Stan I.S. Law Visions of Mankind's Future
Pretty much every one of us has some kind of vision for what awaits mankind in the future, for the sort of evolution that we'll be subjected to, generally based on the course we've taken in recent years. Some people are quite hopeful and optimistic about our prospects, believing that we'll eventually make the necessary strides in medicine, energy generation, and wealth distribution to create a sort of utopia, at least for most of the planet. On the other hand, there are others who see us as driving ourselves into the end times, slaughtering each other with as much zeal as we cut down forests and drill for oil, with an eventual mass extinction being inevitable. And then, we have thinkers like Stan I.S. Law who have a different way of looking at things, and it shows in his book Gift of Gamman where he presents us with a unique vision of what awaits us.
To keep this long story short, we are taken to a future where humanity is assailed by a rather strange enemy: a plague of placidity. Indeed, there's something making its way around the planet, turning people into lethargic and complacent vegetables who eventually just drift off into an eternal sleep. Slowly but surely, the human race is dying and there seems to be very little hope for its survival. As such, a 243-year-old astronaut, Adam, is sent on a one-way mission into deep space in an attempt to find some sort of salvation for humanity. Suddenly, he realizes that he is capable of manipulating energy in order to move through time and space. Upon returning to Earth, he becomes exposed to an extremely-advanced alien race, and so begins his grandiose awakening.
A Mish-Mash of the Elements
Those of you who are familiar with the author know that he doesn't like for his books to be easily-classified, with his stories diverging into many different genres at the same time, as did The Avatar Syndrome for instance. While Gift of Gamman might officially be classified as a science-fiction story, it's a whole lot more than that in my eyes. The backdrop is indeed futuristic, but there are many additional elements mixed into the plot stemming from the realms of romance, drama, adventure, science, mystery, spirituality, philosophy and even metaphysics. While there are a few action scenes sparsely peppered throughout the book, the brunt of the focus is placed on the characters and the many trials they must go through, most of them internal.
Speaking of the characters, I was pleasantly surprised with how wide and varied of a cast this book has. While I expected Stan I.S. Law to solely focus on the few main characters in as much detail as possible, he found a way of bringing to life a whole crew of secondary actors with a lot of depth. Not only are they all easily recognizable and unique in their appearances and voices, but their interactions with each other are always a pleasure to behold thanks to the author's acute understanding of how dialogue works. In my opinion it is one of the hardest things to do right in a story, with the slightest mistakes making an entire exchange feel unnatural... and Stan I.S. Law makes none of them.
For Thinkers and Adventurers Alike
In many cases, when authors try to write a story that is both profound and entertaining, they end up under-delivering in both categories; the story turns out short and predictable, while the meditations are little more than common sense apparent to everyone. I am certainly quite glad to Gift of Gamman managed to avoid this troublesome fate, being a strong contender on both fronts. While the plot could stand to move a bit faster in a couple of places, overall I'd say it flows very smoothly and easily, never leaving you bored as there is always something grand at stake or a mysterious phenomenon that needs to be understood. The characters are very easy to follow and in time we begin to care about them as much as the protagonist himself. There are enough twists, turns and complications in the story to keep you on your toes, and I can safely say that the moments where you're able to predict what's coming next are far and few in-between, barely existing at all.
At the same time as he progresses his story, the author finds a way to weave in his numerous philosophical introspections touching on a surprising number of topics from the domains of love, enlightenment and evolution, just to name a few. Like with every other one of his books, the author aims to make us think as much as possible so that we might one day draw our own conclusions about all those things that keep us awake at night. He never sounds preachy, nor does he force his views upon us; rather, he simply explores ideas and shares whatever observations he can come up with.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Gift of Gamman is a well-written book that delivers on all fronts, just like the rest of Stan I.S. Law's novels. It entertains, makes you think, connects you with characters and is simply an enjoyable ride that you can take over and over again while finding something different to ponder on every time. It's a book I highly recommend if you enjoy philosophical science-fiction stories that place an emphasis on character development, introspection and spirituality.
Article written by David ben Efraim (Bookwormex.com)
You can buy this book at:
Recently, at my writer’s group, a fellow writer who is beginning her chosen art form told me that she was advised to not write above an eighth-grade level. I remember several seconds of stunned silence between us before I asked, “Who told you that?” Based on her troubled countenance, I don’t doubt that the horror of this suggestion came through in my tone. I’ve also been told that my facial expressions convey exactly what I’m thinking, so I hope I didn’t overwhelm the poor woman with my response. I wanted her to run screaming, just not from me. If I didn’t scare her off, I’ll make sure I soften my reactions when discussing such matters in the future.
Still, I am shocked that this type of bad advice is floating around writer’s groups. The last time I checked, there were still twelve grades a student in America needed to complete. Somebody please tell me if the progression of education stopped at grade eight. That would mean my child, currently a senior, has read nothing beyond an eighth-grade level for the past four years. That’s insane. Then again, I recall the small heart attack I experienced when I saw Stephenie Meyer’s The Host on the high school reading list. Which piece of classic literature found itself guillotined at the inclusion of that piece of tripe?
I have suspected for a long time that the art form of writing was under attack. My fellow writer’s comment confirmed this. So when did the dumbing down of American literature begin? I don’t know if I can actually pinpoint the precise moment it occurred, but I can tell you the moment I became aware of it. (And shame on me for not being more vigilant if it took place sooner.)
Dumbing down is the deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content within education, literature, cinema, news, video games, and culture in order to relate to those unable to assimilate more sophisticated information.
I remember the day I saw a t-shirt printed with the statement “underachiever and proud of it.” I had another moment, not quite as intense as that with my fellow writer, but one in which I was completely baffled. I could not fathom a person or society comprised of people who willingly settled for mediocrity in anything and a world in which one did the bare minimum to get by. There is no hope of success when one functions under such a principle.
And yet, this is exactly where we, as a society, have fallen twenty-five years later. It’s as if those who bullied the smart kids for hanging out at the library weren’t content to just harass their fellow students. They wouldn’t stop until the smart kids not only condoned but encouraged this stagnation of the intellect. If you don’t get on board—don’t hold yourself back from seeking knowledge or temper your drive and ambitions—you’ll be labeled a snob in the least and intolerant at the worst.
So again I ask: why this attack on art? Because art is dangerous. Art tells the truth. Artists are freethinkers who challenge the status quo. It was a novelist and playwright who said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” A gold star to anyone who can tell me who said this. Here’s where the problem of proud underachiever comes in. The generation in which this concept became acceptable doesn’t care enough to find out who said the above-mentioned quote or what the quote even means. They are too lazy to want this information for themselves and are disdainful toward anyone who does. If it isn’t required of them in school, and based on the poor quality of curriculum in American schools I doubt that it is, they won’t reach out and grasp the knowledge.
That’s pathetic when you consider that we live in an era where knowledge is readily accessible. No more searching through the card catalog or plowing through large volumes of encyclopedias. You don’t even have to go to the library. Just ask Alexa, Cortana, or Google what you need to know from the comfort of your couch. Be sure to wait until the commercial or you’ll miss the best part of your favorite recorded TV show.
What troubles me about his indolent attitude is that it’s creeping backward and contaminating older generations. Hopefully it won’t pollute the writing of those already established and feeling pressured to churn out more or older writers just beginning to pursue their passion. As for me, I am personally committed to fighting this process of dumbing down by writing the best literature I can and by seeking to improve myself in every way. I am not afraid to compete, to go for the gold. After all, why run the race if I don’t intend to win?
I’ll most likely be among the first to die if America ever succumbs to an oppressive regime because we all know how much tyrants fear artists. But If I can leave behind a written work that the next generation, possibly the survivors, smuggle from home to home and hold up as an example of what they should strive for, then my art—my writing—will not have been in vain.
The Christopher Moore Perspective on King Lear
Shakespeare is an artist who managed to create works which transcended the centuries and remained current to this day and age. Stories like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and King Lear have seen countless adaptations and re-imaginings over the years spread through virtually every entertainment medium you can imagine. These works have been explored and expanded upon by many great minds, one of whom is Christopher Moore, author of the Pine Cove trilogy. In his book Fool we are treated to a reworked version of King Lear as viewed through the eyes of Pocket, the jester who captured the attention and imagination of many.
For those unfamiliar with the original tale, to sum it up in a sentence, it chronicles the gradual descent into madness of the eponymous king as he makes one terrible decision after the next, plunging his kingdom into peril. Now, if you're a Shakespeare purist and expect a deep and faithful take on the story that preserves its integrity, I suppose I'll have to disappoint you a bit. Moore takes many liberties with the plot, even adding in elements from other Shakespeare plays and juggling around the timeline of events. What he presents here is his own personal expansion on the play, a more modernized version where the jester and his fool of an apprentice take the centre stage.
From Tragedy to Debauchery
The original play is best-classified as a tragedy with dark humour elements, and Fool does away with the former in favour of greatly focusing on the latter. Watching the titular fool and his apprentice (named Drool after his constant habit) bumble their way through seemingly unconnected events and inadvertently set the the perfect stage for the king's undoing is nothing short of a riot. It seems at times that this story was an exercise for Moore to see how far he could push the characters into the world of debauchery. If you have heightened sensibilities towards the unseemly, then I wager that this story will be somewhat difficult to read. In other words, if social slights, impoliteness, obscenities and profanities are off-putting or shocking to you, then you'll probably find yourself longing for Shakespeare's original play... all those elements are part of the main course here.
Chaos and madness seem to reign supreme as the story advances much faster than you'd expect, with plenty of wall-to-wall action to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are enough fights, fornication, word plays, double entendres, misunderstandings, jokes, pranks, and imbecility to fill a bible on revelry and self-indulgence. As a matter of fact, I'd say that the pace is so quick that you'll have to take moments and slow down a bit to make sure none of the humour ends up soaring above your head. The writing is very concise and it feels like there is something funny or entertaining to be found in nearly every single exchange or description. It just shows that Moore had a ton of fun while writing this, mixing and matching the old Shakespeare with contemporary elements.
Above the Status of Parody
Strictly speaking, Fool is probably best-classified as a parody of King Lear , but frankly that isn't something which sits right with me. At nearly 400 pages in length, this novel certainly proves itself unique enough to stand on its own rather than being majorly defined by another work. As a matter of fact, I'd say it's more accurate to describe it as a big mash of Moore's creativity and Shakespearean components planted on the skeleton of the mad king's story.
With that being said, Christopher Moore was never an author people strictly red for entertainment value. There is always some food for thought to be found in his stories, and there's plenty to gorge on here as seemingly every page is filled with some criticism towards the overly polite and politically-correct nature of some societies, especially in the Western world. You may have to find the courage to stop yourself from laughing to analyze the meditations hidden amongst the farces, but the reward is there when you do. Also, I'd just like to mention that at the end of the book Moore appended some notes as to which events he changed around and how his timeline compares to that of the original play, so there are elements overtly inserted for the benefit of our analytical inclinations.
From my personal experience, I find that these types of chaotic novels that attempt to defy classification are best enjoyed with no expectations. The reader has to adopt the mindset of a sponge, simply sit back, absorb everything that's being thrown at them and just enjoy the ride. It's not exactly perfect and I'm sure everyone will find at least a couple of off-putting jokes that simply miss the spot, but that's beyond the point. It's almost like riding a roller-coaster: while it's happening you don't think about it but simply revel in it, leaving the reflection for the moments after the ride ends.
The Final Verdict
With everything being said and done, Fool is a very unique piece of work which I believe can appeal to quite a vast audience. As long as you don't mind discourtesy, depravity and debauchery you'll find plenty to keep you laughing and interested in the unusually consequential adventures of a two buffoons who bring more doom than anyone thought them capable of. If you're looking for a literary experience that is equal parts rowdy, comical and attention-catching, then I highly recommend you give Moore's novel a shot.
Hi guys! Thank you for having me back! So in my first blog, I spoke about the nuts and bolts of writing. For this installment, I’d like to take a look at some of the next steps. So, your story is written! Congratulations! Now what? So that’s what I want to talk about today: What to do after you have your first draft, the decision to publish traditionally or to self-publish, and the pitfalls that new authors need to watch out for.
So step one: Edit. After you’ve written your first draft, it’s going to be tempting to go back to page one and edit immediately. I would tell you to wait a bit. For me, I set my manuscripts aside for 2-4 weeks. This allows me to come back to the story with fresh eyes. What happens when you try to edit immediately, is you’re too close to the story to actually see your mistakes. Imagine walking in a forest for 2 months. After a while, everything is just trees. You stop seeing the small nuances of anything. Your story is no different. You’ve been staring at it for a long time. So step away and come back with fresh eyes. Then make the corrections you need to.
Now you’re book is ready! You’ve written it! You’ve edited it! Let’s publish! …Hold on there Tiger! I know. You’re excited to show the world your beautiful story, but it’s not ready for the bright lights just yet. So here I’m going to talk about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I’ll address traditional publishing first as it’s what most new authors aspire to. So when I was first querying, I had a bad case of wrong thinking, and I don’t want you guys to make this same mistake. My wrong thinking was this: If an agent likes my story, they are going to have it edited anyway. So I don’t need to have it perfect before a potential agent sees it. Oh how naïve I was.
Here is what is wrong with this thinking: Imagine your story as a resume. Because that’s what it is to an agent. You’re applying for a job, and a potentially high paying one at that. Would you send in your resume filled with typos? I imagine not. So my input here is: it isn’t a bad investment of time or money to have an editor look at your MS before you submit. Get it back. Make corrections. Have it proofread again after those corrections. Make final corrections. Now, you’re ready to submit a query that isn’t going to be disqualified on a technicality. Seriously, if you misspell prologue, the agent is never going to even read the first word of your story. And look at it this way: IF, heaven forbid, you don’t find an agent, your book is edited and you have a self-publishable MS ready to go. Do you need to have it edited before you submit? No. You can submit a query written in crayon if you want to. But I promise you, editing is not going to hurt your chances of getting a request for a full manuscript.
A brief aside before we go back to talking about queries: If you do decide to self-publish, editing is only one part of the equation. First, let me encourage you, if you want to be traditionally published, don’t give up. Stephen King, John Grisham, and J.K. Rowling all have something in common: They were ALL widely rejected by agents. They persevered until they finally got a yes. You only need ONE yes. Ten-thousand no’s and one yes, is still a yes. If you want to be traditionally published, don’t give up! If however you have decided to self-publish (and there are good some reasons to do this) you will need to have a cover made and have your book formatted. My advice to you is, don’t skimp on the money here. This is your baby. It deserves the best. Pay the money to have a professional cover made and to have it professionally formatted. You will have a book you can be proud of. I know it’s tempting to maybe make your own cover and save some money, but I implore you to resist this temptation. You wouldn’t ask a race car driver to be your mechanic. You wouldn’t ask a horse jockey to be your veterinarian. In that same guise, an author shouldn’t be a cover maker. You don’t know what’s trending. You don’t understand what makes a reader pass up one book and pick up another. You don’t understand how colors and combinations can create a certain mood and feel for a story before the reader ever opens the book. Another thing to consider is many promotional companies won’t allow you to promote through them without a professional cover. Bookbub can make an author’s career in a single day. Want to promote through them? You need a professional cover. Do some research. Find a cover maker you like. Get a cover that will make your baby shine!
Ok, so back to traditional publishing and the seemingly daunting task of querying: Research potential agents before you query them. Agents are looking for very specific things, so before you query, go onto Publisher’s Marketplace, and find out which agents are looking for the type of story you write. Frequently, the potential agent will tell you exactly how to query them. These are not polite suggestions. Follow their instructions exactly. And if you don’t know the difference between a blurb and a summary, go online and look it up. Failing to follow instructions can get you disqualified immediately. Another thing to mention here is, know what type of story you have. Is your manuscript a MG or a YA novel? Failing to submit it correctly can get you disqualified. So if you don’t know the difference between a MG and a YA, look it up. This will help you target agents who are looking for what you have.
Not all agents are created equal. If you find an agent who is accepting queries for your type of book, look and see who they represent. Then go on Amazon and check those books sales. This will tell you a lot about the agent. Believe it or not, there are a lot of unscrupulous people who prey on authors. Let me give you an example: Hi! My name is Rob and I’m a literary agent. I can get your book tons of exposure! For only $1000.00, I will guarantee you thousands of views on your book as well as a full fb and twitter campaign! This is a scam meant to make ME money. I get $1000.00. You get, essentially nothing. I share your book on my twitter page a bunch of times and on fb. But does that actually lead to sales or get your book published by any of the big publishers? Nope! I (in this scenario) would be a scammer. And believe me, there are TONS of them out there. Many go by the name of a “vanity press.” Avoid these completely. If an “agent,” ever asks for money from you, run far and fast. Real agents make their money off of sales, and will never ask a dime from the author. There used to be a site called, Predators and Editors that would tell authors who these people are. It’s since been shut down. There is however a blog called, Writer Beware that has taken up the torch. Do your research before you query. Choose the agents you really really really want to work with. It can make the difference between you flipping burgers, or writing for a living.
Ok, finally; learn how to query before you write your query. There are quite a few resources on query writing, most of which can be found by a quick internet search. My personal favorite is literary agent Kristin Nelson from Nelson Literary. On her site she shares a ton of information on how to write a quality query, and also includes query letters from books she chose to represent, and why she liked them. Again, think of your query as a resume. There are very real do’s and don’ts. So learn them up front. Then take what you’ve learned and write a quality query. Then edit it. Then take your query to beta readers and get feedback. Then rewrite it. Just like your MS, it needs to be shiny. This is true of your summary as well as anything else the potential agent asks for. Shiny.
I think this is a good place to stop for the day. It’s enough to get you started and help you avoid some of the pitfalls. I know I said it before, but I’m going to say it again: Don’t give up! If you forget everything else I wrote here, please remember that. Don’t give up. If you want to be traditionally published, keep at it. If you’re being widely rejected, you can always make changes. You can rewrite your query or your summary, or even the novel. But keep trying. You only need ONE yes. Until next time, metaphors be with you!
Please check out my new release, The Bookshop and the Junglest, available now through Amazon!
How Can It Be Real?
As an author of supernatural thrillers, it’s a question I’ve heard a time or two before. In my experience, the single most important aspect to good storytelling is what I call the “Reality Factor.” We’ve all read a book, seen a movie, that should have worked but didn’t. There are a ton of factors that may contribute to its failure, but at the core, I’m confident you’ll find a lack of reality as the main culprit.
You may have seen a similar idea floating around–suspension of disbelief. The term suspension of disbelief is defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.
While in the ballpark, I don’t altogether agree. Terms such as unbelievable, and sacrifice of realism and logic come down to one’s point of view. Where our viewpoints intersect, what we have in common, is in fact, reality. Reality is a point of view, nothing less and nothing more. Our viewpoints can be experienced, shared, and broadened by communicating our reality to others—in short, good storytelling.
To that end, ALL my stories are steeped in reality. At least, reality from my point of view.
Oh, Ye Of Little Faith
Allow me to elucidate. My most recently published Lance Underphal Mystery, Grey Daze takes on an eclectic variety of subjects. Not the least of which is the rise in crimes against the elderly. In and of itself it’s nothing new and about as real as it gets. Unfortunately, for my family and I, it came much too close to home.
My elderly uncle was in his mid-eighties at the time, living in his home alone in San Bernardino, CA. He was my mother’s brother, a teacher in the San Bernardino school system, and a bachelor all his life. He would make the trip out to visit us in Arizona during the holidays. Age slowed his step and we all noticed the slight diminution of his mental faculties. Otherwise, he seemed to be doing well. Little did we know.
Alarmed, my uncle’s financial adviser called my father out of the blue, concerned about large withdrawals from his retirement accounts. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in a short period of time. Out of character for my miserly uncle. Hell, we had no idea he had that kind of money saved up. More alarming, his financial adviser reported he was getting married, and that he’d been seen at the bank with a young Latino woman withdrawing large sums of cash from his checking account. This made no sense. My uncle was gay.
My father was bedridden at the time, suffering with rheumatoid arthritis. He called me and my brother to his bedside to inform us. We went to work. The first call I made was to my uncle, who vehemently denied everything and told me it was none of my business—a wildly uncharacteristic response. I heard the woman in the background coaching him. Next call was to the San Bernardino Police who claimed their hands were tied. It got worse, the situation deteriorated. We became concerned for his life when we found out there were attempts made to change the beneficiary on his life insurance policy to his supposed wife-to-be.
Eventually, I managed to convince my uncle that my mother, his sister, needed to see him. We immediately sent a private investigator to my uncle’s home to pick him up and bring him to Arizona. By the time we convinced him to stay with us, more than six hundred thousand dollars of his retirement savings had been stolen. He was left almost penniless, but at least he was alive and safe. He spent the rest of his days near my mother, in my brother’s home.
Of course, the uncle character depicted in Grey Daze is very different. After all, I write fiction, which is to say I embellish to my imagination’s limit and get to call it artist license. Yet as a starting point, the basis in reality is there.
Create Your Own Reality
I invite you to explore my stories for points of reality we can share. And just perhaps, you’ll take a small portion of my reality on faith.
Michael Allan Scott
The cross-genre supernatural mystery/thriller books, Dark Side of Sunset Pointe, Flight of the Tarantula Hawk, and Grey Daze, are available on Amazon. Cut-Throat Syndrome, the next book in the series, is due out soon.
You may also check out the book trailers for Dark Side of Sunset Pointe and Flight of the Tarantula Hawk On YouTube.
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Fans of Ivan Doig’s storytelling will not be disappointed with his novel, Work Song. The tale picks up with the character of Morgan Llewellyn, alias Morrie Morgan, after he departs the cast of characters living in Marias Coulee in The Whistling Season.
Morrie, still mourning his loss of Rose to widower Oliver Milliron, finds his way back to Montana and the copper mining town of Butte. He takes up residence in the boarding house of the lovely widow Grace Farraday where he meets Griff and Hoop, the twin-like retired miners full of life, full of the love of mining, and full of themselves.
Morrie’s first job as a funeral crier introduces him to the woes of life for the miners and their struggle with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and the Industrial Workers of the World. But it is his love of reading and a fortuitous trip to the Butte Public Library that lands him in the position of glorified errand boy for the enigmatic and terrifying ex-rancher turned library administrator, Samuel S. Sandison.
Before long, Morrie is dragged into the copper miners’ battle between Anaconda, the IWW, and the union all the while dodging company goons who try to peg him as an IWW agitator and Chicago mobsters still looking for him for the gambling debacle he perpetrated with his brother. As if that weren’t enough to keep him hopping, Morrie finds his plate even fuller when a former student from Marias Coulee, now engaged to the union leader, presses him into service on behalf of the union. The Latin-loving bibliophile can no longer stay neutral in the battle, but he must operate below his tyrannical employer’s unpredictable nature and ever-watching eye.
At the eleventh hour, Sandison, a large man with an even larger secret, comes to Morrie’s rescue. All is saved, yet Morrie, who has fallen in love with the Widow Farraday, knows he cannot stay in Butte for it is only a matter of time before the mob finds him. A final, well-placed bet secures the financial future for those Morrie has come to care for. His last goodbye to Grace, another widow he must leave behind, produces the best windfall Morrie experiences to date.
Doig’s tales of western life transcend the clichéd cowboy story. He writes from the working class point of view and evokes the joys and hardships of life in his beloved Montana. One of my absolute favorite authors, it was my sincere wish that he write a third novel summing up the lives of Morrie Morgan and the marvelous cast of characters spanning both the The Whistling Season and Work Song. Alas, with Ivan Doig’s passing in 2015, not only did his unforgettable characters lose their voice, literature lost one of the best storytellers known to man.
Contributed by HL Gibson
So I want to share a little of my experience on writing with you. Essentially, what I hope to accomplish is to give you some tools to help you succeed, as well as tell you some of the mistakes I made along the way so you can avoid those same pitfalls. So this is going to be a little stream of consciousness, and a little information dumpy. That’s not what I would call great writing, but it gets you a lot of what I have to tell in a short span of time and you can (hopefully) refer back to it later if you need to.
About me: My name is Robert L. Perrine. I’m a chef turned self-published author, and I write full time now. I write a middle grade series called The Bookshop. The first book, “The Bookshop and the Junglest,” was released in January and is doing very well. I’ll talk about making your book a success in a while, but for now that’s getting the cart well ahead of the horse.
To start with, I want to talk about beginning your story. So there are a LOT of ways to begin a story. Some authors plot every little thing before they start. David Baldacci does this. He literally outlines the entire story before he ever begins to write it. He actually writes the first paragraph of every chapter, then goes back and plugs in the rest afterwards. If this works for you great. I personally would feel very confined by a structure like that. The way I build a story is driven by both characters and environment. So that’s what I’ll speak to you about. As to environment, I’ll start by jotting down what might be found in a place. So since my stories take place at least in part in a bookshop, I’ll use that as an example.
What would be in a bookshop? Books, tables, sofas, chairs, a sales counter, a proprietor, pictures, posters, a hand cart, and hey, maybe an old cat. Bookshops have cats right? Sometimes, I’ll add subcategories to these because if we’re going to bring these things into our story, then we can certainly use them as more than just décor. So as subcategory examples, I’ll say books. Well, what sort of books? History, fiction, sci-fi, mystery, new release, etc. But more than that, I may look at individual items and ask, why does it matter that that’s here? So you have a sales counter, so what? Everybody has a sales counter. What makes yours special? Well mine’s magical of course! Maybe it’s fire proof and can withstand the flame of a dragon. That would make it special! And that would make it interesting. Or take the pictures on the walls at Hogwarts or all the different sorts of candies Rowling thought up. Sure, she could have made them just pictures or candy. But pictures that come to life and candy that turns into a living frog is much more fun! So think about your environment as it will provide you the tools and setting for your story.
There are entire webpages devoted to world building for authors. These can include anything from the flora and fauna of a place, the climate, the government, the religion, and even the modes of transportation, architecture, and music that make your world up. Yes, you can absolutely let these things develop naturally. But it’s been my experience that simply jotting some of them down helps you to find that world in your head and to make it real for the reader.
What about the old cat that was in the bookshop? Certainly we can make him special in some way too right? Maybe give him a personality? So I want to talk a little bit about character building. When I think up a character, the first thing I do is tell myself fifteen things about that character. These things may not even make it into the story or be important in any way, but they help me get to know them. And even if you don’t specifically write in your story that Brian never played baseball as a child, that persona will creep in. so that would look on paper something like this:
Plot: I personally don’t choose a plot before I begin a story. Or at least not a full plot. For the most part my stories begin with a simple question. The question for my first book was: “What if there was a magical bookshop that could take kids into stories?” Once I had the question, an idea of environment, and a few characters, all I had to do was put my characters into the environment, and see what they did. From there it was just a case of me recounting the events that took place. This happened, and also this. This too. And sometimes you’ll come to a place where the characters aren’t telling you what happens next. In my experience, that’s because there is another character waiting to tell their part of the story. So in these occasions, do terrible things to your characters! >:) Say you’ve brought them to a waterfall. It’s beautiful. We’ve all oooh’d and awe’d over the waterfall, but then you don’t know what to do. Introduce a new character! Maybe they find a cave behind the waterfall. What’s in the cave? A dragon? A wizard? A Troll? A porthole into the future? Dealer’s choice guys. Write whatever you like. But keep it moving and keep it fresh. As a rule of thumb, if it bores you, it will bore your poor reader to tears.
One more thing before we move on: Be fair to your characters. Let them lead you where they want to go. And understand that what they do needs to be rational to them. This is especially true of villains. If you make a villain mean just for the sake of being mean, they’re going to come across as unbelievable. It’s ok for their actions to seem crazy to the reader. But for the villain himself, his actions have to make sense to him. He has to believe that what he is doing is right and good for him.
First things first. Grammar does matter. Invest in a Strum and White grammar book. I find them at used book stores all the time. This will answer your questions like, “How do I punctuate this?” You will save yourself a lot of headaches by simply having a grammar reference book close at hand. Yes, you will have an editor later, but it’s not on an editor to hold your hand. You want to be an author. This is your craft. So take the time to learn your craft. In every way, it will open up worlds for you.
Adverbs/showing and not telling: I’m going to include these both in the same subject because they play off of one another. First though, I want to tell you that while there are hard rules to grammar, there are really no rules to writing. There are guidelines though. One of those guidelines is avoid adverbs as much as possible. The reason for this is they lead to bad writing. An example: He ran quickly. Quickly is the adverb. So here’s what’s wrong with it: First of all, it’s redundant. Saying , He ran, pretty much implies that he did it quickly. If he ran slowly, that would be jogging right? So immediately, “Ran quickly,” is bad writing. Avoid redundancy. But more than that, it’s killed any description you could have given. Try instead:
“Brian rounded the corner pumping his legs as hard as he could. His heart thrummed in his chest and his lungs ached for oxygen. He wasn’t going to make it.”
It’s better right? An adverb would have killed that. It’s the same with almost any adverb.
She smiled sadly.
No she didn’t!
She sat alone in her room with the moonlight reflecting off her tears. She forced a smile she didn’t mean and whispered to herself, “I can do this.”
So before you use an adverb, ask yourself, does it add to the story? Does it make the picture I’m trying to paint better? Or worse? Is it redundant? There are times to use adverbs. Just choose them wisely.
So that brings me to the next point as they’re tied together: Don’t tell me. Show me. Brian ran quickly, Is telling me. The second version is showing me. Another example of this is in characterization. It’s tempting for an author to say, Brian believes in doing the right thing. Or to have a friend of Brian’s say, “Man Brian, you’re always doing the right thing!” This is lazy writing. We’re here to tell a great story! In that endeavor, lazy writing just won’t do! So put Brian in a situation where he has a choice of doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Make the wrong thing tempting. VERY tempting. Then have Brian make the right call. If you’re writing in first person or third person omniscient, you can even take the reader along through Brian’s thought process. This lets the reader know and understand him better as a real person.
One more thing and then I’ll wrap this up for the night. We’ve covered enough to get you started anyway. So the last thing I want to touch on is passive voice. Passive voice is pretty easy to spot. Look for, was, had, has etc. words that imply past tense.
Brian had been coming to the pool hall for years.
Instead, try, Brian came to the pool hall every night.
It’s active. It’s more engaging. I had a hard time understanding this rule. I didn’t understand the why of it. But after having to edit passive voice out of my entire manuscript, I get it. Passive voice is timid writing. It’s the author not saying what they mean. Don’t tell me the class was boring. Tell me the class IS boring. Don’t tell me it was a hot day. It IS a hot day! Don’t tell me Brian was being picked on by the jocks. The jocks ARE picking on Brian. Another addendum to this is passive voice is frequently bulky and unnecessary. So for example, it’s tempting to write, The rock was sticking out ten feet over the gorge. It’s awkward to read right? It’s a mouthful. You could paint a clearer and more active picture by choosing the correct word. The rock jutted ten feet over the gorge. Much cleaner right? So yeah, active voice will make your writing much cleaner.
I think I’ll stop there. That’s enough for one sitting. But I’ll leave you with one final thought. The ONLY trick to writing, is to sit down and write. Get your butt between a chair and a keyboard and start creating. Then don’t stop. When I write, I don’t take more than one day off a week. I do that because I don’t want to lose my world or my characters. I need them to be fresh in my mind. Whatever works for you. But write. Don’t even edit. Just write. Any of the things I talked about above can be cleaned up in revision later. But it’s impossible to edit a blank page. I hope this helps you guys. Thank you for giving me your time, and thank you Mr. Schultz for inviting me to contribute to this! I hope your guy’s stories are amazing! Until the next time, metaphors be with you!
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Something a Little Different with Colin Cotterill
The setting in which a story takes place is one of the main dictating factors as to the people and events you are going to encounter. In general, authors tend to stick to what they know in real life, either reproducing or expanding upon the places they have visited or live in. For this reason, many books written in the English language take place in the anglicized world of North America and Western Europe, and while there is certainly much fodder for interesting stories, it's a setting that's starting to feel a little too common. After all, isn't there a world out there beyond New York, London, Paris and Rome?
The good news is that there are writers who strive to offer something different and unusual, a group that certainly includes Colin Cotterill. Living in Southeast Asia, Cotterill has spent many years observing the people, culture and history around him, and through his writings he shares his appreciation, thoughts and meditations on those. For the English-speaking audience, Cotterill represents an invaluable window into what life is like on that side of the globe, one that's been open for a long time thanks to instant classics like I Shot the Buddha and The Woman Who Wouldn't Die, featuring the ever-popular Dr. Siri Paiboun. More recently, he released another novel to add to the good doctor's series, titled Six and a Half Deadly Sins .
The Finger of Mystery
The year is 1979, and the events take place in Laos, following the afore-mentioned Dr. Siri. He is the country's retired national coroner and is simply trying to enjoy his life alongside his wife and idiosyncratic entourage. But of course, we know that such goals are an exercise in futility for a good protagonist: one day, he receives a traditional pha sin skirt at his doorstep. There is only one slightly alarming detail about it, and it's that it came with a severed human finger stitched into its lining.
Needless to say, the doctor never could resist a good mystery, especially one where someone's life might be in danger. Thus, his cohorts and him set out on a trip up North where he believes the skirt was made to try and unravel the web of intrigue surrounding it. However, not only are sinister forces working against him, but the Northern part of the country is about to descend into turmoil as violent eruptions occur along the border. The odds are certainly stacked against him, but that's just how the doctor likes it.
Strangers in a Strange Land
While I have no doubt that for many readers Laotian culture holds few surprises or mysteries, the same cannot be said for the countless ones among us who spent their lives immersed in the Western world. If, like myself, you are a stranger to Southeast Asia, then for that reason alone the book promises to be a kind of eye-opening excursion into a part of the world we seldom hear about (despite being the country which the United States bombarded the most). Cotterill takes the time to explore, describe and explain a world that feels very strange and different, almost becoming something akin to a tour guide.
In turn, this impression of being a stranger in a strange land has a palpable effect on the plot itself, always making you feel like you're stuck somewhere between the realms of logic and magical realism. There are times when you can't be quite sure of what's happening, or more precisely, whether an event is real or shrouded in imagination and impressionism. This only works to heighten the atmosphere of mystery surrounding the skirt, the finger in it and the identity of its owner.
A Chase Better than the Catch
For those who aren't familiar with Cotterill's works, I'll just say that the main attraction is the process of unravelling the mystery, rather than the ultimate revelations it brings along. While the ending is doubtlessly powerful and surprising to a certain extent, it's more about how we get there. In the process of finding out the truth the quirky characters we've come to respect and care for go through many unusual and testing ordeals, and seeing them use their wits (and on occasion, luck) to wade a path across complete chaos is its own reward. Even if you do know that ultimately there will be a resolution that puts everything in place, you will very rarely, if ever, be able to guess exactly what's coming on the next turn.
Speaking of the characters, they are another strong aspect of the book, all unique and memorable in their own rights. It feels as if the author specifically tried to differentiate them and make them stick out in your mind. He develops them at the right pace and knows how to make us care for them, revealing the right information at the appropriate times. As you get to the end, you'll find yourself feeling something for people that don't exist in a place you've likely never given much thought to... which just goes to show how skilled of an author Cotterill is.
If you're a fan of the author and his Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries then you don't need to think twice about getting this book as it continues with the proudly-established traditions without a hitch. It's everything you'd expect from a book in this series and does the author justice. If you are new to Cotterill and know nothing about the series, I'd say that this is a pretty good book to start with if you're looking for an exceptionally well-written quirky mystery with screwball elements, memorable characters and taking place in an unusual as well as under-explored setting.
Article written by David ben Efraim (bookwormex.com)
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