Wednesday, February 22, 2012

By What Measure Success for Self-Publishers?

by Stella Atrium

The first book of my fantasy series titled SUFFERSTONE received a couple 5-star reader reviews on GoodReads (reported on Amazon).  Since I blog about female characters in science fiction, I was gratified that one reader (thanks, Frank Hicks) identified with the lead male character Brian Miller.

So, I had brief and troubling feelings of success. I immediately wondered what was next, so vain.

HellerJoseph Heller said in an interview with Playboy (many years back) that he delivered Catch-22 to the publishers in 1961 and received a $2,000 advance (today’s equivalent is $20,000), then went back to adjunct teaching with few expectations.

Catch-22 went viral by word-of-mouth and was made into a movie.  Over the decades, Heller was a cult personality and hippies wore khaki jackets with Yossarian emblazoned on the breast pocket. The term catch-22 became a concept in the American mythos for frustration with a system stacked against the regular guy.

I would call that success.

So… there’s a lag time for the creative stage, the publishing stage, the famous stage, and the American classic stage. The writer must measure what stage she’s currently experiencing and how long is the wait. Basquiat

Andy Warhol once told Jean-Michel Basquiat that the audience for his street art wasn’t born yet.

Basquiat famously said, “I don't listen to what art critics say. I don't know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.” (Brainy Quotes) Of course, once he received some money for his work, he killed himself with drugs.  The starving artist stance has some benefits.

But, back to the writer. The creative stage counts.  Many writers once they start with promotions have the urge to push aside today’s work and return to the solitary gestures of creation.  Delicious.

I suppose the best approach is to tolerate each spike within each stage with patience, and manage expectations.

Goya's womenArt critic for Time magazine Robert Hughes in 2002 wrote a classic review titled "Goya’s Women" about an exhibition of paintings by Goya. As you know, as a young man, Francisco Goya was a portrait painter for the Spanish court in the 1780s. Later he was an impressionist who captured the horrors of war in his country.  Goya lived into his eighties and continued to paint and draw until his death in1828.

Robert Hughes pushes aside Goya’s long history with the leaders of Europe and focuses on the many images of women that Goya painted over the decades, and the artistic quality in those images.  The ART remains after the shouting subsides.

That’s success.

See Robert Hughes famous TIME article here.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Fourth Campaign Flash Fiction Challenge

200 words with opening and closing lines (includes the word orange).

Shadows crept across the wall of the mesa, signaling the end of the heated day. Dulcinea was late, and I had spent the idle afternoon to no avail. What was keeping her?

I edged up the trench side to gain a glimpse of the savannah in the direction she had left two days before. I squinted against the pain of orange sunlight still illuminating the ground beyond the mesa’s shadow.

My meager provisions had been consumed and my water was running low. I would need to leave in the morning, even if Dulcinea didn’t return.

I heard a rustle and a rattle; perhaps my dinner approached. I reached for my bootknife , thinking about sizzling snake meat on an open camp fire. I felt the quick pinch of fangs, like an angry kiss.

Ah, shit. I don’t deserve this. Our adventure had just begun. Our plans were barely set. How would Dulcinea succeed without me at her side?

Funny how breathing goes quiet and the mind wanders. I fell to my knees, unconcerned with the location of the snake. He had done his work. I had few regrets, and couldn’t muster the energy to list the tender mercies. Everything faded.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

11 Semi-Random Answers to 11 Random Questions

This is like a chain letter.  I WAS TAGGED!

A new friend to ElizabethTwist, a fellow campaigner and fantasy and horror writer Angeline Trevena (who is also our new best hope for an accurate and effective dick joke evaluation scale) tagged her to answer eleven questions. Thanks, Angeline!

Angeline was tagged by by Kaylie Austen , a YA, sci-fi, and fantasy writer, who posted 11 random questions to answer about herself. shield

Elizabeth Twist sent these questions for me:

1. What are you reading?

I just finished the third book in the City of Dragon series from Robin Hobb. I have lost myself in her work over several series, the best was the first title Assassin’s Apprentice.  The dragon book I just finished was a potboiler and could be skipped.

2. What is your favourite creative activity that is not writing?

I love to attend the Joffrey Ballet here in Chicago, maybe because ballet uses no words!

3. Where or how do you get your best ideas?

From reading and solving problems.  How do women solve problem differently than the methods men use?  My characters always follow this mode.

4. If you could magically and painlessly change one thing about your mind or body, what would it be, if anything?

I would strengthen my back for long hours sitting at the computer answering random questions. 

5. What's the scariest movie, story, novel, or scene you can recall?

I avoid scary movies. I don’t need those images in my life.  I’m old enough to feel terror at the mention of the movie “Psycho”.

6. What's the weirdest thing you believe?

I believe my father is waiting to greet me in Heaven.  I really believe this.

7. Super strength or super intelligence?

Let’s go with the smarts: it’s less work.

8. You're granted the ability to become invisible. Where do you go and what do you do? (Bonus question: are you wearing clothes? I mean, what about YOUR becoming invisible makes your clothes invisible too? This has always bothered me.)

I would need clothes.  I don’t like cold feet.  I had a friend once who claimed if a woman wears black and tan together, she is invisible on the street (read: defensive dressing).  I have put this concept to the test, and indeed, servers ignore me at Starbucks and at Target!!

9. What one change do you think would have the most positive impact on the world as a whole?

Remove that nut-job in Iran.

10. What is the crappiest advice you've ever been given?

Avoid self-publishing because you will lose the respect of the publishing industry.  I could never get their attention, so losing respect is moot. 

11. What's your favourite song right now?

I’m Every Woman.  

Thanks for including me in the game.  It made my day.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Writers! Get involved with Rachel Harrie's Fourth Writers' Platform-Building Campaign.  Learn more about the successful movement here as I learn more over the coming weeks.
-- make friends
-- industry contacts
-- marketing

"Basically, the Campaign is a way to link those of us in the writing community together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms. The Campaigners are all bloggers in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others' online platforms while at the same time building theirs."

Stay tuned to learn more!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's with All the Violence for Girl-Heroes in Fantasy Stories?

by Stella Atrium

So I was thinking about how female fantasy writers connect the girl-hero with violence. I was seeking a quote to start this blog entry, but I came up short.

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent – Isaac Asimov

Violence is the last resort of the ignorant – L. Ron Hubbard

Both are a mis-reading of a post-war Roosevelt speech. I guess everybody borrows.

I like that we have chosen to empower women by giving the girl-hero choices and weapons and treasure and magic and the ability to talk to horses. These are exciting additions to her personal power, and I wish the stories had existed when I was young. (My comfort was A Wrinkle in Time where one of the travelers was a girl.)

I recently read a couple trilogies in fantasy where the girl-hero wields a sword, leads an army, and grown men twice her age follow her.  In history,  there was a queen named Matilda (we need a biopic here!!) who put Henry Plantagenet on the throne of England. But Matilda was a grown woman who took advantage in a fractured system where the heir apparent was weak, and the King of France had died leaving Eleanor (Henry’s wife) with a larger kingdom.  Matilda’s victories on the battlefield were few.

MatildaOther queens featured in history ride at the head of armies as inspiration (a young Catherine the Great, for example), but none of them were commoners. Rather, the queen had resources a man usually claims such as treasure and blood rights to squander on a bid for the throne. Mostly these examples from history acted through diplomacy and deceit when the monarchy was weak.

So where is the precedent for all the violence for girl-heroes in fantasy stories?

What girl kills without remorse?  What 14-year-old kills a man who outweighs her by 80 pounds? So sometimes the girl-hero has more magic than the opponent’s magic. Sometimes she was trained in the use of poison to level the contest.

But there’s still the kill stroke – the coup de gras.

Why are we turning girl-heroes, who are written to serve as liberating role models for our younger generation, into killing machines?  When did this trend start?

So the three possibilities for female roles in fantasy are still warrior, sweetheart/victim, or harlot – right? We have no better/different roles for women? Really? I can think of a few, but they depend on adding additional characters to the story; a pantheon of aunts, school mates, teachers, cousins, young sisters and BFFs. Listed are a few examples of character types:

Jealous sister like in the movie The Bodyguard

Buddies like in Thelma and Louise

Friend who turns on you like in Bridesmaids

Long suffering steadfast friend like in Bridesmaids (hence the popularity)

Narcissistic nemesis like in You Again

Overbearing boss like in Working Girl

Friends bonded to improve conditions like in Nine to Five

Friends bonded by community like in Steel Magnolias

BonesMentoring from an expert like in Bones on TV – Why do we never see this structure in fantasy stories? The girl-hero is always mentored by an older man who admits, much later, to sexual interest.  In real life, older women teach younger women. It seems that when a woman reaches age 40, she suddenly goes mute and the girls she mentored erase her name from history.

And another thing – I’m warmed up to it now!! A woman as the bad guy gets the short shrift. The male characters who serve as bad guys in fantasy stories are often deftly drawn with a back story for how they started down a dark road.  But the female bad guys are usually stuck in the “Mirror, mirror, on the wall” musky old motif.  What happened in her background that twisted her sense of doing good?

A bad guy who serves to drive the story thinks he is doing what’s best for the future, and he offers every justification for why he is right.  A female bad guy never gets that speechifying moment to justify her choices before somebody throws a bucket of water on her.

Come on, ladies…  We can do better than this.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Study Fantasy Series by Maria Snyder: A Review

Stella Atrium

Ideas for story elements are like grapes.  We can devour them off the vine for the sweet pop in the mouth and feel pleasure.  Of course, we need to consume several to feel satisfied.  We can allow ideas to grow wrinkly and discolored and devour them later as raisins that provide pleasure and also are longer lasting – in storage and in nourishment.  We can allow story ideas to ferment tangent to other ingredients and age in a dark cool place, and use them up later as wine when they provide long lasting pleasure and also maybe a giggle or two.

I’m in favor of the wine.

I have been reading the Study Series by Maria Snyder and have enjoyed following the antics of Yelena Lliana Zaltana.  I didn’t think I would ever make this next statement, but there’s too much magic in the stories. 

Everybody has magic, even the leader of the district that killed all the magicians. The two seemingly untalented characters, who only study plants for derivatives and distill perfume, are parents to the most powerful apprentices.  How is that possible since it was established that magic follows the bloodlines?  Also these parents are introduced in a domestic environment, but later are referred to as king and queen of the clan that only has clan leaders, not royalty.

The stories are bad guy driven, but the bad guys are wholly craven and unrelenting.  The good guys are wholly loyal and hiding a secret heart of love.  Oh-hum.

My real complaint, though, is that the writer got tired of her story and her otherworld. The third story is weighed with exposition explaining past events, and the plot line jumps from one fire to another – literally. Action scenes are related after the fact, and some secrets are held but only until the next chapter. Preventing death at the hands of the bad guys is all-consuming – almost a substitute for character development. There’s no breath for festival days or growth with age or mentoring sisters.

And everybody has magic, even the horses – like a cloying dessert (with raisins) that makes you reach for a cool glass of water.

I enjoy these books and sat up late at night reading them, the true test for the fantasy genre.  I regret the writer lost patience, rushed through intriguing scene set-ups, and used and dropped characters.  What happened to Fisk and his street urchin army? How did he know clan legacy taught in the schools? Was he a latent magician too?

What happened to Captain Star? Will she appear in the next installment as a confidant to Valek? I wanted wine and I got raisins.