Friday, January 27, 2017

The Hustling Part of the Writing Game

Independent author and Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier, again putting down the reliable method for building yourself up in this business:

He would go on to post a link to the book of the man who asked that question, demonstrating the principle in action. Get used to this if you want to be part of this game, no matter what genre or niche you want to be part of in particular. The Big 5 (and their foreign counterparts) are all going down, as are the major bookstore chains that they've long worked with and through.

Even if you're with one of them, they aren't going to hustle on your behalf so you need to do it yourself- and if that is what you need to do, why the fuck are you giving them such a big cut? Go to a smaller house that isn't shambling like a zombie, or go wholly independent, or be like Brian and do both. (Read that post; he's paying closer attention to the publishing work than I am.)

There's more to the hustle than marketing yourself, and that's learning how to make what you write sell. Writing is a craft, and crafts are like any other technology: discoverable, repeatable, refinable, perfectable. For what Brian does, what I want to do, and many others in the genre fiction world we've had some proven techniques for generations now- now being rediscovered and relearned by folks who (a) want to get away from the Pink SF/F pozzed piss-poor pap and (b) want to actually pay fucking bills by writing like Robert E. Howard did nearly a century ago.

Living master John C. Wright did a post on Lester Dent's template for reliably-sale-able pulp adventure short stories, a formula that Michael Moorcock would go on to expand and refine for his novel-length works. Brian would add that Hollywood most definitely uses its own formula, and then there's Campbell's Hero's Journey which George Lucas made famous (because he used them for Star Wars).

And yes, for whatever you want to write you can count on there being a proven and reliable formula for that if you want to actually sell what you write. For self-help stuff, you can see it in how Mike Cernovich and Ivan Throne wrote their books. Comics have their conventions, varying by genre. Romance is so formulaic that there are Mad Lib generators, and some folks use them for something other than a joke. Learn what your niche's formula is and master it before fucking with it. Yeah, it's part of the hustle, and there's no getting around it.

The days of an author being solely a reclusive, introverted individual leaving the tasks of promotion, publication, and revenue oversight to others is done- a temporary state, now disappearing as the mean reasserts itself. Once more, your success is entirely on you to achieve, so get up and lead your way to it- and get used to this being your life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Story Fragment: The Scout Arrives at the Lost World

Laconn Pell sat at the helm of his small scout ship, looking out the viewscreen into the tunneling spiral of hyperspace before him, when the alarm signalling his imminent return to realspace went off. He snapped back to attention, hands on the controls, and sat ready for what awaited him as his ship decelerated to sublight speed.

"D0, on the sensors." Pell said, and his robot rolled forward. It jacked into the ship's computer system, and moments later a series of smaller robots on the hull detached and moved into position around the planet. The robot ran the ship's sensors, extended by the drones, to sweep the planet. The data read out on a monitor between D0 and Pell, which Pell glanced at as he guided the ship into an approach vector intended to settle into orbit about the planet.

"Readout conforms to the profile provided, D0. Contact the client."

The robot chirpped, and moments later a hologram of an aged man dressed finely. "Senator," Pell said, "I arrived at the coordinates provided. The planet is here."

The holographic man smiled and nodded. "Well done. What is its condition?"

"No transmissions detected. No satellites. No powered flight at all, but we detected fauna likely used for low-level atmospheric flight. World population is low by galactic standards, but appears that a civilization is present. Signs of terrestrial nautical travel are plentiful. Sign of a re-purposed starship wreck confirmed at the center of planetary population density.

The old man nodded along. "Good, good. Anything else?"

The robot chirped, as if excited, and Pell looked at the monitor. "Senator, we have confirmation on the shipwreck. It is your ancestor's ship, and the population around it seems to be a civilized nation comprised of the survivors' descendants."

"Excellent. I'm giving the go-ahead for the contact mission." the senator said, "We'll need them for what's coming. Stay on station until they arrive to relieve you."

"Back-up protocol is approved?"

"Of course. Given our luck, we may well need it. I must go, Pell. The Senate will resume its session soon, and I must be present. Fare well, Pell."

"Fare well, Senator." Pell said, and the hologram winked out. Pell turned to D0. "Track day-night cycles and lunar phasing. I want a window for low-orbit scanning. When the contact team arrives, I want a proper survey ready for briefing."

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Lost Adventures of the Pulps: The Flying Ace

Over at the main blog, I've spent some posts this past week talking about action in tabletop RPGs and why Lucasfilm is in a position to successfully revive the Ace Pilot iconic figure and his equally iconic form of action-adventure. I say "successfully", because there was a failed attempt since the turn of the millenium to do so in the West: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Sure, I liked this film, but I'm not going to sit here and bullshit you that this film was actually good. It wasn't, and the trailer here was somewhat deceptive as to what the final film's story was about. As is so common with failed pulp revivals, this was an example of a man whose love for the genre overroad his good sense, becoming hubris in the process. That is why he attempted something far beyond his capabilities, turning what could've been another Raiders of the Lost Ark into another Conan the Destroyer.

So, let's take a look at this archetypical character and his typical adventures:

  • The Flying Ace is a man in his physical prime, often right at the confluence of youthful exuberance and age-worn experience. Variations on this character often rely on altering the character's age to adjust that balance of influences. For you younger folks, Poe Dameron of The Force Awakens is so typical of the archetype as to be iconic in its expression.
  • Like his ground-bound counterparts (racers and riders), he's got a competitive streak and a certain penchant for mischief- even as an older, more sober-minded man. This is often the basis for his considerable charisma, as his repeated practice of his core habits and skills instills a mindset of competency in adversity born of seeking and overcoming challenges that test him. He is, very much, an Alpha Male sort of character- and often finds himself in positions of leadership, becoming more formal and important as he ages. (e.g. Roy Fokker of Macross fame)
  • His adventures feature the display of his skills as a pilot, both in the coming and going to the sites of his adventures, but often in the formulation of the conflicts as well as their development and resolution. While he is capable on his feet (and often is quite capable of two-fisted action, good with his sidearms, or both), he's routinely deficient in highly-specialized skills or fields of knowledge that fall outside his core competencies- he's a Man of Action first and foremost, like James Bond.
  • He routinely encounters his opposite number in his adventures, either a literal recurring nemesis or simply an enemy ace pilot. If this antagonist is not the chief antagonist, then he will be one of the major lieutenants to that mastermind and his decisive defeat is often the signal that the climax of the adventure just hit. (Otherwise, it's that of the mastermind directly.)
  • His adventures often involve McGuffin hunts, which drive the plot; this is not a mystery subtype, as the Flying Ace is not a detective. This is often a way to integrate the Ace into an ensemble cast where he operates as an equal on a team instead of a master or subordinate in a (para)military unit. Attacking enemy bases, or defending their own, is a regular part of his adventures; the former as part of the final act, and the former as the initial act if not the inciting incident.
  • Because he's an ace, even if he's using a known real aircraft his specific plane is an "ace custom" model tailored to his specific qualities in order to maximize performance- a real-life trope turned genre fiction trope that carried over to newer forms, such as Mobile Suit Gundam and the many Ace Custom models used by Char Aznable. His counterparts will often also have their own customs; these will routinely be visually as well as technically striking and impressive.

If you want to go digging through the pulps, the serials, and old TV series then do so and learn directly from them. If you want something far easier, then you want to look east to Based Japan, where Flying Ace stories remain regular attractions for well into the present day, and they've done both deconstructions as well as reconstructions of the archetype and adventures over the years so the experiences are varied. Yet the core elements remain, especially in the more popular offerings (popular often for playing it straight). Time to bring this back, because it's a short step from the Wonder of Flight to the Wonder of Spaceflight, and that fundamental innocence--the joy of flight--is something we're going to need going forward.

And I'm tuning my engines.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Hate the Tie-Ins

I've said for some years now that I have no hate for authors who take on work-for-hire contracts to write tie-in novels for popular properties. Some folks I first knew as tabletop RPG people used that opportunity to build up the skills and personal brand needed to successfully transition to selling their original works (because we can't all be Scott "My editor discovered me by reading my Livejournal." Lynch), such as Jeff Grubb- and similarly, I first read Mike Stackpole and R.A. Salvatore through their gaming tie-ins (BattleTech and Forgotten Realms, respectively).

Timothy Zahn? First encountered him when he wrote Heir to the Empire, and gave us the glory that is Grand Admiral Thrawn about 25 years ago. (Never been a big reader of the tie-ins for Star Wars, but I'm familiar with the now-disavowed corpus that was the Expanded Universe due its ties to--and outgrowth from--the original West End Games version of the RPG.) So making tie-ins didn't hurt him, and there is one big reason why it worked: Zahn's tie-ins were faithful, fun, and satisfying reads that franchise fans wanted.

So yeah, you can't just half-ass it and expect things to be golden. You have bosses--and I don't mean the readers--and they have a brand to protect (if they are at all competent), so there's homework to do and meta-narrative concerns to satisfy in addition to just writing a good story, but so long as you can be a team player as well as a good storyteller these tie-ins can help cover two ongoing concerns: making a living, and building your personal brand.

Yes, you should take all the precautions that you would for any other contract offer, and you had damn well be ready and able to walk if that offer doesn't measure up, but if you get a decent deal and your alternative action plan isn't going to give you better results during that same time and resources spent, why not? What you learn therein you can--and should--apply to putting out your own original works.

(Lucasfilm, start using your position to find new talent and break them out writing tie-ins. Your go-tos are not helping with the SJW bullshit they're slipping in, and that also means you have some serious rot in your offices because they aren't doing their job of keep that out.)