The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for December, 2010

2010 Pre-Roundup Posts

Posted by BigWords on December 29, 2010

I’m taking the opportunity to give a quick(-ish) update on the 2010 list – the successor to the 2009 list of notable deaths – as there seems to be a much greater number of names coming to my attention. The idea (when it seemed there was the slightest chance I could be done and dusted in six or seven posts) was to have it hit the blog on the morning of the first, though that now appears to be problematic. It is going to run at least twenty posts, and I don’t want people to feel as if I am spamming them with these names – as important as the listed individuals are – so the current plan is to stagger the publication of the posts across three or four days. Also, the footnote from the original posts asking for a bit of respect on those pages, and to keep things on-topic, is back. Anything which doesn’t advance the information shouldn’t appear on the pages (stick a message here if you feel you really need to say anything, or wait until I’m on to another topic).

Now, here’s where I ask the question (again) that started this recap of the people we lost throughout the year – why does it seem I’m the only person doing this? Think about it for a second. Sports personalities, actors, directors, and celebrities of all hues manage to get the attention their passing merits, but writers? It’s like the world has shrugged its’ shoulders and – collectively – said “Fuck ’em.” This isn’t just me being annoyed at the lack of a collected list to pore over (although I am annoyed), it’s the point where I’m getting angrier at the “just a writer” comments which have been in display over the internet and (so ironically it hurts) in print. Of all the places you would expect to see writers get their dues, it’s in the physical publications.

Consider this part of the post as an explanation of the ones which will be appearing soon.

There is a phrase which isn’t used enough in this era of self-promotion and gratification – “One for the angels.” It has nothing to do with religion if you don’t want it to, though. It’s the notion that a person does something simply because it is a good thing to do. Anything which helps, and is not done for personal gain. There’s a whole list of reasons that this is something which needs to be written, but the best one I can come up with is this:

Knowledge of what has come before is essential if we want to move forward.

Lets start moving forward. Okay, so that sounds vaguely like the kind of bullshit which self-help books promote, and it may not clearly indicate a way to do so. That’s up to writers as individuals, but I’m going to continue pushing for proper acknowledgment of the importance of the written word in modern times – multimedia only goes so far, and it has a horrible track record as far as the intellectual end of the spectrum is concerned. “YouTube Poop” outnumbers arts documentaries by a magnitude, and there are more articles about sports stars, toys, cartoons and reality television personalities (a term I use advisedly, and despite their apparent lack of personality) than there are about great literature.

Ugh. This sounds as if I’m whining again. Yeah. Definitely whining. I’ll stop while I’m ahead.

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Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Taking Off

Posted by BigWords on December 26, 2010

or, One Man And His Spaceship
by Gary James

Firstly, some words by way of explanation for the following…

(if any story needed an explanation – or an apology – then this is that work)

Yes, I know it is rude to make you wait, but this requires something of a preface due to the nature of the story (such as it is) being so damn weird. It didn’t start out so strangely, but the thing pretty much told itself after I tried to do something unusual. You can read more about the way it was meant to play out after the actual story – so to refrain from spoiling the sheer weirdness – but I’ll begin with the reasons it exists at all. There was a small conversation about erotica on Twitter, and I managed to get dragged into writing something “hot” (and you can judge the results for yourself) by the evil trio of Regan Leigh, Claire Gillian, and Scarlett Parrish (she of ‘teh smut’ fame).

So… I pointed out – quite vehemently – that I suck at writing something anything even near the area of erotica. I don’t have the patience to do the slow build-up, and when I do… Lets just say that I need breaks to go think about something else every now and again. The writing of erotica is made all the harder by dint of the strange notions which occur while I am in the process of writing. That’s probably enough to set up the story, though I may have undersold the sheer awesomeness of the squick factor. If you are strong enough of stomach to read on, then you have no-one to blame but yourself for the mental images which might break into your consciousness over the next few hours thanks to this.

Happy nightmares…

——————–

Cade’s heart pounded as the restraints tightened against his chest, pulling him into the solid, made-to-order seat. The slick nylon fastened at each shoulder, around his waist, and under his crotch, forcing his back straight against the chair; the sensation of being seated whilst facing skywards already sending blood rushing to his head, exasperating the tension and excitement coursing through him. Breathing harder than he expected, Cade adjusted position slightly to alleviate the slight pressure on the small of his back, though the movement merely succeeded in freeing enough space between his body and the chair to engage the light whirring of motors – once again the straps pulled at him. As the manipulation of his body ceased, feelings of vulnerability fleeted across his mind as the silence of his surroundings became apparent again. Too tight in his clothes. Too warm in the confines of what small space there was to move. Too tense.

A voice seemed to speak softly from far away, and Cade instinctively reached one hand out in front of him. His fingers managed to find the smooth panels easily – soft edges and silk-sleek screens ready for his commands, and more than willing to accommodate his orders. Craning his neck, he saw a small hatch open in the wall behind him, revealing a cluster of thin, long wires integral to the operation of the ship. They writhed in position, as if dancing to the tune of some unheard melody, before emerging – shimmering in the half-light, oiled and ready for the merging necessary to give Cade control. Slipping gently over him, around his throat, into his suit, down across his sweat-slicked body, the wires began attaching themselves to per-prepared positions. While the robotic tentacles began slipping into his veins, man and ship becoming one, Cade realized for the first time how dry his mouth was.

Tethered, bound, and helpless, the ship began probing his mind as well as his body. Electrical jolts fired across his temples as wires slipped across his chest, brushing against his nipples as they continued making their way into other places. He let out a grunt, his left arm jerking in spasm and no longer solely his to control. Another cable wrapped itself around his waist, three punctures in his side making clear the permanence of the transformation and the extent of his violation. The flashing lights to the corner of his view revealed to him that the unwavering eye of the ship was doing more than merely watching through the procedure. The ship had been manipulating – playing – with him as it gauged his reactions to each new touch.

Caressed by the ship, wires brushed Cade’s hair from his forehead and began massaging his neck, nuzzling his ears with care. A few more had begun to move in front of his face, tickling his lips as they held his face in position. Pulse 220. Cade tried to concentrate, not helped the blood rushing to his brain – the wires had nearly completely covered his flesh by the time he managed to slow his breathing to light panting. Too warm. Too damp in his sweat-drenched clothes, and the tingling, brushing touch of the ship’s ministrations driving him crazy – the flickering ends of the wires had found his crotch and ass. Cade groaned as the tip of a wire found and began entwining itself around his cock.

Taking in a deep breath, Cade wondered if the butterflies in his stomach was his nerves or the ship’s intrusion into the deepest parts of him. A wire pushed into Cade’s mouth and brushed at his too-dry tongue before he had the chance to prepare himself, while the one around his cock tightened, moving slowly along his shaft to his piss-hole, flickering there for a moment. Cade arched his back,surprised, inadvertently increasing the pressure at his mouth as the cables stretched into his cheeks and down his throat. Gagging, struggling and writhing, his heart pounded faster as his cock hardened at the touch. A cable slipped into his ass, and Cade pushed into the chair, pulling his feet back under him.

The ship was coming alive now, vibrations rippling through the frame as engines began powering. There was a heat coming from without as well as from within, further distracting the pilot from any semblance of concentration. The shaking of the ship seemed to excite the artificial tentacles more, and as his cock was pulled from without, it was stretched from within. More of the cables had begin working their way into Cade’s mouth and ass, twisting and flexing as the ship thundered approval of its’ new captain through the deep groans of heated metal expanding. The noise in the cockpit had reached thunderous levels by the time he was enfolded completely.

Cade’s toes pressed hard into his boots, and his heels pushed against the lower part of the seat for purchase; for what seemed like an eternity he arched his back painfully against the restraints, heart pounding. Far, far too hot, a layer of sweat being all that was between him and the multitude of cables writhing over him. He was one with his machine, finally and forever.

——————–

At this point you are quite possibly staring at the screen, asking yourself “What the fuck did I just read?” Well, it’s something that skewered out of my hands after the second draft. It was meant to be a nice scene about a pilot remembering the last moments Earthside with female companionship, but soon spiraled out of control as I began editing it. The resulting piece (which I really don’t need a psychoanalytical reading of, thankyouverymuch) pretty much wrote itself. You can take from that whatever you want, but I would be happy if this stood as a lasting testament to the fact that I should never be allowed to write a sex scene.

You can start screaming and clawing at your eyes now, and thanks for reading…

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Pre-Christmas Post Redux (Part The Second)

Posted by BigWords on December 22, 2010

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Fishmen

I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth

Oh Come All Ye Old Ones

I’m Dreaming Of A Dead City

Dance The Cultists

Little Rare Book Room

Demon Sultan Azathoth

Do You Fear What I Fear

Oh Cthulhu

Posted in Misc., Over The Line | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pre-Christmas Post Redux (Part The First)

Posted by BigWords on December 22, 2010

Have Yourselves A Scary Little Solstice

Freddy The Red Brained Mi-Go

Great Old Ones Are Coming To Town

The Carol Of The Old Ones

Silent Night, Blasphemous Night

Awake Ye Scary Great Old Ones

Mi-Go We Have Heard On High

The Shoggoth Song

It’s The Most Horrible Time Of The Year

Es Y’Golonac

Away In A Madhouse

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The List Of Fours

Posted by BigWords on December 21, 2010

Nothing to do with the Book Of Fours (though a Buffy reference making a long-overdue appearance here would probably be welcomed) nor Rule Of Four (or Rule 34, for that matter), The List Of Fours is, in fact, a meme. Is it being altogether too clever to stick a link here to Hypnerotomachia Poliphili? Probably, though I guess only you can answer that… Don’t sigh, this won’t take long and I’ll try to make it as painless as I possibly can. And I know – memes are lame, but I don’t have any option other than to comply with the social obligation of doing this, seeing as how a very evil individual tagged me. Go comment on her blog about how this contravenes the very clear protestations I have made against such things, here and elsewhere… Whilst it isn’t necessarily stated that I have to expand on the reasons for inclusion of each item here, I will do so to place some sort of context to the madness – something which is probably required given how rapidly I can jump from subject to subject.

Anyways, this list was really hard to put together. Really hard. I wanted to make it better than my usual attempts at memes because it’s not an altogether bad one. It’s not brilliant, but it doesn’t make me want to gouge out my own eyes (something which can’t be said for some memes), nor does it force me to take refuge in the tropes I embody best… Seeing as how these things tend to get rather more personal here than others would go, there is cause for a mild content warning. Seriously though, if you have seen some of my other posts, the TMI level today is mild in comparison with what I have been known to post. As always, discretion goes out the window when I get to the keyboard…

1. Four shows that you watch:

  • Firefly. You could probably tell that this was going to be on the list no matter what – though there was a bit of indecision here. Is it better than Dollhouse? It’s different enough from everything else Joss has done to make it worth noting as an exemplar of television which goes outside the box, looks at the box, and finds the box lacking… It redefines SF on its’ own terms and shows (with admirable audacity) that even the hokiest ideas can be made riveting. Cowboys in space? That’s as old as the hills. Hell, Galaxy Rangers and Bravestarr were doing that shtick back in the 80s. But Firefly is special – and not special in the bad way
  • The Wire. More than The Shield or any variant of C.S.I., The Wire represents the largest evolution of serialized crime drama in fifty years – even such groundbreaking shows like Hill Street Blues (and later NYPD Blue) didn’t move the goalposts so far. Watching (and re-watching) The Wire is like taking a masterclass in pacing and character development, as strands are placed in position, moved, taken apart, and put back together again. I fucking LOVE this show.
  • Doctor Who. Something of a guilty pleasure (especially since Karen Gillan was added to the cast), but one of the strongest UK shows currently running. That statement, in and of itself, is a damning indictment against British television entertainment, as it has long been a show mocked for poor FX, cardboard sets, and pantomime acting. I was going to use Babylon 5 for my third choice, but the over-arcing plot culminating in The Doctor restarting the universe is much more audacious a stunt than anything JMS pulled. Not necessarily the best reasons for listing it, but repeating “Amy’s legs” a dozen times would be redundant…
  • Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. As the number of really intelligent cartoons has increased, a few rise above even the best live-action shows – not many, but a few. GITS is one which refuses to simplify anything as it barrels along from a Catcher In The Rye influenced digital terrorism case, through some of the most moving scenes ever filmed (a little girl looking for her lost cat? Yeah. Sure. How traumatic can that episode be?), and onto heavy philosophical questions of what it means to be human. I can’t recommend this show enough, and urge everyone to at least give it a shot.

2. Four things you are passionate about:

  • Lists… If the concept of lists wasn’t readily available, I would have had to create the notion. There are few better ways to display information concisely and with the maximum of information. I have had a thing about lists for some time, and it has only increased.
  • Books. That’s something which should be blatantly obvious by now, though there are probably areas I should explain. I like all books, for different reasons. There are folks who dislike the novelizations of films (and when Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke have both written novelizations, there is no reason to dismiss the form), or look down on reference guides to television shows… Whatever prejudices are brought up, I have one comment – books are there to enrich your mind, so quit bellyaching and start looking at the wider picture. First person to dismiss self-pubbed books in the comments will be lectured. You have fair warning.
  • Art. From antique woodblock prints to fifties comics, and from the neo-realist to Dada, I love art. The more interesting it is, and the less it panders to the majority, the more I tend to get obsessed with it. I have attempted to bring people to the notion that art doesn’t have to be an elitist pastime. It isn’t entirely true that true art is incomprehensible, as there are plenty of great experimental images (The Great Bear comes to mind) which combines functional style with wild imagination.
  • Monkeys. Yes, you read that right. Because everything is better with monkeys. You can blame the Timesplitters computer games for this mild obsession…

3. Four phrases words you say a lot:

  • “Groovy.” Because Ash is awesome, and there can’t be enough Evil Dead love on this blog.
  • “Dude…” If I have to explain this, then you really haven’t been paying attention… Any questions, and I will post a bunch of sixties music videos in the comments section.
  • “Fuck.” One of the most useful words in the English language, serving as a noun, verb, comma, full stop… Pretty much the essential word for any Brit.
  • “Oops.” This post is a self-demonstrating example of the use of this word. It wasn’t meant to be a massive post, but things tend too happen and I get excited. Very excited. Then there are a bunch of words on the screen, it’s hours later, and people are wondering what the hell I think I am doing. So yeah.

4. Four things you’ve learned from the past:

  • “What does not kill you only makes you stronger” isn’t necessarily true. In fact, it’s pretty much the diametric opposite. Think about it for a second – if you break a leg, does it suddenly regenerate, allowing you to run faster and longer than ever? No. Whoever came up with that idiotic saying should have had every bone in their body broken to prove that they would not become capable of kicking Steve Austin’s ass afterwards.
  • Checking for blue spots on bread is always a good idea BEFORE you eat it. Having learned the hard way, there’s little chance of me making that mistake again…
  • Money doesn’t matter when there are other things at stake. It took me quite a while (probably longer than it really should have) to work out that money wasn’t the most important thing on Earth. I’m trying to shed the bullshit that society deems we earn as much as we can when we can, as it obscures things which are much more important. The days of me working for a whole week without rest on code are long gone, but the instinct to take every job I am offered is harder to break away from. It’s not a trait I particularly like, but I’m working on it.
  • Worst case scenarios are NEVER the worst case scenario. There is always an idiot who can, by skill or endurance, manage to make things even worse. These individuals should be avoided at all costs. Or tarred and feathered. Are we allowed to do that any more? Okay, so I’m not sure on that point, but you get the idea.

5. Four places you would like to go:

I was going to do the standard holiday locations for this, but it doesn’t feel right somehow. Honesty, remember? If I am to be honest, then the places I want to go should reflect me – stop shuddering at that thought – and the list is surprisingly short. There may be some debate as to how unique each location is in regards to each other, but I couldn’t list one and ignore the rest. The scary thing about his list? I actually have plans to visit each of these places…

  • AngoulêmeFestival International de la Bande Dessinee. One of the most important comic-book events in Europe, and one which has a remarkable attendance record from the legends of both European and US comics. Just to spend a couple of days in the presence of the masters would be worth going to France again. Damn. I didn’t mean to diss the French. Sorry. But, y’know – there’s a reason people mock their waiters. Just saying…
  • San Diego Comic Con. It’s not as if it is the easiest place to get to from the UK – especially with me currently trapped residing in Scotland. It’s one of the few places I would be allowed to talk about all the geeky stuff I love without people looking at me as if I am mildly mentally deficient. I could even get away with dressing up as Princess Leia. Wait. That ain’t right. I meant… Ah. Um. Moving swiftly on…
  • E3. All those computer games, just waiting to be drooled over. It’s paradise for someone who considers gaming to be an art form alongside television, film and music. I’m not completely sold on the current trend for 3D games, nor the motion-controlled variety – it seems gimmicky and prone to decreasing returns – but the number of traditional 3rd Person Adventure and FPS titles in development are worth the travel time to get to E3. YMMV on whether it is safe to let me loose in such an environment unchecked…
  • Anime Expo. Are you sensing the theme yet? C’mon, at least I didn’t say I wanted to go to FurryCon or anything. I like anime, and being surrounded by all the toys, DVDs and games would be beyond any level of excitement heretofore experienced. I may even need adult diapers if I were to attend…

6. Four things you did yesterday:

As it is now Tuesday (and this week can’t go fast enough), I’m using Monday’s activities as the material here, even though I started writing this on Sunday. Yes, this has gotten rather wordy, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to rush through the rest of the meme simply to keep you from getting swamp-ass while reading it. This is as therapeutically beneficial for me as it is meant to be entertaining for you, and if you’re getting annoyed at the length the post has managed to get then I suggest you make your complaints known to the individual responsible for such an outpouring of words. You can even find her on Twitter if you’ve already complained on her blog.

  • I nearly froze to death. There should be some kind of rule in place that states a workplace should be evacuated for the pub (or home) when the power goes off in winter. It’s bad enough that I was watching my body temperature slip below any safe or reasonable level, but adding in the morons who come into the shop with the barest understanding of computers… Yeah. That’s a recipe for disaster right there. If the power goes out again, you can expect to find me in the nearest bar, complaining loudly about Scottish winters.
  • I bought the first two seasons of Heroes on DVD. I know there are people who complain about the show being hokey, badly plotted and filled with moments that are not only dumb but are willfully stupid: “Why did Peter not fly away at the end of season one?” – *yawn* Any arguments fail to take into account that it has some of the funniest uses of superpowers since Marvel’s comedic masterpiece which was Civil War. I’m not sure if I’ll bother getting the rest of it, but those two seasons are enough to satisfy me at the moment.
  • I edited the start of The Ghost BureauAgain. I have the feeling that I’ll be reworking the story until It hits a million words through the various drafts. It figures that the most important of my WIPs would be the most complex story imaginable, requiring in-depth knowledge of the EU constitution… One of the most unimaginably boring documents ever committed to paper. The one thing which I have decided on, absolutely and without difficulty, is to set it back in the 90s instead of trying to force it into a modern perspective – it is all about the run-up to the millennium, and by trying to make it current it loses a lot of the impact.
  • I started my New Year’s resolutions list. I did mention up at the top of this increasingly long post that lists dominate the things I do, and the start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to indulge in creating lists for no other reason than their own existence. It may be the purest form of list-making in the world. Or something.

7. Four things you are looking forward to:

  • The moment when I finally get an agent. Of course, I would need to find one who is not easily frightened by the increasingly irrational tweets, the mess this blog has descended into, and who – if it is is at all possible – doesn’t mind me jumping genres. In the midst of all the strangeness (which is somehow appropriate for me) there may be a hint of the works which are bubbling under the surface – a romantic novel perhaps, or a hard-boiled detective thing… Hell, I’ve even considered re-writing an old play I wrote back in the mid-90s as a comedy film. The fact that it features a murder at an airport only adds to the comedic value. *thinks* I probably need to work on a sense of good taste, but if I land an agent I’ll get right on that…
  • A bigger and better purpose for Book Re:View. The fact that there isn’t much there at the moment shouldn’t make people think I’m ignoring it. I’m not. The problem of what to put there has been weighing on my mind, and the solution I came to wasn’t entirely one which I could do easily or quickly. I’ll be adding more lists (a lot more lists) and placing some other things in there as well. I’m intending to have a massive database there for those who need book facts, but first I need to gather and check the data. This could be considered the first salvo in my war of mockery against Wikipedia.
  • Reading all the books I see people writing. This year has sucked ass when it comes to reading. Every time I start a book, I get caught up in other things which need my immediate and unconditional attention. I’m going to make a concerted effort to catch up on all the books I really want to read, and go through some of my favorites again. I haven’t read a couple of the last Stephen King books because time has been so short, yet I would have normally gone through them in a day if things weren’t so chaotic. Oh, and for everyone writing – keep at it, I’ll really try to pick up everything.
  • Captain America. The film won’t suckThe film won’t suckThe film won’t suck… I just have to keep repeating that as much as possible until it gets released, and hope my houdou is working. Gods, I want it to kick major-league ass, but on the strength of the last Hulk piss-take, and a really ill-advised Man-Thing DVD, I am less optimistic by the day. BTW Marvel Comics… WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING? Did anyone bother to read the script? Did the title alone not give the game away? Man-Thing? *sigh*

8. Four things you love about winter:

A question which I’m trying not to answer with sarcasm, as tempting as that may be…

  • Snow. I like the patterns it makes when it lands on the bare trees. I don’t really care for walking through the damn stuff, but I like looking at it. The chiaroscuro makes the world look like a Frank Miller comic, which is just about the most awesome thing regarding winter. The snow also means I get to wear my big Silent Bob coat…
  • Watching old films on television. There always seemed to be weird films on through the night at Christmas when I was a kid, and the strange programming decisions doesn’t seem to have been diluted in the slightest. Having these oddities appear unexpectedly is one of the few things that makes up for the cold and the long night. Actually, nothing really makes up for the long nights – I miss daylight. I really miss daylight.
  • Warm Christmassy alcohol goodness. It wouldn’t be Christmas without the ever-present allure of hot toddies – there when we need an extra pick-me-up that no amount of mistletoe can deal with. And no, mistletoe doesn’t get on the list here, despite the few perks it gives, because I always end up with the creepy chick who tries to follow me around days later.
  • A WEEK OFF WORK. Hell and yes. By far the best thing about the season of goodwill is the fact that I get a whole week where I don’t have to answer stupid questions. There are so many reasons why I need the week off this year that I may actually break into song at the thought of a holiday. Not that me breaking into song could, in any reality, be a good thing…

9. Four bloggers who should share their list of fours:

Ah. The fun part, where I get to subject others to this awful meme. Y’know, after three thousand words of babbling, I should have some idea of who I want to torture continue this, but there are so many people who would make good use of the meme. And I really don’t care, having spent hours (literally) trying to answer everything properly. I have a great idea though – if you have made it this far, or leave a comment, then consider yourself tagged.

Posted in comics, Misc., Over The Line | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

How To… Or Not: Writing Guides Which Promise Too Much

Posted by BigWords on December 18, 2010

This post, as you will probably see soon enough, wasn’t the easiest post to write. There are times when ideas and words come together to make a thought concrete, then there are times when the idea refuses to be ignored, yet the words to describe what is happening in my head refuse to cooperate. This is a case of the latter. I started writing this a couple of days ago, and it still feels as if there are places I could have been clearer. Don’t worry, because that is what the comment box is for. If there are any contradictory, nonsensical, or overly-wordy parts which are confusing, then feel free to call me out on it. The things in this post are long-standing bug-bears which have slowly been revealing themselves to me, but I’m not all the way there yet…

There are a lot of How To books out there – in fact, it seems that there is a new one being released every few months – and despite the fact that so many writers pick up these titles I still retain my reservations about their worth. This is something I’ve come back to occasionally, and I have finally worked out a couple of underlying reasons for my feelings about them. I’ve got nothing against them being perused as an accompanying tool alongside websites, forums and other writing tools available on the internet (often at no cost), but to focus on them as an essential part of the writing accouterments necessary to produce a viable novel is flawed. The best of the How To books, and there are good examples, provide no examples of the finished state of a piece of writing.

It may seem counter-productive to say that there are inherent problems with books which are intended to make the act of writing easier, but the fact that so many of these guides offers what amounts to a game walkthrough for novels can harm a unique voice. The standard list of requirements seen in many – opening, escalation, character development, et cetera – is fairly standard, but there are some titles which demand that there be elements added which (depending on genre, the age range of readers, the tone of the novel) might confuse an already dense plot to the point where the original intention of the author becomes muddied. It’s where the first thought towards an explanation of my reticence became apparent:

How many novels adhere to suggestions made in a ‘How To…’ book?

You may think I am being facetious here, but it is a question which may not come to you if you are focused on improving your novel. If you take a handful of books off your shelf and subject them to the recommendations made in the How To book, then would you find that the books (however well received) fail to make the grade as interesting subjects / concise plots / riveting entertainment – according to the book at hand, of course… I tried to square away a few novels against the advice found in three How To books, and quickly realized that – according to the authors of the How To books – there were probably severe deficiencies in those novels.

I actually thought of the second point whilst pondering the separation between theory and practice, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Staying with the thought that there is a certain amount of ‘wiggle room’ in the recommendations, I pondered ways to make the task of extrapolating a generalized (or abstract) statement more specific to help in the writing of a scene. The best idea I could come up with – aside from an understanding and patient Beta – was to look at books which share common themes with the one being written. This presents a few problems, as there are writers who dislike reading in their genre while in the midst of writing their own material.

Yet there is a way to pinpoint possible areas of weakness through the study of contemporary literature outside of the How To book… For those of you who are well aware of my snarky attitude towards Star Trek in particular, and televised and filmic science fiction in general, then the knowledge that I hold David Gerrold in very high regard should be no surprise. His non-fiction title The World According To Star Trek ranks among the very best of published criticism – not only deconstructing the themes of the series, but explaining (in clear, precise terms) why each thing must be a certain way. I use that title whenever I think of a science fiction idea – weighing the concepts I conjure against the logic Gerrold demands of SF.

Yes, there are other books which do much the same thing, but I like that particular reference book. When I have moments of inspiration which points towards the horror genre, I tend to flick open Stephen King’s Danse Macabre – another book about genre and writing which emphatically isn’t a simple How To book. A similar urge to define the rise of YA drove me to seek out books on the Harry Potter phenomenon. While my non-fiction tastes have largely determined the books I have picked up in this vein, I have attempted to read as widely as I can in the study of preexisting books, and this has greatly assisted in asking specific (rather than abstract) questions about my work. It is a halfway solution to the problems of How To books, but one which I feel much more comfortable with than standard texts on novel construction.

The second point, which I mentioned in passing, is one of comparison. Writing a novel is not the same as baking a cake. Though both require a set of ingredients, you can’t mix and match ingredients from one recipe to another in the blind hope of coming up with an entirely new form of culinary excellence. Writing, unlike bakery, is filled with such things. The experimental fiction of the past twenty years alone has introduced new quirks into the repertoire of established and aspiring novelists, and daring releases will only become more common as further self-published titles break through to a wider audience. This is where specific information, rather than generalities, can be utilized to assist a story through the difficult birthing pangs.

The second point is thus:

Writing a How To… book is similar, in may regards, to cold-reading.

For those of you who have yet to experience a live seance, there are a set of probing questions which, if asked in a particular manner and with enough conviction, can simultaneously get participants to divulge information about the deceased and make it appear as if there is communication with the dead occurring. I dislike cold-reading. You may think that this is a perfect manner in which to learn more about your novel, but (just like those phony seances) you will simply be regurgitating information with the illusion of something greater happening before you. There are few real ways that repetition assists in learning – similarly, one of my arguments against introducing greater digital research exposure in schools is the fear that rote recital could replace understanding of subjects.

There is a third reason why How To books raise my suspicions, and it is the one I have returned to time and time again… The points made from one book to another vary so widely that any reasonable and logical comparison of details from one guide to another is impossible. The notion that the suggestions from general titles are universal to all novels, or that genre-specific guides can steer a genre novel to completion with minimal stress, is one I find wanting. With guides to preexisting novels, the themes and plot points can be compared directly and analyzed at leisure – separate from the originating work, appeasing those who do not wish to be influenced directly or indirectly by the writing of another. Yet again, I have to point out that intelligence and discretion be used in such a process.

I come back to the cold-reading comparison with this thought – if you throw enough questions at someone, then there will undoubtedly be questions which register as a “hit.” These instances where the questions seem to directly address you should be weighed against the questions which fall far from the mark.

This post has, through re-writing, ran on longer than I intended. I might return to the subject if there are enough points remaining to be considered, though for the moment this post can stand as something of a final word regarding How To books, and the way in which they should be treated as a supplement to other writing resources.

Posted in Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Pre-Christmas Post

Posted by BigWords on December 14, 2010

I can’t write a Christmas story.

This past week I have tried every trick I can think of, yet the words aren’t flowing – okay, I had better clarify that: the right words aren’t flowing. There’s a giant mess of purple prose which grows larger every time I go near the Christmas tale, and it’s rapidly escalating to a point where the density of purpleness may eventually hit critical mass and create a black hole of bad writing, sucking in everything good along with the bad. I’ve had enough. The good (?) news, is that while I’ve been thinking of ways to get the story done, there has been enough time to put together a seasonal themed blog post.

If you are breaking into a cold sweat, then you have probably read this blog before.

This is a list of Christmas videos. You can thank me or complain as much as you want. I really don’t care at the moment. Ooh, look over there – something shiny… *wanders off*

Weird Al YankovicChristmas At Ground Zero

Weird Al YankovicThe Night Santa Went Crazy

The VandalsMy First Christmas

The KinksFather Christmas

The Long BlondesChristmas Is Cancelled

ReubenChristmas Is Awesome

Achmed The Dead Terrorist Christmas Song

KarkisSecret Satan

The RamonesMerry Christmas

Tony FerrinoBigamy At Christmas

Posted in Misc., Over The Line | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

List Of Essential SF Novels

Posted by BigWords on December 10, 2010

In case you missed the numerous lists around here, and over there (where it seems to have gotten out of hand), there is something of a theme developing. Namely, I can’t help but surround myself with lists. Be it lists of films, books, music – it doesn’t really matter. Lists form one of the regular attractions in my world of OCD-fueled weirdness, and have become as much a form of writing as the fiction which I put together. There’s something about the systematic organization of data which helps me relax, that it is inconceivable for me to pass up any opportunity to go one better than anyone else when it comes to the more complex ones.

Hence my latest plan – the ultimate list of SF lists. As I was putting together the last couple of pages of the zombie list, I realized that the numerous SF lists out there tended to group together in some areas while retaining outliers (there are a few books which seem to have a lot of love from small – but very dedicated – fan bases), old favorites (the classics aren’t universally beloved), and… Well, I’m not saying that the compilers of existing lists are eccentric, though there does tend to be the odd title mentioned which seems to be for no other reason than to say “Hey, I’ve read more books than you.” Um… Missing the point slightly, methinks. Anyways, the main candidates for my attention are as follows-

  • Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984 by David Pringle (Xanadu, 1985) ISBN-10: 094776111X ISBN-13: 9780947761110
  • The Guardian – 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: Science Fiction & Fantasy Part One; Part Two; Part Three.
  • 100 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read by John Harmon
  • 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels by Stephen E. Andrews & Nick Rennison (A&C Black, 2007) ISBN-13: 9780713675856
  • Phobos’ 100 Best Science Fiction Books by Keith Olexa
  • SFX – The 100 Writers Who Shaped Science Fiction (#196-198, July-September)

That’s a damn impressive bunch of lists right there, but I need more. There were a few moments when it seemed that the lists would be endless, and I could pick and choose which ones to pore over, though the realization that a great many of the lists out there on the interwebs are cut-and-paste jobs of those few original ones hit hard. Is it really so difficult to cite the greatest SF novels? I’m still adding in the references and information about the books onto my meta-list, but I need further lists to make the resulting data set more rounded. With what I have so far – as meager as the material is – there’s a decent snapshot of a genre as of this moment, but there’s little historical importance there. There isn’t, for instance, any indication of how the best of SF was perceived in the 60s or 70s.

I may yet be forced to note Hugo winners in a bid to fill out the results of this experiment in list-making.

If you’re interested, the pages will be up some time during the weekend.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »