About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

Need To Know Basis

James Tiptree, Jr. — aka Alice Sheldon — wrote a story back in 1974 called “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.” It’s a tale about memory. Scenes from a life play out one after another: a boy on his first duck hunt, failing miserably; a young man in his first, eager sexual encounter, failing miserably; a man back from war proposing, finally, to the woman he loves, failing miserably…you get the idea. Framing this jumbled litany of humiliation and disappointment is the gradual realization that all of these memories are playing out in a sort of repeating loop, observed by — perhaps even instigated by — some unknown presence: alien researchers perhaps? Or even just alien sightseers, feeding on the memories of the long gone inhabitants of a dead world? Because the earth is dead, a burnt out cinder. All that remains are memories. 

But — and here’s the gut punch — the only memories left are unpleasant ones. Only the horrible stuff, incidents our protagonist would rather forget. Instead, he gets to live them out again and again.

A hellacious vision. Thanks, Alli.

But still, a fascinating premise. Sad memories, painful memories, seem to have a disproportional staying power. Enjoyable memories can linger as well, but they are less vivid, less intrusive. It seems like we have to go looking for those, we have to coax them to the surface. But deeply unpleasant memories find us. We have no idea when they might swim into sudden focus. It’s like they’re always lurking in the shadows, just around the next corner.

There’s a good reason, of course, why we would be predisposed, genetically, to have a better memory for the unpleasant things. After all, unpleasant things are often dangerous things, and it’s an adaptive advantage to avoid danger. If a situation feels unpleasantly familiar, you’ll tend to shy away from it and not repeat it. As for joyous memories of good times, well, it’s nice to remember them, but it’s not usually a matter of life or death. Lack of joy might kill you in the long run, but it’s only a gradual death and it won’t necessarily interfere with your ability to pass on your genetic code. 

But danger? That can kill you right now, the immediate termination of your particular configuration of base pairs. So we avoid unpleasantness. It’s baked in, a survival skill.

And to avoid it, we have to recognize it. We have to remember. If I were an alien, researching the former dominant species of an extinct planet, I might focus on exactly that: what drove their worst memories? What were they so afraid of?

***

So how does this concept relate to stories? Does this predisposition explain why we have such an appetite for tragedy, for conflict-driven narratives? Such a fascination with crime and horror and dystopian futures? Could be. I’d admit that there are other factors. Catharsis plays into it — and the guilty thrill we might feel at experiencing someone else’s misery while knowing it isn’t our own. But it isn’t hard to see how these pleasures might have their roots in the original preoccupation. Suffering fascinates us because it’s important to our survival. We rubberneck the freeway accident because, at some level, we know that could be us. 

And if it might kill us, we need to know about it. 

***

Footnote:  It feels worth mentioning that some of our most persistent personal memories are of rejection and humiliation, which might not correlate directly with situations of danger or physical threat. We don’t, as a rule, die of embarrassment. But being rejected or humiliated, at least publicly, can be correlated with social ostracism, which could be almost as bad as death. In terms of passing your genetic material on to the next generation, it could be exactly as bad as death. The process of natural selection really doesn’t put a priority on our happiness. It’s only concerned with us surviving long enough to procreate. 

***

Another Footnote: I would accept that being joyless might be a hindrance to finding companionship and a partner for procreation. But this seems to me a very modern view of our mating relationships. While romance isn’t very new, it’s pretty new compared to our time as a species, and there’s good reason to believe that marriage probably developed more as a practical arrangement and didn’t necessarily require having a winning personality or a great outlook on life. Fortunately, we’ve progressed beyond that point, mostly — but that’s a subject for another time.

 

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Power of Perspective

– by Christy Moceri

I once spent 19 hours arguing with a guy on the internet about a subject that touched me personally. I admit that’s a little extreme – but who among us can’t relate, at least occasionally, to the feeling that we’re talking to a brick wall? People seem more resistant than ever to understanding where we’re coming from. They are committed to their one narrow version of reality, and our arguments, however impassioned, are unlikely to make an impact.

Perhaps there is another way.

In 1906, an American journalist and novelist wrote a book about an immigrant man named Jurgis Rudkus struggling to make ends meet in the meat-packing district of Chicago. The author, Upton Sinclair, formulated his argument carefully, layer by layer, not in the form of academic discourse but through construction of a character who would be the living embodiment of the immigrant plight of that era. Rather than appealing to their logic, he transplanted them into the worn-out shoes of the immigrants themselves. Readers rose early in the morning, worked themselves to the bone in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, and came home with little to show for it but an aching body and empty pockets. Just by nature of inhabiting Jurgis Rudkus and his unfortunate family members, readers were challenged to consider how they might endure similar injustices – and if anyone ought to endure them at all.

The Jungle turned out to be one of the most influential novels in American history. While Sinclair intended it as an attack on capitalist abuse, the result was sweeping change in the working conditions and sanitary practices of the meat-packing industry. Sinclair did not consider this a perfect win. As he famously said, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Still, I can’t help but view Sinclair’s work – and others like it – Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example – as prime examples of the power that we have as writers. With well-wrought stories, readers can’t help but drop their guards. We lead them to inhabit other bodies and realities, and to see the world in a whole new way. This is one reason it’s so important to embrace diversity in the publishing world. Journalists and school-teachers will do in a pinch, but stories are best told by the people who lived them. Who knows how The Jungle might have transformed society if the story were told by someone who had lived the immigrant experience? Every one of us has a unique perspective and the power to bring that perspective to the page in a way that nobody else can. How will we wield that power?

I’ve always written about the issues closest to my heart, not really with any sort of agenda but as a natural expression of my own worldview. I’m a social worker, and I spend much of my time engaged with issues of poverty, sexism, racism, exploitation, and so-on. This stuff naturally crops up as a major theme in my work. I can try to explain what it’s like for someone to be marginalized, to be financially destitute or sexually assaulted, or I can just let readers experience it through my characters’ lives. Which is going to have the greater impact? I think the moral of the story is that the next time I feel that hot-button internet drive to set someone straight, I’m best served by popping open Scrivener and getting back to work.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

True Gamer Anthology – Stories by Gamers for Gamers

An untapped market of $152,000,000,000 (that’s billions of dollars) a year with over two billion active participants? Maybe. I suspect most writers are unaware of it.

Games today require an immersive story line. Howard Hughes is featured in Fallout New Vegas. Apparently, Howard survived the nuclear war as a human-robot hybrid living deep underground in a vat of biomedical brew. He controls the city, not for money, but because he wants power over others so he can create a post-apocalyptic world in his own image.

The average video game writer salary is $82,935.
https://www.quora.com/How-much-do-video-game-scriptwriters-make-in-a-big-company
(Forget Fan-fiction, except for fun. Logically enough, it is difficult to make money based on something someone else has created and copyrighted.)

Voice actor dialogue is first-rate. Linda Carter – yep, Wonder Woman – wrote and sang the songs for her own in-game character. Magnolia, the sultry lounge singer in Fallout 4 sings good jazz, too. Google her sometime:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S39BnYdGD6Q

We are beginning to plan an anthology of true gamer stories. You are invited to join us. Imagine, real stories that happened in fantasy. We think some of those two billion gamers will want to read it. Only the game gods know what we will find. Love stories, of course. And death. I once played with a drug enforcement agent who came online one day and just wanted to be with “friends.” She was quite upset. She had had to shoot someone in real life. In-game is where she went for consolation. Expect extremes. I remember a lady from the earliest days of online gaming who logged into the game from the maternity ward. She wanted everyone to meet her new baby. That was -truly 😃 – memorable role play as we sat at our keyboards around the world, grinning and being happy for the mother. Expect delight.

To produce an anthology of true gamer stories we will need agents to explore the game forums and find true stories, writers who are also gamers to write their own stories, ghostwriters for players who are not writers, editors of course, and a publisher to format the story and put it on Amazon in time for next Christmas season. You may be any one or more of these and how this effort is organized is up to the people doing the work. Those who are still here this time next year will be the agents, writers, editors and publisher of what can be a ground breaking effort.

Join us. Go to the Facebook Group, “True Game Stories.”
Or email me, GD<at>Deckard<dot>com.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized

Your Characters are Weird and You Should Feel Weird

 – by Christy Moceri

I have always felt like a freak, and there’s no surer confirmation of my freakishness than watching people try to make sense of my writing. My minister friend pored through pages of obscenity, violence and lustful passion before declaring it “Profane… but meaningful.” (That’s going on my business card.) I write romance, but I’d rather be compared to Chuck Palahniuk than Danielle Steel. Any good love story should have gritty action, a high body count and a heap of conflict. My work has been described as “dark” “intense” and “emotionally exhausting.”

One of my writer friends condemned my protagonist thusly: “She’s a hot mess.”

She always is, I can’t deny it. She is every stupid, self-destructive impulse I’ve ever had. She is my justified rage, the narcissism in my neurosis, the id to my superego existence. Unlike me, she doesn’t give a damn whether you like her or not. She has other priorities.

The problem with writing your guts out is that not everybody gets it. Or wants to get it. Or can stand to look at it. Or even understands what they are seeing. As writers, we constantly have to balance artistic integrity with likability. I think woman characters have an extra hurdle to jump in this regard. I’ve noticed practically nothing my female characters do can escape the suggestion that they are trying to “manipulate” someone. In a recent story I wrote, my female protagonist propositioned a man. “Is she trying to manipulate him?” “No, man, she just wants to have sex with him.” Is it particularly adaptive to proposition a stranger when your lover is on the warpath? Not so much, but it’s thoroughly characteristic of traumatized, desperate, self-destructive people. And these are the kind of people I write about, because these are the kind of people I understand.

Some people read it and immediately get it, no explanation necessary. I have found kindred spirits in unlikely places. These people are my lifeblood. They keep me hustling. At a certain point you have to embrace your weird, maybe even revel in it a little. Maybe the cost of reaching my people is alienating everyone else.

For those who don’t get it… is it a failure in my technique? Some error in my craft? Perhaps. I still have much to learn. But maybe most people have no reference point, no way to enter into the reality that I take for granted. I have a master’s degree in social work, a stable, happy marriage of thirteen years, and a normal (probably boring) life. But once upon a time, I was a 17-year-old legally emancipated minor scrounging nickels in my car seat cushions to pay for gas. I spent one stint in psych ER. As a college student, I took a two-year medical withdrawal in order to teach myself to cope with my constantly overwhelming emotions. I’ve had to fight bare-fisted with my painful childhood for every bit of “normal” I’ve got. I beat back the past, but my knuckles are still bloody. Most people do not understand what it’s like to have your own worst enemy living inside you. Maybe my great task as an artist will be learning how to communicate the nature of that struggle.

Any time I fail to make the reader connect with my troubled characters, it feels like a rejection of my truest self. Last night I shopped my first (EVER) short story to my writers group. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale about a woman leaving an abusive relationship. I based the dynamic on one from my childhood. It’s good, they said. We like it, they said.

Is there anything worse for a writer to hear? “This is competent.” God. Twist the knife in deeper.

I’m just going to have to work harder, until at least one of them hates it.

Christy Moceri writes romantic thrillers in alternate worlds. Her WIP is a futuristic fantasy novel about a revolutionary spy and the violent degenerate who loves her.

“What is to give light must endure burning.”  – Viktor Frankl

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About Writers, inspiration, Magic and Science, mythology, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Non-Epic Fantasy

 – by Peter Thomson

I have been reading fantasy for over fifty years (and writing it for two), and I still do not know what  defines the genre. After all, there’s the magical realism (it has magic!) pioneered by Miguel Asturias (Nobel Prize winner) and made a best seller by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (also Nobel Prize winner), epic fantasy, Gothic fantasy (Mervyn Peake), urban fantasy, fantasy whodunnits (Glen Cook’s Garret PI series) … I could go on, and on. My own effort currently ranks something like #115,751 in the fantasy category at Amazon, so it’s obviously enormously popular to write as well as read.

Browsing through the on-line slush piles (did I mention I’m a fast reader?), the great bulk of fantasy  seems to fall towards the ‘epic’ end of the spectrum. The fate of the world, or at the very least a substantial kingdom, hinges on our hero’s or heroine’s efforts. The advice to writers is that the creation of dramatic tension is essential and most writers seem to have decided that nothing beats tense like the possibility of an an unending reign of darkness.

But do readers really read the Lord of the Rings to find out if Sauron is defeated? If the derivative art (pictures and music as well as imitations) Tolkien has spawned are an indication, probably not. They read to walk the streets of Minas Tirith, talk with ents, linger in Lothlorien as elvish harps play through the night. Or, as it might be, fight tyrannosaurs and dark magics. In  a word, escape.

One way to give the reader this escape – to show them a world they would like to visit, is to lower the stakes. This has several advantages. It allows for a slower pace if desired, gives more scope to explore the scenery and for whimsy, grace-notes and interesting diversions. After all, a world with dragons surely has a lot of other interesting things. The mission is still there, still central, but not so dominant. It more easily allows sequels that are not just re-hashes (hello Belgariad follow-ons) and generates side-stories and spin-offs. If you save the world in book 1, what’s left to do?

Examples might be Jack Vance’s stories of the Dying Earth and Lawrence Watt-Evans’  Ethshar series. Vance evokes a world of melancholy, caprice, the accumulation at the end of time of all sorts of oddities. The stakes are there, but are not of enormous consequence. Will Cugel the Clever obtain his revenge? Will Liane the Wayfarer evade Chun the Unavoidable? (Spoiler: no in both cases). In Ethshar, will Valder find a way to rid himself of a misenchanted sword? Will Emmis have a better future as native guide to the Vondish ambassador?

This works best if the background is evoked rather than described, and if it fits together. Avoiding a data dump is standard good advice. Fitting together – having a reasonably coherent picture that the reader can build up in her mind over the course of the plot from a series of passing remarks – is harder. Maybe this is why so many writers go for the epic – it’s easier to charge straight over the holes and inconsistencies. If the world is to be truly interesting, the characters shouldn’t think like modern westerners nor like medieval stereotypes. They should reflect the world they live in. Magic (or active gods or dragons or whatever) surely alters a lot of things.

In my case I could draw on a few decades of role-playing with inventive, over-argumentative people and a lifetime of reading history. Historians tend to assume that people had a good (to them) reason for whatever they did and the job is to explain that. Believe me, it helps to have a lot of case studies of the reasonable (to them) but totally weird (to us) to draw on.

In Tales of the Wild magic is a universal force, used for cooking and lighting and keeping the bank secure, drawn on by humans, animals, plants and the land itself. People go about their business, take a gap year, connive, plot, seek to evade taxes. Some themes I want to explore fit naturally: the land rejects – forcefully – exploitation; equality between men and women is easy to envisage and portray, the bad guys can be more nuanced and their motivations more comprehensible. Above all, I can take the time to entertain. Non-epic fantasy is an under-rated sub-genre and writing it a good way to stand out from the crowd of worlds that need saving on a daily basis.

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inspiration, mythology, Uncategorized, Welcome, world-building, writing technique

The Hero’s Journey

As you probably know, many writers use Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey as the route along which to write their own story. Here are some of the more famous examples.

A good yarn often starts with The Ordinary World.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…This particular hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected…”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Unexpectedly, there is the Call To Adventure.
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
– Princess Leia (hologram), “Star Wars: Episode IV”

Followed, of course, by The Refusal Of The Call.
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t see what anybody sees in them…Good morning!…we don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”
– Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

No adventurer ventures without The Helper.
“I can guide you but you must do exactly as I say.”
– Morpheus, “The Matrix”

And off they go to The Threshold Of Adventure.
“The Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
– Obi Wan Kenobi “Star Wars: A New Hope”

But wait, they must face down The Threshold Guardian.
“Who would cross the Bridge of Death must first answer me these questions three, ‘ere the other side they see.”
– Bridge-keeper, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

Now, together our adventurers face Tests.
“We’ll never survive.”
“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.”
– Wesley and Buttercup (when preparing to enter the Fire Swamp), “The Princess Bride”

At some point, they endure a Supreme Ordeal.
“Only after disaster can you be resurrected. It is only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.”
– Tyler Durden, “Fight Club”

At the climax, our heroes reach the enemy’s lair and prevail. But now comes Flight.
“Come on buddy, we’re not out of this yet.”
– Han Solo, “Star Wars: A New Hope”

Finally, our heroes take The Road Back. They return home.
“We thought you were… dead.”
“I was. Now I’m better.”
– Captain Sheridan in response to the Drazi ambassador, Babylon 5 ep. “The Summoning”

Come to think of it, just reading about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey can get a writer excited.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Why Write

– by Morgan Smith

I don’t know why I write.

The internet is filled to bursting with writers, and with on-line writing groups. I’m in a lot of those groups, and I read their stories, and bios, and Twitter posts on motivation.

To a man and woman, they seem to have known that they were writers from the moment they first encountered a book. To a man and woman, they know that writing is as necessary and natural to them as the oxygen-to-Co2 exchange they perform 12 or so times per minute.

I still don’t know why I write.

I know why I wrote my first novel. You can read about in detail here:

https://morgansmithauthor.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/the-genesis-of-a-novelist/

But TL;DR? Someone dared me to.

I think the next novel was just scratching a vague itch over a throwaway sentence in the first one (the bit about Keri being given her grandmother’s old chainmail shirt) and hearing from everyone in the self-publishing field that more books equal more sales.

The memoir? That was just me entertaining myself on cold winter nights in hotel rooms, because my job required me to go to and stay in every out-of-the-way small town in my province, and there was, literally, nothing else to do after 6pm.

(Well, I could have gotten drunk. Many of my co-workers did. But since the job also required me to be awake, dressed, and coherent at 6 AM (!) this seemed unwise.)

But even at that point, I didn’t think of myself as a writer.

Hell, even after deciding to self-publish, I had a hard time thinking of myself as a writer.

On the other hand, I have realized that I was “writing” all along: I just didn’t get it down on paper.

I created characters and sent them on adventures, but only in my head. Keri, Caoimhe, and now Tamar: these were people I had actually known and lived through vicariously in my imagination, for literally YEARS, as a way to get through long and boring hours of mindless employment. Like many another person in North America, I’ve had to take jobs that not only gave no personal satisfaction – they could be done using less than 3% of the brain power it takes to chew gum.

So maybe I was a writer all along?

No. I think I was Walter Mitty.

I think almost everyone is.

I’m just self-esteem-ey enough to think I can sell this stuff to other people.

But not so ego-driven that I can’t see it as the plain, unvarnished truth: I am not special. I’m not a sacred talent.

I’m just another girl with a laptop and internet access, and the nerve to throw my stuff onto Amazon..

Long may we wave.

About the Author
Morgan Smith has been a goatherd, a weaver, a bookstore owner, a travel writer, and an archaeologist, and she will drop everything to travel anywhere, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Writing is something she has been doing all her life, though, one way or another, and now she thinks she might actually have something to say.

In progress: A Trick of the Light – Book Three of the Averraine Cycle
(Please don’t ask me when this will come out. The protagonist is in a very sticky situation just now, and I don’t know how or when she’ll get out of it.)

Follow Morgan on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/morgansmithauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/morganauthor1
Blog: https://morgansmithauthor.wordpress.com
Website: https://theaverrainecycle.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/welcome-to-averraine/

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