Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fan Fiction Earns Even More Respect

I'm not a fan of the supernatural romance genre.* I read the first Stephanie Meyers novel back when the series was still young because the industry buzz at the time said it was going to be the next Potter phenomenon. I barely made it through the horrid writing without vomiting, but to be fair, I am not the target audience. What I do find interesting though is the supernatural romance phenomenon and industry. Millions of woman and young girls devour these stories as quickly as the industry can produce them, and while I may not like the particular stories themselves, I appreciate the healthy economics it generates.

But since I don't follow it too closely, I was quite surprised to read the cover story on the Wall Street Journal Arena section: "A Vampire Writer Bites Back" (April 18, 2014). I had no idea that the initial author of "Vampire Diaries" was essentially fired from the series she wrote. Lost in the confusion of publishing contracts, buy-outs, etc., it turns out that the idea of the "Vampire Diaries" belonged to the publishing company and that L.J. Smith was a "work for hire" writer.

The author is slowly taking her creation back, though, through the use of fan fiction avenues, and the WSJ (being a business-oriented paper) article focuses on how fan fiction has (and is) changing the publishing industry. As everyone knows by now, the S&M porn of "50 Shades of Grey" was initially Bella and Edward fan fiction with name changes. Plus many other now-popular paranormal romance stories were born from the same Twilight DNA (which again, got its DNA from Buffy's romances with Angel and Spike, which can be traced back to Vlad and Nina).

The question is: How long will this sort of impact last? Will it bleed over into other genres?

I can remember writing Star Wars fan fiction when I was a young teenager, but that was pre-Internet days, before even "Return of the Jedi" had been released, and it was something I didn't feel comfortable sharing with friends. I do know there is some sci-fi fan fiction floating around out there, most of it centers around the gaming industry (Michael Stackpole has some interesting stories), so it'll be interesting as I delve into some research as to how much is out there, and if it is publishable.

One company that has the spare seed money to experiment is Amazon. As you'll read in the WSJ article, Amazon is taking a chance that fan fiction can be profitable and, at the very least, bring some attention to talented writers who would normally get lost in the publishing slush pile.

So don't be afraid, sit down at your keyboard with you favorite characters or universe, and tell a story or two. You never know, you may make a name for yourself.

Until Next Time...
Fictionally Yours,
Michael


*I am a huge fan of all things "Buffy", and while it can be credited with giving that category a huge boost, "Buffy" was not a supernatural romance.
** I included the above picture, because if I was writing Twilight fan fiction, that truly is how I would have ended the first book. No, I wouldn't have waited that long -- I would have had Blade show up before page 50. But that wouldn't have been very profitable, and I doubt the publisher would have ever printed my version.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Avoid clliches Like The Plague I

I used to believe that clichés were a sign of lazy writing. What am I saying... I still believe clichés are a sign of lazy writing. But recently, I was reading a wonderful short story, nearly perfectly crafted except for one cliché that slipped into the prose. Unfortunately, it was the one cliché I hate the most, and while it jolted me out of the story, I forgave this particular writer this one time because it was such a well done story, I figure it had to be that one slip that happened to make it past the writer and the editors (although I don't know how). So with that being said, here's a few clichés that just drive me insane...
  • "head over heels" - yep, this was the one that slipped through into the story I was reading. Unless you are lying down or hanging upside down, you are always head over heels. I bet you're head over heels at this very moment. In fact, if you fall, then you want to fall head over heels, because that means you haven't fallen at all.
  • "heart of hearts" - what the hell does that even mean? Seriously? Does the heart have a heart? Is one particular heart the personification of all hearts. I have no idea. But people who use that phrase should be kicked in the butt of butts.
  • "all of a sudden there was a gunshot/explosion/etc" - do I really have to explain this one? or can I simply say that if you're able to give me an example of a gunshot or explosion that is not sudden, then I will retract this statement.
  • "disappeared into thin air" -- so in other words, whatever disappeared, it happened at a high attitude, because the air is thick at sea level. Or maybe whatever it was, it wouldn't have disappeared if the air had been thinner.
So I give you those four for now. I know I will follow up with more at some later date because I hate clichés and could go on for hours about them. Until then unless you are a doctor, nurse, or missionary in some third-world country, you should avoid the above clichés, like....well.... avoid them like the plague.

Until Next Time...
Lazily Yours,
Michael

Sunday, April 13, 2014

National Library Week

Right smack in the middle of National Poetry Month, we find ourselves celebrating National Library Week.

When you walk into the library these days, they have all sorts of posters showing all sorts of celebrities holding books, usually with a simple tagline promoting reading. In its own right, this is probably one of the better approaches for kids of this generation, especially considering the more immediate media connections kids have to their favorite celebrities that didn't exist twenty years ago .

Back when I was growing up, though, the approach was different. Instead of trying to get kids to read by celebrity endorsement, libraries hung posters that promoted the magic that could be found in books. Many had quotes about the benefits of reading or of the doors of imagination the library and books could open. Sometimes they said nothing more elaborate than "Reading is Fun".

There's always been a part of me that would love to have a room or at least a wall dedicated to some of the posters of my time - a nostalgic display of my childhood when I used to leave the library with stacks of books, about to discover new worlds of fantasy or science fiction or just plain, simple stories that were fun to read.

The Boss and I not only use our local library, but we also donate time and money to the local library foundation to make sure this most magic of places continues to find relevance in this quickly changing, information-heavy society. You should find the time as well, you'll quickly discover that it's well worth your efforts.

"Amid the hectic pace of our lives, a library is like a comfy chair in front of a cozy fireplace on a wintry day, where people of every age and status can sit down and feel like they've come home... to a world without boundaries, to the world of books." - author C. J. Carr

Until Next Time...
Cozily Yours,
Michael
 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Most Prolific Writer Ever?

A few posts ago, I discussed pulp magazine publications, and one of those I mentioned was The Ellery Queen mystery magazine. Coincidentally enough, The Boss discovered the early 70s Ellery Queen television series staring Jim Hutton on Hulu. This series only ran one season, and there was a lot wrong with it that explains why it only lasted one season, but the synchronicity of it all made me head to my local library and see what Ellery Queen books they have on their shelves. I found a 1979 reprint of the very first Ellery Queen novel, "The Roman Hat Mystery", published by Mysterious Press.

On the back of that book was a list of other books available for order, including a book of Sherlockian limericks by none other than Isaac Asimov.

Yeah! Who knew?

Well, apparently, some of his more ardent fans knew, but this particular little book slipped by me. I knew all about the history of the bible, and his various books of essays. I knew the man practically wrote from dawn to dusk and then would write some more. I also know the story of the time the interviewer asked him what he would do if he learned he had only six months to live ("Write faster!" was apparently his response).

The man wrote science fiction, fantasy, mysteries. He even wrote romance novels. I don't know if he wrote long-hand or with a typewriter, but remember, this was well before the days of word processing programs on computers. Plus, don't forget, he still worked in his academic field as both a professor and lecturer. He travelled to conventions, seminars, and founded a couple of pulp magazines as well. (All this from a man who taught himself to read at the meager age of three.) The guy kept himself busy. And basically, makes us all look like slackers.

If you'd like to know more, just look him up on Wikipedia, but be prepared for a lot reading. A lot.

Until Next Time...
Unprolificly Yours,
Michael

Thursday, April 3, 2014

National Poetry Month

Incase you hadn't heard by now, April is National Poetry Month.

So you haven't heard? No surprise. I'd be willing to guess only about one person in a thousand have heard of it.

Why?

Well, I blame your school. In fact, I blame your school and your teachers, because they're the ones who taught you that poetry and literature is inaccessible. In other words, you believe you can't enjoy poetry because you can't understand it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Back when you were in school, the Powers That Be operated under the belief that you had to understand dusty old verse from people written generations upon generations ago - people most likely dead by now - in order to appreciate modern verse. That belief is, quite frankly, a load of bullshit.

Do you have to know the history of film to enjoy a good movie? Do you have to understand the evolution of the combustion engine and automobile to enjoy speeding down the road in a brand new Ford Mustang? Hell no.

So why is it that academia believe that you can't enjoy poetry (and literature) unless you are taught the classics first? Because that is what they were taught.

Don't get me wrong. There are good teachers out there, and many who do a wonderful job of introducing students to literature and poetry. I had a few growing up. It helped that I already loved reading, so it didn't take much for me to embrace what they taught. But I distinctly recall other students who looked forward to those literature classes where the instructor found ways to make the works we studied enjoyable.

If there were more of those teachers, then maybe more of the general public would enjoy poetry.

But you can change that trend. Go to your local library, check out poetry books by modern authors, or take a chance and buy one ("Good Poems" edited by Garrison Keillor or anything by Billy Collins), search YouTube for Taylor Mali for some poignant and funny spoken word poetry. I promise you will laugh at some, cry at others, but at the very least, you'll be moved, and you will become a lover of poetry and your life will be enriched.

Until Next Time...
Poetically Yours Again,
Michael

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I love magazines, and when it comes to fiction, I love the short forms. I often wish we could return to those days when writers were able to make a living writing short fiction and there were tons of magazines out there devoted solely to publishing fiction. Those days became a part of the past before I was born, and with each passing year, we lose more and more of "the pulps".

There are still a few around, and fortunately, there are still plenty of literary and small press magazines, but those with the pulp tradition are nearly gone. Off the top of my head I could name maybe five and I'd be hard pressed to name ten. That's why I try my best to support those traditional pulp magazines, like "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction". The best way to do that, of course, is to subscribe, and as embarrassing as it is to admit, especially on this blog, I had let my subscription expire years ago. So once I let some other glossy magazine subscriptions expire, I remedied this by picking up F&SF again.

I'd love to support more. "Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine" and "Ellery Queen Magazine" are two that come to mind and ones I previously subscribed to. "Analog Science Fiction and Fact" was one I bought off the rack from time to time, but I didn't subscribe since I already had the F&SF subscription.

When I subscribed to F&SF again after all these years, I couldn't wait for the first issue to arrive, but when they said that I could expect my first issue to arrive in July, I was so disappointed I downloaded a free sample to my Kindle to hold me over.

Then today, alas, yes, today, my first issue arrived. My excitement was a testament as to how much a geek/nerd I am. As soon as I'm done with this post, I'm going to open it up and read with a joy I used to get when I was a kid - running off to a quiet room in the house, staking out my little corner, and read the night away.

In the meantime, if you truly love short fiction, and wish to support the industry and the magazines who fight hard each year to stay in business, find yourself a nice pulp magazine and subscribe.

Until Next Time...
Pulply Yours,
Michael  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Words of the... Moment II

One of the reasons I'm restricting these posts to words I find while reading is because that means that people are actually using them. There are plenty of obscure words out there I could dig up and post here, but if they're words no one is using or no one will understand if you do use them, then what's the point (unless of course you're a logophile*).

Zeitgeist - For instance, I don't recall when I first came across this word, but I looked it up, and I'm glad I did. It's German for "spirit of the times" and Merriam-Webster officially defines it as "the general beliefs, ideas, and spirit of a time and place." I've encountered this word a lot in reading about other authors, books, pieces of art and music. If you haven't encountered this word before, make sure to learn it. The more you read about other works, the more likely you will be to encounter it.

*And of course, the other word of the moment is "logophile". There is a story in Monday's Wall Street Journal about logophiles. So what does it mean? Quite simply, someone who loves words and language.

Until Next Time....
Logophilely Yours,
Michael

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring In The Warren

It's officially Spring now, and as is a tradition of mine, it's time to reread "Watership Down" by Richard Adams. I even have it listed in my Recommended Reads list on the right side of this blog.

But this year, my "To Be Read" list is way too long to read the entire novel. I need to read it again, but with so many books stacked up and waiting for me, I just can't. At least not now. What I can do though is a pretty fair substitute, plus I truly enjoy the short forms of fiction. So that means it's time to pull "Tales From Watership Down" off the shelf and read a few of those stories instead.

"Tales" deal more with the mythology and legend that is one of the staples of the original novel. Some of those stories were intended to be published in the original work, but were deemed by Adams to pull the reader too far away from the main plot of the novel. Others were written years afterwards when Adams wanted to return to the world he had created. The book is divided into three sections and includes many tales involving El-ahrairah (the name I always have to flip to the glossary to remind myself how to pronounce it). Some of the other stories continue to follow characters from the original novels.

If you've never read this collection, you should. Reread the novel first, refamiliarize yourself with the world, then pick up this book and enjoy short little adventures in that little warren we've all come to love.

Until Next Time...
Wass-cally Yours,
Michael
 "huh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How I Read Poetry

I received "White Trash & Southern: Collected Poems, Vol 1" by C.S. Fuqua through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program a little over a month ago with the expectation that I am to read it and post a review here and on LibraryThing.com. At this point I'm proud to say I've made it about a quarter of the way through the book.
 
"Whoa, a real speed reader there, Michael. What the hell is taking you so long?"
 
Well, it's because I read poetry books differently than I do other books. I read poetry books the way I believe all poetry books should be read - slowly, deliberately, and in such a manner that each poem has a chance to bounce around inside my brain a few days before I read another handful of them.
 
No one should ever sit down and read a book of poetry cover to cover in one sitting, even though the word count of number of pages could be knocked off in an hour. Poems should be read a few at a time, thought about, contemplated, reread, thought about some more, read aloud, and then placed in context with the rest of the work (because the poet has ordered them the way they are for a specific reason). So when I received this book of poetry to review (and noticed the usually large number of poems included in this first volume), I wrote the author and warned him that it may be a while before I finished his book and posted a review. Like any author, Fuqua simply appreciated that someone was reading his work and was going to take the time to review it.
Let me just say, that at this point, these are some amazing and gut-wrenching pieces that invoke stark images and emotions, and I heartedly recommend it. And don't let the title fool you. Whether you grew up in a trailer park or happened to be the rich kid on the block, we all have some of these skeletons in the familial closet.
 
Until Next Time...
Poetically Yours,
Michael
 



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Screen Capture 2

It's that time again... Guess the screen capture. This time from a classic 1985 movie about a trio of boys with a dream.



Both of these characters are avid readers. The character on the left reads lots of science fiction, in fact, those are his books that have the hole in the center of them. The character on the right is the brainy one of the group and reads lots of non-fiction science texts, and it's his basement/lab where these books were stored when an out of control experiment went wrong.

Further hint: The actor on the right came from a family of famous actors and died at a young age.

Name the movie. And for the really cheesy fans out there: Bonus if you can name the actors as well, including the female love interest.

Until next time...
Dreamily Yours,
Michael