Apr 152014
 

I’m hosting guest authors through most of April and May, as I am swamped with Awesome Con DC and welcoming Baby Boy Brightley into the world. This guest post was written by Mike Reeves-McMillan, the author of RealmgoldsHope and the Clever Man, and Hope and the Patient Man.

How to be Optimistic

Dystopian fiction is in at the moment, as is the closely related genre of post-apocalyptic. Everywhere you look (especially in the YA market) you see people struggling in a world where things have gone substantially more wrong than usual.

I could talk about sociological reasons why this might be so, but since I’m not a sociologist I’d just be making stuff up, and that’s not what I want to talk about in any case.

I myself tend to optimism. One reason I don’t read much science fiction any more is that so much of it is pessimistic about the future. Not only does this go contrary to my own preferences, but it’s contrary to the general trend of history, or so an increasing number of people are claiming. Violence is dropping, life expectancy is increasing, the general health, level of education, income level and other indicators of wellbeing of the human population have had a strong uptick within my lifetime. A great many things are getting measurably better, though because of the way “news” works, we seldom hear about that; we hear about disasters instead.

At the same time, there’s a difference between “optimistic” and “utopian”. Permit me a brief digression on the origins of words.

Utopian fiction is named after Sir Thomas More’s 1516 book Utopia, the name of which comes from the word for “no place” in Greek (outopos). More was making the point that his ideal society didn’t exist, but if you spell it “eutopos” (pronounced much the same) it becomes “good place”, hence the formation of the opposite, “dystopos” or “bad place”.

The first recorded use of “dystopian” was by John Stewart Mill, the famous economic philosopher, in an 1868 speech to the House of Commons opposing the government’s Irish land policy. He used it to mean “too bad to be practicable”, just as “utopian” can mean “too good to be practicable”. (Source: Wikipedia.)

And there’s one problem with utopian fiction. It generally presupposes a degree of human goodwill, intelligence and rationality that we don’t, in fact, see in real life. By the same token, you could argue (and the SF writer David Brin frequently does argue) that dystopian fiction generally has an unrealistically low opinion of our collective wisdom and ability to work together. Of course, it can act positively as a form of warning, a kind of “if this goes on” lesson that encourages people to oppose a worrying trend. With government surveillance an increasing reality, we owe George Orwell a debt for the concern he created about exactly that, because it gives us a compelling image of where the trend could go if we allowed it to.

Sitting somewhere in the middle, between utopian and dystopian, is optimistic fiction. In optimistic fiction, things are bad at least in part (it’s not utopia), but they can be improved and, crucially, are improving. Because it’s fiction (although this is also true to life), the brave actions of committed people who believe that change is possible are key to making that change happen.

When I was a teenager, I started worldbuilding for a utopian society with the plan of writing about it, but never actually wrote any fiction in that world. The thing is, a utopian society is not only unrealistic; it’s, fictionally, fairly dull. It’s lacking in a key element of fiction: conflict.

As I’ve come to understand fiction better, I’ve gradually learned to move away from utopianism without abandoning optimism. In my recent novel, Hope and the Clever Man, for example, my first draft showed this situation: the gnomes in general are enslaved by the dwarves, but the gnomes we actually see “on stage” are free, because of the enlightened policies of their ultimate employer, the human ruler of the realm in which the book is set. During the course of the story, they help the other gnomes gain freedom.

As I worked with my beta readers and my development editor, I realised that this wasn’t strong enough as a story. It became much stronger when I decided not to pre-solve one of the major problems and opened with that problem still in place: The gnomes we meet and come to like are still under the control of the dwarves, and are personally struggling to be free. The first draft scenario is more utopian, but the final scenario is a far better story.

It’s also, as I mentioned, more true to how change really happens. Look at any of the advances we’ve seen in the west during the past several hundred years: religious freedom; representative democracy, which with all its flaws is still an advance on rule by a hereditary aristocracy; the abolition of slavery; child labour laws; universal education; women’s suffrage; legislation for the equal treatment of various kinds of humans; awareness of the importance of environmental protection and public health. None of these came without a hard struggle by committed people against entrenched, powerful interests. Most of them cost lives. Most of them are struggles that go on today, to some degree, even though the major fight may have been won.

And that’s the other side of writing optimistic fiction about successful struggles for social change. Doing so not only makes for better fiction, but honours the people who have fought for the world we have, and the ones who continue to fight for a world that’s better than this one.

Guest Author Bio:

mikerm_beard-223x300 Mike Reeves-McMillan has a black belt, which holds up his trousers. He’s not sure why authors make such a big deal of these, but they are certainly convenient, trouserwise.

For someone with an English degree, he’s spent a surprising amount of time wearing a hard hat. He’s also studied ritualmaking, hypnotherapy and health science.

Mike writes strange worlds that people want to live in. He himself lives in Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by trees.

You can contact him at mike at csidemedia (dot com), his website, and Google+.

His books are Realmgolds, Hope and the Clever Man, and Hope and the Patient Man.

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Please connect with me on Facebook or Google+!

Apr 142014
 

Things Unseen EBOOK copy

It’s done! Things Unseen (A Long-Forgotten Song) is out! Things Unseen is the first book in my new dark, urban, Christian fantasy series. You can read an excerpt here, as well as find purchase links for ebooks and paperbacks.

Check out the fantastic cover art! I love it! I even had the full digital painting made into posters in preparation for Awesome Con DC this weekend. I’m thrilled with the cover designer and look forward to working with him on the rest of the books in the series.

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Apr 082014
 

I’m hosting guest authors through most of April and May, as I am swamped with Awesome Con DC and welcoming Baby Boy Brightley into the world. This guest post was written by A.J. Maguire, the author of SeditionSaboteur, and Witch-born.

World-Building and Sequels

It seems easy enough to start a series. You finish one book and then, oftentimes because you’ve fallen in love with particular characters or the world you’ve built, you realize there’s more. There’s more story to be told here, more adventures to be had, and you get excited to continue.

Readers are excited with you because, just like you, they also fell in love with either the world or the characters and their imaginations are running the gamut as well. They can see the potential here too. And therein lies one of the challenges for writing sequels. Because whatever you do in the sequel has to respect the rules of the first book or you risk your Reader’s anger.

So here are four tips to help on your journey from Book 1 to Book 2. (And this is coming from someone who has made pretty much every mistake you possibly can in writing a sequel, so allow me to save you some pain.)

 1) Story Bibles.

They work. They may sound boring but they don’t have to be. Whether you use on online program or a paper notebook (like me) it’s important to get these things recorded in an easy-to-reach place. You do not want to have to search through your first book for the name of that one guy who told you characters how to get from point A to point B without being killed.

That takes precious writing time away. And if you’re like most writers then time is something you don’t have a lot of.

So here’s the tip – read through your first book with your Story Bible right beside you and write down important character names, descriptions and landmarks. Do this before you get too far into your sequel, if not before you even start.

 2) Stay close to your characters.

Let me explain.

If you are using the same characters from your former book then you must remember that they are not the same characters they were when you began. Through that first story they changed. So how they view the world around them will also change. Readers will look for this. If you’ve done your first book right, then the Reader changes along with the character and they expect more.

If you’re using new characters, then the Reader expects those new characters to view the world in a completely different way. It can’t be the same voice. It has to be tainted with the vantage of the person you are telling the story through.

 3) No, really, stay close to your characters.

World-Building is closely associated with Character-Building. You can’t do one without the other. Characters are groomed in the worlds in which they live in. We understand Bilbo Baggins in his relationship to the Shire. He would not be Bilbo Baggins without it.

Conversely, we understand the U.S.S. Enterprise in light of Captain Kirk or Captain Picard, take your pick. Each Captain brought to the Enterprise a different viewpoint, a different vantage, and through them we were able to see the “setting” in which they lived.

So World-Building and Character-Building are intertwined. Writers need to remember this when they’re writing anything, not just a sequel. So stay close to your characters. They will inevitably bring the world to life.

4) Timelines

The passage of time changes everything. People grow old. There are droughts, floods, winter storms, and with each of these experiences the world, and the characters, are changed. If your sequel is starting 20 years after the ending of the first book, then these changes need to be seen.

It’s like your home town. Whether or not you’ve been away from it, it has changed. New buildings have been built. Old buildings have been renovated or torn down. There is a narrative written in the sidewalks, a long memory that stretches back further than any of us can remember.

The same should be said of your created worlds. It doesn’t matter if your characters don’t care about the history of their world. You need to because that history will eventually include the characters on your page.

So be sensitive to the passage of time in your world. Show what has changed. Show what hasn’t changed. And through that your Reader will be able to see what change is about to be wrought.

Guest Author Bio:

A.J. Maguire is a mountain-climbing, martial arts loving, published author with one child and one cat and a borderline unhealthy fixation with the written word.  Currently she has three books out for sale.  The first two books are Sedition and Saboteur, which are a part of a series and were published through Wings ePress.  The third book is Witch-born, published by Double Dragon Publishing.  Her short story “The Man Who Loved Medusa” was featured in the Love and Darker Passions Anthology in June 2012.

She has two releases scheduled for Summer 2014 with Double Dragon Publishing (Dead Magic and Deviation).

 

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Please connect with me on Facebook or Google+!

Mar 252014
 
Guest Post: World-Building and Authenticity

I’m hosting guest authors through most of April and May, as I am swamped with Awesome Con DC and welcoming Baby Boy Brightley into the world. This guest post was written by Ben Blake, the author of Blood and Gold (Songs of Sorrow), The Gate of Angels (Songs of Sorrow), The Risen King, and A Brand [...]

Feb 252014
 

I wrote this post over a month ago, and I’ve only just now gotten up the courage to publish it. What’s different now? Well… Things Unseen, the first book in the A Long-Forgotten Song series is almost done (I’m working on the final copy edits and formatting), and the third book in Erdemen Honor (which [...]

Feb 182014
 
Historical Periods I Love

In addition to fantasy, one of the genres I come back to again and again is historical fiction. I also read a lot of international fiction. I love great characters, but I also love that sense of the exotic, something new and different than everyday modern life. Historical periods are wonderful to explore in books… [...]

Jan 282014
 

If you’re considering self-publishing, you’ve probably been doing some research about how to avoid the various scams and predatory “services” and vanity presses out there fighting for your attention and money. It’s a rough world… there are a lot of people and businesses who are eager to take advantage of authors. Before you give any [...]

Jan 132014
 

No, this isn’t going to be a blog post about all the wonderful things I would do with a billion dollars… travel the world, devote tons of money to various worthwhile charities (some personal favorites are Gospel for Asia and WorldVision, but there are others I would support too), pay off our mortgage (buy a [...]