Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Balticon 46

“Michael J. Sullivan?” a loud voice called as a man leading an entourage of some seven or eight individuals walked into the bar at the Hunt Valley Marriott, where they were holding Balticon this past weekend.

I looked up just as this young, muscular fellow with a military haircut boldly strode up to me eager to shake my hand. “I’m Myke Cole—I’m so glad to meet you.”

I stared back puzzled. What the hell? You actually know I exist?

First off, you need to understand that I’m not a big con attendee. In January 2009 I went to my first one (MarsCon in Williamsburg, VA, not to be confused with the one in Bloomington, MN). This had been just a few months after my first book was published by AMI and I was trying to do anything and everything to promote it. I had spent nearly every weekend at bookstores doing signings and bought a table in the dealer’s room for every literary science fiction/fantasy convention I could find within a couple of states radius (as I didn’t have the money to travel farther).

My initial convention experiences were not good.

I spent eight hours a day standing behind a table hocking my book to disinterested passerbys. At a bookstore signing I could move 10 books an hour. At the conventions I sold 10 per 8 hours or 30 books in 24 hours—three days of grueling drudgery which required travel, food and hotel expenses that often ate all—and frequently more than—I made selling the books. The disturbing thing was that those who sold their books alongside me marveled at my ability to move so many copies as often they sold no more than 5 books in a three day period.

More than this, however, I found the conventions to be dispiriting and depressing, mostly due to the hordes of the disinterested. Throngs of pink and blue haired aliens, scantily dressed elves and elegant vampires with bunny ears flowed by. These were fans of my genre and yet they were so desensitized to struggling self, or small published, authors that they dismissed me out of learned reflex.

One young woman picked up a copy of my book, read some, and then asked to buy it. When I inquired what convinced her, assuming it was my killer opening, she replied, “I read the whole first page and there wasn’t a single spelling error.” This then was the level of expectation I was dealing with. (Incidentally that young woman was Leona Wisoker who has gone on to become a published author herself.)

Readings were torturous acts of humiliation. While I did not have one, I went to the readings of those whose booths were near mine—authors I befriended like raw recruits in our first military action. No one came. The author stood at one end of a long room before an audience of empty chairs. I felt sick in empathy and started pulling people in from the hallway almost threatening them to get butts in seats. All my efforts resulted in a three person audience—including myself. I sat sweating in shared embarrassment as the author bravely, and proudly read from their novel to a room dripping in apathy. Afterward the ashen look on the author’s face and her near tearful thanks for trying to help was tough to witness.

I deemed conventioning to be long, hard, miserable work that resulted in few sales, and a good deal of ego pummeling. Seeing that I was spending more by attending than I could make, and realizing that for all my efforts I was only able to reach a handful of people, I quickly lost interest in cons.

I still went, but only to help my wife, Robin, who attended either to meet with authors she was publishing, or to be on panels (groups discussions) on topics aimed at helping new writers understand the world of self-publishing. My job was to haul books for Robin’s other authors, and the rest of my time was spent in the bar. As a result I rated cons by the quality of their beer selection.

This year’s Balticon was slated to be no different.

At last year’s Balticon, Robin had gotten them to put me on a few panels, which I found more depressing then sitting in the dealer’s room. People weren’t there to see me, they didn’t even know me, and I felt inadequate next to the other panelists. For this year’s event Robin mentioned I was asked to be on a panel Tee Morris and his wife Pip Ballentyne were moderating. I’ve known Tee for a few years and couldn’t turn down a friend, so I grudgingly agreed. In my mind it was only an hour, and there was always the bar afterward. When I arrived at the hotel and Robin checked the “official schedule,” and discovered I was put on five panels and had a signing and a reading. She claimed innocence and I quickly fell into “a mood.” This is Robinspeak for adopting an attitude where I want to punch out the Pillsbury doughboy and complain that the sky is too damn blue!

We arrived late Friday and while Robin remained in the room I made a beeline for the bar. I brought my backpack of research books, my moleskin and pen—just like any other working day—and settling down at a quiet table in the corner with a glass of Guinness, I began to work. The fact that the bar served Guinness should have been a clue that something remarkable was about to happen. I should have been pleasantly surprised as I don’t remember them having my favorite drink in previous years, but as I said, I was in a mood.

Then Myke Cole walked in and shook my hand.

Okay, I thought, this is weird. How does this guy know who I am? Myke Cole, Myke Cole…I know that name. He’s the new debut author everyone is talking about. The one who released Shadow Ops: Control Point. I twittered with him, but did he actually remember that? He tweets with lots of people. So how does he know me, and why would he appear to be so happy to shake my hand?

He then went on to introduce his posse: other big house authors, a very nice woman from the review site, Fantasy Faction, named Jennie Ivins, and Justin of Staffer’s Musings. Each filed around to shake my hand. Having several empty chairs I invited them to sit. Myke sat next to me and proceeded to act insane—at least from my perspective. No one else at the gathering gave any sign that his very surreal behavior was odd. I just stared back at him for a while a little freaked. Why? Because Myke Cole was acting like I was somebody. He was talking as if I was…I don’t know, famous I guess. It became even stranger when no one around him asked, “So who is this Michael J. Sullivan?” A question I was tempted to ask because I wanted to hear Myke’s answer. Then just when I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, Myke mentioned that Peter Brett would be joining them and he wanted to meet me too.

Okay—hold on—Peter Brett, author of The Warded Man and Desert Spear? The guy who sold like a million books? That Peter Brett?

I nodded pretending to look as sage as possible then proceeded to make a fool of myself by asking the man across from me what publisher he was with, only to have him look back puzzled. “I’m with Orbit—like you. We have the same publisher, Mike.” That was T.C. McCarthy who just won the Compton Crook Award.

“Oh,” was all I could reply. God, I need a cheat sheet. Who else am I about to insult?

I didn’t need to wait long to find out. Because on the other side of me was Chris Evans, who I falsely accused of writing the Iron Druid books, when in fact that’s Kevin Hearne—Evans wrote the Iron Elves series.

Is it really my fault when they use such similar names? Sigh.

And yet despite my idiocy everyone was very understanding, and I couldn’t shake this sensation that I had awakened that evening in another person’s body. I felt as if I was in an episode of Quantum Leap, after all they appeared to know me. And how the hell do they know me? How could Myke Cole identify me as he walked past? I wasn’t wearing a con badge. He just knew.

After a pleasant evening where I closed the bar with Evans chatting about setting fantasy novels in unconventional time periods, I went back to my room thinking that at least that part of the con had been fun—weird, but fun. The next day I was on my way to get my badge when a young man spotted me in the hall. His eyes went wide and he abruptly changed course to meet me. He held out his hand, “Mr. Sullivan, I just wanted to say how—how much I enjoyed reading your books.”

His hand was quivering.

Whoa. Really? Awesome, but sort of disturbing.

On the way back I was stopped by another man. “Hey! Hi Michael!” I still wasn’t wearing the name tag, I had it stuffed in a pocket. I made a quick study of the guy, but had no idea who he was. “Loved your books. Which panels are you on?”

“Ahh…” I didn’t even know, and I was still trying to work out who this was and how he knew me.

This sort of thing happened all day.

I found Robin and we headed for lunch when we walked past Jon Sprunk, who I did remember from the year before, when we spoke for a few minutes in front of a vendor’s booth. We invited him to lunch and we three had a great talk—the insider publishing chat that new authors discuss when no one else is listening.

After that, as we walked through the halls trying to get to a panel, I was telling Robin how utterly surreal the day had been. How around every corner I ran into people who seemed to—


Literally interrupting this sentence was a woman who stopped us in the hall—a woman I’d never seen before.

“SEE!” I said to Robin.

A quick glance at the name tag gave me a hint. MELISSA it read. Then like a contestant on a game show I mentally threw up a hand. Wait! No wait—I know this one!

“Mel Hay?”

She smiled and nodded.


Melissa wearing a very stylish t-shirt

Melissa is a wonderful blogger, (My World in Words and Pages) one the very first who discovered me and helped to spread the word. She didn’t just review my books, she became an advocate for me all over the net-a-verse and really helped launch my career. This was a woman I owed a lot to, and if I was able to recognize anyone at the con, I was so glad it was her.

When I sat on panels I found a change as well. Some of my fellow panelist knew me, even though I still had my badge in my pocket. Those who didn’t, smiled warmly after hearing my obligatory intro bio. Again, I had that looking-over-my-shoulder-for-the-person-their-really-looking-at sensation.

For old times’ sake I visited the dealer’s room. Same tables, different faces—like taking the Alcatraz tour after having been an inmate. I paused to look at a rack of books and spotted  the indie publisher who had been on a panel with me.

“Hi,” he said with a big smile. I used to do that too. After three days, your face hurts. The publisher narrowed his eyes. “You know, in all the time we were on the panel, you never mentioned the name of your book.” 

In case you don’t know—if you haven’t been to a con—panels consist of a hotel room where a table is set up and a few people sit and speak on a topic before an audience. The point of this, for most authors, is to get face-time with potential fans to promote themselves. You’re supposed to stand your book up in front of you and plug yourself so if people find they like you based on your panel performance, they might buy your book. Only I wasn’t there to sell my books. I was just there to help Tee Morris on the panel he was moderating, which was on the subject of Making the Jump from Self to Corporate Publishing. I hadn’t planned, didn’t expect, and didn’t even want to be on these other panels, but they had all these schedules printed up. All these people planned to go. So I went.

But as I said things were different this time. The topics were more sensible, mostly on publishing, and a number of people in the audience appeared very appreciative of what was said. One man actually stopped me on the way out of one session and said, “That was really great. It was nice to hear from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.” I presumed he meant me, but I didn’t ask in case I was wrong.

But I never brought a book, nor did I mention my series. And as I said, I didn’t even wear my name tag. The man in the dealer’s room was very puzzled. Maybe a lot of people were, except perhaps the guy who stopped me on the way out of that one session.

I spent the second night in the bar with author Collin Earl and his pals, along with Jon Sprunk, Mel Hay and her brother. The night after that it was dinner with Nathan Lowell and his charming companion, then back to the bar with Myke Cole, Peter Brett, Scott Sigler, and Justin comparing book covers and discussing bad titles. Later, we hooked up with Tee Morris, and a woman bought me a drink—sadly I never even caught her name.

This was a very different con.

I was treated like I a real author—as if everyone got together in a secret meeting and voted me into the club, but I never got the memo.

Maybe I’ll attend another one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fan Art

I was asked on the Riyria Facebook page if there was any fan art for the series. I only knew of the one, but then I looked and found three. The color one was done by my daughter, not sure if that is technically still fan art, I suppose it is, and I like it so I'm calling it fair. Notice how it is in the shape of a sword that is broken. Clever girl. (To see more of my daughter's art.)

If I've learned something from this picture it's that line-work is like a fine Pinot Noir, it's subtle, it's full of life and energy, it hides and suggests, and too much of it gives you a headache...well, when you're the one making the picture anyway. The image, though, is finally done and I'm quite pleased with it. It's from the first pages of Michael J. Sullivan's "Riyria Revelations" when our heros, Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, master thieves, are held up by a group of...thieves. No more spoilers than that for anyone who hasn't read it, which is unfortunately a large number. If you haven't, read it! By the way, I have promised myself no more trees for a while...however I do have quite the habit of breaking promises and self-torture...

Any comments and criticisms are, of course, welcome.

Pen and ink on Bristol Board

Jesse Bechtold did these other two. One of which I already posted, but am reposting here because I can. (To see more of Jesse's work.)

This illustration is inspired by a small event in a book called "The Crown Conspiracy", part of a book series called "The Riyria Revelations" by Michael J. Sullivan. If you haven't heard of it it's about two thieves in a medieval style world accidentally getting caught up in a bid to create a new world empire. It's good fun, so I'd recommend it to anyone wanting a good adventure to read. Anyway, this started as a doodle to try to nail one of the main characters, Hadrian Blackwater, but I was having a lot of fun with the barmaid so I just kept going. What can I say, I have a thing for busty, size twelve barmaids...just ask my fiance'. More illustrations from this book to come and any comments welcome!

Pen and Ink on Paper

Thanks to both for illuminating my world.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What He Said

On the one hand I am pleased to discover that so many of my views and experiences as an author are mirrored by such an accomplished writer as Mr. Gaiman, as it makes me think I'm doing something right. On the other hand I have no idea what I will say now if I am ever asked to give a commencement speech. I might be reduced to the he-took-my-answer defense. And of course, he did it much better than I ever could.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Tyler Willis, a blogger since April 2012, whose profile image looks remarkably like a profile placeholder writes…

Dear Michael,

Some author's have commented about agonizing for days or weeks over their book titles, others about the names of individual characters in the plot in terms of wanting them to sound authentic. Your views on these may be enlightening for a future comment, do you subscribe to any a set formula.

First off, thanks for asking Tyler. It’s not always easy to come up with topics, and questions help.

Second…I don’t agonize.

Someone once pointed out that Rowlings did a lot of nifty things with her character names. Hogwarts teachers often reflected what they taught. Malfoy, using the prefix “mal” to indicate evil as in malevolent. Clearly some authors like to put jokes or clues into character names.

If you read my books to completion you will see that I did this too, but only in the case of the Big Bad revealed at the end. The rest of the characters were named in a far less grandiose process. What process you ask?

I collect names.

Much like a butterfly hunter, or perhaps more accurately, a bird watcher—whenever I spot a name I like, I pin it into a list I keep. Street signs are a great source of fun names. There are three streets near me called, Niblick, Mashie, and Follin. I just couldn’t resist thinking how these just sound like goblin names. Turns out they are golf terms—old names for clubs, I believe.

I also own a very old encyclopedia of proper names, which long ago I went through A-Z looking for any names I didn’t recognize that I thought were cool. This is how I came across Dahlgren, and Persepolis, which I changed to Percepliquis, because I thought it sounded better. I did this decades ago and forgot about it. Now when I see a name of something from my series in the real world I think—wow, someone named a city after my novels! At this point I’ve lost track what words I made up, which I modified and which I stole, but I keep a list—three lists actually, and they are: Male Names, Female Names, Names of Places and Things. This is where I dump all my gathered words. Then as I am writing and a character is spontaneously made, as sometimes happens, I just run down the list until I find a name that suits the character.

How do I do that?

Ah, now this is a trickier question, and likely more to the point of the inquiry. How do you name your dog, your cat, your parakeet? Most people look at the pet. A black lab almost always is called Blackie or Shadow. One with a white tip on its tail might be Tippy. It should be noted that almost all pet names must end in “y” or “ie” or have a derivative form that does. I don’t know why, it’s just a law of pet ownership. The point is you can look at an animal and come up with a name based on how they appear or act. A dog saved from a shelter is often called Lucky.

Characters can be handled the same way. You know what they are like and pick an appropriate title, but what about children? How do parents pick names for an expected delivery. Most choose prior to the birth and if they used the same method there would be a whole lot of Kickies, and Oppsies, walking around. In this process the name comes first, the character later. Some just pick a name they think is pretty, some because they want their child to be unique, or if traditional— after someone they know or knew—and others (the kind ones) pick based off the I-don’t-want-them-to-be-beaten-up-in-school rule. Some I think pick names in the hope the child will grow into it thinking that it might help shape them. These are the ones who insist their son is called Charles, not Charlie (or god forbid Chuck!) or more obviously, Richard rather than Dick. (How Dick is derived from Richard is still a mystery, maybe the original Richard was a real tool.)

The same is often true when creating a fictional character. Sometimes you name them and from that name comes their character. Someone named Royce isn’t a barbarian, and Hadrian isn’t a librarian. Now Myron—okay, raise your hand if you know why I named him that? Yes—of course. I was looking for a mousy sounding name, a name that the moment you read it, an idea might begin to form. Myron sounds small, and meek. Myron could be mean, bitter and vindictive as well, but generally I don’t ever get the impression of a Myron being pompous. Royce sounds elegant, cool, slick, classy, impressive, mostly because of the car. Hadrian was a Roman Caesar who lent his name to a famous wall built to defend England from Scotland. When you think of Hadrian Blackwater’s character you can see the similarities.

Oh yeah, that reminds me. Blackwater has nothing to do with the real life mercenary organization. I created the name long before the Iraq War. But it is interesting how real life can sometimes imitate art.

I picked the names of the Essendons with a concept in mind. Arista, Amrath, Ann, Alric…can you guess the pattern? The same pattern exists with the Woods—Theron, Thrace, Thad. I was creating family units using the first letters. This, as it turned out wasn’t such a great idea as readers sometimes had trouble telling one from the other. 

Most frequently however I will be typing along and come to a point where I need to name someone. If that person isn’t significant to the story, I look up at the blank wall, think a second, then look at the keyboard. Which letter should it start with? Ever notice how letters have personalities? S is powerful, cool and often sinister: sorcerer, Sauron, Snape. B is not so bright, simple but friendly: Biff, Billy, Baggins. G I often associate with harsh guttural ideas like goblins (Gandalf being an exception.) So often a name begins as simply as me looking down at the keyboard and matching a letter to the character, then I might just type something and read it to myself and see how it sounds. Then I will modify it to make it easier to pronounce. Iirabith looks sorta cool, but also feels like a mouthful so I might trim it down to Iribith. Better, but still an eye-stopper if you’re reading along. That’s one I’ll have to sound out or skip. So, then I might change it into something more recognizable like Ibith and from that to Ibis. Anyone ought to be able to pronounce Ibis. And since the first name is odd, I’ll make the last name easy and just use a real word—Thinly. Why Thinly? It just popped into my head and I like the way Ibis Thinly sounds.

As you might be able to tell, I don’t waste much time on names.

When I was first writing the series back around 2002—when I had never published anything before, and assumed quite logically, I never would—I remember coming to a name problem, like what should I call the big city in Avryn? I would pause and consider that I should put some time into this. Then I would think, why? No one is ever going to read it so who the heck cares? Why spend hours picking just the right name when it doesn’t matter in the slightest. This was a very strong case for not belaboring the point, but then, a very tiny—Myronish—voice would squeak, “But what if it sells? What if this becomes famous? What if this series becomes huge and a generation later the original six volumes are considered the canon that conventioneer fanatics quote to one another like The Princess Bride or Star Trek?” This got me nervous and thinking what if every word I write, every name is studied by literary professors someday who extrapolate deep meanings based on the choices I make now?

Colnora is very telling of Mr. Sullivan’s subtle underscoring of his universe. Col being a root term used in ancient Greek being a reference to Sol or the sun. This shows that the city is the center of the commercial or trading universe in the world of Elan. While Nora was the first name of an extremely prolific and successful writer of fiction at the same time Sullivan wrote his books. So clearly Sullivan is telling us that the city of Colnora is really a metaphor for Jesus.  

This is my nightmare.

I don’t put a lot of thought into the names. I picked them because they look and sound like the name such a person should have. Mauvin and Fanen were plucked out of thin air when I wrote the scene at Drondil Fields in The Crown Conspiracy. At the time I had no idea those two would appear in any future books. I most certainly would have picked better names if I knew. I mean Mauvin? The guy is the closest thing I have to Tom Cruise in the series and I called him Mauvin?

Royce and Hadrian were, of course, carefully picked. They took shape long before I sat down to write the series—a full decade before to be exact. Those were two names I kept highlighted at the top of my list along with Arcadius, Esrahaddon, Avryn, Wyatt, Elden, Arista, Miranda, and others, some I haven’t used yet.

So to answer your question. I don’t agonize, and my names are not “authentic” (if you mean this in some sort of Earth historical, regional, or cultural manner, as any relation to Earth’s past is completely coincidental.) Rather I try and make them appropriate as a means of helping to define the character. There are some very minor exceptions. Most names of Calian origin like DeWitt and DeLancy have a “De” in front of them. I took this idea from McDonald and McMurphy, O’Brien and O’Sullivan as a way to designate an ethnicity. And of course there is a specific reason that Avryn, Galewyr, Gilarabrywn, and other such names are the way they are as well. If you finished the series you already know. 

I did have one early beta reader complain that using the names Deminthal and DeWitt for the same person was inappropriate because one was of Scottish origin and the other of Baltic, or some such thing, and how could that possibly be—clearly I was ignorant or just lazy. Actually I was both. Yet since neither Scotland nor the Baltic, or Europe for that matter, are in my world, and because I really didn’t think too many readers knew the etymology of these words and their suspect conflict, I felt it was okay to ignore this.

As for title names, well that is a lot more complicated. Chapter titles I pick mostly after I write them, unless I have a clear idea going in. Book titles are important and those I will work on longer as a book title isn’t just a reflection of the contents, it’s a marketing tool.

The original title of The Crown Conspiracy was Heirs to the Throne. Everyone thought Heirs was awful—me included, but I thought it was accurate and didn’t give anything away. It was bad because it wasn’t sexy and there are so many Heirs and Throne based titles out already. The Crown Conspiracy was more intriguing, more exciting and oddly enough was, and still may be, unique as a title. Nyphron Rising was originally entitled Legends and Lore, which I loved. My wife didn’t. She complained that Legends and Lore Googled terribly. I needed something less popular. Rising is also popular, but throwing Nyphron in front made it unique, and it still described the contents. 

When Orbit came to me with the idea of turning the six books into three, I became concerned as to what the three books might be called. I didn’t want two titles on each, and I didn’t want them naming the books. So prior to agreeing to the deal I came up with three titles and got them to agree. To do that I put on my authors and marketing hats. I wanted titles that described the books and worked well together to brand the series.

The first two books of the series had one common feature, both deal with the stealing of swords. I feel titles need to be very short so I came up with Theft of Swords. I then realized that to meet my series brand requirement, all the books must have the same pattern of Blank of Blank. For book two I saw the primary feature of those stories concerned the establishing of the new empire and so Rise of Empire fit very well. The last I struggled with. Wintertide and Percepliquis are so very different. Then it hit me and I felt stupid. The title was littered throughout the books, repeated constantly—Heir of Novron. Three short names, equal in pattern, but reflecting the theme of both books contained within.

And there you have it Tyler. I hope this was helpful—a name by any other rose is a horse of another color.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Better Early Than Late

The audiobook of Rise of Empire was expected to be released in June, but I am happy to announce the second volume of the six book trilogy is already available from Audible.com, (which can also be purchased via an Audible button on Amazon.)

As you can see below, the audio version of Rise is listed as number two in historical fantasy books. I suspect it has something to do with the imaginative cover art. (Note the little half-yellow book on the right still handing in there.)

The series continues to be narrated by Tim Gerard, a good, upstanding Irishman who does a fine job even if he sounds a bit more British than I would have expected. My friends down at the pub tell me that’s most likely because Tim is from Dublin—the eastern, Britishified side of the country. My families (the Sullivans and Flanagans) originally came from the southwest and northwest of the isle respectively, still I don’t hold that against him—after all St. James Gate is in Dublin, too.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Objectively Speaking

Are there such things as objectively bad books?

This was a question I was recently asked. Why anyone would think I am an authority on this subject I don’t know. Perhaps they didn’t, and were just goading me into an argument. I suspect it is the latter as the person who asked held some fairly definitive opinions on a large range of books insisting they are objectively bad. The list included:

·          Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga
·          J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
·          J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series
·          And most anything by Stephen King

I’ve never read Twilight (I’m hardly the demographic), but the other three authors are some of my favorites and I say that without any qualifiers or fine print.

I don’t like people attempting to use objectivity (judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices) to insult or bully others. Saying you don’t like a book, or movie, or song is fine—everyone is entitled to an opinion—but saying it is not your opinion but rather that the artwork is universally and verifiably bad—I have a problem with that.  And when the same person stated that the Lord of The Rings was objectively bad (because it lacked world building, no less) well…it was time for a blog post.

Two people look at a rock. Is it bigger than my fist? Harder? These are objective values—conclusions that can be verified separately by anyone and return the same answer.

Do you like the rock? This is a subjective value and is totally opinion based and non-verifiable by anyone other than the person holding the opinion, and at the time the opinion is given, for sometimes opinions can change.

 Non-fiction can be objectively bad if the information contained in the book is wrong, as the information can be objectively verified (granted there is still some interpretation involved.) But novels are a form of art, and all art is subjective.

Don’t believe me?  Go to any museum I’ll bet you’ll see stuff you like and stuff you don’t like hanging on the walls.  If art was objective then we could all tell the difference between the good art and the crap, just as we could tell if a rock was bigger than our fists. So how do we get this notion that there is good and bad art?

If enough people’s opinions agree on a piece of art—either by personal preference or political persuasion (in other words, propaganda: “you’re stupid if you don’t appreciate this” or consequently: “you’re crazy if you like that!”)—then art is elevated and considered good, but this is still opinion as verification of an objective value cannot be based on mass appeal (unless the topic is mass appeal itself.)

So if the majority of people dislike a book then it is likely a bad book, but again this is still mere opinion and history has shown that often great works are ahead of their time and not immediately accepted. Vincent Van Gogh, for example, was considered a joke in his day, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was ignored for two-and-a-half centuries. This shift of value over time is further evidence that the value of art is subjective, even when originally endorsed by large numbers of people. Consider the nineteenth century novel The Lamplighter by Maria Cummins—hugely popular in its day—but now mostly forgotten; and Johann Nepomuk Hummel considered as good as Mozart in 1820, but who believes that now?

Consider for yourself if there is anything you like now that you didn’t like before, or vice versa? Did the subject change or just your perception of it?

Given this, I don’t think you can intelligently state that a novel that sells millions is objectively bad, when the value of books/art is wholly opinion based, and there are huge numbers of people on this planet who love those stories. To me, the fact that these books have garnered such a following is an indication that they resonate with people and self-evident that the books are considered good, even though your opinion may differ.

You can’t even argue that the popularity was just hype; that people bought the novels just to see what all the hubbub was about. In each case the examples cited had sequels or other works all of which are widely read. If they were objectively bad, who would bother reading the second much less the third and fourth and then go see the movies?

I strongly suspect that the concept of objectivity is often misused by people who merely wish to impose their views on others by insisting their opinions are more legitimate than others. A favorite tactic is to suggest research will prove their point, and then offer up still more opinions. This is often the position of bullies who rather than engage in an honest debate of opinion with an open mind, seeking as much to be enlightened as to enlighten, prefer to declare they are always right.

Of course…this is only my opinion.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Daughter's Sense of Humor

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Committing Murder

My books have often been labeled as an alternative to the “dark and gritty” trend in fantasy. I accepted this label for two reasons, I’m not an expert on the recent trends in fantasy (but I’m getting better), and I’d prefer to think my works are generally pleasant and uplifting. However, not too long ago, a fan pointed out that for my books being all sunshine and fairy-tales, I kill a lot of my characters. At first I scoffed. Then I counted. He was right. Roughly half my cast of good characters don’t reach the end of the series. That’s a lot of death.

In a comment here, Christina recently asked,  ‘I 'd like to know how you handle cutting characters- particularly ones you might really like, but just don't fit with the story or bulk it up unnecessarily. What's the line? Is there something you can point to that tells you 'this one needs to go?'

There’s no line, and I’m pleased to say I’ve never killed any character because I thought there were too many in the story, or because they didn’t have a place anymore. On the other hand I keep my cast of characters small. I don’t like to randomly add new players if an old one can play the part. Such a practice saves me the effort of inventing someone new, the reader from having to learn and keep track of someone new, and—if it reaches the silver screen—will be appreciated by the actors playing those roles. (That last one is meant to be funny.)

I can also say that every character I’ve killed had to die, usually for more than one reason. There is the effect of the death itself. Often this is needed merely to ground the reader into believing that the world they are reading about isn’t all roses and good-hair-days.  Credibility dictates that bad guys can’t be the only ones to ever really die. While I’m not trying to write realistic fiction, there is a plausibility factor that has to be recognized. Who makes this scale? Who decides what is acceptable and what isn’t? As far as the writing of the book is concerned that person is me. As far as reading it, that person is you. I tend to use my own instincts. If I like it, I do it and just hope I’m not too far outside of the mainstream.

The same thing applies to language. My characters speak modern American English with British slang because I feel that makes reading the books so much easier and thereby immersive, emotional and more fun (at least for those accustomed to American English.) Still there are limits. Royce and Hadrian don’t use the words “cool” or “dude,” or any words that are clearly Earth related such as eating off fine China. But where is the line? For example I’ve used the word “mesmerized,” and I’m hoping the majority of you don’t know why that might be a problem. The word comes from Franz Mesmer a turn of the nineteenth century physician who pioneered hypnosis. Given that I don’t feel this is too commonly known, and that the word has become so ingrained in common use, I made the decision to use it. The litmus test being, “would I find it jarring to encounter such a word in another fantasy book?” The same is true for “sun” and “moon.” Going to the effort of inventing new words just seemed pretentious, anal, and silly, and would be an added level of education forced on my readers. (Oh I get it that word means moon.)

So when there is a battle and the good guys are outnumbered two to one, it just strikes me as implausible if, unless there is a some extenuating circumstance, at least one of the good guys doesn’t die. A few should be wounded too. In some ways I see this as offsetting, perhaps even paying the karma price for a heroic victory. Imagine how more believable the Lord of the Rings might have been if Sam had been the only member of the fellowship to survive the ordeal. This Pyrrhic victory would have truly driven home the idea of how desperate that challenge was. I’m not saying it would have been better…just more believable given the odds.

Killing characters can then be a means of establishing the seriousness of the problem. Slaying dragons, melting witches, and banishing demons is all fun and games until someone loses a sidekick—then it’s personal. The bad guy isn’t just the “bad guy” anymore, he’s the BAD GUY!

Killing a good character can also punch a hole in your readers chest and strangle their heart. Two things I always aspire to do in my books is to make my readers laugh and cry, and hopefully within just a few pages of each other. That’s really the whole reason I write books. Coming up with a really interesting, or fascinating story that makes your readers go, “humm,” is nice. Making a thirty-five year old, construction-working, Budweiser-drinking, never-used-a-band-aid-in-their-life, man cry like a baby while reading your book in public to the point that they write you to admit this…that’s priceless.

Mostly, however, the deaths are plot related. This person has to die so that person can advance. Mentors usually buy it in every fantasy story. Merlin, Obi Wan, someone in the Potter books (has anyone not read all of them or seen the movies that I could be spoiling the story for?) Even Gandalf took one for the team so Frodo could branch off on his own and up the suspense by finding himself. And I suspect that if you look at any of the deaths in my series you’ll discover the reasons behind them, be they political, emotional, karmic, or just the jettisoning of a booster rocket allowing another character to soar higher.

Bottom line: I never kill for effect, or indiscriminately—I use every part of the death. Each demise is carefully thought out, and it’s rippled effects explored, and most characters—those whose deaths are pivotal to the plot—were created for the specific purpose of dying at just the right moment to send the plot spinning in a new direction.

I hope that answers your question Christina. If anyone else has questions out there…I’m always looking for topic ideas.

Thanks for posting