The use of clichés

January 24, 2015

I just ran across this article on Facebook about how to tell if you’re in a high fantasy novel, which is very reminiscent of the Evil Overlord List that’s been around since the inception of the Internet.  It’s worth a read, including the comments which largely continue with the theme.  Both the Fantasy List, and the Evil Overlord List make fun of what tend to be common tropes and clichés in fantastic literature. (TV Tropes could be considered the ultimate such list.)

It is a useful thing for a writer of any stripe to be familiar with these tropes, because one of the primary uses of these tropes and clichés is to manage the audience’s expectations.  Most of what we want to do as a writer— build suspense, fear, humor, surprise— starts with leading the audience in a particular direction.  Most of the better experiences  we have in fiction are when we’re led one way, and the author suddenly veers off somewhere new and unexpected.

Consider the violent sociopathic villain confronted by a second-string lieutenant who has to break the news that he just failed an let the heroes escape.  What if, instead of shooting the poor guy for his failure, the villain is understanding, says no one is perfect and comforts his minion by saying, “you’ll get him next time,” as the lieutenant breaks down into tears.


The end of free speech

December 19, 2014

It’s done.

When the creative class itself packs their bags and calls it quits, it’s over.  This is where we end.  Any tyrant now knows that they can suppress any artistic expression they don’t like just by making some threats.
The temptation is to retaliate.  Make fun of North Korea and Kim Jong Bad Hair Day.  Punish them by making them the butt of the joke.  But it doesn’t fix the problem.  You see, they’re already a joke.  They’ve been one for years. Satire clogs the Internet as we speak, and will continue to do so.  But that’s just pretending the fight’s still happening when we’ve already lost.  It doesn’t matter how many memes you post to Facebook.  Hollywood, the heart of American cultural dominance in the world, has caved to a tin-pot dictator of a country that has to kidnap filmmakers just to have a film industry.  A cartoon from College Humor isn’t going to make up for that.  A biting Jon Stewart critique isn’t going to make up for that.  Hell, George Clooney can’t get a petition signed condemning the hacking and intimidation of Sony.  George-effing-Clooney.

Worse, the movie industry as a whole has just let everyone know that if you want a film banned in the US, just make a threat.  They’re all almost inviting a bomb at a multiplex now. Good work all.

Now Sony has a perfect right to do what it did.  So does AMC, Regal, et al.  So does Paramount for pulling Team America as a last minute replacement for the Interview.  But this cannot continue if we don’t want our popular culture to be at the mercy of any regime that can afford a hacker and a bomb.

So how do you give Hollywood a spine? Stay home this Christmas.  Don’t pay to see the movies they deign to show us this week.  Make it cost them to cave into these threats.  Rent a movie, watch Netflix, and send an e-mail to your local Regal, AMC, Cinemark letting them know why they aren’t getting your money.  Let Sony Pictures and Paramount know why you aren’t paying to see their other moves.  Boycott the whole pantywaist lot of them until they grow a set and tell Kim Jon Un to sodomize himself, or they go bankrupt, divest, and are replaced by studios and theater chains with corporate cultures that will.

Four Things Marvel is doing right and everyone else will (probably) do wrong

December 15, 2014

I’ve just recently started catching up with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix, and I started thinking about how well Marvel has done with its properties since Iron Man came out all the way back in 2008.  A lot has been said already about the “shared universe” idea, and how “revolutionarily” it is, but I don’t think that’s it. . . not exactly, anyway.  Sure, that’s what everyone is focusing on, and we will be inundated with “shared universe” properties from now until the next decade, most of which will go two or three films and quietly die an unmourned death.  After all, the idea of several different creative properties sharing a single continuity is not all that new an idea.  It’s at least as old as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which is probably better than whatever Universal Studios comes up with now to jump on the bandwagon.  And we have Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who as examples of franchises that spawned decades worth of TV, movies and print stories in a continuity that was shared to one degree or another.  As evidence that the shared universe in and of itself has little to do with Marvel’s current success, consider the following counterfactuals: Would the Marvel Cinematic Universe have succeeded if it led with Daredevil?  Would Guardians of the Galaxy have made any less money if it wasn’t connected to the MCU at all?

So what’s up with Marvel?  Here’s the top five things I think they’re doing right.  The MCU serves some of these points, but my guess is that folks jumping on the shared universe bandwagon will whiff on most if not all of these points.

4) Brand identity.  Most superhero movies are identified by either the main characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four) or the director plus main character (Raimi’s Spider Man, Nolan’s Batman), so once you spin off a property (a Nightwing movie say) you loose some connection to the original property.  Marvel’s movies are identified by the studio name, much like Pixar’s films.  So that they can make a Guardians of the Galaxy without any necessary connection to their prior films, and Marvel’s fanbase has developed enough trust to give the oddball flick a chance.

3) Superheroes are a trope, not a genre.  Speaking of Guardians of the Galaxy, how did Marvel manage to stick a straight-up eighties-era space opera fantasy in the same continuity as Captain America? Because Marvel isn’t making “superhero movies,” they’re making movies with superheroes in them.  They’ve done Space Opera, WWII War Movies, Conspiracy Thrillers. . .  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t even have superheroes for the most part, and owes much more to the X-Files than Superman.

2) When you have decades of intellectual property, it doesn’t have to ALL go into ONE movie.  How many villains do you need for a superhero movie?  How many do you usually get?  How well does that usually go?

And most important, and the step most likely to be overlooked by everyone jumping on the bandwagon.

1) Write a decent screenplay.

Interstellar: the SF we need right now…

November 30, 2014


A couple of months ago I suggested that Guardians of the Galaxy deserved to be this generation’s Star Wars. In a similar vein, I think Interstellar wants to be this generation’s 2001. And, unlike some other movies I could name, Interstellar comes a lot closer to the mark. In large part because the homage goes beyond the hard sfnal aesthetics and the trippy ending, and into the theme of the movie; the fate of humanity as a species.

Whatever flaws this movie has (and it does have a few) it makes up for with an actual sense of wonder combined with an unapologetic pro-human point-of-view that seems to have been missing from SF of late. This is SF that is of a piece with Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke, and a whole generation of science fiction writers who blossomed between WWII and the Kennedy Assassination. This is SF that says, unironically, that humanity as a species is worth saving, and that our accomplishments outweigh our faults. This is SF that says that our science and technology are good things, and turning away from them leads toward destruction. This is SF that explicitly rages against the dying of the light.

Like the movie’s view of humanity, I think Interstellar’s accomplishments far outweigh its faults.

The Blogs, They Are A-changin…

October 3, 2014

I’ve been keeping some sort of web presence since I was first published, back in 1993.  Being a computer geek outside my work as a novelist, I’ve gotten into the habit of rolling my own site.  So I’ve lived through the era of hand-coded html and animated gifs. I’ve struggled with Javascript menus, and had a site where I created navigation buttons in Paint Shop Pro.  I’ve migrated from Blogger to my own WordPress site.  And, as I’ve been bringing the blog portion of this back to life I’ve been busy changing the design again.  I expect things to be changing here for a while.  I can’t really use an off-the-shelf theme since I’ve done a lot of back-end coding to maintain all the book-related content.  I expect things to settle down in a couple of weeks.

Word to the geeks out there: CSS3 rocks!  The animated book menus, which were once Javascript and a bunch of moving <DIV>s, are now all handled with some lines in the stylesheet.  I was so excited that I told my wife— and got the glazed eye-rolling expression that translates to, “why do you think I care?”

Still, it rocks!

Bad Examples: Publisher Edition

September 29, 2014

Say you’re a publisher.  Say you’ve been profitable in the past but have been sliding into financial difficulties.  Let’s even say that you’ve had a few past issues with lawsuits over breach-of-contract.  Then, let’s just posit that some blogger does some research and finds all sorts of shenanigans:

  • There is a set of authors who have not received royalty payments in over six months. EC has blamed this repeatedly on a new accounting system installed in December of 2013.
  • CEO Marks admits that “already submitted finished books” will be paid but that “payment may be delayed.”
  • The author portal has been shut down where a select few authors could check their royalties.
  • Authors request for return of their rights have been rejected and some are told that their books will be published with or without their approval.
  • The total sum of unpaid royalties, editor fees, cover artist fees is in the several thousands, perhaps approaching six figures.

So you need to put this behind you, right? You need to make good your commitments to your authors and possibly do the obligatory mea culpa for damage control, right?



What am I thinking? No, what you really do is file a lawsuit against a blogger.

You file a lawsuit.  Against a blogger.

Really, Ellora’s Cave? Really? What kind of legal advice are you idiots getting? I’m sorry, you think schoolyard bully tactics are somehow going to protect your collapsing business model? WTF you think will happen in discovery, when the defendant gets to see your books to demonstrate the truth or falsity of the claims in their blog post? WTF you think will happen when you get a well-deserved reputation for being litigious bullies who also happen to screw their authors? Has your legal team dropped the habit of pissing off Judges?

My prediction: Bankruptcy before this ever makes it to court.

My Busy Weekend

September 11, 2014

This Saturday, September 13, I will be at the Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library’s 2nd annual Author Expo from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm at the Willoughby Hills Community Center in Willoughby Hills.

This Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm I will be at the Meet the Authors event at the fifth annual Weekend Of The Pooka:  A Celebration Of The Arts at the Bedford Commons.  While I’m only there Sunday, the events go on all weekend long.

Dragon•Princess will be available at both venues.

In other news, I just found out I will be attending the 27th annual Buckeye Book Fair, this November 1st.

Geeks Out After Dark

September 8, 2014

This Wednesday (Sept. 10) I will have the pleasure of being interviewed for the Geeks Out After Dark  podcast starting around 8:30 pm. You’ll be able to attend live (and send questions) via Google Hangouts. Or you can download the podcast when they put it up on their site and iTunes.  Thanks to my spouse/publicist Michelle for setting this up, and thanks to James L Wilber, Shade OfRoses, Randy Marr & Michael Quintana for having me.

Upcoming Next Week

August 26, 2014

I will be talking at the Coventry branch of the Heights Libraries in Cleveland Heights this coming Wednesday September 3rd from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  I’ll be talking about writing, setting fantasies in Cleveland, and reading from my latest book, Dragon•Princess.  All are welcome, though the library is asking people to register at the link here.

September is going to be a busy month for me.  Some more announcements will follow shortly.

The Light and the Dark

August 16, 2014

Some disconnected but related ideas that are circling around my head.

  1. Robin Williams died. He was a great comic. But I’ve always really, really liked him as a dramatic actor. He will always be known for his manic energy and the improvisation, but when he was given the chance to act, he could give you chills. (see his work in Insomnia, seriously.) One wonders what he could have done if he’d been given the role of the Joker back in the Tim Burton era.
  2. One of the most common bits of praise I’ve heard about Guardians of the Galaxy is how it avoids the whole “grimdark” aesthetic that has infected many superhero movies. This despite the characters’ backstories, and their status as criminals, thugs and assassins. The plot, in fact, is not really all that light hearted, which sort of reminds me of. . .
  3. Doctor Who, which I’ve finally caught up with on Netflix. I can’t think of any other dramatic work that manages to balance the elements of light and dark so seamlessly. And the pits of darkness is goes into (I mean, genocide is a recurring theme. It can get dark.) wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it wasn’t for the frivolity, the humor, and the joy the various Doctors bring to the table. (And vice versa)

All of which is sort of a round-about way of saying that if you’re writing something light, don’t forget the darkness.