The Fictorians

Returning to the Lake

9 April 2015 | No Comments » | mary

downloadLast year, fans of lovely monstrosities, dark secrets and long-lost nightmares ventured to Fossil Lake, a place where things perhaps best left buried stirred in the sediment beneath the water in an Anthology of the Aberrant.

This year, horror fans who’ve faced the darkness and find themselves hungry for more can return to the Lake in Fossil Lake 2: The Refossiling.

“Red Ochre,” my contribution to Fossil Lake 2, allowed me to address one of my greatest regrets about my story in the first Fossil Lake. I wrote a previous Fictorians article *here* about the experience of writing “Mishipishu: The Ghost Story of Penny Jaye Prufrock.” Mishipishu was set at a summer camp for kids and, like the summer camps I went to at that age, I gave the lake and its legend names from Native American folklore. But I remained cognisant of the fact that there’s something culturally appropriative about the way summer camps used Native names to suggest wildness and closeness to nature, and yet rarely had any Native staff, Native campers, or instruction on any aspects of Native culture beyond the shameless borrowing (stealing?) of names and ghost stories.

I used the Native names as a matter of authenticity – this is something summer camps did, and some still do. But I felt a certain lingering regret for the way that Native American identity had been stripped away from these names. Longtime readers may recall an article earlier this year where I talked about how changing the point of view character helped make my contribution to Fossil Lake 2 into a stronger story. If you missed it, you can find it here.

“Red Ochre” has been my opportunity to tell a scary story through the eyes of a Native American character, Meesha. Meesha is torn between her shaman uncle, urging her to learn more about her heritage and her people’s traditional beliefs, and her parents, who want to see her as a successful, respected member of the wider society. Meesha wants to fit in with the other students at her school, but she recognizes that elements of both her own history and her people’s change how others view her. She had hoped that a camping trip with her friend, Perry, could give her a much-needed vacation.

Unfortunately, Perry is more than he first seemed. And so, too, are those legends her uncle swears are true. Meesha finds herself caught in the riptide of history, and its current threatens to drag her away…deep down into the waters of Fossil Lake.

If you’d like to take another dip in the Lake, Fossil Lake 2: The Refossiling is now available in Print and Kindle editions.

And if you’ve never been, the first Fossil Lake Anthology is still available, also in your choice of Print or Kindle.

So come on in. What are you waiting for?

The water’s fine.

The Beast Inside

8 April 2015 | No Comments » | Colette

heart_beastIn many of my favorite novels, the heroes/heroines face battles, have adventures, and deal with creatures of supernatural ability in fantastical worlds. In the very best of those, however, the greatest obstacle comes from within.

Many of us face challenges in our own lives. They tend to be more mundane than those we read about, but flat tires, layoffs, and leaky roofs are some of the difficulties we learn to face and overcome. Would it be more impressive, in real life, when someone overcomes a monster? Maybe. But I think that most of us recognize that our biggest challenges, and the ones that are hardest to master, come from failures we perceive inside ourselves: a nature that tends toward selfishness, gossip, insecurities…the list goes on. So, what truly brings out the hero in our heroes/heroines, and resonates most deeply with our readers, is when they master self, the thing many of us acknowledge as our greatest threat. How do we, as writers, help our characters to go through that inner hero’s journey?

First, we have to give them flaws and a good reason for those flaws. Before you write, ask some questions about your character such as: What kind of childhood did he/she have? How did those events/people, circumstances shape his/her perspective? What flaws are inheritted and what flaws were created? What flaws could prevent my character from succeeding at one of his/her goals? What has to happen in order for him/her to face and overcome those flaws? In order to grow, a character must start with perceivable limitations.

Next, how do those flaws manifest themselves? Right to begin with, readers need to know how these faults get in the hero’s way, how big of a problem they are, whether our hero is aware of them, and how equipped he feels to handle them. An inner demon is as powerful, if not more powerful, of an enemy as monsters, warlords, or evil computers. Treat it as such, with the same try-fail cycles as the physical enemy, the same battles for dominance, and that glorious moment of defeat that allows our hero/heroine to reach their potential.

In the end, seeing our character as a better/more capable person is as gratifying as watching them win the day. Giving our characters something within themselves to overcome will give them depth, interest, and engaging conflict. Make it good, make them suffer, and watch your readers’ engage.

 

Colette Black lives in Arizona with her amazing family, two dogs, and a mischievous cat. Current publications include the Mankind’s Redemption series, The Black Side anthology, and an appearance in One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology. More info at: www.coletteblack.net

Keeping the Tension Ramped Up in Combat Scenes

7 April 2015 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Doug Dandridge.

I mostly write military science fiction, and am writing military fantasy when not working on the next scifi novel. Exodus: Empires at War is a series with very detailed and lengthy battle scenes told from multiple viewpoints. I originally learned the main technique I used from reading the Dritzz DoUrden novels by R. A. Salvatore. If you’re not familiar with these wonderful stories, they involve a Dark Elf who has turned his back on his evil people and now fights the darkness with his mighty companions. There are very detailed battles in which maneuvers great and small are described, and often the companions find themselves fighting out of sight of each other. Not only are their battles told from their viewpoints, but the point of view of their major enemies. In my own battles, which can last for as many as eight chapters, you get the points of view of characters at different areas of the fight, on the different departments of the ships, even from both sides of the battle. I even switch back and forth from battles going on simultaneously hundreds of light years apart. Some people might find this a bit confusing, but my fans, military science fiction aficionados all, write rave reviews about the amount of detail.

I have seen writers who do their battle scenes from a single viewpoint, and they read like an endless description of the good guys fighting an unknown, a faceless enemy that could be anything. They go on and on with description after description, interspersed with dialogue, until the writer has to get to the climax or totally lose his readers, in most cases much too soon. I like to use a movie approach that switches back and forth and gives play to both sides. For example, think of The Wrath of Khan. First scene is Kirk watching the Reliant approach without establishing communications. The scenes switch back and forth to Khan ordering shields raised, Spock telling Kirk; Khan ordering locking on phasers, Spock telling Kirk; Khan yelling fire. Switch to the scene of phasers hitting the Enterprise, then a shot of the panic in engineering as everything goes to hell. Then back up to the bridge. The action comes in bursts from different points of view, including the omniscient one of the Reliant blasting the Enterprise.

Of course, Hollywood likes to show these kind of scenes in a manner that puts both combatants front and center, even if there are a whole bunch of them. Witness the final two episodes of Deep Space Nine, where there were over a thousand ships, and the screen was crowded with them. Something to do with wanting to awe the audience. In my novels battles are fought at long range, beam weapons almost useless until units get within a light minute of each other. Even at that range it takes time for a weapon to hit, and even ships two kilometers in length would appear tiny if on the same screen. In a book, the screen is the mind, and as long as you can convince the reader of that immensity, they will see it. But even here Hollywood gives an example when they want to. The movie Midway showed the battle between American and Japanese carrier forces, a fight where the ships didn’t see each other, but launched aircraft to do the actual attack. But with judicious switching of viewpoints they conveyed this type of fight perfectly. And it’s much easier to do in a book.

Doing each chapter as a series of mini-scenes in this way makes almost every scene a cliff hanger. Each installment ends with an unknown. Missiles coming in, lasers burning through the hull and klaxons sounding, the characters on the edge of disaster. The next scene does the same to someone else, on some other ship, then to the enemy, who is having problems of their own. Interspersed are scenes of small victories, and, as the fight progresses, much larger ones. After a sequence covering one part of the fight I like to change to a different area of the battle, maybe even a different star system, for the next. In this way I move the reader through an epic battleground where they are carried from tension to tension, with some small resolutions along the way.

To me the worst way to resolve a battle is with a non-event. I have read a lot of books where they build up to the fight, the training, the organization, the hopes and dreams of those involved. And in the next scene, it’s all aftermath. I feel ripped off by those stories. People read books that promise action because they want to read about that action. I provide that action. The first book of my Exodus series, more of a Universe establishment tale, had limited action, maybe twenty to thirty percent, and that is the worst reviewed of the series. After that, the action increases, until the later books have almost eighty percent action sequences. Some people may think that too much, preferring more time for character development or background. The thing is, I am working as a full time author by writing such, and success proves to me, at least, that the method works.

About Doug Dandridge: 11022903_860155284027899_98329783_n
Doug Dandridge is a Florida native, Army veteran and ex-professional college student who spent way too much time in the halls of academia. He has worked as a psychotherapist, drug counselor, and, most recently, for the Florida Department of Children and Families. An early reader of Heinlein, Howard, Moorcock and Asimov, he has always had a love for the fantastic in books ad movies. Doug started submitting science fiction and fantasy in 1997 and collected over four hundred rejection letters. In December of 2011 he put up his first self-publishing efforts online. Since then he had sold over 100,000 copies of his work, and has ranked in the top five on Amazon Space Opera and Military Science Fiction multiple times. He quit his day job in March 2013, and has since made a successful career as a self-published author.

Should the Socially Awkward be Professional Writers?

6 April 2015 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by David Boop.

Despite what jocks, preps and princesses might believe, not all nerds are created equal. Just like any pool of people, some rise to the surface while others languish in the shadows.

Is this fair? Heavens, no. Is it reality? You bet your sweet bippy.

Whether or not you believe all persons are the same in the eyes of God, it is a truth that we place people in mental categories within our minds. Smart – Stupid. Safe – Dangerous. Normal – Awkward. It is easy to drop those we meet into virtual file cabinets of our brain to help us determine how much effort we’ll spend on them.

I grew up a geek in small town Wisconsin. I was verbally and physically abused by my classmates for it. This is a common experience among creative types, including writers, artists, and filmmakers. (Musicians seem to get away with more, I have no idea why. You can be a dork, play the guitar and somehow still be cool.)

It started with my last name, Boop; a funny sounding, easily picked on name. When you have a name like Boop, you’re put into a category of clown, even if you’re not one. My name was used as a swear word around my school.

“I’m going to go take a Boop.”

“I’m going to Boop you up!”

“I Booped your mother last night.”

I didn’t make things any better by not growing out of comics, action figures, video games, cartoons and science-fiction novels. I found very few people to share these interests with in a school focused on athletic excellence. Dating was next to impossible. I was told by a friend on Facebook that there were warnings not to date me or risk being removed from the popular crowd. Girls called me a “goon” behind my back. But this wasn’t solely due to my nerdy proclivities.

I was and, in many ways, still am socially awkward.

I didn’t walk the walk, nor talk the talk. I wasn’t into the same things other kids were and thus didn’t have the vernacular down. Slang eluded me. I came from a conservative household. It is hard to be a “good boy” while feeling pressure to lose your virginity, drink and raise hell. I finally caught up to my peers at nineteen when I went into radio, started working nightclubs and doing stand-up comedy. I finally understood what it took to be popular and that meant being a crazier bastard than everyone else in the room.

The “good boy/crazy bastard” dichotomy has carried over into my career as a writer. Yet, thirty years later, the tables have reversed. Now the popular kids want me to be a good boy; always be politically correct, sensitive to minority and women’s rights and not to sleep around at cons.

Wait! That’s not fair! I just got this down. Filthy mouth, bad jokes and loose morals meant popularity. How and when did that change? These new rules are the same rules my parents tried to instill in me as a child. You mean they were right? (Please tell my child that someday I might be right, too. Please?)

And so I shift again, not always as quickly or effectively as I’d like. I’m still that awkward kid, trying to get the vernacular right. Still trying to prove I deserve to be one of the cool kids.

With the accessibility of publishing and the growth of the genre market, writers who may never been that socially awkward kid are finding success, and thus have no frame of reference to what we’ve been through. And they’ve been given a platform called the Internet. There are too many watchdogs with too little compassion for people like me who don’t always “get it.” Writing used to be a solitary craft with very little exposure to either other writers and/or fans. Back then, when authors did get together, everyone was socially awkward and more forgiving. They welcomed the weird with open arms and it was a safe place to be wrong sometimes.

Now that geek is chic, some people claim ownership of all things nerdy and say that nerds shouldn’t be creepy or inept, holding themselves up as examples. Shows like The Big Bang Theory and King of the Nerds poke fun at what are very serious issues for some nerds. People say they want a Raj or Leonard in their life until one tries to make friends with them and they’re turned away and shunned. It has been my experience that there are writers with little-to-no tolerance for those not playing at their level mentally, socially or politically. Any mistake in judgment is highlighted and waved in front of millions. If the offender does not fit into their definition of “acceptable,” then they should be attacked, banned, kept from getting published in certain circles, despite any skill they might have.

And, to be honest, in some cases they have valid reasons. They are writers who don’t know when to lower their voices, use tact, pay attention to their audience. I have been accused of many of these things, and while I’ve learned and adapted, many others haven’t. Some of these writers are not used to being around the opposite sex, or try too hard to be liked by their peers. They miss social cues, speak out of turn and don’t know when to back off. And when they find themselves in the sights of the socially adept, they have no clue why. Even when they have a light-bulb moment, they don’t know how to change. Most times the damage is already done. They lose friends, contacts and opportunities.

But don’t misinterpret what I’m saying that there aren’t dangerous people out there that need to be exposed. The predators who pretend to be what they are not. These are not socially inept people, they are sociopaths and bringing them out in the open is everyone’s responsibility.

Not all non-socially awkward people are evil and not all socially awkward people are saints. If I’ve learned one thing, there are plenty of buttheads on both sides of any disagreement. Heck, I know I’ve been accused of such by both sides. But we’ve all been bound together by this need to express ourselves creatively. Some of the most imaginative people I’ve read can barely carry on a conversation. Should they be ostracized for what may be the hardest thing in the world to them? I don’t think so.

Despite the challenges, I’ve adapted. I’ve learned to hold my tongue under most situations. I’ve developed patience and looked for deeper understanding when dealing with people in social circumstances. As I change, I’m building better relationships with other writers who understand, those who “get me.”

It’s worth it. I want to make writing work. I have to. The goal is worth the effort. Does that make me smarter than some? Does that make me better than others? No. I’m far from perfect and I still make mistakes…

And that just makes me human.

About David Boop:
writing bio picDavid Boop is a bestselling Denver-based speculative fiction author. In addition to his novels, short stories and children’s books, he’s also an award-winning essayist and screenwriter. His novel, the sci-fi/noir She Murdered Me with Science, will return to print in 2015 from WordFire Press. David has had over forty short stories published and two short films produced. While known for Weird Westerns, he’s published across several genres including media tie-ins for titles like The Green Hornet and Veronica Mars. His first Steampunk children’s book, The Three Inventors Sneebury, had a digital release in 2013 with a print release due in 2016. David tours the country regularly speaking on writing and publishing at schools, libraries and conventions.He’s a single dad, Summa Cum Laude graduate, part-time temp worker and believer. His hobbies include film noir, anime, the Blues and Mayan History. You can find out more on his fanpage, www.facebook.com/dboop.updates or Twitter @david_boop.

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