Tuesday, July 30, 2013

politics in fiction

I read an interesting book recently, Flashback by Dan Simmons. Set in the future, it's essentially a murder mystery with a disgraced ex-detective being forced to solved the murder of a powerful man's son. The title refers to flashback, a drug that most Americans are addicted to, in which you flash back to memories from your past. As you can imagine, this doesn't bode too well for the U.S. economy, etc. In Flashback the U.S. and most of the rest of the world's civilizations have been destroyed.
This future world Simmons created is extreme. Evil Muslims have been waging a holy war on the whole world. Clever sneaky Japanese still have advanced technology but also have a brutal feudal style culture of ritual suicide and worse. (If this sounds racist to you, I agree.)

Furthermore, in this world, Simmons writes the U.S. was totally bankrupted/destroyed by its entitlement programs. Europe was destroyed by its socialist policies. In addition, Simmons states multiple times that anthropogenic climate change is a "hoax". He mentions one lab repeatedly where this nefarious research took place and which is the site of horrific research in the novel. (Never mind the hundreds of other universities and labs that do research in this area which are never mentioned.)
To make a long story short, Tea Partiers would love this book.
Before reading this novel I had no idea what Mr. Simmons' personal political views were...but I have a pretty strong feeling I do now.

Should you include strong political views in your novel? In my opinion: caveat scriptor.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I read an interesting book recently, The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. It tells the story of a disadvantaged mother in 1831 England and what she does to protect her baby in the midst of a cholera epidemic. "Dress lodging" refers to a whore renting a fancy dress so she can attract fancier johns. It's a very dramatic story and well-written. Moreover, it has an interesting point-of-view, with the author often addressing the reader. I don't think it will be too much of a spoiler to reveal some people do die of cholera.
However, the ending is ambiguous. A positive life for the dress lodger is suggested for the audience, but we have no way of knowing if it will come to pass. When a novel or story has an ambiguous ending, it's up to the reader to decide what will happen. Even more than usual the reader plays an integral part in an ambiguous-ending story.

What do you think will happen to the dress lodger? A happy ending? Death via cholera?
Whatever you decide it says a lot about you. :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I've been noticing lately some books and some magazines have a lot of telling in their stories. One short story magazine I'd really like to publish in has a huge amount of telling and narrative in its stories. I'd estimate the showing is about 10%. They often end ambiguously as well.
Literary and "mainstream" fiction also seem to involve a lot of telling. I recently read The Time in Between by Maria Duenas. It was very good, but it involved a lot of telling, summarizing the story, rather than showing us the story. Speaking of summarizing, it is the story of Sira, a young woman in humble circumstances living in Spain at the time of the Spanish civil war and World War II, and who must do some surprising things to survive. The title refers to those who live without history taking note of their lives. Like all good fiction, this novel raises questions like: What is the point of life? How would I act and react in such dire circumstances? etc. This novel covers a lot of historical ground, so telling is totally appropriate.
I guess my point is: take 'show, don't tell' with a grain of salt. Do your market research. Some markets desire telling and some do not.

How about you? Do you like to show? or tell?
Have you read any good books lately?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

get in the groove

One of my writing friends made some very inspiring comments the other day, so I asked her to summarize them for your reading pleasure.

Guest post from Jamie Ferguson:

A while back I finally got back in the groove and started focusing on my writing again. I wanted to finish my book, but I also gave myself the okay to take it slow because I didn't want to get burnt out and stop. I was moving at a glacial pace, but I was moving!

I started to pick up steam last fall. My editor had given me exactly the kind of feedback I needed, I was making progress on editing my book, and I took a writing class from Dean Wesley Smith. But this wasn't enough. I wanted to make real changes in my life. I didn't want to work on my manuscript for a day or two, then do nothing for 3 weeks. I like to compare writing to exercise - when you're in shape, you can't not exercise...but when you're trying to get in shape, you'll use even the most ridiculous excuses to avoid doing anything. I wanted to be in writing shape.

The plan I came up with was to incorporate a variety of writing-related activities into my life on a weekly, preferably daily, basis.

I signed up for two classes: one on book cover design, and one on interior book design. I eventually took another three writing classes. I tried out a few writing podcasts, finally settling on Writing Excuses as my favorite. I started reading writing blogs. I joined a small critique group. I worked on my manuscript whenever I had free time. And I started having writing happy hours with a few other writers. You can discount the latter, but I do not - talking with other writers helps keep you motivated. And combining it with wine doesn't hurt...

My idea was that if I involved myself in many different writing-related activities that I would be more likely to be able to stay focused. So if I took a little time off from my manuscript, but was taking classes, listening to podcasts, and going to a critique group, that I was still focused on writing. Kind of like if you take a few weeks off from running, but you're hiking and lifting weights, you're still used to the idea that exercise is a part of your life.

Incorporating all of this into my life was a challenge in the beginning, but I achieved what I wanted - seven months later I'm still writing diligently on a regular basis. My book was published in April, I'm about to publish a small short story collection, and I'm about 2/3 of the way through my second novel. My plan was a success!

Congratulations and thanks, Jamie!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sookie Rocks!

As every self-respecting speculative fiction fan knows, Charlaine Harris released the final Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series book this spring, Dead Ever After That makes book number thirteen for those of you who are counting. In honor of the ending of the series I decided to read them all again from beginning to end, and I'm having a ball. Harris is an amazing author. Her plotting keeps the reader entranced. Moreover, she's created a whole cast of characters that are engaging and realistic--and that's with vampires, shifters, werewolves, and fae running around!

Sookie, in particular, is a tour de force character. Harris has done a masterful job showing naive Sookie change and grow into a self-sufficient, wise woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. While Sookie isn't exactly a typical woman, she's not superwoman. She's flawed in the beginning of the series and flawed in the end, although less so. She has a lot of setbacks but always manages to pick herself up again and keep trying. She also wrestles with big picture ideas of good versus evil and what it means to be a good Christian. Kudos, Ms. Harris!

What's that? You don't like Sookie as much as I do? That's totally fine. The bottom line here is Harris has created the type of multidimensional character every author should strive for.
Another important take-away is: read, read, read. Not only is it great fun, but writers learn a lot from other writers.

Who's your favorite fictional character?