Monday, April 29, 2013

Encouraging Fan Fiction

Hugh Howey. Chances are, you've heard of him, he's been in the news a lot lately.

 Howey is the latest self-publishing success story. His self-published science fiction series, Wool, was so popular it allowed Howey to dictate the terms of a major print deal, a deal that allowed him to keep the digital rights for himself. In other words, he's managed to keep his cake, and eat it, too.

(He's also the latest author to run afoul of Little Brother, having written a blog post at the beginning of April that showed, at the very least, poor humor and even worse judgment. It has since been taken down and apologized for—twice—but it's out there if you choose to look. And, yeah, after telling you all to beware of Little Brother, this is me playing Little Brother. The irony is not lost)

He's also taken an unusual position regarding fan fiction. From an interview with blogger/author, Patrice Fitzgerald:

"When readers got in touch to ask about fan fiction, I not only gave my blessing, I insisted that they charge for the work. Even if it’s just a dollar...I’m making enough money. It warms my heart to see Ben Adams selling Wool prints and keeping 100% of the profit. The same goes for fan fiction."

I'm not sure how I feel about this. As a writer, my mind balks at two points. First, the idea of piggybacking to such an extent on the work of others. It just feels wrong. I'm not saying it is wrong, and I've done it myself (of course, I was like ten years old), but there comes a point where it seems you should just break away and do it on your own. If you can come up with a good plot and proper dialogue and all that, you can come up with all the elements to make a good, original story. Go for it!

"Don't even think about touching my stuff!"
The second point is the more irrational one. It's that possessive streak I have. I would be flattered that someone might be so inspired by my work that they create a spin-off or extension of it. But there's also a fierce beast inside that would want to stand guard over it. "Leave it alone," that beast snarls when someone gets too close. "It's mine. MINE!" And when you add money into the equation, it gets worse.

The fact is, once something's published, it's out of our hands. People are going to do whatever they want with it. And if they want to put two characters together who would never in a million years get together, or write a pre-story story, or write about what comes next, or ten years later, or transport them to Moonbase Alpha, there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

Is there a danger to it? Can fan fiction hurt the author? Is Howey potentially shooting himself in the foot by encouraging this level of fan fiction, or is he a genius for extending the life of his series? I guess time will tell.

What do you all think?

Photo by Princes Milady

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Music: Say It, Blue October

I've been thinking a lot about words (that's a good thing, right?) and their effect. Unfortunately, the thing I'm working on just wasn't going to be ready in time for today, so I'm filling in with this number from Blue October. A bit bitter, but very powerful. Oh, one blatant F-bomb in here, you have been warned.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Little Brother Is Watching

Big Brother Is Watching You. Chances are you're familiar with the phrase and its origins, even if you've never read George Orwell's 1984. And while we in American swear, "It couldn't happen here," especially after the fall of the World's Largest Totalitarian State, the fact is it's easier than ever for Big Brother to keep tabs on us. We freely hand out an astounding amount of personal information on a daily basis that could theoretically be used by Big Brother to track our movements (E-Z Passes, GPS systems, credit card/ATM purchases, those annoying little "So-and-so was at such-and-such with 3 other friends" on Facebook), our habits, our interests. Even the simple act of purchasing a shirt at a department store comes with a request by the cashier for our phone number or ZIP code, and would you like to give me your e-mail so we can send you a coupon?

photo by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada
Those of us hoping to make a splash in the literary world don't have to worry too much about Big Brother. Big Brother generally doesn't give a rat's hinquarters how you make a living, provided a) it's not illegal, and b) you give your fair share to Big Brother. Big Brother also doesn't really care what you write in your books or what you say in an interview or on your blog, unless you're advocating violent revolution or waving the flag for al-Qaeda or Kim Jong-un. Mabye you'll find yourself on a watch list if you raise a stink about bringing your tube of Preparation H on an airplane, but you'll probably never know it, and it will probably never affect you in any real way. But Little Brother is another story. Like Big Brother, Little Brother is always watching, and Little Brother is much more willing to mess with you.

Who is Little Brother? I am. You are. Anyone with a camera phone and access to Facebook, Instagram or Youtube. Anyone who blogs or Tweets or is involved in a forum with a big audience, such as Goodreads. And since you're reading this, and since most of you have blogs and such of your own, that means probably about 99+% of the people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Big Brother is a mostly-cold bureaucracy that grinds along, following its own byzantine set of rules, regulations, and procedures. Little Brother, on the other hand, is hot-blooded, passionate, and has no rules. Little Brother is capricious. If you offend Little Brother in some small way, Little Brother will post the video, screen cap the blog post before you can take it down, and amass a mob of other Little Brothers, all waving virtual torches and pitchforks, and telling the rest of the world that they will never buy one of your books again, ever.

Can Little Brother really hurt your writing career? That remains to be seen. Perhaps it depends on what level you're at. Perhaps it depends on what level of offense you've committed (and I should note, there are times when Little Brother is perfectly justified in calling out Bad Author Behavior, and times when Badly Behaving Authors deserve to be called out for things they say and do). Perhaps it's really a case of 'there's no such thing as bad publicity.' What I do know is we have to think before we speak, reconsider before we hit the 'send' or 'post' button, and carefully consider every word. That shouldn't be too hard; we're writers, after all. It's what we do.

Note: I'm really not as paranoid as this post makes me appear, but I've seen enough authors getting raked over the coals in places lately that this has been on my mind quite a bit. As the duty sergeant (I think) used to say on the show, Hill Street Blues: "Be careful out there."

Friday, April 19, 2013


Photo by Mark Robinson

Just because, that's why.

Yeah, it's a little big for the page, but hey, go big or go home, right?

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Weekend Update

Well, that felt good.

Yesterday I went to my writer's group for the first time in three weeks. Three weeks! I can't believe it was so long. Things just seemed to keep coming up that kept me away, and you know how slippery time can be. I missed it, a lot. We have a nice group of people, and even when I write poorly, it's always a lot of fun to be around them, chatting about writing, sharing ideas, having a few laughs over...anything, really.

I surprised myself a bit yesterday. I feared it might be a pen day because I'm rusty, having not written all that much lately. Instead, I churned out about four handwritten pages of something that, if I can get it under control, could be good, could maybe be a mid-sized short story that can go somewhere. It was one of those things that I actually had a glimmer of an idea for, but once I started writing, kind of went in its own direction and meandered a bit. The next task is to type it up and see if I can take it (or, perhaps, if it can take me) somewhere worthwhile. Regardless, it was nice to spend the writing time doing something other than staring out the window or spinning my pen around like a majorette.

Elsewhere on the writing front, I think I may have gotten BARTON'S WOMEN ready to be looked at by other people again (I suppose I'll have to actually read it again, all the way through, before I know; I have a tendency to get to a point where I say, "I'm done, get it away!" and shove it off, full of typos and orphan sentences and paragraphs. After reading someone else's manuscript, I'm embarrassed at how 'unclean' my work is when I send it out.). It was a slog. I had chapters that took a full week to revise, though these are long chapters. I also spent time last week re-cleaning up a short story that at least two of you know, Last Man Standing, and sent it out for consideration for an anthology. There's still time for this one, if you've got something ready.

What else? I don't know. I woke on yesterday morning to a light coating of snow on the roof of my car. Par for the course, I suppose. I think I mentioned it a month ago or so, in this part of the world, we're about a month behind in the arrival of spring, so it's really April that arrives with unsettled weather of the 'lion' variety. The good news is in the last week or so I've heard Wood frogs and Spring peepers, sounds which always make me feel good.

How about you? What's going on?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Admitting It

I took an interesting step yesterday.

My wife and I attended a business event last night, my wife with an eye toward making contacts, and me because, well, husband. At one point I found myself talking to one gentleman for a bit and he asked me what I do. So I told him, and then, with a bit of a nervous swallow, I told him, "And I've rediscovered my love of writing and have written two novels I'm attempting to publish."

Gah, that's ugly
I'll be quite honest with you, it's always been much easier to tell strangers on the internet this than it is to tell people in person. Maybe you know the feeling. Maybe you don't, maybe you have no trouble telling anyone and everyone about your novelizing. My wife tells more people I'm writing than I do, to be honest.

"Bravo," said this gentleman (no, he didn't actually say 'bravo', but that was the gist of it). He asked me what I write about, and now I'm stuck, and now I know why I don't tell people, because I still don't quite know how to answer this. It would be easy to say, "I'm a romance writer", or "Science fiction." How do you tell people you write what is a quasi-literary style with no real genre? So I said, "People" in a half-joking way, and then mumbled on about still trying to pin down what it is I write about.

This fine fellow proceeded to tell me that he was working on his third novel, then told me a brief story about running into a friend who was a literary agent (no names given, though I admit I was momentarily thinking, quite selfishly, "Connection!") and applauded me for telling him this little bit about me. I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of how telling people things like this can make things happen. If no one knows you're doing it, you might as well not be doing it. I think that's closer to what he said. He then told me another story about how he wrote a letter to an author back in 1989, after being moved by this man's book. It started a multi-year correspondence that ended up with him getting a great job opportunity from this author. Telling people, in other words, can lead to interesting opportunities.

It's still awkward for me to tell people flat out I'm writing, but yesterday was a good lesson on why we shouldn't shy away from it.


On another note, one thing I've always tried to do with this blog is be responsive to you. I may not always get to it right away, but I've always believed in acknowledging comments here, and if you don't see replies to comments directly on the page, it's because the comment went directly to that person's e-mail. I do this in part because I don't like seeing '24 replies to this post' when 12 of them are my own.

Life has kind of interrupted things lately, however. I have written very little at all over the last two weeks. I've been busy, and tired, and have not had as much time for this as I have in the past. I just want to let you all know that I'm reading all your comments, and I appreciate them very much, even if I don't reply to each of them. You may notice (or not, and that's okay) that my epic mustache hasn't been turning up in your own 'comments' section as much lately, either. In keeping with the A-Z theme that so many of you are participating in, call it 'T is for Time (and the lack thereof'. I just haven't had as much of it to devote to the blog world lately. I hope it will change soon, because I enjoy seeing what you're all up to, and I gain a lot from your own interests and struggles and triumphs.

Thanks, and have a great weekend!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Musical Monday: Mountain Sound

Making a second appearance on Musical Monday is Of Monsters and Men. This tune has gotten some radio play in these parts. Nice stuff.

I'm impressed with all of you out there who are plowing through your "A-Z" entries. I confess, it's hard to keep up with you all! Not much else to say right now. Have a great week!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Emotion on the Wane?

Saturday morning I sat, bleary-eyed, at my computer, a cup of coffee close at hand. I saw a tiny headline that woke me up quicker than the coffee: "Is literature losing emotion?"  The article quoted a recent study ( which seems to think so.

The researchers examined books published between 1900 and 2000, using a text analysis tool that looked for 'content' words that expressed emotion in six categories: Anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. There's a lot of deciphering in the 'methods' section of their paper, but the long and the short of it: emotion in literature is on the decline. The study claims a steady decline, with a two brief bumps, one in the late 1920s, another the early 1940s*, then dropping, dropping, dropping, with a slight upturn beginning in the 80s (the authors point out the biggest upturn has been with words indicative of 'fear', interestingly).

There are a lot of potential flaws with this research, and the Slate summary points out what looks an awful lot like confirmation bias. The study's authors claim they are accounting for changes in language and word use, though we don't know what words are used to indicate what emotions. Neither article really delves deep into what this means, whether it's a reflection of our times, or something else. Personally, I wonder if it comes down to authors working harder at 'showing', not 'telling'.

Someone commenting on the Slate article mentioned Raymond Carver, blaming him for stories that "focus on the dull & somewhat depersonalized stories of average people…all written with a heavy nod toward the language police & topped off w/, at this point, an enormous dollop of contemporary cliché." Ouch! I haven't read huge amounts of Carver's work, but what I've found is his work is packed with emotion, but the emotion is in the tone that permeates the entire piece, a mood he sets without using obvious content words. A skilled writer can do this without heavy use of emotion words. In fact, I would bet you can create a piece that's dark and depressing while stuffing it full of words that would indicate the opposite. Hmm. If I were a contest and challenge sort of guy, I might suggest you do that. What the hell, do it anyway, on your own, have fun with it.

I haven't found recent literature to be lacking emotion, have you? I do think writers are working harder at conveying emotion with less use of 'emotional' words. What do you all think of this? Have you found books becoming less emotional? Do you find a major difference between old books and new?

Thanks for stopping, have a great weekend.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rick Ross and the Unlearned Lesson of Steubenville

This weekend, I was tooling around on the internet and a headline grabbed my eye. "Rick Ross speaks on rape lyrics controversy." Now, I have to be honest, I have no idea who Rick Ross is. I have now read this story, I even searched out the song in question, and I still really don't know who Rick Ross is, except he's finding himself under fire for some lyrics in a song, and as always happens when any celebrity gets caught saying or doing something wrong, he's in damage control mode.

At issue are lyrics Ross penned as part of a song he performed with a couple of other artists, U.O.E.N.O.(You Ain't Even Know It):

"Put molly all in her champagne/ She ain't even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain't even know it."

'Molly', according to all, is slang for the drug Ecstasy, and the implication in the lyric is of someone slipping some to a girl, taking her home, and having at her. And she ain't even know it.

With the disturbing images from the Steubenville trial still fresh, the timing of this song is bad, to say the least.

In an interview (which can be seen in the first article, about 7 minutes long), Ross defending his lyrics:

"There are certain things you can't Tweet and certain things you want people to hear and I want to make sure this is clear, that woman is the most precious gift known to man. You understand.
"There was a misunderstanding with a lyric or a misinterpretation. The term rape wasn't used. I would never use the term rape in my records. Hip-Hop don't condone that, the streets don't condone that. Nobody condones that. I just want to reach out to all the queens on my timeline, the beautiful ladies that were reaching out to me... we don't condone rape and I'm not with that."

I don't know Rick Ross. Rick Ross may be a prince of a guy. I'm sure Rick Ross really doesn't condone rape, but Rick Ross just doesn't get it, does he? Even if his lyrics were being taken out of context and misunderstood, he reveals a complete lack of understanding of rape. "The term rape wasn't used." So, because he doesn't use the term 'rape,' in his mind, the song isn't about 'rape.' And, presumably, because he* wasn't using force—fists, or choke holds, or a knife to the throat, or "I'll kill your family if you don't"—it wasn't rape. The hopefully-fictional girl depicted in the song's lyrics was high from Ecstasy, thus willing, thus consent was giving, so it's not rape. (*BIG FAT NOTE: I'm not saying Rick Ross really did this. 'He' in the song can refer to some narrator/personality who is not necessarily Ross)

Sound familiar?

One of the things that came out of the recent Steubenville trial, revealed in testimony, text messages, disturbing images culled from cellphones, and in the often vile comments people made in response to online articles about it, is that so many people seem to believe it's not rape if you don't use force. There's a strong feeling in our culture that believes "Inebriation equals invitation." This attitude that must change, and it's the boys and men who must get this message. It's all well and good to teach our daughters to always be aware of their surroundings, to teach them to carry whistles, or the art of self-defence, to never go anywhere alone (and let me tell you, when we brought the Magpie to college, it was disconcerting to see signs in the dorm room warning girls not to to go out alone), but how do you teach them about this? Don't leave your drink unattended, never accept a drink from a stranger unless it's in a sealed container, travel in packs, what else?

I've said this before, I'll say it again. Yes, we need to teach our daughters all this, but what are we teaching our sons? I surely hope Rick Ross reconsiders his stance and revises his thinking. We need to change our thinking, and change what we show the young boys out there. Rape does not require fists, and inebriation does not equal invitation. It's past time we learned this. It's past time we made this part of our culture.