Archive | February, 2015

Eating Crow / And Who an Author Is and Isn’t

24 Feb

So I actually figured this out the day following my last post, but I have been kind of busy with work/RL to post. This is in regards to what I mentioned about King Aelle, so please, skip this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers. Ragnar Lothbrok, in accordance with the Poetic Edda, dies by Snake Pit. Aelle throws him in. Well played, tv show. I still think it was over the top and now I’m curious how one maintains it, but eeeeh.

In my defence, when I did research and wrote the rough draft for ToO I was an underemployed student, depressed but more importantly, incredibly broke. I could wangst, but I was hardly alone in the situation and it seems that the school has paid off since. I needed the internet for school so I’m more in the habit of researching what I need when I need it.

So to the heart of the matter – do self-published authors count as *real* authors?

Before we go any further, I’d like to remind you to say what you want, but defend what you say.
I’ve been looking into self-publishing for years, before it was acceptable and even reasonably affordable. I think it’s more to do with my routes being more along the lines of going to my regularly going to some basement comic convention than the Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival (or maybe just where mom and dad would drive my dorky young teen self). The idea of self-production is more than okay with comics and music, but we in general, the public sees self-pubbing as works that weren’t good enough to be picked up by a house. I suppose you have to at least know how to work your instrument or draw, whereas we assume that if we can read, we can put words down and it becomes a book of some sort.

Short answer – Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain… you get the idea.

Long Answer – Even if a publisher has all the funds in the world to promote ‘good’ books, not everyone likes everything at every time. I started getting my ‘not bad but here’s why it needs work’ rather then the general polite rejections around the age of 22, and while I got small publications in the meantime, I landed my first contract for a novel at 28 with a small Canadian publisher. I’d love to tell you it was all hearts and roses, but now I’m at a point where I’m second-guessing editors, when I see a good review I assume they’re just being nice, and if I keep going to the writers guild for classes and whatnot, it’s all basically rehashing the same old sphiel as I’ve taken these courses for years – now, actually writing and working with editors are my best teacher. And one can’t truly bitch, because if this isn’t an elitist, first-world problem, I do not know what is. I think publishing is a slow, frustrating game of writing even though you think you’re the only special misunderstood snowflake who everyone hates and why did you waste time writing books no one is ever going to read instead of going to the gym and making an even sexier version of oneself.

I think the point where you keep doing it even when you hate it when you work on it (but still kind of like it as a whole) you can call yourself writer and not someone who wrote something.

But when we get to the topic of who is an author – can I just say, that in my day job, where I make the $$ that so far supports me in supporting my books, I meet a lot of people in the medical industry. I’ve met medics from all over the province, good and bad ones, and nurses from just about every major hospital in the southern part of the province. I’ve talked to doctors who have practiced all over the world, specialists, technicians for various procedures, surgeons and members of STARS. Hey, let’s not forget out cops and firefighters, specialists from hydro – basically if it’s HazMat or is otherwise dangerous, the specialist who can tell you the ins and outs of it.

As a whole, the group of people who save lives have waaaaaaay less ego on the whole as the Winnipeg Writer scene? Notice how I said less ego?

For me, writing is about the work. I stunk when I started, but I also started like, 11 or 12 and as implied, I was more influenced by pulp and basement comics than ~Literature~. The author thing – that’s a crapshoot. And once again – background in medical industry – I’m not saying you didn’t work hard and now you have to feel bad about success or that you shouldn’t feel pride that you did things the ‘right’ way. I’m the first person to point out it’s not about someone’s feelings, it’s about what the reality is and I try to be pragmatic. Sometimes things fall into play, and other times, things won’t work out. There are fantastic novels out there that fall through the cracks because, for whatever reason, they get ignored. Then there’s the person who wrote something for fun and probably hasn’t read a book they weren’t forced to, and it sells a million copies. Lots of successful authors, I don’t personally like their writing style or their topics.

So it’s easy to understand that there’s a certain sense of elitism that goes with who does and doesn’t get to be called an author. Can I just humbly remind us that we’re all social creatures – in societies – which is usually where this INTJ thinks about how one can solve the dilemma, but let’s continue – we’re all weak and helpless when we’re born? Even if you buck your humble odds, there were people investing in you that you can never really repay. Not to make anyone feel guilty about not living cheque to cheque or that they can choose what they eat – but keep it in mind when you’re attacking someone, saying that if only they did this, that or the other thing, that you’re assuming that people not only see the world the same way as you, but also that they had the same opportunities as you. I’ve heard the arguments, and for the most part, too often I think we see success as it pertains to money. And coming from someone who finally broke through to the middle class a few years ago, no amount of money is ever enough. Once your needs are taken care of, try to find satisfaction in anything else.

This is my background speaking. I go into people’s houses on their really really bad days. Everyone needs an ambulance eventually, so I see the realities of different worlds within the same society. So when we’re arguing to basically bring a person down, saying this person is an author, and that one isn’t, please keep in mind that whether you’re naturally talented or have to work at it, the good work will be a good work regardless of whether it is ignored completely, or it was a lucky fluke. I would not set my eyes on acknowledgement or awards, so much as know that sometimes, it is enough that the darkness in the world can be defied with books that try to offer a little more than what is safe, socially acceptable, and profitable. I know true humility and kindness are often mistaken for weakness, but the fault lies in the person who denies them what they truly are, not the person who does the act.

Yes, there are some horribly self-pubbed books out there. I could argue the same for traditional books, and a publisher should have the resources to at least pull them up to a standard. As for me, I’ll keep spending my money on small Canadian Presses and pretend it’s making a difference.


Reading Challenge Update / Character Assassination in Fiction (And not the cool kind with dark clothing, sorry)

11 Feb


First, Reading List Update:

Book with Non-Human Characters: Bone, Ash, Fog and Star by Catherine Egan
A Book that Came Out this Year: The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Infinity Coil by Marty Chan
A Book with Bad Reviews: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Claire
A Book that Became a Movie: The Maze Runner by James

Technically any book out there should have some bad reviews. Taste, really – and I was aware of Cassandra Clare’s work previously, and for the most part, I’m counting it as Bad Reviews because I have more people whose reviews I follow have more bad to say than good . Me, it’s my first time reading the author in any official capacity and I thought it was okay. Maybe it’s just what I’m reading lately. Lots of stories of young special people fighting suprisingly demonic creatures from other dimensions so far. Might be the new dystopia… ahem. So far, two books with significant characters named Teresa, and two books making significant reference to Thomas Eddison. This wouldn’t strike me as odd if they weren’t so back-to-back.
Ah well – not like rough drafts matter, but I finished the other middle-grade book I was working on. The second was just a smidgeon longer then the first, but I can see why people can crank them out so quickly. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that writing for kids is tricky if you don’t want to be a condescending schmuck about it. I like that I’m more streamlined and focused, and it’s okay to have a sense of humor. And it’s okay if it’s not that sophisticated, kids get it.

Character Assassination
It’s okay to Have Bad Protagonists

I don’t watch much TV – but due to rural on call, last year I caught part of a tv series that I really wanted to see – but I decided to wait by starting with season 1. Finally bought season one of Vikings – a Canadian/Ireland production centered around Ragnar Lothbrok, a historical viking who became Jarl of Scandinavia set at the end of the 8th century. For the most part, I really liked it – while it does have a typical Canadian, “They won’t even know they’re being educated!” feel (Oh yes we will) which I think has more to do with grant money than anything, the casting was great, the stories didn’t drag, and it didn’t shy away from difficult storylines and a reality we like to romanticize. The purist might be like “It’s pronounced YARL” (jarl, not earl) but I’m a believer you can be historically accurateish for your audience. We need to fill in the blanks somewhere, and I’d rather an author/director/designer be consistent for what they’ve decided because as well as things get documented, there’s always some questions left unanswered. I loved the sets, the costumes, the men looked rugged and strong without being your chiseled 300 models for the most part. Hey, it doesn’t even shy from religion, so props to the balls for once.

Anyway – my chief complaint about the story is that it’s hard to take a character like Ragnar who, by our standards is a very heroic adventurer – but he also is a liar, a marauder, an adulterer, and a slaver.
They balance this out by making him seem very loving towards his family, as well as seemingly bright for his time (valuing knowledge over immediate material wealth) but our first time seeing him on his great adventure to the ‘west’ he attacks some defenceless priests in their monastery. I have no problem with this – it’s accurate to history. I’m sure there were vikings that passed over penniless commoners, but the mentality was generally geared towards raiding and pillaging. The mentality was that it was better to die on your feet and finding great wealth glory rather than building Ice-Hobbiton. It’s like someone caught wind of this and was like, “Audiences might realize that our hero is basically a maurader! (HE IS/WAS). We need to make our antagonists worse than the hero!” My guess is that they already spent some of the grant money on beer and it was too late to pick a historical era whose characters weren’t raping, slaving, and setting settlements on fire. (Though to be fair, this might eliminate a rather large chunk of human history…)

We’ll start with the jarl that Ragnar is sworn fealty and to obey – who Ragnar immediately disobeys in episode 2 and sails west.

He’s portrayed as a ruthless man, having a man executed in episode 1 due to a conflict of interest and killing men who are loyal to him but look the wrong way at his wife, having a child executed to guard his hoard in the afterlife. (It gets worse, believe me). Okay, let’s be fair – we’re in a brutal world, so this is kind of an accurate thing. Your typical jarl probably wasn’t used to being told ‘no’ and you didn’t get to be jarl by handing out kittens and roses. I actually liked the conflict between the two characters because we got backstory with the jarl and we understood his motivations, but there are scenes where I felt like they were included just to remind the viewers that no matter what Ragnar does, the jarl is worse.

Enter the King of Aelle, or as I like to call him, Robert Baratheon II. (Because I’m a jerk).


When we meet the king’s sheriff, he goes into the good PR of how they live in peace and prosperity, and I’m going to assume the sheriff doesn’t like complaining about how truly awful life is and maybe he’s giving a good spin on things, and MAYBE our sheriff was lying and going to take them all into custody because our hero matches the smirk of the barbarians who attacked that monastery last spring. The vikings attack a seemingly peaceful envoy of soldiers, led by Rollo, who we’ll get to shortly. Our slovenly king (nothing says I’m a slothful glutton no one should like – make him a former CK model and we might have more people being sympathetic to having something relatively peaceful and unprotected suddenly having to fight back against people who want to kill and plunder) sends other people to fight his battles for him (like a smart king, but in fiction-land this looks cowardly), but his most horrible moment is when the surviving lord, after retreating with what little men he had left after a battle with the vikings, goes to tell the king, “We had our butts handed to us, here’s some intel on our enemy” gets thrown into a snake pit. First, how does one have one of those installed without there being some rumours from the stable boys – (hey, don’t fail the king… I know he sits around getting fat and everything, but he’s vengeful, man) and also, was it done for any other reason than to think, “Bad man! Rothgar might be stealing from and killing relatively undefended peasants (well, not on screen…) taking what little wealth they have and, if their settlements burn, leaving them to scratch out a living in the harsh winter, fighting through some of the king’s men eventually but at least he’s not throwing one bravish grown man into a snake pit!” Maybe the king will actually personally suffer from the attacks, but he’s got funds for a snake pit. Maybe this will be a plot point in season 2.

Finally, there’s the foil to our MC – Rollo.
Ragnar’s brother, who has by far the most interesting story arc so far. Rollo, who is his brother’s right hand although we, the audience, know he’s not trustworthy in the least. He picks fights and seems to enjoy killing the onscreen defenceless, he rapes, he covets after Legretha, Ragnar’s wife – he also refuses to betray his brother when he could have taken everything he wanted. And just when he does something awesome, he usually rounds it out by getting drunk, sleeping around, and scolded by someone for being a dimwit.

Now, I’m going to throw out that I’m being overly nitpicky and the worst of these examples was the King of Aelle, and he’s also the character we spend the least amount of time with. On the whole, this show does this relative character assassination much better than a lot of times I read it in fiction. I know audiences want to like their main character, and when you’re writing history – even history from the 20th century – you’re going to have characters with very different mindsets then we have today, and writing them for modern audiences can be extremely difficult. As a whole, we like intelligent, attractive characters who think the way we think, but that limits our stories and also our intended audiences. I for one trust my audience enough to know that something a relatively uneducated 10th century man-at-arms says might not be a reflection of me as an author, but I’ve learned that not everyone can tell the difference. (I call them preschoolers, but the ones I know start to discern what is sincere and fooling at a young age. It’s a useful life skill, IMO) Thing is, I think it’s enough that we have a character who acts within the honour system of his culture – he disobeys a small minded jarl. He attacks a wealthy monastery – we don’t have to make Rollo look worse to make Ragnar look great – he does that by valuing the monk’s knowledge to plan future raids. He returns and attacks a kingdom, waiting for the time to strike. This is no ignorant raider – he’s relatively smart, and while no one deserves to have barbarians at the door, if you’re going after that time period, it’s better than covering it up and pretending it was for any reason other than it was. The king is no saint, we get it. Like the jarl, he needs a healthy amount of fear to keep his men in line. To me, Rollo being a drunken womanizer who drifts along aimlessly in his brother’s shadow doesn’t knock him down to build Ragnar up – it makes Rollo a much more interesting character. Part of this, at least for when I write, is that your noble supermen are harder to write. I might be able to identify with an aspect of a character’s excellence, but let’s face it, I have more in common with any of the hobbits from LoTR than with Legolas, and only part of it is Second Breakfast.

In general, what I described above (making a character really bad seemingly to make the protagonist seem not so bad) I call this character assassination, and I think this is usually to help with relative morality and make the audience agree with where the author took things – obviously the love triangle should go one way, because love interest B did something bad (which if the preferred character did, would be totally legitimized, such as stalking) therefore everyone has to get on board with the OTP unless they like puppy kickers or something. Even where shows try to be ‘edgy’ and show grey vs grey morality, they still have to pick a side eventually and to me, these bits of assassination just look like a saving throw because they recognize that the protagonist isn’t that good. And in my opinion, we can do this without having characters exist just to build up the protagonist.

A good example of a character who is ‘bad’ we can all get behind would be Richard B. Riddick – who I was told in a trailer was a new kind of evil, but basically, the series is my favourite adaptation of Conan the Barbarian so I consider him almost true neutral with tinkering towards good if you’re a kid or a dog. Riddick’s a murderer, leaves people to die, probably stole every spaceship he’s ever flown, etc. – but he also doesn’t go out of his way to kill for pleasure, never harms the vulnerable (although stealing their supplies to survive is fair game) and some of you are going, “But, what about Johns in Pitch Black? The merc who they made an addict…?” first off, Pitch Black’s main character wasn’t Riddick, but let’s look anyway. He and Johns are at a stalemate and they know it – and it’s Johns who mentions killing Jack first, and I for one see Riddick killing Johns because it was the best strategy (don’t let the one guy who could cause you trouble later get any advantage). Riddick is not a pillar of morality – in PB, he’s the strongest character and most apt to survive, but he’s not willing to go back and save people either. He goes against characters in later movies who are a different type of evil (religious dictators, slaving mercenaries, etc.) who still have kick the dog moments, but I get the idea it’s their actual characters and the world, not thrown in to make Riddick look better. The movies are far from perfect, but in terms of Riddick’s character, with the exception of him getting a wolf-dog thing in book 3, he doesn’t have a single pat the dog moment.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re doing history, which awards-wise is akin to CanLit, trust your audience. If us low-brow sci-fi audiences on the whole get it, your history buffs will too.