weirdos or is this a common thing out there?

Tuesday 29 March 2016

SO unbelievable!

I’ve had a melancholy realization in recent months.

Superman, with all his amazing powers, is no longer the unbelievable fantasy aspect of the character.

In the modern day, the concept of Clark Kent being an “investigative reporter/journalist” that digs up facts, flips over rocks and types up the “news” is the wild fantasy.  Those critters are pretty much extinct in the 24 hour infotainment cycle.

Clicking vs page flipping

Digital vs Analog World Revelation - of a kind that I experience on a semi-regular basis.  This morning I was doing a spot of writing.  I wanted a synonym.  Click on my Dictionary-Thesaurus software.  It comes from the "New Oxford American Dictionary", which gives it some street cred, I guess.  Still, this morning it wasn't helping me.  All the synonyms came off as bland and common.

I went to the web, checking some of my old bookmarks for Thesauruses.  "Bland and common" don't capture how sad their word offerings were.  Suffice to say, they are no longer bookmarked.

I teetered on the edge of seriously stopping the writing process to start trawling the web for a decent dictionary thesaurus site…and then it hit me.  I spun my chair around, went to my book shelf and hauled down my Roget's International Thesaurus (4th Ed).  The one with the three inch wide spine.  It had an embarrassing amount of dust on it.  After brushing it off, I enjoyed a wonderland of rediscovery.  WORDS WORDS and MORE WORDS!  Swimming and splashing in wonderful words.

Did my creative heart a lot of good, I tell you.  I not only found the word(s) I could use, but I didn't burn off who-knows-how-long wandering the internet trying to find a source.

Back to work!

Saturday 26 March 2016

What genre is my book? How much does it matter?

“Home on the Strange-a Brewster & Brewster Adventure” is my first published book.  While writing it (and in the time since publication) I wrestled with the question:  “What genre is this book?”

Well, a book store doesn’t parse these things that finely.  It went straight into “Science Fiction”, which is their catch-all for “crazy, wild and weird”.  But that doesn’t quiet my frownie quest for “truth in advertising”.  When people ask me the question directly, I don’t want to mislead them.  I don’t to them thinking they’ve bought a banana and get grumpy when, to their way of thinking, it turns out to be a stick of cheddar cheese.

“Science Fiction”?  I feel uncomfortable with that, since there is no “science” in it, per se.  The fantastical elements not found in mainstream writing are nevertheless not realistic or science-rooted in any way.  

“Science Fantasy”?  In broad strokes “HotS” strongly resembles the “John Carter of Mars” or “Wizard of Oz” series of books.  A hero from the here & now is transported by wildly improbable means to a strange and wonderful world.  I hesitate about embracing this term because, once the transportation is done, I tried very hard to create a parallel Earth based on real history and real technology.  No talking scarecrows or six-legged lions in sight.  Not what anyone would call ‘fantasy’.

“Western”?  The initial impetus for writing “HotS” came from a desire to write a rootin’ tootin’ shootin' western.  The end result deals with derring-do across the prairies with a very western flavour. But the aforementioned weird elements will almost certainly make any fan of six-guns and OK Corrals wrinkle their noses up.  I’m sure once they got into the story, the galloping (running, ballooning, canoeing, etc) across the wide open grasslands would capture their interest.  But I don’t want them starting off spitting fake banana out of their mouth.

“Steampunk”?  My  parallel Earth has an arrested development that has skewed technology to a late-19th century tone.  But steampunk fans will expect people riveting together boiler plate and flying to the Moon.  My devotion to plausible realism will no doubt feel pretty tame.

Author Robert Rankin uses the term “far-fetched fiction”, which I love.  He’s rather made it his own, though, so I should tinker about to create my own variation.  “Tall Tales” has a classic sound that both hinders and helps the explanation.  So far my other notions all sound like (or have even been used) titles from 1930’s pulp magazines.

It’s a tough problem.  

Home on the Strange - a stubblejumper

Thursday 24 March 2016

No primary colours??

Here, climb up on this step-stool.  Might have to stand on tiptoes, because we’re trying to see a long way into the once-upon-a-time.  Try these magic binoculars.

In the 1950’s, the comic book industry took a real kick in the gut.  If you’re interested, do some research.  

In the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s, the industry began to regain steam, slowly at first but with increasing speed.  DC Comics reinvented characters and ideas from twenty years previously.  Stan Lee & Company began the Marvel Age of Comics.  Through the 1960’s and a bit into the 70’s, it was a grand time for the medium.  Like TV, comics had a bit of everything; westerns, mysteries, horror, cartoon animals, comedy and, of course, superheroes.  Maybe because TV and movies sucked at recreating superheroes that they rose to dominance in the comic companys' output.

The very general rule of thumb was that a child learned to read with DC Comics.  Their titles stood a kid in good stead until puberty began to loom on the near horizon.  Then said kid “graduated” to Marvel titles.  The unspoken premise then went that, as our kid hero could see high school graduation ahead, they phased out of comics.  If their imagination still craved more challenges and greater vistas, they moved on to Science Fiction and Fantasy books.  Words without pictures.  

The key takeaway is:  comics were for kids.

However, in the 1960’s, a special percentage of comic fans dared to dream of making comics when they grew up.  What a job that must be!  To draw Superman!  To write Spider-Man’s adventures!

These special fans grew, as dictated by biology and time.  They pursued their dream and became the new generation of comic creators.  Now here’s the rub.  These were not new adults replacing the adults already making the comics.  These were fanatics still obsessed with the minutiae of comics.  They didn’t want to create simplistic comics for kids.  They only wanted to create comics for their pseudo adult selves.  They laboured to solve the “problems” of continuity and logic that comics were rife with.  “Problems” nobody else took seriously, especially their child audience.

And so it went.  Year after year, these numbwit fanboys in charge tried to make comics increasingly mature and sophisticated.  A ridiculous task because superheroes are ridiculous.  A happy, exciting, fun ridiculous, but ridiculous.  To try to pin the genre under a harsh spotlight of reality is like trying to…make nutritional, vitamin-enriched lollipops.  Or maybe drizzling butterscotch sauce on a salad.

Nevertheless, nobody stopped the downward spiral into dark pretentiousness.  In the modern world, there are no comics for kids.  According to the advisory warning on the covers, the youngest person allowed to read a comic is one almost ready to drive a car.  New issues are only available in odd specialty shops for collectors.

And this weekend sees the release of the current nadir of this devolution:  “Batman v Superman”.  A “superhero” movie so caught up in pompous self-importance that there is no room for humour, for derring-do, for escapist dreaming or, in fact, any primary colour.  The colossal absurdity of a superhero movie filmed in a cold, dull, iron-blue/grey palette pretty much sums up how confused many modern creators are.

And…that’s off my chest.  

Tuesday 22 March 2016

They don't talk good like us.

With a century or more time scale, you're entering the realm of the language itself changing, forget mere slang. A slippery slope that makes the writer cling to the walls by the fingertips.

What would teenage slang consist of in a hundred years?

This was a question posed of a writer looking to do a little brainstorming in a fiction group over yonder.  At the risk of being judgemental at all, I think s/he is being a little naive.  That question is an exploding can of foam-rubber snakes spraying in every direction.  Why?  Because slang is the love child of evolving language and changing culture.  Characters a 100 years from now will have new slang words…but their “plain and simple” English will be strewn with vocabulary that will baffle we folk in the early 21st century.

For instance:

The merry chirp of a cell interrupted the debate of cutest professors on campus.  The three young ladies all listened for the second chirp.  Melanie and Rachel relaxed back into their chairs.  That wasn’t their ringtone.  Allison half-rose out to dig her cell out of her back pocket, checked the screen and brought it to her ear.  
     “Hi, Mom.  Just hanging out with the girls at Starbuck’s.  No, we’ve got tickets to the last 3D movie of the summer.  Then we’ll grab some pizza and head to Rachel’s.  Really?  Thanks.  Love you too.”
     Allison tapped her cell and picked up her iced mocha.  “We got to scoot.  Mom saw on the news that there’s a pile-up on the freeway.  We’re gonna have to go surface to the cineplex to avoid it.”
“Yikes!”  The other girls jumped to their feet.  Melanie clicked her key and her car beeped to life.

The above vignette is my ad-lib attempt to write a reasonable scene set in 2016 with zero-to-minimal use of anything that could be called “slang”.  Yet, how would it read to someone in 1916?  Even assuming a very aware and knowledgeable individual, they’d be frowning mightily as they puzzled out the sentences.  “Car” and “movie” both existed as words, but only for a few years as of 1916.  “Pizza” was a unique ethnic food known only to those with adventurous palettes in cities big enough to have a “Little Italy” area.  “She saw the news” rather than “read” or “heard”?  What does that even mean?  Since they are referring to a car, perhaps “freeway” is some sort of roadway?  “Starbuck” is a character in “Moby Dick”.  Has the name made some sort of resurgence?  A woman with a “back pocket” on her dress?

Because the readers are stuck with 21st century (in my case) English, any future or alien world has to be predominantly presented in 21st century English.  Writing is all about picking the right word.  This exercise is creating and picking at the same time.  Which words to insert in the normal flow of English to denote a gizmo or a food or a sense organ that conjures a strange new world for the reader?  It’s linguistic poetry to manufacture a word that sounds authentic and tastes right on the tongue.  Too many SF writers, especially of the Good Old Days, didn’t really take the trouble in picking or creating these words as they pounded the keyboards.  Well, they had hard deadlines to meet.

To make up a world with new language sprinkled on top of English is a challenge.  To make up new slang is another step beyond.  So you’ve invented (for example) a “hoverboard”.  It replaces skateboards and snowboards in this future world.  Snowboarders are called “shredders” because they tend to tear up the snow, making the slope unfit for skiing.  You have to sit and nurture your imagination to how these hoverboards work and are there side effects and what sort of person-personality to they attract?  And then try to make up a new “shredder”.


Damn it’s fun to do.

Monday 21 March 2016

This world, other worlds, the whole of space-time...

A question that nags me about being a "writer"

Writing is, as far as I can conjure, unique among creative endeavours.

A person can garden without being expected to open a table at the Farmers' Market.  A person can enjoy woodworking without being expected to become a professional cabinet maker.  A person can dabble in some landscape watercolours without flogging a portfolio around to the galleries.  Sure, if they're exceptional in their hobbies, these people will be encouraged to share their gift with the world for fame and fortune, but it's not an axiomatic reaction.

Tell anyone that (after long arguments with your self-esteem) "I'm a writer", and the automatic response is guaranteed to include "Have you been published?"

Pick up a "How to Write" help book and 99% of them include chapters providing guidelines for submitting your work to publishers, acquiring an agent, etc, etc.

So, why can't a person enjoy writing for the sake of writing?  Everyone else enjoys puttering around with their hobby in their spare time.  Why does writing require swimming the icy channel to the distant shore of being a professional?

I have a thought or two on the matter, but first "Let's go to the Comments" and see what discussion there may be.

Saturday 19 March 2016

A book to enjoy

Abigail Maye "Blackie" Brewster can't believe her luck—schlepping around in the summer heat as the assistant of a high-maintenance movie producer.  When did her life become a mix of flat and irritating?  What's a world-wandering nomad from Saskatchewan to do?

Abagael Mae "Magpie” Brewster can't believe her luck—spending the summer sailing the skies in a prototype steam blimp, flying a circuit of the Western Domains, engaging in a little light espionage.  What more could a University of Saskatchewan Academician desire?

Blackie's life veers in a direction that threatens to snap her mind.  Magpie's light-hearted spying takes a hard and dangerous direction that threatens to snap her spirit.  When the paths of these identical twins born of different mothers intersect and tangle together, their lives become a race across a rolling prairie landscape both familiar and strange.

Home on the Strange is a rootin'-tootin' daredevil tale of far-fetched fiction in a west that does not share our history.

Learn more about the book and buy an ePub copy!