Food for Plot

While idly mousing about the internet the other day, I followed a link to this page, which is all about an artist in Texas who’s been re-imagining images of classic Western heroes using female models, with awesome results:

And my thought, instantly, was “Damn, I want to read the books that those are the covers for!”  Because behind every powerful image is a good story.

Two More Days

Just a quick reminder that my seasonal winter sale ends at midnight on the 5th.

In other news, it’s cold up here.  And if you’re living in the continental United States, or in Canada, it’s probably cold where you are, too.  (It’s probably also cold in northern Europe and Asia, but I don’t know if it’s unseasonably so.  If it is, here’s some profound fellow-feeling coming at you from the northern end of New Hampshire.)  In any case, here are a trio of blog posts about surviving, and driving, in extreme winter weather conditions: Cold Blows the Wind Today, Fimbul Winter, and Dashing Through the Snow.

This is the kind of weather that inspired the cautionary tale of Young Charlotte, who thought that a silk-lined cloak would be proof against hypothermia on a fifteen-mile sleigh ride on New Year’s Eve.  She was, alas, fatally wrong.

A Request for the Indignant

Milo Yiannopoulos is in the news again, what with his lawsuit against Simon&Schuster for choosing not to publish his book, which resulted in the publisher entering the manuscript-as-submitted into evidence, complete with the editor’s notes, highlights of which are now all over the internet.  (And great fun they are, too – they would go well with a glass of nice wine and a slice of schadenfreude pie.)

My request is a simple one:  If you are, as many will be, indignant that Simon&Schuster bought Mr. Yiannopoulos’s book in the first place, please don’t also wax indignant that they are allowing him to keep the on-signing portion of the advance.  This is customary, when bad things (deserved or not) happen to a book between on-signing and publication – but the word to note there is “customary.”  For the sake of all the rest of us writers out there, don’t give Simon&Schuster an excuse to say, at some later date, “Well, it may have been customary in the olden days, but it isn’t going to be customary from now on.”

An Early Opportunity

In honor of Nanowrimo, and of the onset of the winter heating season,† I’ll be running a seasonal sale on editorial and critique services from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend.  My usual rate of $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel goes down to $1000 for the duration, and rates for epic-sized doorstops will be similarly discounted.

As always, you can purchase a gift certificate – as a gift for a friend, or for yourself – to be redeemed at a later date.


The snow that fell last Friday? Is still here.

The Free Speech Bargain

Every so often, a voice from the back row asks the plaintive question, “In today’s publishing climate, what am I, as an [insert identify marker or lack of one here], allowed to write about?”

Okay.  Here’s the deal, at least as far as the US of A goes*:

You’re allowed** to write about anything you damned well please.

And everybody else – your mom, your best friend, all the other people in your writers’ group, your editor, the New York Times Review of Books, and total random strangers on the internet – is allowed to say out loud and in public what they thought about it.

The thing about the deal, you see, is that it goes both ways.  And a writer who can’t handle the deal is probably better off pulling an Emily Dickinson and keeping their stuff locked up in their dresser drawer for posterity.


*The world is a large and varied place, and I make no claim to pontificate for all of it.

**With the usual narrow exceptions involving nonexistent fires in crowded theatres, and the like.

 

Once Again, Robert Frost Was Right About New England

“Nature’s first green is gold….”

In other words, the trees have finally leafed out.

When I was a cheerful young undergrad going to school in Arkansas, I thought that mud-time was something that Frost made up for poetic purposes; likewise, the birches bending “to left and right/Across the lines of straighter darker trees.” Then I moved up here, and realized that he’d been making his poetry out of sober observation all along.

As do we all, even if we’re writing stories set in worlds completely of our own imagining.

Why Authors Go Mad, Reason Number I’ve-Lost-Track-By-Now

Author Seanan McGuire (who is also Mira Grant and I think somebody else I’ve forgotten) has just received — on a tight deadline, of course — a beyond-the-copyedit-from-hell copyedit: The copyeditor did a global search and replace of “which” with “that.” Among other gross incompetencies.

And there isn’t time to scrap the copyedit and send the MS back out to somebody better.

People wonder why authors sometimes drink heavily. The amazing thing, actually, is that more of them don’t.

My Theory on Villainy

All good stories need a villain, or, more properly, an antagonist.  (“Villain” is so judgmental, really — not to mention classist, since its origins lie in the Anglo-French and Old French vilain “peasant, farmer, commoner, churl, yokel” (12c.), from Medieval Latin villanus “farmhand,” from Latin villa “country house, farm.” As always, the city folks write the books.)

An antagonist is simply one who opposes the main character, also known as the protagonist.  They’re often “the bad guy,” because readers like to identify with the main character, and prefer in most cases to identify with someone they can think of as “the good guy.”  It doesn’t necessarily need to follow that the antagonist, in their role as “bad guy”, also has to be a bad person; all that’s required is that they present a strong and believable opponent for the protagonist to, in most cases, overcome.

What’s primarily required in an antagonist, then, is competence — or, barring that, the kind of sheer unpredictability that makes them hard for an orderly protagonist to comprehend.  They can’t be insane, or at least not the kind of insanity that precludes an ability to function in the real world, and they can’t be stupid.  Otherwise, they become pushovers, and pushovers are boring.

On the other hand, an antagonist shouldn’t be endowed with the kind of supernatural intelligence that lets them make elaborate plans with lots of interlocking parts that somehow never fall prey to sheer bad luck, unforeseen acts by random bystanders, or the incompetence of minions.  (I see more of these than I’d like, especially in the visual media but also in books, so it’s possible that a lot of people disagree with me on this.  But I’m right and they’re wrong, so there.)

And finally, an antagonist should be a fully-developed character, with virtues as well as flaws, because nobody in the real world is ever all of a piece.  This means that as a writer, we have to inhabit our villains — empathize with them, if you will — as much as we do our heroes.  We have to know what it is they dread when the lights go out; we have to know their petty vices and their secret good deeds; we have to know the source of their greatest sorrow and their greatest happiness; in short, we have to love them even as we bring our protagonist in to destroy them.

If we don’t do this, we risk turning our antagonists into mere mustache-twirling marionettes, when they should be human beings.

(Or aliens, or elves, or self-aware computers, as the genre requires.  In short, people.)