Read-Alikes: Mad at Game of Thrones edition

So you’re mad online about whatever Game of Thrones did last episode. I don’t watch the show but it’s all over my timeline right now, and from what I can tell there seem to be three or four major complaints you have about this show that you keep watching only to complain about.

Here’s a quick little list to help you find something that might be more to your taste. So which bolded statement did you tweet out on Sunday?

Characters are doing things that make no sense. Hunger Makes the Wolf, by Alex Wells.
Instead of people doing things just to make a plot happen, why not read a scifi/fantasy novel where they act on very familiar motivations: class struggle? Wells’ novel follows a backwater mining world trying to fight off the megacorp who’re exploiting its people. Yes there’s a badass fire-witch, but she knows no amount of magic can help her stand up to corporate bureaucracy without a union backing her.

It apparently doesn’t take time for characters to travel anywhere now?  The Year of Our War series, by Steph Swainston.
One of the major plot points of the second book is that characters are stuck for literally months on a ship traveling overseas while there’s civil wars and insect invasions they can’t lend a hand with. Outside of this refreshing nod to realism, Swainston’s series has battle scenes that are equally brutal to ASoIaF’s while criticizing its own government and heroes with gleeful abandon. I read the first book nearly ten years ago and can’t get over how relatably hateable Jant is.

I can’t say “slay kween” as a compliment anymore. Winterglass, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew.
You probably shouldn’t have been using that phrase in the first place? But regardless, there are better-developed, better-fighting female protagonists you can read about. Nuawa is a gladiator intent on assassinating the Winter Queen who’s conquered and oppressed her homeland. Kind of the opposite of Daenerys, and with all the heinously problematic elements replaced with evocative prose and a deft approach to worldbuilding.

This was supposed to be subversive but it’s ultimately just retreading the same tired fantasy ground while posturing about it. Viriconium, by M John Harrison. Or The Etched City, by KJ Bishop. Or The Narrator by Michael Cisco. Or or or…
Authors have been subverting all that stuff for about forty years. It’s not hard to find if you look beyond pop culture.

Drawing Plots

A plot is simultaneously the most necessary and the least interesting part of a book. As a reader I’m far more easily hooked by character/voice/description, and if those are solid then the linear events that happen while those are being shown off isn’t a large concern. But as a writer, you completely need that line of events in order to have a short story or novel instead of a reeeally long and ungood prose-poem. What if you could just… delegate the plotting to someone else and free your mind to focus a little more on the parts you’re really in to? You can: your plotting intern’s name is William Wallace Cook.

Plotto, created by Cook in 1928, is a workbook for figuring out plots for novels and short stories. You begin by choosing three broad clauses from the lists at the front; the A clause describes your protagonist, the B clause provides the source of the conflict, and the C clause provides the resolution. There are thousands of sub-clauses you can look through and string together if you like the method, but I’d say the book’s first chapter is least worth experimenting with for any writer.

The clauses are all worded broadly enough that you can fit any existing novel into this system. If I were using Plotto while brainstorming my first novel, I would have gone with clauses A8, B22, and C10: “A person influenced by an obligation, following a wrong course through mistaken judgment, meets with an experience whereby their error is corrected.” That’s an accurate summary, but it does miss some important details. Why doesn’t it tell you the main character should be a gullible rich kid? Where are the warring factions of dirtbag leftists and self-absorbed indie films? Cook doesn’t provide those because he knew whoever’s reading it would have different approaches to stories than he would.

Plotto‘s basic plots are vague because it trusts that you’ll fill in those gaps in a way that’s wholly unique to you. My example plot up there leaves plenty of room to choose the particular kind of character you want to write, the story’s tone, the precise nature and details of their situation — you would write a completely different book from mine using that same basic plot because you’re a different writer. Plotto urges its readers to spackle their unique style and approach onto its plot-frames rather than trying to force you in to hard and trite formulas like Save the Cat. This is a book to help you figure out what to write, trusting that you either have the how under control or are canny enough to figure that out in short order. As someone who’d been in a bit of a rut trying to figure out what to write next, I’ve found it really helpful for generating ideas to build on.

Whether you’ve just got a character you’re enamored with but have no idea what they should be doing, sitting down for daily writing sessions and need somewhere to start, or just want your outlines to feel slightly more like filling out a Shadowrun character sheet, give Plotto a try.

Read-Alikes: Carnivorous Lunar Activities

We got a new batch of read-alike bookmarks at work and they were obviously made by someone who doesn’t read much. We’re talking “If you like BRAD THOR then try OTHER DAD-THRILLER” level of recommendations. Could I recommend you a book that you’d find on the best-seller list? Sure, but… you can just look at the best-seller list if you want to read that. There are plenty of books in the library without nationwide marketing campaigns — what’s the point of a librarian if they can only rec the same books you’d see commercials for on daytime TV?

 

I’ve always liked the idea of werewolves, but they get stuck with the worst media. There are maybe three good werewolf movies, the World of Darkness Werewolf RPG had clunky rules and even weirder players than Vampire, and I don’t think there were any decent novels about them. But there have been a few titles that broke the curse over the last couple years.

The most recent surprisingly good werewolf novel is Carnivorous Lunar Activities, by Max Booth III. Most of the book is a conversation between two former high school buds over the course of an evening, and Booth wrings an impressive amount of tension out of two down-on-their-luck guys and a dingy basement. His characters and dialogue have enough pathos and humor to easily carry the story until things come to a head in act three.

The book is a frickin’ romp, and you probably tore through it faster than a lycanthrope through an unsuspecting police deputy. What particular element of Carnivorous Lunar Activities has left you hungry for more?

Give me another character who’s in waaay over their head when dealing with the supernatural. Red Sky Blues, by Matthew Davis. 
Red Sky Blues follows Thomas Gray, an errand-boy to otherworldly beings who winds up foiling world-ending plots nobody else can be bothered to piece together, and it doesn’t help that magic is severely physically exhausting for mortals. Both novels feature protagonists who are dedicated, though a bit burned-out and mouthier than a professional would be, but they’re still gonna get the job done. Or get some other folks killed trying.

I just like a flawed protagonist being bad at things, supernaturality be damned. Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, by Wayne Gladstone. 
Gladstone is just your average Very Online guy trying to navigate meatspace and figure out why the entire Internet just stopped working. Nothing paranormal, the people trying to form little in-person Something Awful communes completely obey the laws of physics. While it’s riddled with humorous observation and caricatures, it’s as much a study of the quasi-Nice-Guy narrator as it is the Internet at large. Gladstone ain’t a bad guy, but he isn’t any better of a detective than Ted is a hunter, so pratfalls abound!

If werewolves can have a decent turn in fiction, what’s next? A zombie novel that isn’t tedious? The Last Weekend, Nick Mamatas
There’s more to werewolves than platitudes about ‘the beast within,’ and there’s more to zombies than the warmed-over fantasies of guys who are really into EDC. The Last Weekend follows an alcoholic writer who won’t let the fact that society is crumbling around him stop him from making excuses to not write his great American novel — It’s tough to sit down and write when you spent a day working for what’s left of the city drilling holes into corpses’ heads. If you dug the unique self-deprecating human spin that Booth put on the werewolf formula, Mamatas’ literary-zombie-satire will probably start gnawing at your cranium just as easily.

BONUS FORMAL DIGRESSION: The poem “Unlimited Teenage Werewolves” by Zachary Evans in Pulpmouth Issue 1.

Standard Year in Review post

The problem with having a blog is that it all feels self-aggrandizing and a year-in-review post is the nadir of self-aggrandizing posts. It’s even more self-aggrandizing than using ‘nadir’ in a sentence. So with that out of the way I got drunk on flowery umbrella drinks and wrote one. Any typos I made will be left intact to help tamp down on the aggrandizement. Hopefully it just doesn’t even look like a word anymore.

Excerpts from the Diary of Theodore Miro, competitor on Season 2 of CryptoChefs
My second time out with the awesome folks at Mad Scientist Journal followed a contestant into the seedy underbelly of televised cooking competitions. If you’ve been binging the Great British Bake Off but think all their pies needed 240% more blackbirds, have I got the story for you!

To Another Abyss! from Spaceboy Books
Having my first novel published by a small press was definitely the highlight of my year. I knew that a Wodehouse-style comedy of errors steeped in Western Mass regionalisms (the different types of artists who congregate around the Five Colleges, a small but tenacious punk scene, Bob’s Discount Furniture,) would have a wicked niche audience and be a hard sell to agents. When I found Spaceboy’s submission call and saw their catalogue included a weird SF dystopia leaning hard left, I had a good feeling about sending them my manuscript. And now after rounds of revisions and an anxiety-addled blurb-busking — sincerest thanks to Erica L. Satifka and Wayne Gladstone — my farcical foray into fine art, film, and fish-people is out there in the wild, doing whatever books do when you aren’t prodding them with a red pen.

Oh Ghost of Mine
Something I really like in a novel is when the POV character isn’t entirely sympathetic and it’s to an extent the book is all a joke at their expense, but I understand how that can be super annoying to other readers. I was glad I got it out of my system with To Another Abyss, and this tie-in story follows Decca trying to start a little supernatural side-hustle. I’m wicked proud that it got picked up by Speculative City in print online, and produced as audio by The Overcast.

InFringe Festival
I’d been out of the loop with live readings for a year or two, but my friend Picolla invited me to be part of their Fringe show “Moved: an Evening of Poetry Inspired by Burlesque.” I was paired with a dancer named Eros Sea, who sent a brief description of the themes behind his set and the song he was performing to. It was from Frozen… which I’d never seen. So I wrote a flash piece about a ghost hitchhiker getting over his moping-on-the-roadside routine and hoped for the best! It went over well with the crowd, but honestly, there was no way I could’ve written something that measured up to the actual act from Eros. The man has poise for weeks and of course you shouldn’t click that link if you’re at work.

Oh god, conventions. Aaaaaah.
I tried to jump right in to the Published Author thing and went to a couple cons. I attended Readercon where I got to see some super interesting panel discussions and hopefully not be too socially awkward while meeting some of my favorite authors. Contraflow, a small con here in Louisiana, invited me as a guest. I got to sit on a couple panel discussions and even moderate a pretty thorough panel about SFF affecting change in the real world with Trisha Baker and Ernest Russell.

Many nerves were wracked in the process, but two stories and one novel makes this my most productive year so far. And I didn’t even have to handcuff myself to Twitter’s offices to get the attention.