by J.H. Tyler
"The way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." ~ Steve McGarrett
I've been blogging since 2010, and every service except this one has given me grief about everything from font to content to the length of my posts. I'm home! I hope you like it; I'll try to keep it interesting, and should it inspire or inform you in any way, I'll consider it a worthwhile endeavor!|
Read well, and write better!
| "You got some splainin' to do!"
~ DESI ARNAZ as Ricky Ricardo
It seems as though I have stumbled upon a way to get people who don't even know me focused on me and what I'm doing: Start a group, then close it. Allow me to splain.
Last month I started a group, The Punk Fiction Library. Four months into my tenure here, I got to thinking that Punk Fiction, steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, et al, being the niche market that it is, might benefit its readers and authors by having a library, a single page where fans of the genres could, with a single mouse click, find books, stories, poems, and everything laid out for their selection and enjoyment. I went looking for such a place using the site's search engine, and turned up nothing, so I put on my thinking cap and figured out what this would look like, and set about building it. All I had envisioned was a list of works for readers to peruse, and that's what I set about creating, beginning with my own steampunk.
Then came the question of how to grow it. I posted it on the Shameless Plug Page. Apparently I read something wrong there, as within the hour, it had been removed, and I had a long lecture from a moderator about why it wasn't appropriate, and a list of hoops that this rookie group builder couldn't begin to understand that I could jump through to promote it somewhere else. Never mind that, I decided, I'll go door-to-door. So every morning, I would begin my writing day by going to the "Browse by Genre: Steampunk" tab, and approaching the first three authors I hadn't seen before with an Email invitation to come check out the Library.
Much to my surprise, people began to join, and some of them surprised me. Some of the most active people on the site, names you see everywhere, signed up, along with Mods and Senior Mods. Donations poured in to the tune of half a million GPs (almost), and one of the members got busy making banners and sigs. Plans were being made to announce a new-story contest on June 1st, with a contest for old stories and reviewing rotating each quarter. Then one of the members said I should check out The Steampunk Authors' Guild. There was a bit of delay in doing that, as I was eyes-deep in completing my supernatural dieselpunk story, but I eventually got there. Imagine my surprise when I did, only to find not only a library, but contests, essays on The Craft, a newsletter, and a wealth of other activities that had been going on for years! Not only that, but nearly every member of my group was already a member here as well as many of the people I contacted who didn't respond; easy to see why, given that they were already in a bigger, better group!
That happened on Tuesday, and I immediately decided that I wasn't going to compete with them. See, I was raised by great-grandma, a genuine high-born Lady of the Victorian Era, who taught me that when a man makes a mistake, he stands up and owns it, and does everything in his power to make it right. So on Tuesday I announced that 72 hours hence, Friday, if no one chose to step in and take it over, I would be closing the group. According to the counter, one person read it, and obviously, no one expressed any interest in running it further. True to my word, I closed it yesterday, returning everyone's donations as part of the process.
Now I'm hearing from people! A small percentage are supportive, saying that they understand my reasoning, and look them up if I decide to do anything else; I cannot properly express my appreciation for those sentiments. Most are negative, some dismissive, some argumentative. I suspect that I have lost friends, people I admire and whose company I have enjoyed, over my decision to not duplicate, in however poor a fashion, someone else's work; I understand at this moment in time why integrity has fallen out of favor with society.
Going forward, I have to say I won't put myself in this position again. I was seduced by the "bright lights and glamour" of running a group, being a wheeler-dealer, well-known around the site. I'm over it, and if anyone chooses to forgive me for it, I'll be properly grateful, but there are a few things that I have relearned. One is that I came here to write. Not to be a pundit, a social butterfly, or a teacher. That's a laugh! All I can teach anyone is how to fail, having stacked up decades of failure over the course of my long writing "career." I write now as a hobby, and that's what I'll continue to do.
My Blimprider handle has gone into the storage unit; far too frivolous, and gives the impression of someone who craves social activities. No more groups, not now, not later. Should I identify a need, I'll suggest it in my notebook, and anyone who reads it can feel free to run with it. Reviews? I have on average three hours each morning to get any meaningful work done. Anyone who has ever received one of my long-form reviews can tell you, that's my three hours. So probably not many. Should anyone choose to review my work, I'll reward them with GPs, one- to five-thousand, depending on tone and quality. This blog, I don't know. If I have anything to say, I'll come here and say it, but I'm not going to tie up any more hours stressing over what I have to prepare for next week.
Vince Lombardi said of his chosen passion, "Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist, but football is only two things - blocking and tackling." Likewise, the passion of writing is only two things - writing and writing. That's what I'll be doing from now on. Peace, out!
| "One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight to ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That's what you wanted to write about, what you didn't know."
~ KEN KESEY
Most of you know that I am an "indie," an independently published author, and I suspect that a good number of my fellow members here are, too. Most WdC members, published or not, are likely readers as well. A few weeks ago, verily while I was grousing about not having enough time to do the things I needed to do here on WdC, I contemplated starting a new off-site blog. That's how my muse works, I'm afraid; he has a poor grasp of the world around him. Fortunately, after setting it up just to check the look, I realized that carrying through with it would be pretty close to temporal suicide, but before I closed it all down, I wrote this piece, designed to be the permanent lead article:
* * *
A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.
What was the last original movie you saw? Can't think of one? That's because no one is making them anymore. That's why we're inundated with remakes of old movies, reenvisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books "brought to life" by the "magic of Hollywood," episode CCXLVII of the Big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.
Books have largely gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn't follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many clones of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I'm going to tell you where to find them.
In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, scouring the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you'll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is moldering in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.
Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn't want to get involved with the "you do the work, and we'll keep the money" attitude of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.
We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, "Enough of this! I'm sticking to the Big Five from now on." That's your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.
We all try new products every day. Whether it's a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn't do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, "I'm never using makeup again!" Of course we don't. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that's your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list.
How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren't too many of them. A low rating isn't a deal-breaker either, unless that's all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the "Look Inside" feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can't write, you won't need much more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there's the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we're waiting to welcome you.
* * *
I repeat the essay here, not in any quest for glory, or a need for reviews and whatnot, but with an invitation to repost it, reblog it, get the word out. The more readers are choosing indies, the better it is for all of us. A quality indie who's picking up a little pocket change, and a speck of recognition as well, is more likely to continue to produce his tales, and a reader who discovers the wonderful worlds created by quality indies benefits from the experience of visiting those worlds. So take a few moments and spread the word. Store this article, and the next time you have a blog post due, and your muse isn't coming through for you, reblog it, and add your own thoughts. And then go read an indie; they can be a great source of inspiration!
Finally, an update on my favorite subject, me! As the more observant among will have noticed, this isn't Monday. I figured, I had the article completed, why wait until to tomorrow to post it? I reserve the right to be as flighty and unpredictable as I want. More to the point, if I can get into a routine of doing this on the weekends, that frees up every weekday to work on new story material.
Speaking of that, last week, I posted Chapter Six of Stingaree, my novel of steampunk San Diego. Chapter Six is the ¼ point of the novel, and the point at which I put the first major plot twist. Take a look when you get a chance, and see how a master does it... Or, failing that, how I do it! This coming week, I will be transcribing more of Temple of Exile. I'm looking to get sixty pages done, and if I can do that, it will be finished in its entirety, and being read by at least one fan for the first time in nearly twenty years. That will free the time I've been doing that transcription to begin something new and original. I'm toying with some storylines to continue the Beyond the Rails series, but those who have read the last book will recognize the difficulty I'm facing there. That series will be continued, Azrael willing, but I'm not sure where I want to take it yet. Short term, the Beyond the Rails spinoff, The Darklighters, is ready for launch, so that will be what replaces the transcription in the rotation.
Giving what I am working on this week, there probably won't be much material going up here until Friday, when Temple of Exile is scheduled to complete. Don't worry, though, I'm here diligently pecking away. Fresh new material is on the way, promise!
"Read well, and write better!"
| "A novelist, in his omniscience, knows the measure of his characters, out of his passion for all sorts of conditions of human life. The biographer, however, begins with certain limiting little facts."
~ LEON EDEL
I'm halfway through my fifth month here, which is still new enough to be a relative unknown (despite all the noise I've been trying to make on the site), and while I've filled out those ridiculously tiny Bio sections, I don't feel that 600 characters in any language can explain who I am, so I'm going to squander a blog post on the subject, and we'll see who finds it interesting. This will explore the events that brought me to this point, how my defining work came to be, and where I might be headed in the future. Once I have this ego attack satiated, I should be able to get back to work with a clear head, so we might as well get it over with.
I am a 68-year old navy veteran, decorated seven times for my participation in the Vietnam War, and once for my work as a civilian on behalf of the navy as a fuel safety, fire, environmental, and contract specialist later in life. None of my medals, the National Defense Medal, five Vietnam Service Medals, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, nor the Meritorious Unit Commendation, was given for individual valor. I'm not that guy. They represent my "proof of purchase," if you like, demonstrating the fact that I was there and involved. In the navy, I trained as a Radioman, and served in minesweepers and fleet oilers. It was a long time ago, and distance has removed any urge to relive those days. After a few years of nursing my great-grandmother, working odd jobs, and being a hippie, a pot-head, and a street urchin in a California beach town (boy, those were the days!), I took the civil service test because you can't be a street kid forever, and went back to work for the navy. I began in an aviation parts warehouse where I met my future wife on the first day, went on to work in clerical and accounting positions, and for the last 25 years was the aforementioned safety guy with the title of Contract Surveillance Representative. I retired on May 2nd, just over a year ago, when after a quarter of a century, my department head decided that I was doing it all wrong, and that I would be redirected to fall into line with the navy's needs. My reply was, "Direct me to the gate!" since I was two years late for the door, and had no desire to learn a new job at this age.
Now my job is writing (oh, and being a husband and grandpa, but those are for a different website), and what I'm going to explore here is how this background brought me to the African veldt in the late nineteenth century. As I mentioned in my bio, my dad was a navy diver, and my mom was a professional gambler. Dad disappeared before I was born, and a gambler, living on the road and out of a suitcase, has no business trying to raise a child, though mom visited often, and I tried living with her a couple of times; a few months was enough to convince us both that that wasn't going to work out. So I was raised by my grandmother and great-grandmother. Great-grandma's son was Major General William H. Holt, U.S. Air Force. You can find him in several places on Google. He was on perpetual deployment, but he bought his retirement home in 1955 in the very upscale neighborhood of Point Loma, overlooking San Diego. He installed his mother as caretaker, and as she was my primary care giver, I grew up lower-middle class in these very affluent surroundings. If you weren't privileged to grow up a poor kid among rich ones, it's an experience I might recommend to give you a devastatingly sarcastic outlook on humanity.
The first time I noticed that my writing was entertaining people was in fourth grade, which would make me nine. Our teacher would give one-page creative writing assignments, then read them anonymously before the class. Mine were always well-received, and I never got tired of that one little facet of life where these kids who believed I wasn't good enough to smell their poop were entranced by something I could do. I wrote and told stories all the way through school, then wrote more during my time in the navy, incorporating my ever-growing life experience. I wrote about whatever was popular, war, spies, explorers, private eyes. I still had no voice, as I was in the navy at an age when many people are in college. In many ways, the navy was my university; the University of Hard Knocks, and I got my postgraduate degree in Practicality. Synopsis: You do whatever works, and you haven't failed until you give up.
After the navy, I spent four years taking care of my great-grandma, who had lost her mobility to a broken hip, and working odd jobs like dog-walker, lawn-mower, and occasionally manning a shop counter in the little mall across the street; anything that didn't take me too far from the sick bed. I had made some friendships that weren't based on money, or the lack thereof, and when grandma was home taking her shift, I was over at the little beach town nearby living the hippie life with them. Had some great times and met some colorful people that continue to inform my writing today.
I had always written in longhand in a loose-leaf notebook, but one day a neighbor offered me an antique typewriter in lieu of cash for some yard work. I accepted eagerly, and never looked back. My first attempt at a novel was most certainly a Star Trek derivative, Tribes of the Southern Sky. It concerned the operations of a frigate of the Terran Space Agency and Colonial Administration, the TSAS Chippewa. The frigates were named for native American tribes, hence the name; each crew identified themselves to each other as being Sioux, Apache, or in the case of my heroes, Chippewa. The viewpoint character was a Combat Technician, basically a professional redshirt. His training was in how to keep all the science personnel around him safe, which made it considerably more action-oriented than a typical Star Trek episode.
But it petered out because, for all my interest in writing, I had never learned a thing about The Craft. I just wrote what was interesting to me, and tried to emulate the form of the books I had enjoyed. That didn't come out so well, but I knew where I wanted to go. I couldn't afford the time or money to take any courses, but I soon discovered that there were books on How to Write Books, and I began to read with a new objective. It was also around this time that I discovered John Norman's Gor series, which was set in a fantasy world without any magic. This was unique in my experience, but I loved the early entries, and began to dabble in epic fantasy. It still went nowhere, and I was still poking around in mystery, horror, and a number of other fields.
In 1996, when I was 48 years old, my wife was able to accept an early retirement. Hers was the classic story of being the only girl in a boys' club, and they harassed her mercilessly. It took a lot of my attention and energy just to help her keep her equilibrium. At about the same time, my hooligan sons were twenty, transitioning out of the street gang environment and into the work force, and I suddenly found myself with nothing much to worry about. That year I began what was to be my first completed novel, Temple of Exile, a fantasy in which modern characters find themselves transported to a land of sword and sorcery, and have to find their way back. I did the whole thing with no planning other than a general feel for the story, a method I have since come to know as "pantsing," or flying by the seat of your pants. It was a decent story of 140,000 words that might have been tight and gripping at 90. One agent offered to do an edit for $3500; I still had a lot to learn.
One of the big things that I learned next was how to plan. I mean, how can I tell you a story if I don't know what it is? My next project was Chameleon, the story of Coleen O'Reilly, an IRA bomber who had grown a conscience and become a paladin. That was meant to be a series, but the IRA screwed me with the Peace Accords, and I moved on. I finished the epic fantasy Flight of Heroes, the first volume of The Questor Journals, with my daughter, which was supposed to be the first book of a trilogy. She decided she didn't want to write anymore, and I didn't want to carry on alone without her voice in the story, so that went by the wayside. Bloodline came next, the second Coleen O'Reilly adventure. She could still be a paladin even if the IRA weren't hunting her, right? But I lost interest during the writing, and that project died off. The fourth novel I completed was Broken English, a combination spy/police thriller that went pretty well, but like the others before it, garnered no interest from agents or publishers. Finally, the "cozy fantasy" The Wellstone Chronicles left the launch pad, and joined the others on the wildly successful quest for rejection. For ten years I pimped these books to anyone who would provide a PO Box number to send them to, and collected enough rejection slips to wallpaper my bedroom.
Then came "Chops," the nickname of my best friend of close to 40 years. We were both wargamers, introduced by my sister who knew of our common interest, and I never wavered from naming this guy my best friend until the aftermath of the 2016 election, when he just couldn't bring himself to slow down his program of telling everyone who didn't vote for his man-crush how retarded, criminal, and sub-human we were. After fifteen solid weeks of this, I gave up trying to delude myself that a friend would call me such things every morning for over three months, and let him go his way, but back in 2012, he approached me with the backstory material from a game called Dystopian Wars. He was keen on us writing some fiction together based on that backstory, which is pure, hard-core steampunk. Shortly thereafter, he got a promotion which called for a lot of overtime and world travel, and we were never able to make it happen. But I was hooked.
I cast about for a place to set my own unique steampunk fiction, because I would never steal my friend's idea and run with it. I wound up moving my world 4000 miles in space and 40 years in time, and the result was Beyond the Rails. I started writing it in 2012, and in 2013 self-published the first book of interconnected short stories involving an ensemble cast of misfits and outcasts trying to make a living moving passengers and cargo by blimp on the African frontier. A reviewer once described it as "Jules Verne meets Firefly." I am, as I have said many times, very proud of that description, but I want to clear up one thing: I did not set out to copy Firefly, but once the similarity was pointed out to me, I embraced it wholeheartedly; there are a lot worse things to have your work compared to than a Joss Whedon masterpiece.
To bring the story full circle, volume II, another story collection, was published early in 2015, and volume III, a novel, in 2016. Finally having had the taste for traditional publishing beaten out of me by traditional publishers, writing has become very much my hobby. I do it now out of a love for doing it, and consider the ability to self-publish a fortuitous development that allows me to share it with a wider audience than just a few friends. I have probably sold under a hundred copies, and have given away as many more. The three books have garnered a score or so of reviews, and cumulatively hover around a 4.5 out of 5 average rating in various places around the web. I think it's a good story, and so do most who have read it. I would like to share it with you, and as my personal gift to my fellow writing.com members, I have posted all three complete works to be read for free in my port. Drop in when you have a half-hour to kill, and see what the buzz is about.
So that's the story of how I became a writer. Basically, I had to relax first. Stress and tension seem to be the death knell of creativity. Being relaxed, I have been able to embark on a supernatural dieselpunk journey called The Nexus Chronicles. Join me down the road sometime; maybe we can explore those concepts together. Finally, I should mention, after last week's rant about how much of my time "The Punk Fiction Library" is absorbing, that all of that seems to have been startup and teething problems that have largely been worked out, and life is getting back to normal here on the page. Watch for new material again, going up almost daily. This week I plan to be working on Stingaree, so fans of that particular weird west project can look forward to the completion of another chapter, as can I!
So, until next time,
"Read well, and write better!"
| "Most serious writers work slowly and, thus, miss deadlines, sometimes several deadlines, publishers' deadlines, that is. A serious writer cannot have any deadline but his own."
~ MERLE MILLER
No one would imagine it to watch me, but I have a routine to my writing, at least I did have. Every morning, I sit down at the keyboard and answer my Emails and comments. Oh, and delete the spam, which usually takes longer than answering the mail, but that's another subject. Once that is out of the way, my first regular activity on WdC is to locate three Punk authors who I haven't approached before, and send them an invitation to join "The Punk Fiction Library" . Once that's done, Monday through Friday I work on whatever the flavor of the week is. I rotate three of my projects, working a week on each one. That's my method of avoiding burnout. Sometimes it even works. If it's Saturday, I put up a blog post, at least I used to; more on that later. When I have completed that activity to my own satisfaction, I try to work in a review, preferably of a newbie. Doesn't always work, but the attempt is always made. By then it's around noon, and my writing day is over. Oh, what do I do on Sundays? Sundays belong to me, until the evening, which is usually a nice quiet time to polish my upcoming post.
Now, you may be wondering what the point of all this is. Well, five weeks ago, I started my first group here on WdC. You should take a look; you might find it to your liking.
A couple of things I didn't expect have come out of this, and I'd like to share them for the benefit of anyone who may be thinking of opening his or her own group, and doesn't want to get blindsided by the runaway freight train that is the WdC membership. You see, I have formed groups before on sites that weren't WdC. It's usually a struggle to get anyone interested. You form the group, turn up the promotion machine, and a lot of people may join, but what I've found is that you're lucky if you can get 10% to participate. Seriously, if you have 100 people in your group, 10 of them are in the chat room all the time making all the noise, carrying all the discussions, producing all the content. The other 90 you hear from once, when they say they want to join. I don't know why they bother, unless its simply to have your group's name on their resume. That's the web at large. But make no mistake, here at WdC, these people are into it! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my other groups, and still maintain friendships I made there to this day, but a group on WdC defies comparison.
I set up this group whose purpose was simply to collect as many Punk fiction (cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, etc.) authors together in one place as possible. This is a very obscure set of genres we work in, and what I envisioned was a page that readers would begin to learn that they could visit to find a decent collection of Punk fiction stories in one place instead of having to hunt them down using the search engine to conduct a cyber-scavenger hunt. A positive side effect that I hoped for was that all of these like-minded writers could reach out and cross-pollenate each other, inspiring ideas and sharing tips. For the first four weeks and six days I gathered about twenty people and had some nice conversations, but not much else happened. It was like all the other groups I've been associated with.
And then the tsunami struck. We were given a huge donation to get us started (and thanks again for that, Djokolot ) which may have fed into this, but somebody doesn't give you almost a quarter of a million GPs for you to sit on, right? So I asked some of the more experienced members who have run groups of their own, what would be a good activity that would generate good will and promote the group's purposes? Upon which the floodgates opened, and I was inundated with ideas, how-to instructions for contests and graphics, one member (thank you, Hannah ♫♥♫ ) started making banners for the group, the forums, and me personally. There was a period Saturday when I was literally getting Emails and forum messages at the rate of two a minute. Now, I have no complaints about any of this. I asked for input, I just didn't expect the difference between WdC members, and those of any other group I've ever seen. When these people join a group, they mean it! It was overwhelming for a while, a little terrifying, with a dab of frustration sauce on the side. Frustrating because I was trying to work on a project, and I kept seeing little red flags in the left sidebar. Click, Email received; click, another Email; click, a Notification, all while I was revising a single sentence. My sense of etiquette says you don't ask people for their opinions, then ignore them when they're offered, so I felt obligated to answer everything that arrived in a timely manner. I eventually gave up on my project, and just spent most of the day talking with my group members. It was frightening, because at one point the ideas were coming with such rapidity and enthusiasm that I remember thinking, "I don't have the experience to keep up with these people, and they're going to take it over." It really was overwhelming.
Once I got a breather, I came to realize that this was exactly what I had dreamed of with every other group in my experience, and I am grateful to the membership for this level of enthusiasm. My purpose here is of course to promote the group, but also to warn those who find themselves in my situation of what they might expect. These members are not your garden variety joiners. If you set up a group here, be ready for some involvement in a big way. It will be the experience of a lifetime, but be prepared to set your personal projects aside for a while until everything is sorted out, and even once it gets going, a few trusted assistants will do wonders toward reducing the workload. Bottom line: This membership is nothing like you've been used to. By all means, set up and run the best group you've ever had, but just be prepared for what's coming, because these people are the greatest!
This is the 23rd installment of Riding the Blimp, and I'm still making adjustments. The latest is that I'm going to try posting it on Mondays, as Sunday is a quiet day around chez Ty, and perfect for polishing blog posts. Mark your calendars accordingly, then sally forth and have a great week!.
Until next time,
"Read well, and write better!"
| "I've just had the most scathingly brilliant idea!"
~ HAYLEY MILLS, The Trouble with Angels
Ideas are the most common things around. I have them. So do you. So does everybody. They're as common as air, I think, and about as vital, at least to a writer. And they're moving targets. When you first acquire one, it seems to come to you out of nowhere, but I don't think that's really what happens. You encounter things all the time that seem to have nothing to do with your field of creativity, and you pay them no mind at all, but it never fails. You're watching an infomercial on gunkulator oil when here comes something, completely unbidden, that fits into your Weird West story in the most perfect way possible, and you have no idea what led to it. How the hell does that happen, you may ask? I've spent probably more hours than are warranted thinking about this, and I'm going to share my findings in a bit, but first I have to ask where the direct connections are.
Direct connections are what don't get made for me. We here at chez Tyler have gotten into the habit of watching old TV series one per day until we've worked through a season. We have watched New Tricks, Battlestar Galactica, and are currently into a Hawaii Five-0 season. I see dozens, scores, of plot points that cause me to think that would go great in this story I'm working on, and then it never gets regurgitated when I'm writing. Which is good, I guess, I don't want to become famous for my plagiarism, but how is it that they go in, but they don't come out? And that question, of course, brings me to the subject of the muse.
I have had people tell me that the muse is a myth. You're a writer. You sit down and write. I have had at least one writer, one I suspect of self-publishing drivel, though I refuse to read his work to find out, tell me that the whole idea of a muse was invented by lazy writers seeking an unimpeachable excuse to avoid writing (like Plato and Aristotle, I presume), and that a "real" writer, i.e., him, could just sit down and rip off thirty-five hundred words any time he wanted to. I suppose he's right. I can sit down and knock out thirty-five hundred words of drivel any time I want, although it most often becomes a thirty-five hundred word trash can weight. As Bret Easton Ellis said,
"I'm not a big believer in disciplined writers. What does discipline mean? The writer who forces himself to sit down and write for seven hours every day might be wasting those seven hours if he's not in the mood and doesn't feel the juice. I don't think discipline equals creativity."
I don't either, and I've long-since learned to stop wasting all those precious hours on writing things that I'm just going to have to throw away. So all that leaves is the question of how these muses work, anyway.
Most people I've discussed them with describe their muses as beautiful women who come on a whim, leave their inspirations on gilded scrolls, and depart, as unbidden as when they arrived. That's a nice picture. My muse is the most crotchety old man you've ever seen, on steroids. This old guy...
Look, everybody, writer or not, is exposed to thousands of mysterious stimuli every day of their lives. You pass people in the street and overhear half a sentence from a five-minute conversation; a police car speeds by, siren blaring, on the way to an exciting destination that you'll never know anything about; a crowd is gathered outside an office, talking in hushed whispers about... what? A sane person goes through their lives with events like these sliding off him like water off a duck, but an author... Oh, sane people miss so much!
You might look at one of these little vignettes as seeing a lone jigsaw puzzle piece on the sidewalk, and picking it up to look at it. It's a smudge of colors on a tiny canvas, and could be part of Buckingham Palace or The Poker-Playing Dogs. You can't tell what it is, and in all likelihood, you don't care, discarding it moments after you've picked it up. But we writers are wired a little differently, aren't we? We keep it. I know I do. I send it down to The Warehouse.
That's how my head is organized. Behind my eyes is the bridge where "I" stand watch, observing, evaluating, and controlling everything (or so I think). Downstairs is The Warehouse. Think of the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark in that giant warehouse with crates, boxes, and gunny sacks stacked on racks, row on row, disappearing into haze in the far distance. Now imagine that every one of those puzzle pieces goes into a lawn clean-up bag, and when the bag is full, it goes on one of those racks.
My muse is the crusty little man who wanders the aisles, taking a piece from this bag and a piece from that, and trying to put them together. Once in a while, he finds two that sort of fit, and then he goes looking for a third. Once he has succeeded in forcing five or six together into some sort of pattern, he puts it into one of those transit-tube canisters that you may have seen at a bank, and shoots it up to the bridge for further development.
This can arrives on the bridge with a bang and a clatter, and if you're with me when it happens, you can almost see the impact. Sometimes there's a vocalization, "Whoa!" or something of the sort. If you ask me what's up, I'll tell you, "I've just had the most scathingly brilliant idea!" If you then ask me to elaborate, I'll describe something that has absolutely nothing to do with what we've been talking about, and the next question is usually, "Where did that come from?"
The only honest answer to that is, "I don't know." That isn't what you want to hear, but it's all I've got. I don't know what that old guy has stuck together down there, and I'm not allowed to question him. All I can guess is that he's been wandering the stacks with something that came in yesterday, and he's stuck it onto something I picked up in elementary school, jam-fitted it onto something from my navy days, and topped it off with a piece I picked up working in a dry-cleaning shop. Presto, here it is! Run with it.
How does your muse work? Or do you not have one? If you do, I'd love to hear how she works, what he looks like, and whether this fine creature allows interaction. Bring her along and introduce her. Let's have a meeting of the subconscious minds. Might be fun...
I'd like to thank you all for reading this, and while you're out perusing the ports, be sure to take a look at the work of some of my talented friends at "The Punk Fiction Library" . Until next time,
"Read well, and write better!"
| "Never fight a battle that you don't have to win."
~ ADMIRAL ARDAK KUMERIAN, Klingon Military Forces
One year ago today, I hung up my clipboard, turned in my sound attenuators, and walked out of the office for the last time, to slip into a sweet little gig I call retirement. For twenty-five years I had this splendid job, not too difficult, lots of variety, very interesting, and it paid well. I never intended to retire. People would ask me when I was going to retire, and I would say, "From what?" I had titled awards, incentive awards to the tune of over $8000.00, letters of appreciation and commendations too numerous to mention, from the local office to the east coast headquarters. My unit won the highest award it could aspire to in back-to-back years, which is unheard of. I even received a medal as a civilian from the Department of Defense. Then one day out of the blue, my boss's boss decided that what I was doing was all wrong, and there would be big changes in everything from how it was performed to the hours it would be performed at. Well, I agonized long and hard over my decision (actually, it took about six seconds), after which I informed my boss that he would have my retirement package on his desk the next day. From that moment, I've never looked back.
In the year since, I have sometimes wondered whether the whole thing was a ploy to get me to retire so they could get a younger employee in my seat. It may have been, although about two months after I left, one of the mid-level managers called to ask me how to do my job. It was hard to keep from having a laughing seizure, but I managed to tell him that I had been eased out because I apparently didn't know what I was doing, and went on to recommend that he contact the persons who had made that decision. If that was in fact their plan, they sure showed me!
Admiral Kumerian's wisdom has been saving me pointless grief since the 1980s, and this instance was no exception. I knew that if I wanted to stay, I was going to have a bare-knuckles brawl on my hands to keep the job the way it was. My first question, of course, was "Do I have to win?" If I was a younger man with a lifetime of bills looming ahead of me, the answer would have been, absolutely! But I wasn't. I had been eligible to retire for twelve years when Mr. B., the Big Boss, called his meeting and told me what the new parameters were. My question then became, "What if I don't have this fight?" The answer was that I would turn a page and try my hand at retirement. I don't know whether they had skullduggery on their minds, and it doesn't matter. We parted on good terms. Mr. B. came to my office to see me off, bringing an elegant engraved and inlaid hardwood box. Inside were three of the coolest gifts a steampunk aficionado could ask for.
As he was making the presentation, he invited me to open it, and as I was doing so, he was saying, "We chose this for you so that you can..." and he stopped, the victim of a brain fart, I assume, just as the lid came back, and I finished, "So I can find my way!" I gave him a parting gift as well, an inscribed and signed copy of Beyond the Rails. The inscription read in part, "Thanks for the push!"
So I've been home taking my ease for one solid year now, and I have to tell you, this business of staying up until all hours, sleeping when it suits me, and doing whatever I want whenever I want is something a guy could get used to! It took me a while to get the hang of it, in fact, it was necessary for me to structure my unstructured time, because I found that if I didn't, I would just waste entire days looking at an old atlas or shooting Nazi zombies on the Xbox. I still do that stuff, mind, but there's a time and a place for everything. I do my writing in the morning, and the rest of the day is for everything else, the fun stuff, the family, and those little jobs we all have to do to make our houses behave.
Writing, which is our point of interest here, took an epiphany for me to bring it to its present state. Some of you may remember me as a (42) Preferred Author called Mr. Crusty who wrote little steampunk stories and gave the Talk of the Tidepool Award. I left WdC behind, one of the biggest mistakes of my life, late in 2015. I had just published Soldier of the Crown, and in my hubris, decided that I didn't need this little "practice site" now that I was a big-time author. Upon retirement, I was a member of a now-defunct site called The Steampunk Empire where I was the founder and host of a writing group called Scribblers' Den. I held sway there, calling myself providing a service, and wasted incredible amounts of time that I could have used for writing. When I retired, it got worse. I hung out there daily, laptop in view while I played Left4Dead as my life rolled by.
Then came the epiphany. My book sales were always marginal. I used to joke that one month, they paid for my internet service, but that wasn't really a joke. So I asked myself if I was ready to stop trying to kid myself and the world, and my answer was a resounding yes! Though I still occasionally sell a book or two, I've stopped calling myself a professional author; a professional makes his living by his profession, and that has never been my situation. I declared myself a hobbyist, and on New Year's Day renewed my membership in Writing.com. I began to post items that are for sale on Amazon as free reads for members, to give out a couple of small monthly awards, and at the beginning of last month, started a group, a library/reading room for punk fiction of every type. I offer fifteen to twenty detailed reviews every month, maintain this blog, and chat about anything that anyone places before me. My portfolio has already been nominated for a 2017 Quill Award for Best New Port.
This is my hobby now, you see. Some guys collect stamps; some restore old cars. I write and share stories, and engage in spirited conversations or bask in the glow of a stellar review, just as life brings it. Toward the end of March, The Steampunk Empire, which for over a decade had been the go-to site for all things steampunk, switched off its servers and disappeared. No warning, no chance to save your material, we just logged in and got the dreaded "404" message. Several sites have sprung up to replace it, and I think most of them have contacted me, but I live here now. Losing that huge distraction was a blessing in disguise, and I don't plan on climbing aboard any more bandwagons. What I'm doing here fills my needs nicely, and it is instructive to note that some of my favorite friends from Scribblers' Den can be found here as well; this will be just fine.
In summary, I'm here for a reason, and that reason is to enjoy my writing pursuits, and to make lots of friends, so drop by when you have a moment, and say hello. You can comment here, you can Email me, or you can start a public discussion on "The Talk of Punk Fiction" . Or you can catch me making my rounds in places like "Weekly Goals" or "The Newbie Welcome Wagon" . In the over fifty years that I've been studying The Craft, I've learned a few lessons, and I'm always pleased to share them with anyone who's interested. You see, when I say Read well, and write better, that isn't just a catchy phrase I thought up, it's my suggestion for your success, and I'm ready to help you achieve it in any way I can. Stop in and take advantage. You never know what you might pick up.
Mark your calendars for Saturdays beginning this week, the 6th, as I'm moving this blog back to its previous weekend schedule. Next week I'll be looking at ideas as moving targets, so don't miss it if you can!
"Read well, and write better!"
| "You are a thought machine. Whatever you see, hear, or experience is usable."
~ STEVE MARTIN
Good morning, friends and followers, and welcome to the twentieth outing of Riding the Blimp. I had plans to pontificate on something entirely different, but yesterday Wordsmitty highlighted my humble little blog in "April 2017 Blogging Bliss Newsletter" . His subject was the timing of blogs, and in his editorial, he asked bloggers rhetorically what time we blog, how long it takes, how much preparation time we spend getting ready, that sort of thing. He may or may not have expected an answer, but I've decided to give him, and you, one because this seems like information worth comparing from blogger to blogger to see what we put into the act of informing and/or entertaining the membership.
I have been retired for a year now, and that is the only thing that makes this lifestyle possible. Let me tell you about my day. I wake up each morning within a few minutes of 6:00 AM. Don't know why. Back when I was working, I once shot an alarm clock for going off at 6:00 AM, but now that I can sleep til Noon if I want... Well, you get the idea. I wander through the house opening the curtains so I can watch the sun come up, play hide-the-treat with Dude the Insane Beagle, then I check my Email, answering anything of any importance. There never is anything. If my poor mailbox had to hold all those advertisements, it would have fallen off the house years ago. Then I come to my warm, fuzzy writing home, WdC. The Email here is almost always meaningful. Once I have dealt with that, I go to the group I founded and make sure everything is running along smoothly, and take steps to right the ship if it isn't. Once that's done, I spend a half-hour or so at the sink dealing with yesterday's dishes. Somebody has to do it, and better me than Dearly Beloved with her arthritic hip.
With the dishes done, I get serious. I constantly have a work in progress, and I'll return to the desk and write a scene for it. It's first-draft, and rarely perfect, and sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes three; they aren't all the same, you know! With that completed and saved, I search the newbie list and the Please Review board for something to review. It takes me from one to two hours to write a review, and if you've ever received one of mine, you know why that is. By then it's close to Noon, and I set writing aside and go about the rest of my day, having spent around six hours on the various pursuits associated with it.
Blogging, though, that pulls me out of my cushy routine. I used to blog on Saturdays, but just last week began an experiment in which I blog on Wednesdays, and post an update for my friends on Sunday. I have a Mead "Fat Lil' Notebook" in which I jot down ideas that occur to me to blog about. I currently have 43 topics to explore, and I had planned to do that here, but then this came up, so that is on hold until next week. Saturday and Sunday, as a rule, I don't write much. I keep an eye on the group, of course, in case it needs my attention, but the weekends are for grandchildren, Xbox, boardgames, store runs, gardening, and just any number of things that don't involve this computer. But Sunday, as the excitement is dying down, I start thinking about the composition, the presentation, the quotation that I always begin with. Sometimes in the evening, if the house is quiet and TV is boring, I'll type on it, as I'm doing now, and as I'm on the west coast, and three hours behind Corporate Headquarters, if I finish the blog the night before, I'll go ahead and post it because it will display what is the next day to me, and that's the day I want it on.
Typing time on these varies with the size. I was trained as a navy radioman, which involves a lot of typing, at the age of 17, and as I'm 68 now, I've gotten pretty good at this. This entry is of moderate length, and it looks like it's going to take about 1½ hours. There was no research to perform this time, but that is rarely time consuming, as like the rest of you, I have the internet before me. I enter a topic in the search engine, and in something less than half a second, all the knowledge mankind has accumulated on that subject is presented on my screen; this thing has really taken the thrill of the hunt out of research! If there's a picture associated, like the one below, I have to get that prepped, and then I'm ready to pull it all together and post it on the site. I'm guessing that from the time I start the preliminary mental work of deciding how I want to present my subject until I type "Read well, and write better" at the bottom, there's probably four to five hours of work spread out over about three days.
I don't know whether this was the information you were looking for, Wordsmitty, nor whether it will be of interest to anyone who isn't, well, me, but this is how these articles get from my mind to yours. I hope you found it to your liking. It's a lot of fun, and now that I have time in embarrassing abundance, it's quite an enjoyable process.
Now, let's hear from you other bloggers. How do you make your words fly? Curious minds want to know!
"Read well, and write better!"
Jack "Blimprider" Tyler
... and Dude!
| Good morning, friends and followers, and welcome to a special update of Riding the Blimp. I don't know whether this will become a regular feature. I suppose a lot will depend on the response to this one, but I've been up to a lot in the past few days, and I wanted to let those with an interest know about it.
Anybody who has been within a couple of hundred yards of my port in the last two weeks knows that I am building a group. Here's the shameless plug: Its purpose is to collect works of Punk fiction, cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, any Punk you care to write, into one centralized location; this one:
Notice that I didn't say wonderful work. That's because some of my own work is included in the Library, and I don't make statements like that about my own writing; that's for my readers to decide. But rest assured, the work found there is literally wonderful, taking place in worlds of wonder both in our familiar surrounds, and far, far beyond. Admission's free. Click the link. See what I'm talking about, but be warned: it's far easier to enter this world than it is to leave it!
But my enthusiasm drags me from my purpose, a simple update. I never envisioned more than collecting these wonderful works in one place for ease of access, but yesterday this group was gifted almost a quarter of a million GPs by people who don't even write in the genres, but just want to see us succeed. That speaks volumes to both the appeal of those fabulous worlds, and the incredible generosity of WdC's wonderful membership, and I have opened the floor in the Library for discussions about what we want to do with these amazing gifts to promote the group, its members, and its contents. Keep your eye on us for possible contests, awards, I really don't know what might come out of there, but when you get a bunch of Punk-minded writers together on a creative project, expect it to be fabulous!
In other news, some of you know that I burn out easily, and I fight it by keeping several projects going, and switching between them on a frequent basis. Right now, in addition to transcribing "Temple of Exile" , an old novel I wrote in the 90s, I am working on a short story, "Possession of Blood" , that is intended to be the first in a series, and "Stingaree" , a steampunk novel about my beautiful home town of San Diego. It has been my habit to, every Monday, set one aside and take up the next. I've just spent a week working on Possession, and should be taking up Stingaree tomorrow, but I'm stuck on that. I'm not blocked, far from it. I can see three clear routes forward, all of them leading to good stories, and all of them mutually exclusive. What I need to do with that is settle on the ending I want, then work backward to bring the outline to the conclusion. While my mind puzzles over that particular Rubik's Cube, rather than stop production, I am going to continue to work on Possession next week, hopefully bringing it to a conclusion. Then, of course, comes post-production, a process akin to having a series of root canals with a dodgy anesthetic, but it must be done. *sigh*
So, at the moment, I'm toying with the idea of moving the heart of the blog, those essays you've long seen on Saturdays, to Wednesdays, giving me a break in the middle of the week, and adding a regular Sunday update. Is anyone interested in this but me? Let me know via the comment section, and I'll tweak the schedule if it looks warranted. Until then...
Read well, and write better!
| "There are, in actual fact, men who talk like books. Happily, however, there are also books that talk like men."
~ THEODOR HAECKER
Good morning, friends and followers, and welcome to episode eighteen of Riding the Blimp. This week, I'm on the subject of writing in-period, which the steampunk and dieselpunk I write very much is, and I'm soliciting opinions from period readers and writers alike. What do you do? What do you prefer to read?
The subject is period slang and colloquialisms. Slang is a funny creature, and a moving target for a writer. As a writer, I have received the most compliments for my natural-sounding dialogue. That's flattering, and a view that I cherish, but writing period work makes it difficult. Lists of Victorian slang can be found on the web, though they often come out of context and with no guidelines, and most are difficult to work out.
Take, for example, the odd phrase, bitch the pot. The first reaction to this might be, "What the hell?" This is actually one of the less obscure terms one might encounter, and can be worked out like a puzzle. One might early-on come to the realization that "pot," in Victorian terms is most likely to refer to a teapot, and with a bit more convoluted effort, the realization dawns that "bitch," then as now, was a derogatory term for a woman, who were as a rule much more interested in tea service than men, so far from a meaning similar to "bogart a joint," "bitch the pot" was simply slang for "pour the tea." What is almost never explained in the glossaries is that this term was used exclusively in male-only gatherings; the writer is left to figure that out on his own.
So if this is one of the less obscure terms, what are we talking about here? It isn't hard to work out that tight as a boiled owl is a reference to one's state of drunkeness, but what on earth might the function of a quail-pipe be? A mutton shunter? How about neck oil? And what could the amusing term crinkum-crankum possibly be referring to? Dirty puzzle, cackle tub, inexpressibles? How, exactly, does one smother a parrot? And why would one wish to do so?
I could go on all day here, and that's part of my point. If you're a reader of steampunk, or just historical fiction in general, what do you like to see? Should I include all the original period slang, and try to subtly suggest what it is by context? Or would it bring your immersion to a crashing halt if I told you that someone had a fly rink? My method has been to use a more modern term, or sometimes a military or nautical term that is better understood, but when I do that, some of my alpha-readers tend to come unglued, and give me a severe batty-fanging.
So where's the middle ground? Primarily, I guess, what I want to know is what do you as a reader like to see? The real deal, even if you might have to stop your read to look it up, or post a mental place-holder until the context gives you the meaning, or would you rather see an imprecise but understandable term that keeps you in the narrative flow? Curious writers want to know in order to serve you better. So drop a comment, state your views, and let's talk. I'd love to hear from you.
Charting the Course
For the past three weeks I have been trying to gather some momentum with this group
It moves slowly, but the quality is high. Yesterday we added our ninth member, and two multi-award winning stories as well, so every week it becomes more accurate when I say that you're missing a lot if you haven't been visiting over there.
Sadly, Djokolot 's contest had no further entries, so it looks like HuntersMoon wins it by default. If she deigns to bring it out again, don't miss it!
Last week was spent adding fresh material to "Possession of Blood" , my first attempt to write a story in the Dieselpunk genre with supernatural overtones. I finished the main body of the work, and am ready to begin the climax. I will be working on "Stingaree" next week while I let Possession simmer, but drop by for a test drive if you're curious.
And that's all the news that fits in print! Be here next Saturday when I'll be talking about something else, possibly the realm of ideas, their capture, and use. Until then, play nice, watch out for one another, and above all else,
Guide to the Gas
A Quail Pipe is a woman's tongue or voice, especially as a seducer of foolish men.
A Mutton-shunter describes a policeman; so much more elegant than Pig!
It shouldn't be too hard to work out that Neck Oil is alcohol, especially beer.
Crinkum-Crankum is an at least not too disgusting reference to a lady's genitals, while a Dirty Puzzle will be recognized as the sort of loose woman inclined to make use of the aforementioned equipment.
The Cackle Tub is the preacher's pulpit.
A gentleman's Inexpressibles are his trousers, and his Fly Rink is his polished bald head.
One drains a bottle of absinthe to Smother a Parrot, a reference to its rich green hue.
I certainly hope no one is inclined to give me a sound thrashing, or Batty Fanging over this; I sure didn't mean any harm!
I'll see you next week, then, hopefully with something a little more profound. Have a great weekend!
"Read well, and write better!"
| "I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember."
~ ELLEN GLASGOW.
Good morning, friends and followers, and welcome to episode seventeen of Riding the Blimp. This week, I am going to look at plots and subplots. I've been toying with this idea, and have come to liken the relationships between them to the relationships between bodies in a solar system.
Many beginning writers formulate the idea for a plot; This little manlike creature is going to carry a magic ring on a long, dangerous quest, and drop it into a volcano. Along the way, a big mean guy with a lot of power is going to try to stop him. That's a good start, but a lot of beginners get this down in their notebooks, and say, "Okay, there's my story. Time to get writing!"
But not so fast; something is missing!
Think about your own life. You, of course, are the hero. You have a quest to complete. You have to replace a broken-down car, put sealer on your deck, get your taxes done, some major task that has a loudly ticking clock associated with it. You are perfectly capable of sealing a deck, shopping for a car, or whatever the quest is, and if you could just concentrate on it, it would be the work of a couple of days. But you can't do that, can you? Your boss needs you to work overtime, your brother-in-law wants you to help him move, you have to put new weather stripping around your window before Friday's storm comes in.
These are subplots, and they are the lifeblood of high-quality fiction. Imagine your leading man is an attorney, a government prosecutor who has just stepped up to being the lead attorney in his office's prosecutions. Imagine one of the first cases in which he is leading is that of a high-profile drug dealer who has committed several murders in the course of his business dealings. If this prosecution is botched, this animal goes free to continue his ravages on society. That is your plot, and it makes for powerful dramatic tension. Now imagine that this prosecutor has a vindictive ex-wife who has just informed him that she is about to marry an Australian, and move to his home in Sydney, taking his five-year old daughter with her. That is the subplot, and it ramps the tension up to a whole new level. The comparison I like to make is that the hero can't give his full attention to the wolf at the door, because he has a rat gnawing at his ankle. This is why subplots are sometimes called "distractions."
So, where does this Solar System analogy come in? As you can see from the diagram above, a solar system consists of a number of planets orbiting a star. The star is the plot, and everything in the story ultimately revolves around it. Planets may be up close and fast moving, or at a distance so removed that they are barely influenced, but all revolve around the star. These planets represent characters who impact the story, and the closer they are to the star, the more important their influence. The Protagonist is generally the closest one in, followed by the Antagonist. These two have the most vested interests in the plot, and affect, and are affected by it more than anyone else. Further out revolve the Confidant, the (main) Henchman, a minor character, if you're using one, that supports the protagonist, and a minor character that supports the Antagonist. I never use more than six viewpoint characters, and rarely more than five. If I need more than six, that means I am writing a trilogy or a series.
All right, we have the planets established in their orbits, what do we add next? The moons that represent subplots. The protagonist, the closest planet to the star, has one large moon, much like Earth. There can be two, but at the risk of overly complicating the story. Anyway, this large subplot keeps crossing in front of the planet, blocking its view of the main plot. That's what subplots are to the Protagonist; distractions, pure and simple, important developments demanding attention that must be taken from the main quest. Referring back to the Lord of the Rings allusion that I started the article with, remember when Faramir's men captured Frodo and Sam, and almost hauled them back to Minas Tirith? Subplot. It wasn't necessary to the overall story, but it fed the plot by ramping up the tension, and delaying the destruction of the Ring, which gave Sauron more time to search for it.
By contrast, the second planet, the Antagonist, can look more like Jupiter, with a dozen smaller moons. The Antagonist's subplots will generally serve to help him, being minions that are performing various actions to interfere with the Protagonist. Again from Lord of the Rings, one word: Saruman. Of course, not all subplots serve to further the Antagonist's schemes; you need look no further than Captain Hook's crocodile for an example of that.
The third planet, the Confidant, is a character who stands to gain little of a personal nature if the Protagonist wins, but he or she works on behalf of the Protagonist anyway. Depending on the story you are telling, the Confidant may gain a great deal from the Protagonist's victory, such as the survival of civilization, but the rule of thumb is that this character is completely altruistic. To have them motivated by money or the promise of power makes them unsympathetic, and seriously harms your story. They may start out that way, but should come to believe in the Protagonist's cause before the end. The Confidant has one serious limitation: He or she cannot solve the Protagonist's problem for him. The Protagonist has to defeat the Big Bad all on his own. If the Confidant is going to win the Final Battle, then the Confidant is actually the Protagonist, and should be written as such. He can come to the Protagonist's rescue once, but if it becomes an ongoing event, people are going to start wondering why they aren't reading a book about this guy. Finally, while the Confidant exists to support the Protagonist, you can't have her come skipping down the garden path with a ready-made solution every time the Protagonist runs into a problem. Again, that raises questions about who the hero of this book is, anyway.
The fourth planet, the Henchman, looks at first glance like the Antagonist's Confidant, and while it is true that the two may be friends, the Henchman following the Antagonist blindly, the resemblance is superficial. The Henchman can do all the dirty work for the Antagonist, who never has to get his hands dirty. He can be a respectable businessman, a bank president or senior attorney, who sends out his Henchman to "reason" with those opposed to him. The Henchman, in turn, may send Minions to do the actual dirty work (these are the fourth planet's moons); the Confidant, as a rule, has no such equivalent helpers.
I don't have a name for the character represented by the fifth planet. He helps the good guys in a minor sort of way. An example should suffice. Imagine a fantasy quest story in which the Hero and all his entourage, having assembled all the available data, set out to confront the Big Bad. After they are well on their way, the scholars uncover additional information showing that the plan they are following will lead to certain disaster, so they find an apprentice warrior, someone who wanted to go but was turned down, give him the information, and send him out to find the heroes and redirect them. That is the fifth character.
If the heroes have, unsuspected in their midst, a spy who is somehow sending or leaving reports for a Minion to pass on to the Big Bad, that would be the sixth character (and planet). But a few planets and moons do not make a complete solar system. There are other forces at play.
These are comets and asteroids, and as bodies in eccentric orbits that can land anywhere with devastating results, they represent random events, and minor characters respectively. You never know how these things are going to play out, and just as an asteroid put paid to the dinosaurs in our own Solar System, a group of nomads might capture a vital character, or a talkative bartender might casually toss out a piece of information that changes everything.
So that's my grand theory, that solar systems have a lot in common with the tightly-woven threads of a good, convoluted plot, and that you can learn a lot about one by studying the other. What do you think?
Charting the Course
For the past two weeks I have been trying to gather some momentum with this group:
This is pretty much what it says, a place to collect works of Punk, steampunk, cyberpunk, dieselpunk, any kind of Punk, into a spot where they can be found and accessed with a single mouse click. There are currently six of us, up from four last week. I posted the group on "The Shameless "Plug" Page" , but was pretty quickly told that it wasn't allowed there. I still affiliate all of my reviews with the group, and occasionally reach out to Punk-minded individuals that come to my attention, but growth is likely to remain very slow using this "door-to-door" approach. None of this is helped by the Punks having a very limited audience (which is the reason I started the group in the first place), but when it succeeds, we'll have the satisfaction of being beholden to no one. As I'm fond of saying, perseverance is a highly underrated virtue!
Djokolot 's contest seems to have had no entries, though she may advise me otherwise later today, but if that stands, it's a sad statement on the initiative around these parts. It was innovative and promised to stand a cut above the ordinary, and I'm sorry to have seen it so loudly ignored.
I haven't been as active on the site this past week as I usually am, because I've been transcribing "Temple of Exile" into my port from the typewritten manuscript. This was the first novel I finished, back in 1998, and I have told many friends how bad it was over the years. I'm finally going to put it up here so that they can see it, and also as a warning to every aspiring writer of why you must never, never write by the seat of your pants! If all goes according to plan, Part Seven will be up Sunday morning, leaving only two to go. Next week I plan to be back adding fresh material to "Invalid Item" , my first attempt to write a story in the Dieselpunk genre with supernatural overtones. Jury's still out on that, but it's already getting some nice comments. Drop by for a test drive if you're curious.
And that's all the news that fits in print! Be here next Saturday when I'll be pontificating on... Well, something awesome, I'm sure! Until then, play nice, watch out for one another, and above all else,
"Read well, and write better!"