Reblog: Self-Published Fantasy Blog-OFf

So, this is a slightly belated introduction/ post on the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2017, Mark Lawrence’s third annual self-publishing competition extravaganza. 300 fantasy novels are sent to 10 different bloggers who will, over the course of 2017, choose 1 winner. The one book to rule us all. Or something. As Mark Lawrence himself says: “There’s no […]

via Indie Spotlight 1: Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off — Antonio Urias

This sounds really fascinating to me. Who knows we may discover some new and exciting authors! I’m rather excited to check this out

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Reblog: How NOT to start your novel

Reblog: How NOT to start your novel

This is the classic trap most new writers fall into. I know I did. We get into storyteller mode: “once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there was a____ who for many years….”

Great for fairy tales. Not so much for modern novels. In a contemporary novel the reader wants to be in the story, not outside telling or hearing about it.

If this is sci-fi or fantasy, your job is tougher, because you have world-building to do, and there’s going to be a huge amount of history to get across. But you don’t have to do it on page one. Slip in the world-building on a “need-to-know” basis.

Damn this article is both hilarious and thought provoking as a writer. No matter the genre some of these themes bring me back to my high school composition class, but many crop up again and again despite writer experience. This article captures both why they don’t work and is a damn funny take on the omnipresence of Disney princess sheets. Take a look over at:

Anne R. Allen’s Blog: How NOT to start your novel

Whose Genre is this Anyway?

Whose Genre is this Anyway?

Genres are probably the most useful and arbitrarily frustrating aspects of books, films, movies, podcasts, art, or anything you could possibly make creatively. No creator really wants to think about where their products will go. Most of us just want to create and put something we love out into the world. Yet we all know the frustration of the customer, searching and searching through the weeds for the product they want to spend money on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Why can’t I find that kindle category. It was there yesterday and I wanted to find more books there! Damn you Amazon!” While Amazon, Kobo, and other search engines are constantly tinkering algorithms and site design unless something hits all the standards of a genre we can struggle to find it.

Example? I love romance in my fantasy and I love romance in general AND I love fantasy in general. If I want to find a book where the romance is a central, but not the central aspect of the plot in a unique fantasy world with a plot arising not from the romance, but something else…I have to weed through so many shifter romances and random books. The core of what I want is a fantasy book with a strong romantic through line. In fantasy I can click romance or non-romance, but both rarely find me what I want.

The books I’ve found? Generally came from fantasy sections, but outside of Kushiel’s Dart most were still buried.  This is most evident in ebook stores, but its always been a problem. As a self-published author, I have struggled with classifying my stories. However, my erotica/romances are relatively easy to categorize once I figured out how most readers did. The problem with Science Fiction or Fantasy is they’re loaded with useful sub-genres and then you have Science Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Contemporary Science Fiction, Space Opera, Magical realism, etc. etc. When a story crosses genres you’re pretty much left saying a hail Mary and hoping things work out.

So how do you find books you like? Fellow authors, how do you classify your books so people  can find them, and know what they’re getting?

Writing Experimental Science Fiction: Experimenting with Time, Space, and Trust

Writing Experimental Science Fiction: Experimenting with Time, Space, and Trust

Experimental fiction is pretty self-explanatory in theory…except when it is not, and that is where I’ve found myself as I’ve begun a short piece that is totally unlike my usual fair. In the world of self-publishing being able to categorize and understand the possible audience for your story is key to unlocking marketing practices that most benefit you. Outside of that world being able to explain you story whether to potential readers, to workshops, to agents, or to yourself can be incredibly important in coming to understand what your fiction gives in terms of knowledge, entertainment, or even just understanding how it’s experimental. So not knowing what to call your story can be a real kick in the nards. So how do we come to begin unlocking what your story is? We start with a story. I’ll use my current work as an example, not because I am the authority but because you need to understand where I’m coming from first.

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The core elements of fiction are plot, character, and point of view. Often, experimental fiction takes a radical approach to these. Ex: A story titled After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned by Dave Eggers utilizes first-person point of view, but the first-person point of view belongs to a dog!

I didn’t intend to write the story, but somehow it spilled out of me when I had been experimenting with Written Kitten a site you can type stories into and assign certain goal posts to reward you with images of kittens or puppies (and one scantily clad 3D rendering of a lady someone accidentally tagged into the photo album the site uses)

Three hours later I had written the key components of a story that blurred science fiction with fantasy, and engaged in metaphysical visionary fiction. At the time I didn’t know if the last genre existed for certain, but apparently it does. It has it’s own wiki page and everything. I don’t know exactly where this story came from but as we speak I’ve taken a break from editing my CampNaNo novel to work on this book by writing this post. How does this help me? Well it’s more like how this conversation can help you?

How do we begin understanding our experimental fiction in order to begin learning how to describe it?

I tend to look at stories as integrated parts.

The Heart (the characters)

The Brain (the plot)

The Muscle (the obstacles surrounding those things)

The Skin (The set dressing/mood)

All of these come together in unique ways to tell your story, and how you begin to understand how they fit makes a difference in continuing to write your story, improve through edits, and enticing people. It is what you put down and how those things come together that define your story best.

The Heart of my story, Mind and Frost, are Daniella and Kenda, two Mentalists in a world were those with telepathic and psychic powers are viewed as suspicious especially Kenda whose powers have caused incredible heartache in the past. Their desires are mutual in one respect because they desire to be together, but what that means and how are constrained by the muscle and brain of the book. This aspect of the heart gives it a sweeter and more romantic edge…but how Kenda and Daniella interact is what has pushed me away from categorizing the book as a straight romance.

51ljfrbb4dl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Now here is the critical part, and something I think people often forget in talking about genre, which is there are aspects of every genre in most fiction. People I know who say “I can’t stand romances” often still like romances in fiction, but they don’t like the manifestation of romance in the romance genre. A good friend of mine has told me he can’t stand science fiction books that lean towards the space opera genre, but he absolutely adores the use of technology and plot in The Windup Girl.    The story is certainly not a space opera, but it has many of the same elements from warring factions to questions of humanity and survival. Yet for him the differences make all the difference just within that genre, and separate the two. How you use an element like romance and how the relationship is conducted should be useful in determining what your story is.

In my story, Mind and Frost, the couple has many theoretical conversations about the nature of existence, as well as, their own semi-imprisoned state and relationship to their doctors/caretakers. This goes beyond what is normally within the romance genre that readers have come to expect.Even in terms of language their interactions differ in basic ways. What is real to them is something outside of what you and I have been taught to conceive of. Time itself is different for them as in their dreams capes they struggle to differentiate between present and past.

While I’ll be sure to highlight the love story as a key component of the book I’ll avoid using the word romance to describe what Mind and Frost is for kindle marketing purposes. However, the key nature of their relationship is what drives the book, so I may in this blog and elsewhere describe the book as “Metaphysical romance” or “Romantic Science Fantasy”.

So what of the brain and muscle? By the time we meet them they’re in love, but Kenda is in a medically induced coma and their doctor fears her interacting with his dreams will cause him to wake up in a traumatic and destructive way. This forms the Muscle, and this muscle can be flexed melodramatically with Daniella weeping over their being apart; dramatically with her screaming at their doctor to have a heart and free him; or as I’ve chosen to handle it with a dry cynicism on her part. Kenda, not accepting of his fate now that he’s found love and finally realizing regardless the stories he’d told about freedom were lies, ceases to expect much but remains hopeful towards something else. How the heart responds to the muscle is what drives the actions of the brain. Random nerves fire between all these organs and the brain regulates it all by giving structure and guidelines.

In my work I have begun using questions to help guide thematic development once I’m past chapter two, which ultimately helps me understand what I am writing. The questions themselves can sit beside the short explanations of the plot as quick ways to tell you what your book should be about.

images (3)In Mind and Frost the brain is concerned with the question of both “what will you do to be free, and can you be free while bound by the customs and norms around you?” and “Can you be devoted to someone or something and still claim to free?” More simplified the brain is Freedom with a capital F. It isn’t in the context of just love or just a relationship. Because the relationship merely functions as a way to better understand those questions, I won’t call it’s genre primarily romance. Instead this makes it drift towards speculative fiction.

For your story the brain may be concerned with coming of age in a hostile environment, “Can we live a good life and still say we want to change”, or the meaning of privacy. It could simply be that you have two factions warring over territory and what it means to survive. All of this comprises the brain as you tie each scene together, coincidentally it also drives the heart and develops it thus forcing the other muscles–barriers, obstacles, incentives, and wants– to move as well.

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cosmic coz 51 kba: The Left Hand of Darkness Protagonists

Dr. Cohen-Sloane, Kenda and Daniella’s doctor and perhaps antagonist, function in ways deeply tied to questions of both spiritual and scientific importance. He questions his ethics, and so do his patients. The world is turning on Mentalists and he is responding to it while still trying to preserving his life and late-wife’s work, which forces this couple to respond. The brain, questions of spirituality/love/freedom, happen in the context of that plot. They get the muscles moving.

Much of the story’s design evokes some of what I loved about Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness in that the science fiction elements are grounded not with marvelous wonder or trepidation, but with the practical eyes of people we would recognize in our lives. In fact Le Guin, somewhat of an experimental via speculative fiction, manages to provide insight in a society without true gender and uses elements of psychology and social understanding to create not just science fiction, but truly speculative and feminist science fiction. The brain of Left Hand is distinctive, challenging gender and cultural absolutism within the context of this complex and rich relationship that is in this conflict ridden world where trust is hard to come by. The government officials using Genly Air and Estraven as pawns in a greater game are muscles, pulling and constraining, as much as the differences arising out of the heart(the character’s backgrounds and existences) are.

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And let’s wrap it up with one of the hardest and easiest aspects of figuring out just what the hell you’re creating…the set dressing and mood, which make up the skin in this analogy. The skin is an organ, binding everything inside like a nice package. For literature, this isn’t just the cover, but time period, the world you’ve chosen, the class/ethnicity/etc of the world’s characters, and also the style you’ve chosen to write with. Very few true romances begin with the same set up as a grisly murder in a romance novel. You can easily experiment with that, but that’s the general rule of thumb. What sort of skin does your story have?

Are the characters prone to brooding and the atmosphere echoes that? Do scenes often feature cramped corridors or evoke a sense of being trapped? Do you go into detail describing cotton fields and hot southern Louisiana summer days in the year 1910? How you construct the world of your story and the type of world you construct work with all those other parts to more clearly define what your story is even if it is experimental or an unconventional book or unconventional short story.
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So often people will say that figuring out genre is the easiest thing in the world, but non-traditional or genre blurring stories don’t have it so easy. I’ve even been told by an experienced author that if a person doesn’t have a set genre they may as well put the book aside or publish it under an alternative pen name. Yet I think we can find a happy medium between saying “just experimental” and perhaps misnaming our book’s genres, but taking the time to dissect the body of our work. Ironically that may just give it the most life.

Disagreements? Questions? Comments? I’d truly love to hear your thoughts below.!

Why Does Blackness have to be Separated from Science Fiction?

Why Does Blackness have to be Separated from Science Fiction?

Why must black authored and black created science fiction so compelled to separate itself from race or be only about race? This question seems like one perfectly crafted in the minds of far too many otherwise smart and interesting people. I say otherwise because the dichotomy is a false one. A few years ago I came across Andre Seewood’s article Freeing (Black) Science Fiction from the Chains of Race , and it has taken me this long to put what bothers me about this perspective into words. My race doesn’t simply stop being because I’m coding, because I’m researching, because I’m cooking. Who I am and how I engage in both activities and relationships is related to my upbringing and education both formally and socially. My being a black author, a black artist, and a sci-fi fan fits together. So why then is my race, my gender, or something else about me so anti-thetical to the science fiction elements or the “story” I tell?

Because for some reason we’ve been taught that “whiteness”, and in America whiteness without the accent, is neutrality. As a result non-whiteness or ethnic displays are outside of neutrality. To be black, to write black, is to be examined for that blackness. This can be a serious problem. Seewood argues  in this essay that “placing the racial frame upon the science fiction/fantasy/or futurist work of African-Americans hastily discard[s] the genuine scientific, fantasy or futurist aspects of the work, which in turn, weakens and /or perverts the author’s original intent.”

While others have addressed the more technical problems of his analysis, I find Seewood takes this a step too far, and asks the wrong questions. The idea that we can just pull race out of experience is one that simply does not make sense and can only be supported by the notion that there are stories independent of race(gender, orientation, etc.) and then there are “racial (gender, orientation, etc) stories”. It relies on this assumption that race doesn’t effect stories in which race isn’t an overt concern, which relies on the assumption that white writers and creators who aren’t examined through a racial lense don’t tell racial stories or stories from a white perspective. That simply isn’t true. Everyone from everywhere has an ethnic perspective.

Lovecraft and Tolkien told “race” stories. Star Trek told “race” stories. Planet of the Apes has overt racial connotations due to the very history of its creation. Nothing is made in a vacuum, and the influences are there. But for some reason race is seen as an other type of analysis beneath the fantasy, the horror, the science, and the dystopia. The ethnic and racial elements of these stories are acknowledged, but they’re never called white science fiction. These stories aren’t chained to race, enslaved to it, or otherwise. While black science fiction and fantasy is somehow othered, as though every black centered story is categorically different and somehow of lesser interest than its white counterparts. Seewood reflects a very real irritation with the world of pop culture, anthropological, and literary analysis. He is right to question where a black centered story must be a race story. But it is the wrong question he is asking, and that has very real consequences to the conversation he tries to start.

6c123b022b82b6431b90fe07de2fab30With all that said I do understand why the question is being asked. The question is why are black stories somehow inherently more about race than other white films. The answer is because people have been defined as white(and primarily straight, anglo saxon, and attractive), and white is universal while anything else isn’t considered so. As a writer, I ask myself what will my story be viewed as? A black story? A race story? OR just a love story between a waitress and a stranger? The desire to have our stories just seen as stories is incredibly valid because often our stories are only filtered through a racial lens. But removing the black from a character’s experience won’t solve that.

Seewood offers a concept to film makers, saying

Alternately, if you do not want to carry racial inequities forward into the future of your story context you just simply have to cast an African-American in the lead role and concentrate on the dynamics of the central “scientific” themes within the story. “

Great.

Cool.

But why does race have to separate? Why do we create this incompatibility where writers and creatives have to choose between blackness and science? It simply feels a lot like when people called me an oreo in high school, as though blackness was separated from me. The thinking was that reading comics wasn’t racial…but it wasn’t something people thought black kids did. That sure as hell sounds racial to me. My race had nothing to do with my comics, but I was black while reading comics. So why do we keep using this language, as though race is only a factor or exists when the story is about race. I think Seewood’s suggestion is awesome, but the fact is the framing of this arguement is so often predicated on the wrong question.

400px-BrainCloud-and-scientist_mango_concept-art_04It isn’t why must this be about race. It’s why is my race so anti-thetical to just telling a story? It’s why is the story assumed to be “racial” for latinxs, asians, blacks, and others but not for (just guessing) 99.9% of whites? The Irish have very ethnic stories, but I’ve very rarely heard Irish centered works in science fiction only viewed or considered ethnically. Black and other POC need to stop letting this be gotten away with. Whites need to stop letting this be gotten away with and accept that they and their ancestors created and were supported by a world where they have been taught to be seen as neutral/universal/default without ethnicity except with convenient.

A few years ago the film The Best Man Holiday was called a “race” film  by USA Today and shocked people that it topped the box office. It’s a romantic comedy. Why was it a race film? Because it concerned the culture, lives, and experiences of black characters played by black actors. Alyssa Rosenberg had a brilliant response in this article If ‘The Best Man Holiday’ Is ‘Race-Themed,’ So Are These Ten Other Movies:

“[…] the idea that culture about characters of color is necessarily about race also creates the assumption that stories about white characters are inherently deracinated. Some white people, like Jews, are exempt from this, and the recent spike in Boston movies has put more Irish-American characters and Irish-American humor to the fore. But for the most part, the experiences of white characters are treated like they’re neutral, rather than representative of their whole race, or revealing in some ways of the pathologies and problems of various subsets of white America.

[…]
So with all of that in mind, if The Best Man Holiday is a “race-themed” movie, so are these ten other movies released in 2013:

1. Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s latest, which follows Cate Blanchett as the widow of a man she believed was a wealthy financier, but who actually turned out to be a Ponzi schemer, is a study in the ways in which the performance of whiteness are inflicted by class. […]

2. The Heat: Paul Feig’s buddy-cop comedy is set in Boston, and in Boston Police Department Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) and her extended family, Feig has endless opportunities to riff on the very particular culture of Boston Irish-American families. It’s a milieu, in Feig’s reading, that demands a strong code of loyalty, even in the face of minor criminality, […]

3. The Bling Ring: Based on the real-life story of a group of California teenagers who began stealing clothes, handbags, and jewelry from celebrities’ often less-than-closely-guarded homes, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is substantially about the ways that white (and Asian) people view black culture as a symbol of affluence. […] Coppola lets their posing speak volumes about the intersections they perceive between race and class, and their attempts to appropriate cultural cachet that isn’t available to them as the children of middle-class and affluent Hollywood operators.

4. Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a screenwriter and director follows the misadventures of Jon (Gordon-Levitt), who is simultaneously an Italian-American bartender, a regular Catholic church-goer, and a porn addict. […]one of the movie’s virtues is the way it demonstrates how Italian-American traditions persist and interact with the conventions of modern life. Like everything else in Don Jon, the glimpses of ethnic life are turned up to eleven, but that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t perceptive about the compromises young white people who want to honor their roots but enjoy the pleasures, sinful and otherwise, of contemporary life make all the time.

5. Pacific Rim:  […]

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness:[…]If Pacific Rim and Ender’s Game are about how quickly humans will put aside their animosities to destroy a species that doesn’t look like them, Star Trek: Into Darkness asks how far we’re willing to trust people just because they look like us, particularly when they look like privileged, physically perfected versions of us. […]

7. Pain and Gain: […]

8. Admission: […] Admission does some very funny things with the way race is both minimized and played up in the college admissions process.

9. The Great Gatsby: In its juxtaposition of old money to new money, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s linking of new money to Jewish criminality, The Great Gatsby is all about whiteness and status, and what kind of privilege and acceptance money can or can’t buy. […]

10. The East: The white guilt movie of the year. […]

I shortened this excerpt for length and really recommend you check out the article because overall it touches on how if black stories are “Racial” every story about white folk is too even if we choose not to recognize it.

The only reason a black author of science fiction’s rich worlds, gripping stories, and exciting characters would hindered by the racial elements is if the whole of those worlds, stories, and characters is ONLY analyzed through race. Blackness is considered so separate from simply existing. It may shock some people but…a person can be black and just exist. They can exist, be in a story entirely unrelated to their race, and still be black. Take the man from Seewood’s example, cast the movie just like that, and then don’t go around in interviews saying “It’s not a race story! It’s a story about humanity” as though somehow my race or ethnicity or anything isn’t part of humanity and the character’s experience with it.

The very premise of the idea of “Freeing” science fiction by black authors is that African Americans, and ultimately other POC, are stuck with their works being framed by race alone where it is simply not appropriate to do so. That requires comparatives to other work, the suggestion that other works can be viewed in isolation and that the viewer can simply turn off their racial and ethnic backgrounds. We cannot. Plenty have tried. What we can do is begin acknowledging that a story told by a white author featuring mainly (and far too often almost only) white charact

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ers isn’t some universal story.  I often explain to people, usually white friends, that I’m black but that’s not all that I am but don’t act color blind. Somehow they don’t get it a lot of the time. but it’s really not that hard.

I am black.
I live a black life with black experiences.
Don’t pretend you don’t see race.
Don’t pretend you don’t see my race.
I am black, and just because I am in my role as a researcher or a scientist those aren’t categorically incompatible aspects of me or anyone.

telemmglpict000131613999-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqpvlberwd9egfpztclimqfyf2a9a6i9ychsjmeadba08The worst that can happen with a black character just “being” is an insincere story that feels less like a thought experiment or just the character, but progressiveness that just chooses not to address race. It feels like bullshit color blindness. As forward thinking and refreshing as it can be to have a black soldier talk about his white sweetheart without it being a race thing in Doctor Who, removing the real world context can be both subversive and obscure reality. This character was just a soldier, but ignoring his race was impossible in the context of a Victorian army. But just as impossible to ignore was the that he was a prime example of a good soldier paying the consequences of terrible leadership. He had multiple aspects to him, but he felt like a check off box. Not because he was black, as some suggest, but because he was black and the reality of being a black Victorian  was ignored. He still could have been just a soldier, and his comrades could have treated him well…but he was a black man from the 1800s. I liked the character, but I just couldn’t fully get on bored with the way this was handled.

Somehow my existence as a African American author is one that both confirms and confuses the expectations of those around me, and I am not alone. When you’re a science fiction writer of any kind you always encounter two camps, one praising “hard” scientifically focused sci-fi and one praising the “soft” social commentary and aesthetic elements. But as a black woman in this genre and fantasy I encounter a very different cross sections of these camps both eager to regard and disregard racial elements in my work. Race plays a role, or we focus on the story. Somehow even other black folk have been taught this frame of thinking, and while the conversations about it are helpful and healthy for the black and science fiction communities in general…it is inherently problematic because it derails what the discussion needs to really be about. It asserts that science fiction, fantasy, etc. shouldn’t be viewed via race when the conversation should be about why the hell a story about black folk is somehow only about race.

So often I feel as though people like to make markers, separating blackness from anything perceived as neutral. No race should be neutral before others. No black centered story should be talked about like its a “Race film” or viewed as only racial when there are a thousand more complex science fiction elements happening. Of course  not all stories and experiences and interchangeable. It’d be inauthentic to say race, gender, etc. never mattered just as it would be inauthentic to say those were the only things that made black centered or authored science fiction intriguing. Yet it doesn’t matter either way so long as we keep saying white science fiction is just science fiction and black science fiction can’t just exist as science fiction. In the end we have to reconcile those facts to move forward in the genre and begin building new exciting worlds and stories, black or otherwise.

*****Check Out Works by Black authors here and here******

****Also check out my short science fiction The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One ****