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The “Ten Things I Am Thankful For” Meme

Posted by BigWords on November 27, 2009

Corrine Jackson has a Thanksgiving meme up on her blog, which was suggested by a post by Kate at My Sphere Of Domesticity, which in turn was prompted by a meme post conceived by Amy Bai. There are other instances of it cropping up but… I could spend all day pointing you in the direction of the use of the particular meme, but it is only gonna be annoying, ‘kay? Go see what everyone else has to say, then come back here and keep reading. I had to participate…
Yes, I know there are people who have said they are writing one in the comments of those posts, but there are only so many hours in the day, right? Anyone who wants to be added to the list of participants of this particular meme can add a comment at the end of this post.

Thanksgiving. It’s a very American holiday, so what the Hell does a Brit care? I shouldn’t, but the idea of the holiday is one which is very appealing. I’m reminded mainly of the scene in Addams Family Values where Wednesday explains the concept of the holiday, but an Ambrose Bierce quote also comes to mind…

HATCHET, n.  A young axe, known among Indians as a Thomashawk.
  "O bury the hatchet, irascible Red,
  For peace is a blessing," the White Man said.
      The Savage concurred, and that weapon interred,
  With imposing rites, in the White Man's head.

There are other tangents I could go off on, but I’ll stick to the plan.

  1. I’m thankful for the existence of the local Chinese takeaway, without which my Saturday evenings would be all the poorer. A lame thing to be so joyous about, but it has become a tradition to get a takeaway every week, even if I really should be trying to cut down on my spending.
  2. I’m thankful that I’m allowed to ask any dumb writing question which crops up at the Absolute Write forums, and not feel like I’m missing a few brain cells. It really is an important refuge from the endless slew of problems-not-problems which I create for myself, and the folks there really know what they are doing. If you haven’t read through Uncle Jim’s amazing thread on the basics of writing you don’t know what you are missing…
  3. I’m thankful that I don’t have to put up with the woeful quality of MP3’s thanks to Ogg Vodis. For someone who values quality audio it is a format that can never be too highly praised.
  4. I’m thankful for the existence of published books by Stephenie Meyer and D*n Br*wn, which means that if (or, more hopefully, when) I get published, I won’t be plumbing a new depth of shallow and obnoxious writing.
  5. I’m thankful that nobody has posted photographs of me at that party on their blogs or on image sharing sites. The rumors of a spare room, a bottle of cheap wine and an attractive exchange student are completely untrue. I didn’t do anything, and as long as the evidence doesn’t show up – which it hopefully won’t – nobody can prove a damn thing.
  6. I’m thankful for the existence of so many libraries close to me. Even though there are plenty of online resources, nothing can compare to holding a reference book in my hands. Which is where I should bring up how important Project Gutenberg is for the online stuff, but y’all know that already, right?
  7. I’m thankful for the releases of so many old and apparently obscure films on DVD. There have been major holes in my collection slowly filled thanks to both Criterion and the BFI bods. Maybe one day someone will turn up a copy of Vampire Over London so I can be proven correct that it does still exist somewhere… (seriously, if the wedding episode of Dark Shadows could be located, anything is possible)
  8. I’m thankful for the existence of spellcheck on so many programs. Without the easy ability to check that I haven’t committed a grammatical error I would be lost most of the time. Now, if only the feature could be added to Photoshop I would be able to confidently release some of my comic-book pages without the worry that there are numerous errors sprinkled throughout the text.
  9. I’m thankful for the pause button. Without the feature I would have missed the amusing vanity cards at the end of each episode of The Big Bang Theory, which shows that some television creators still value creativity. There was also a show back in the nineties which had pages of information shown frame by frame after each episode – GamesMaster? The idea was cool nonetheless.
  10. I’m thankful for being able to write freely without persecution for my writing. I don’t live in Manchester, so the racist, homophobic, sexist and religiously intolerant police force can’t censor my works as they did David Britton. The freedoms we take for granted are still under threat by the morons currently in government, but they are too busy stealing money from the electorate to care about what writers are up to…

So, there ya have it. Join in (if you haven’t already), or post a link to your own interpretation of the meme below.

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Not A NaNoWriMo Post… Honest.

Posted by BigWords on November 19, 2009

I’ve stayed concentrated on pushing my word count as hard as possible for NaNoWriMo, so the last month hasn’t really seen me cut into what is happening in the wider world. I’m starting to miss writing about the insanity which bounces around the internet, so this is a brief encapsulation on my views over the last month which don’t concern the WIP. There have been a lot of things happening, but my interest has focused on a few cases of note.

Google Sets Out To Take Over The World

Yes, Google (that bastion of fair play) has yet another plan for digitized books, and they seem to be ignoring both common sense and the writers whose work they are abusing. It seems (to me, at any rate) more like a hostage situation than a negotiation. They’ve taken the books – by means of digital photography – and now they want to talk about money. There are few things sadder to watch than a company sowing the seeds of its’ own downfall, and their constant manipulation of the situation has gone from ludicrous to insane with a well-timed press release. They are saying to authors and publishers worldwide “you are our bitches.”

Did I miss something here? They’re a massive international company, yet they act like the playground bully… Justifying their actions is nearly impossible, so why isn’t a stronger stance being taken? Here’s an idea, and anyone can feel free to use it: Next book you get into print, put something along the lines of “Google can suck my cock” in the indicia. Lets see if they scan that fucking page, huh. While the idea of getting out-of-print books online is worthwhile, Google is the last company I would trust to get it done right.

US Publishers Eye British Libel Laws Warily

And so they should. The libel laws in the UK are important, yet they are seriously worrying some American publishers. The law prevents me from calling Gordon Brown the liar he is, or saying that the UK police force is still an institutionally racist group, or from pointing out that 90% of British ‘news’ is more fanciful than anything D** B**** has written. They halt the slide into anarchy which would occur if anyone was allowed to write about how stupid and out of touch the royal family are. The libel laws are a godsend for anyone wanting to break the law, then hide behind their right to a secret life – just ask half of the celebrities in the UK.

My initial instinct was panic when I heard this. Are American newspapers and magazines really going to disappear? Please say it ain’t so – I don’t think I would be able to survive without at least some serious journalism in the UK, and we aren’t going to get that from The Daily Mail or The Sun. Imports are the only way to keep up with the really important news. I don’t care about lame boy bands, or which actress has flashed her crotch at the paparazzi, or whatever minor and irrelevant crap the scum press are pushing as world-shattering news today.

The Books Which Are Making Waves In The News

Dr Brooke Magnanti was revealed as the author of Belle de Jour (which was about her life as a “high class” prostitute) earlier this month, with hilarious results. The research scientist had the blog (from which the book sprang) published anonymously, so some people assumed it to be written by a famous male author, or a witty prankster. Turns out that it was true after all. On a similar note, Sarah Palin’s book (which is about her life as a “low class” politician – a whore by any other name) is out now.

I’m trying to take this shit seriously, but I just don’t know how any person can.

Posted in writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Addendum To The Mystery Author Post

Posted by BigWords on August 27, 2009

Now I have a name to go with despicable behavior – Robert Stanek, you have been named and shamed – I’m going to spend a little time ripping the dumbass into little pieces. I’m highly amused that an author in this day and age would think, even for a moment, that trying to pull the wool over the heads of geeks who practically live on the fuckin’ internet would work. It’s short-sighted and almost comical. This is the era of instant communication worldwide, and hiding under assumed identities is not the way you attract readers to a book.

The World Of Robert Stanek, his website, claims he is best known for his Ruin Mist novels. Hmmm… I missed that ruinous mess. I’m guessing that a lot of people wouldn’t have heard of the books either, seeing as how I had to go hunting for information on the guy. David Louis Edelman’s excellent blog – has a great post with photographic evidence that Stanek is less than honorable in his marketing and relentless self-promotion. There is a reason Photoshop is considered an art, and missing legs out of a photograph is a dead giveaway.

Unless, of course, the subject of the picture really doesn’t have legs…

What I was most surprised about, when looking for this guy online, was the fact that there is a forum dedicated to his self-published pap. C’mon, admit it… It’s all your own identities ‘chatting’ to each other, ain’t it? There can’t really be that many (okay, so not that many) people enamoured of the novels. I find it impossible that anyone would be conned into believing his work ranks anywhere near the real masters of the genre.

While I was looking through Edelman’s post, I pondered the list he included of ‘rules’ for ethical self-promotion. This is the condensed version:

  1. Tell no lies.
  2. Make no patently misleading statements.
  3. Avoid glaring sins of omission.
  4. You have no obligation to point out the negative.
  5. Don’t impose an unnecessary burden.
  6. No means no.
  7. Respect the competition.
  8. Keep your promotional activities above board.
  9. When in doubt, abide by general community standards.
  10. Don’t pretend your book is all-important.

That is some very good advice right there, though I will take rules two-through-four head-on in a moment. Everything else is now – as far as I am concerned – the Rules For Authors To Live By. With, p’rhaps a bit of lee-way on #7. I’m not going to say that Dan Brown is a credible author even if everyone else suddenly decides he is, even if I don’t consider myself in any way, shape or form ‘competition’ to him. Just sayin’.

Now, about those troublesome rules 2-4. I’m partial to rubbishing my own work. I’ll say that some of my writing is the most awful shit you’ll ever read, and actually has the ability to make your brain explode in your skull. Some of it is so fucking atrocious it will make your eyes melt, your soul crack and… Well… You get the picture. It’s not to discourage you from reading, it’s simply to prevent expectations from rising too high.

Misleading? No. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will find my description of the stories to be highly accurate, so I don’t see my self-doubt as misleading. As for sins of omission, I would rather use the bad reviews in full rather than trying to pass them off as ass-licking from strangers. There’s nothing worse than sycophantic praise from another author on a book, but sometimes (in a very few cases) it is warranted. Stevie-boy was right when he said that Clive Barker was the future of horror.

I’m gonna rail against rule 4 bit, because the assumption is that any hypothetical author of a book will want to ignore the negative. This is really surprising, because I would rather have a venomous, hate-filled review claiming I am a shitty hack from a mainstream reviewer than a glowing review from a guy nobody has heard of. That is, of course, just me. Did I derail my own post…? Damn.

Back to topic.

Stanek has, it turns out, written “How To…” books, and I’m sure that my opinion of those types of publications have become ingrained in readers of this blog by now. If you can do it, you do it. If you can’t, then you teach. Not a failsafe way of separating geniuses from morons, but the old adage works 85% of the time just fine.

Best Fantasy Books Blog has an interesting review, and if you pop over there for a look, remember that the review is not endorsed by one of Stanek’s sock-puppets. It’s a refreshingly honest piece of writing, and I’m glad I didn’t have to read one of the books so a real review could appear. I may buy one of the titles if I can find it cheap – in a 20p bucket of second hand books maybe. Then again, I would have to read the fucking thing, wouldn’t I?

In case you missed the link in dlanod’s answer to the previous post Ansible has covered lame attempts at self-publicizing by Stanek.
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
News And Interviews From Fantasy Literature
Reddit has a thread about the guy, and there’s no denying Stanek LIED to potential readers on Amazon.

Right, that about covers this debacle. Now I’m waiting on lame legal threats from a Hotmail account… I’m waiting… Still waiting… My e-mail’s listed HERE if you need a clue…

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

Guess The Mystery Author

Posted by BigWords on August 26, 2009

There is a rule over on the AW forum that states ‘respect your fellow author’ – which is a good thing considering how some threads can turn into extended ramblings and rants. That shit ain’t gonna fly here, ’cause what I have here is an entirely different kind of free speech. This is where I can let rip without any censure, and the current target is a mystery author who really ought to be uncovered. Lets play along.

In the current issue of SFX Dave Langford writes (in his regular column) about an author who has tried to abuse online reviews to publicise his own works. Interesting, no? Well, there are a few clues in the article. The mystery author (named “Direhack” in the column) is an American self-published author who “writes woefully inept fantasies”. Hmmm. Doesn’t narrow the possibilities any, so we’ll have to search further.

The mystery author uses hundreds of Amazon accounts to post reviews of his own book. The author’s page on Wikipedia has been culled (start hunting, puzzlers), and they have been known to threaten legal action. Narcissistic and petty could be a lot of people, so the list of possible authors isn’t exactly shrinking. Hell, I’m no closer than I was…

If big names such as Stephanie Meyer don’t know a fucking plot when they see it, then I dread to think how bad the mystery authors books are. Have I already mentioned in this blog how bad Dan Brown is? There are plenty of idiots wielding pens who ought to stop. Right now. This very instant. I’m guessing that Direhack is worse than those two penny dreadful scribblers put together. Which would make him Epic Fail multiplied to infinity.

C’mon peoples, we gotta find out who Direhack is so I can mock him.

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Need A Bit Of Assistance With The Story, Huh?

Posted by BigWords on August 8, 2009

There’s as many ways to write a book as there are writers, possibly more. I’m not the kind of person who slavishly devotes time to following How To books, mostly because there is often as much bullshit as there is good advice tucked in the pages of that “best-selling author who want YOU to achieve the same success” and who has outlined their methods in painstaking detail. It always strikes me as fanciful that a person picked off the street at random could be turned into a chart-topping success after reading one of those books.

But that is the belief which How To books exploit, in the hope you will part with your money. Put the cash back in your pocket, and wait a minute before you give your credit card details to the webpage which promises to get you millions of sales. I’ll point you in the direction of a few places which are distilled and undiluted help for the ideas rattling around your brain. They aren’t pretty, and they aren’t particularly long, but they work for me. That’s the important thing, right?

If you have read The Da Vinci Code and thought “How the fuck did that piece of shit get so many readers,” then The Da Vinci Formula: The Da Vinci Code’s Formula For Success is what you need to check out. It was originally published in a writing magazine, but the webpage is easier to find than a back-issue, so I’m directing your attention there.

Please, for the love of Cthulhu, don’t write like Dan Brown, even if you’re just in it for the money… It is more of a brief outline of how it managed to break through popular consciousness than a step-by-step guide to the process of writing such a book. Some parts of the article have been useful in figuring out what I should avoid, rather than copy, but take from it what you will. You could tell that I hated The Dumb Venetian Crud from what I’ve just written, right?

I’ve been a big fan of old pulp magazines for as long as I can remember, possibly due to seeing the Doc Savage movie at an impressionable age, but I digress… The Lester Dent technique for writing pulp stories is a fine tool for short stories and novellas. It is an excellent resource, and one which should be savored for the brevity and intelligence of advice.

An Effective Writing Formula For Unsure Writers is useful, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Emmons, Jr., the author of the piece, has a good grasp of the requirements of a riveting story. The numbered outline idea has plenty of followers, but I can’t honestly say that it has ever worked entirely well for me. Things get moved around too much, and I like twisting the story to fill in the blanks when I come to natural pauses, though it might give your story shape.

There’s a special world of How To devoted to getting kids to write, such as Formula Writing originated by Jan Cosner, and anyone wanting to get back to basics should thing about using this to decide if every word is working properly in their stories. I got irritated with the tone after a few minutes, but more patient writers will probably receive some good advice from the work tools. While I’m on the subject of “back to basics” writing, I’ll explain where fairy tales come into the equation:

Most genre fiction (I’m using ‘genre’ even  though it is a moronic word) has a tendency to structure itself around some very basic and intuitive ideas which can be traced back to fairy tale and myth. Substitute magic cloaks of invisibility for chameleon nets, swords for phasers, princesses for diplomats and castles for starships, and that is basically what SF has been using since the creation of the form.

There is a How To article which spells out the writing of fairy tales better than I can, and it should be viewed through a distorted lens of modern ideas to get the most out of the ideas in fairy tales.

I’ve steered clear of some of the better know books on the subject of writing thus far into my meanderings, so it is only fair that I share with you a couple of the titles sitting on my bookshelf which have helped me manage ideas, just to clear up which books are actually useful and which you should take with a grain of salt. I’m starting with Stephen King’s exploration of the horror genre Danse Macabre,which has lots of ideas about the conventions and twists that horror stories use. His tone is, as always, reassuringly chatty, and he never gets too complex for the material he is using.

It might not be of use if you are planning trash like Twilight, but for horror it is one of the few indispensable books out there. On Writing is also up there with some of the best advice you can find.

Most real How To titles are useless for me, but Christopher Kenworthy’s Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror from (ugh…) How To Books is not completely irrelevant. Some of the advice is completely patronizing and redundant, and he has the troublesome knack of finding the most obvious choices in his examples, as if he is trying to show how not to follow an idea through to its’ most interesting angle.

I may come back to this book at a later point for a more detailed reason why I dislike it, but for now I’ll put this post aside for a while.

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Selling Out Is This Season’s ‘Black’

Posted by BigWords on August 7, 2009

Read this, then come right back…

All done? Then I will begin.

I have no problems with being a complete whore, and if anyone wants to publish me, then sign me up for the ad-filled version of publishing. Yeah, ads in books is gonna be huge. Look at the things we can expect, and just try and convince me it isn’t a good idea…

  • SF books containing money-off vouchers for Richard Branson’s space flights (once, y’know, he gets the damn thing off the ground).
  • Ads for chainsaws, guns and self-defense techniques in zombie novels.
  • Condom adverts in erotica, and maybe sponsored versions of the books bundled with catalogues of ‘adult products’.
  • Biographies filled with ads for the products of the subject in question.
  • Barf bags with sponsored logos pre-packaged with gore-filled novels.
  • The Secret should be filled with ads for deprogramming centres.

The special treatment that novels have had, compared with other mediums, must come to an end sooner or later, so I’m cautiously optimistic that some fun will be had with the idea. If you’re gonna sell out, you can at least do it with a smile on your face…

It’s not as bad as you probably imagine it to be, and I can see where the use of adverts might actually make a book more interesting. Have you read any of Dan Brown’s trash-lit? Well, sticking a few ads in one of those fuckers will be a blessing. There will be something in the books I can read without giving myself a screaming migraine.

Feel free to disagree as vehemently as you like.

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Grafting Flesh To Bones

Posted by BigWords on July 31, 2009

World Building

Once I have the idea nailed down and working properly, I jump a few steps in the process to get to the background of the characters and the world. It doesn’t work like this for everyone, but I need to know a few details before I get too excited. There’s a great metaphor from – of all things – Armageddon which I like using to illustrate the process of ‘packing the world’. If you  remember the scene explaining the mission, where the “fist around a firecracker” line gets trotted out then you have some idea of what I consider to be the way facts are wrapped around the story.

As long as there is something solid enough to grasp on to, then the reader should have less trouble with the big and psychotic swing to darker aspects of the story. A bit of soap opera nestled in the middle of something (horror, SF, thriller) will give verisimilitude, and this is where I normally drop in a few unfamiliar things in the hope they will be picked up on. Quick example: Even if you have no idea who Rudolf Diesel is, dropping him into a WWII story adds a layer of realism for those who do.

September 29, 1913. The Dresden.

Diesel sighed, his hands gripping the rail tightly as he gazed upon the fog-enclouded sea. The knowledge of the Machine heavy in his heart.
The Machine. The dreadful engine of destruction.

Time was running out. Too much was already known, and The Architects were aware of his creation.

Movement at the other end of the vessel caught Diesel’s eye. They had arrived.

This excerpt is, of course, about the mysterious events aboard The Dresden. It doesn’t need to be a famous individual which grounds the story, and references to belief (I’ve used a prayer to St. Caedwalla to covertly show character) or simple shared knowledge are equally as useful. The use of real events, people and locations fall, more or less, into two separate categories which fulfill different roles in the creation of a coherent universe. The first is simple, the second needs a bit of explanation.

Deep History

The use of any existing nation carries deep history. What happened a thousand years ago may not play directly into anything that exists in the novel, but the combined weight of events throughout the life of a country is present in even the slightest works. A novel about witches set in America carries the imagery of the Salem witch trials, while a similar novel set in the UK would feel the threads of the Witchfinders tangled deep in their fabric. French novels might play on the themes of Revolution whilst exploring the changes in management at a textile company…

It is easy to write a bad story while relying on deep history, and many people have fumbled the subtext while trying to be clever. Intelligence and a proper understanding of where we have come from is one thing, laziness in world-building is a completely different situation. You can only deliver on the promise of an idea if the reader is aware you are playing with the text as a historical analogy. I was going to expend a little space here explaining the reasons Dan Brown failed in this regard, but it would require a couple of thousand words on its’ own.

The first, and only, rule is one of compatibility with accepted history. You can’t up and claim that the planet is a cube unless you have altered everything in the history of the planet to take the change into consideration. Did Columbus still end up circumnavigating the cube? Which way does water go down the plughole? How does the shape of the planet affect the rising and falling of the sun? It is all connected through deep history.

The deep history also has to be able to fit creative history.

Creative History

Creative history is the shallow end of the story, which doesn’t need expansion unless the story turns into a series of books or is adapted to other media. This is best explained with a bestseller so I have the best chance of getting the idea across clearly. In the Harry Potter books, the Hogwarts school is a character in its’ own right, and thus depends on creative history to be placed in a specific time and location. When I use the phrase ‘creative history’ it is to indicate the hard facts rather than narrative.

In the case of Hogwarts the creative history would include the date on which the commencement of building was started. If you want to go farther with the  idea, you might want to consider where the stones were mined from, and how long it took for the building to be completed. This ignores the stories of the people who actually built the school, and the various uses of the complex over the centuries it has stood.

When additions to deep history are integrated into the creative history, it is essential to mix in facts from history. It’s like the firecracker I began this post with: If the fiction is wrapped in reality, then the end result tends to give more bang for your buck. All of which is only really useful if the story is set in the here and now. I’ll get to the finer points of my SF WIP in another post, but it is set out in a similar fashion to present-day stories.

I haven’t touched on the problem of duplication and redundancy in this post yet, so I should highlight the dangers of creating from whole cloth.

Duplication

If there is an existing organization or location which fits the needs of a fiction, the creation of a fictional counterpart brings up numerous problems. Is the deep history of the existing location affixed to the created location? Is the activities of the real organization attributed to the fictional group, or do they co-exist? I’ve come across this problem a few times, and I find it easier to use what already exists, tweaking the facts to suit my needs.

I always look for gaps and contradictions in history, so that the fictions I integrate can present themselves more easily as acceptable and readable. I’ve got the feeling that none of the questions raised by this post have been made clearly, so I’ll continue this later. In the meantime I’ll think on better ways to show how redundancy of material can needlessly complicate storytelling in unforseen ways.

TBC

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