Author Archives: David Heyman

Wouldn’t you like to get away? The intimacy of small publishing

This month’s theme of small publishing is a bit tricky for me, as I have not yet published. That doesn’t make me not-a-writer, of course. At first brush, an aspiring writer like myself might not take a second look at a small press. After all, what can they do for you? The big money is with the big boys, after all.

Okay, let’s talk about big for a moment.

For many of us, much of our lives are in big situations. We work at big companies, are students at big classes, drive to work in big traffic and shop at big stores. When everything is so big, it is easy to feel small. To feel like a cog in a machine, barely aware of the other cogs and springs that work alongside you, none of you really even knowing what the machine does. While you have the safety and security of that large organization, that comes with a loss of personal relevance. At times we long for something a little smaller, perhaps without even understanding why.

In those smaller situations, I think one of the major advantages is intimacy. I was fortunate enough to intern for a small press for a few years and I was struck by how close I got to be to everything. Not just the one person I was working for, but the various projects and people who were associated with the press were very close and reachable to me. This allowed me to learn more, to impact more and (most importantly) to connect more. I felt connected to the success of this small press because I knew them and they knew me. I felt something I think I’m less likely to feel were I to be published by one of the big houses.

I felt ownership. Not just in my little corner of the press, but in the whole press. Its success was my success, because I had such a personal connection to all the other people doing work there.

This is very similar to the feeling I had when I joined a small start up several years back, after a long career at large companies. There is a relevance to your work that is just not present in the bigger situations, where your contribution is just not able to move the needle the way it does when you are smaller.

Thus were I to consider a traditional publishing option I would recommend giving small publishers a strong consideration. While the blockbuster revenue potential may not be there, there is a working experience win that I am sure would be. By its very nature a smaller press is going to be closer to your work than a major house, and your success is much more likely to be relevant to their own.

I think in the end the choice comes to what is important to you as a writer. If those mega sales and multi-million dollar advances are your goal then I can’t imagine a small press is likely to be able to deliver that in the short term. If however you are looking to be a relevant member of a small, intimate team where there’s a strong familiarity level between you and the press and your own work matters farther outside your personal margins I can see that being a very attractive option.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Accidental Style

This month’s topic really made me sit down and think. Secret sauce? What writing secrets or style unique to me could I have developed? After all, I don’t even have anything published yet. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous for me to even position myself as having a style? Is a ‘Dave Heyman’ style story even a thing? If there is one, it’s not a conscious one.

For starters, I set about on some inventory. I may not have anything published, but I’ve written quite a bit. Three complete novels, each more than a hundred thousand words, with the fourth novel in progress. One novella that adds another fifty thousand words, and a dozen or so short stories. I’d say I’ve written more than a half-million words in the past three years, so there’s enough data there to sift through and see what they all have in common.

So I sat down and did just that. When I was done, the results really surprised me. Turns out I have a few tendencies after all. Over time I had in fact created a ‘Dave Heyman’ style, completely by accident!

A few key elements of my style:

UNUSUAL SETTINGS – With the exception of my very first novel (which is set in a very traditional ‘epic’ fantasy setting) I seem to favor less traditional settings. A ‘city’ made up of lashed together sailing ships. Nepal in 1950. An isolated community completely inside a frozen crater.

I figure I like unusual settings because it gives me more to work with. A rolling countryside and castles on the hill are fine, but I’ve been there. I want to go some place new, talk about something I haven’t seen a hundred times. I never thought about it before, but the words speak for themselves.

GRAY VILLAINS – They say your villain should be the hero of his/her own story, and that’s something I really believe in. Thus, I am not surprised to see I’ve been humanizing and complicating my antagonists in most of my work. Even as they stand in the heroes way, they usually have reasons for doing so that could be construed as positive, their good or evil more a matter of perspective. Again, I didn’t really set out to do this, but this is the same sort of villain I like to read about.

Interestingly enough, my heroes are nowhere near as gray. This might be an area I can improve on in the future, but again I have to recognize I’m not that big a fan of the anti-hero in the fiction I read.

OPEN ENDED CONCLUSIONS – Okay, this one I had already noticed before this little exercise in self-reflection. I don’t like to tie things up nice and neat and put a bow on top. I like endings that allow the reader a little freedom to express some of their own creativity. I realize this is not what everyone wants, but try as I might I just don’t feel satisfied writing those endings where I place the last puzzle piece in during the last chapter.

Of course, I never leave the major questions or plot arcs unaddressed, but I like a little blank spaces here and there. I also like leaving a few minor dangling threads that could be picked up later.

So, those are three elements that I guess represent my ‘style’. I never sat out to establish those, and I wouldn’t recommend a new writer try to do so either. To me, you style is something you will create cumulatively over time and you’ll always be tweaking and modifying it as you go.

Like a lot of things in writing, odds are your style will work better the less you think about it.

See you next time!

 

True lies

Since joining the Fictorians last year, I’ve found my post for each month’s topic was pretty easy to put together. The ideas would flow quickly and I would have a very strong idea of what I wanted to say and do.

This month, well I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a bit trickier for me. I’ve struggled to come up with books I’ve read that contained outright lies or shocking twists. Maybe I’m just not a fan of the right types of books. I don’t read a lot that is in first person, and I think that had shielded me from our friend the unreliable narrator. If nothing else, this highlights for me and area I should explore more.

Surprisingly I use twists quite a bit in my own fiction. I think they are a lot of fun to pull off, and a lot of fun for the reader to experience. I think we want to be lied to, as long as its fair. The plot twist that comes out of nowhere with no foreshadowing is frustrating, but the surprise that we had the clues for and just didn’t expect is very enjoyable.

I think the plot twist I enjoy the most come in two general categories: “I DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING” and “OH, I HAD THAT WRONG”. I’ll give an example of each below. For me, I think the former is a lot easier to pull off and mostly involves putting a few signposts (but not too many) on the way to the reveal. The second is much more like a magic trick, relying on misdirection.

I DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING

If you’re my age, there’s no example of this more burned in most folks memory than Darth Vader’s reveal at the end of Empire Strikes Back. There is no scene in the movie (or for me, in the series) that carries as much emotional weight as this moment, and I am lucky enough to have experienced it live in the theatre. It also makes so much of Luke’s arc make sense, and introduces a great deal of peril to his future.

(For being a famous twist, it did feel like a bit of a cheat though. Even as a pre-teen, I immediately thought back to Obi Wan’s story in Star Wars, which now seemed untrue. I love Obi Wan, but his ‘from a certain point of view’ speech always felt like an attempt to rationalize the mis-truth.)

OH, I HAD THAT WRONG

I think this model is even trickier. You have to actively steer the audience in one direction while getting them to avoid the second option, all without that action seeming so heavy handed that they catch on. Pulled off correctly, there’s this wonderful moment where the reader or viewer feels this moment of satisfaction that you’ve tricked them, but it was fair. The stakes are higher here though, since you are actively trying to deceive and manipulate your audience. They *want* you to do this, but only if they can’t tell you are doing it. It’s a delicate dance.

A very good example of this is in the first X-Men film, where everything leads up to the moment where Magneto comes for the mutant he has been tracking. At the moment of the reveal, everyone thinks the target is Wolverine. Wolverine thinks it, the other X-Men think it and the audience thinks it. Magneto then reveals the trick: “My boy, who ever said I was looking for you?” Rogue is his target and the viewer goes back and does the math. It all adds up, makes sense and is fair. We just assumed Wolverine was the target because of how the film presented him as the primary character. The filmmakers played on our assumptions and used them against us. As I said, done well I find this very satisfying. We do, after all, want to be lied to.

In my own fiction, I have used both of these models. I particularly enjoy hiding my main antagonist in plain sight, only to reveal his or her true nature and intentions later in the story. To what level of success, well I’ll have to wait until after publishing to get some real feedback on that.

See you next month!

 

You never walk alone

Well friends, we’ve reached that time. It’s been a great month, but we’ve hit the last day of this topic and with April the Fictorians will bring you a whole new angle on which to explore. All throughout March our members and guest posters have explored the friendships they loved in fiction, the friendships they add to their own writing and how real life friends have helped them in their careers. On my previous post I departed from the model to address the friends of writers directly, but now I will return to the theme of the month and provide an example of each.

Like many people, my first *real* fantasy trilogy was The Lord of the Rings. I was maybe 10 or 11 when I read it, and I was very struck by the many strong relationships in that story: Frodo and Sam, Gimli and Legolas, Gandalf and Aragorn. Well trodden ground for most readers though, so for my fiction example I’d like to highlight a friendship from the *second* fantasy I read, which was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. No, I’m not going to discuss that series’ extremely problematic main character (to me, anyway) but rather the Giants.

The Giants in the Thomas Covenant books are just such amazing friends to the people of the Land, and I found them as a group to be both inspiring and heartbreaking. Long lived and incredibly powerful, once stranded from their home they could have easily conquered the native people but instead they entered into a millennia of friendship and service with them. They built Revelstone, joined the Lords in their war against Despair and embraced the concept of service to the land itself. Their ultimate fate is incredibly tragic, yet their enduring legacy for me as a reader is one of positivity and optimism. The wonderfully named Saltheart Foamfollower said “Joy is in the ears that hear!”, capturing the spirit that embodied these friends of the Land so well.

In my own fiction, I wanted to explore the concepts of friendship on both sides of the story equation. My current project has a male and two females as the primary protagonists, all of whom end up friends but with no romantic entanglements added. As a trio they learn to trust each other and provide support, even as they endure some remarkable hardships. I also wanted my villains to have friends too though, and that dynamic has been a fun one to explore. The best antagonists for me are ones who have some redeeming qualities, and seeing my primary bad guy still show loyalty and even compassion I think makes him all the more interesting.

It would be impossible for me to provide all the examples of how my friends in real life have helped me. It is through friends that I first found the Superstars Writing Seminars, which led me to the Fictorians. Friends were there to encourage me through my first Nanowrimo and my first story submissions. Friends who helped me through rejections, revisions and beta reading.

Without my friends I’d still be that guy who had a novel in his head but that was it. Thanks to my friends I’ve written three novels, a novella and a whole bunch of short stories. Each person who offered support or advice has walked me a little farther down this crazy writing path I’m on. I may be by myself most of the time the fingers are hitting the keyboard, but I’ve never walked alone. I don’t suspect that will change anytime soon, and I hope I can be as good a friend to the writers I know as they have been to me.

Thanks for taking this journey with me this March. See you next month!