Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tales of the Heavily Medicated

Sorry for the blog silence this past week, but I fell victim to the creeping crud that seems to be running rampant. No, not H1N1 (though the in-laws & nephew have that) but just a nasty cold that went into even nastier bronchitis.

So, I have antibiotics, and an inhaler, and the really GOOD cough syrup. Y'know, the kind you can't take and drive. Sadly, it's not the cough syrup I'm having problems with. It's the inhaler that's making me loopy, of all things. I know, I know, it's possible I'm a mutant.

But, today I felt at least human, so me & kiddo and Gita went back out to Ren Fest. I corrupted Gita, she now owns one of the Badger Blades swords too. (if I hadn't already made my purchase for the year, I'd have bought this one myself)

Kiddo also got her hair braided in one of those really fancy patterns. I'll try to post pictures tomorrow.

Needless to say, being high on inhaler juice hasn't made writing easy. In fact, I haven't done any of it at all. I doubt I'm going to hit my 40K-by-the-end-of-September goal. But that's ok. I'm over 30K at the moment, and that's at least better than nothing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Real Life Rawr!

Some of you may have heard my wails and lamentations over the roof leak. Y'know, the one dumping gallons of water through my living room ceiling. Well thankfully, as of today, we are in possession of a brand new roof, and a freshly painted living room.

And hubby, in his infinite wisdom, said "Since the living room's all torn up anyway, let's rip out the carpet!"

So tonight, that's what we did. There was a bit of trepidation. We knew there was hardwood under there, but what condition was it in after all these years of being buried under ugly 70s shag?

Here's the work in progress:

And here's a better look at the hardwood itself. I hadn't even cleaned this section yet. (ignore the toes, please) Who covers up such pretty wood? (ok, that sounded dirty)

We're taking a dinner break at the moment, but later, I'll try and take another picture once we get the whole thing clean and the furniture back in place. (no one is allowed to make fun of my fugly furniture, it was all free)

In writing news, I did NOT make my 30K goal for the week, but I DID finish chapter 9. And then, deciding it was utter garbage, I completely rewrote chapter 9 into something I'm much happier with. So all in all, I'll count this week a win.

EDITED: Here's the finished product. No making fun of the furniture (and keep in mind that most of the furniture is still in another room)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Toy!

After so many serious, business-type posts, I had to post something frivolous and silly. So, here, lookit what I got yesterday!

This lovely leafblade was made courtesy of the amazing folk at Badger Blades. We (meaning me & the hubby) own many MANY of their swords, to the point that if you poke around on their website, hubby actually has a place in their customer hall of fame. (They call him the Diamond-Ground King)

If you are into swords, and you want one you could actually take into battle, Badger's is where you want to go. They're amazing weapons, and gorgeous besides. Currently, you can find them at the KC Renaissance Festival (the sword booth near the jousting arena)

Their swords are the basis for all the swords my main character will be carrying in my upcoming novels. In fact, hubby owns every sword you will ever hear about in those books. (Except the khopesh. but we're working on that)

In other news, I am diligently working on book 2, and I think I may have even come up with a title for it, and the next two in the series. Then again, knowing how bad I am at titles, someone will probably veto them. I am currently somewhere just over 24K words, and working hard. My goal is to have the first draft done before Christmas. (hoping I should be able to have it done well before that, but...y'know, padding my time)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Series on Series: Part 5

Part 5: How to destroy a series

And now we reach the part of the series that actually spawned the whole idea. Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

As most know, I am a HUGE Torchwood fan. Most particularly, I’m a huge Ianto fan. And any fan of Torchwood will tell you that the most recent season, Children of Earth, was very controversial, namely because they killed off our beloved teaboy. (see, toldja there would be spoilers!)

I watched the news of this event explode over Twitter, to the point where Ianto Jones was the top trending topic. This one single moment swept through the fandom like a nuclear bomb going off. People were crying (Ok, I admit I cried too), and frothing at the mouth, and threatening poor Russell T. Davies, and swearing they were never ever EVER going to watch another episode of Torchwood as long as they lived, yadda yadda.

And it got me to thinking. Did they just break their own series? Had they finally done the one thing the fans couldn’t accept? Would they really NEVER come back to the franchise?

Which led, obviously, to “what does it take to destroy a series?” And between Theo and I, we came up with two main causes of series implosion.


The first one, as illustrated by Torchwood, is betrayal. In writing a series, the author creates an implicit contract with the reader.

“I (state your name) do solemnly swear to entertain the masses by providing a gritty urban fantasy story involving the trials and tribulations of one Jorge the psychotic zombie marmoset.”

When the author violates this implicit contract, the fans get tetchy. This can happen in a variety of ways, but I think most often crops up when a favorite character is killed, or is otherwise changed into something different from what he was before.

Using the Torchwood example, we should know that at the end of their second season, they killed off not one, but TWO main characters. Everyone was stunned! Horrified! And yet, they all came back to watch Children of Earth. Why, then was killing Ianto in season three so different? My guess is that it was a “last straw” type of sentiment. Yes, the fans could adjust to killing off Owen and Tosh (if they had to), but to then further decimate the team immediately after was more than their grief centers could bear.

Does this mean that an author should never kill off a beloved character? Of course not! G.R.R. Martin has made killing people an art form. (that totally didn’t sound right) But there is a limit to how much “change” a fanbase can tolerate. If Jim Butcher killed off Harry Dresden, and continued the rest of the series with some other main character, no one would be very happy about it. The contract (to provide stories about a wizard from Chicago) would be null and void. (not to mention that the series title, The Dresden Files, wouldn’t make any sense then)

For another example, please consider Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. It is almost universally accepted that the first nine books of the series have a very different flavor than the books that followed. They went from a monster-of-the-week urban fantasy into almost pure erotica. A huge leap in genre! And consequently, some of the original fans felt betrayed. They felt that LKH had violated her contract by changing genres into something they didn’t want to read. They abandoned Anita and her boys in favor of other things, series that were more along their own tastes.

And that is the key to a “betrayal” scenario. Betrayal is about taking out the heart of a story. It's about breaking a contract with the audience. Authors, directors, so on, do things we dislike all the time but they still can make sense within the context of the contract.

As a side note: Even with minor changes or character developments, there will always be fans who scream and wail that the author betrayed them/killed off their favorite dust bunny/destroyed the perfect love interest/etc. (“OMG, Jorge would NEVER dye his fur blue, U suck, I h8 U 4evr!!!11!”) You can’t please all the people all of the time, and you shouldn’t try. That way lies madness.

Second side note: As a writer, I see what RTD is doing with the Torchwood series, and though I (the fan) shall always mourn Ianto, I (the writer) am anxious to see where he takes it from here (provided the BBC gives them a fourth season).


Another surefire way to kill a series is through apathy. Whose apathy? Well, it can be the fans’ apathy, or it can be the author’s.

First, a definition of apathy, per 1. absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. 2. lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting. Or, in layman’s terms “Who cares anymore?”

Apathy happens when someone loses interest. Why do they lose interest?

Well, fans can lose interest when years and years go by between series installments. We are used to insta-society. Microwaves spit out food in 30 seconds, you can watch movies instantly on your computer via different sites, and dangit, an author should be able to churn out a book in 30 days!

Ok, ok, not everybody is like this. In fact, most fans are very understanding when it takes a bit longer than planned to generate the next tale of Jorge the psychotic zombie marmoset. However, when “a bit longer than planned” turns into five years (or ten) then the fans have most likely moved on. Even the most diehard and rabid of Jorge’s fan club have to wonder why they keep hanging around, waiting and waiting and waiting. Without even a small dose of Jorge to keep the addiction current, they may find new fixes.

They can also lose interest when the story goes on and on and on and nothing happens. The hero learns nothing, the conflict is never resolved, and that fruitcake on Jorge’s kitchen table never gets eaten. There is a tricky balance between being faithful to your character, and being stagnant.

So, what if it’s not the fans that have grown weary, but the author? It happens. After thirty some odd years of churning out the same characters over and over, it’s possible that an author might start running out of ideas (or even the will to live). So, what is an author to do? It often seems that they keep trying to dredge up stories out of loyalty to the fans. The problem with this is that the stories can be sub-par, or even “jump the shark” so to speak. The solution would be to obviously end the series before it reaches this point of ennui for the author, but we can’t always predict when it will spring.

Trust me, however, the fans will notice. (They’re very smart that way, pesky little buggers) When the author’s heart is no longer with their characters, the readers will also drift away.

And what have we learned, children?

Writing a series is HARD! You have to think about all this STUFF, or nobody will want to play with you anymore!

Ok, no, not really.

The good news is, for most of you who are contemplating writing a series, a lot of this you’ll do instinctively. Because you’ve read series before (You have been reading, haven’t you? Santa is watching you.), or even watched one on TV, you have a basic understanding of how one goes together. You’ll know when it just feels right or wrong, even if you can’t put your finger on why. Hopefully, this little blog series of mine will help you put a name to that niggling impulse at the back of your mind that says “Hey, there’s something a bit off here.”

And I think this wraps up my babbling. In the next few days, we’ll be returning you to your regularly scheduled insanity. Please let me know if you enjoyed/hated this, and if there is anything else you’d like to see me rant on in the future.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Series on Series: Part 4 Boom vs. Whimper

Part 4: Boom vs. Whimper: How do you end it?

First off, many thanks to Theo who helped me wrap my brain around this section.

You’ve come to the end of your series. You’ve reached the last book wherein all ends of the loose variety must be tied and all Big Bads must be dealt with. (Note: This doesn’t mean you have to kill them, only that you need to find some sense of closure. Unless you don’t. Your mileage may vary)

So, should your hero end it all in an epic blaze of thermonuclear glory, or should Brave Sir Robin gallantly scamper off to fight another day?

That is the question. (none of this “to be or not to be” crap)

The answer depends on what future you see for you’re your hero. Even if you never write another book, story or dirty limerick about him, you should at least have an inkling about his life after. (and it never hurts to give your readers some of those hints too, we love that stuff!)

BOOM, bay-bee!

I should first point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the world implodes. I mean, if that’s where you’re headed, cool, but there are smaller and just as effective booms.

A “boom” ending is simply one that gives a definitive answer. YES, the bad guy is really dead and gone. YES, the hero lives (or dies). YES, the moon is really made of green cheese (and Jorge’s long-lost father lives there! Who knew?) YES, this is really the end of this tale.

It is possible, after a “boom” ending, to have another series set in the same world, or with the same characters, but it should be an entity in and of itself. The first series doesn’t necessarily need expansion.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is through Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. The first trilogy, following Phaedre and Joscelin, comes to a nice and satisfactory conclusion. Yes, she’s laid the seeds throughout for a continuation with other characters later (and accomplishes it rather nicely with the second trilogy following Imriel), but I don’t think anyone was left thinking “But what happened to them??” The second trilogy stands on its own (though we get tantalizing glimpses of our favorite folk from the previous trilogy), and also ends with its own little boom.


A whimper ending is something that is much more open-ended. Was it all a dream sequence? Did the bad guy really die? And who was stealing all of Jorge’s shoelaces?

Sometimes, the whimper ending is used simply because the author isn’t sure they’re really done with that world/characters. They leave themselves an opening, just enough to slide back in if they find they want to. Sometimes, the author is trying to make a point with the ambiguity of it all.

The risk with a whimper ending is disappointing the fans. There are almost always two camps to the fans, one that is ecstatic that there is potential new material in the future, and one that is disappointed that they didn’t get more resolution.

The ending of the TV series The Sopranos, is a good illustration of this. It just ceased. Stopped. What happened? Where was the closure? I never watched the show myself, but I watched the aftermath of the finale with great interest. Oh, how people howled over that plain cut-to-black ending.

So, whimper is bad, boom is good?

Nope! Both styles of ending, when used deliberately, can serve their purposes quite nicely. A whimper ending, as I said above, can leave things open for a return to a beloved world, or provide a thought-provoking commentary. A boom ending can deliver a visceral sort of satisfaction, allowing the reader to move on to the next big thing without being left wanting.

The care an author must take is in being deliberate. An accidental whimper ending can leave the fans tearing their hair out (“What do you MEAN Jorge was really a human sewer worker in a coma all this time??? What kinda B.S. is this???”). It’s like leaving someone hanging on the “shave and a haircut” knock. The satisfaction they’ve been craving never materializes, and they don’t care if the author returns to the world again because they’re ticked off and they’re not going to take it anymore!

You can argue that real life doesn’t always have a satisfactory ending, happy or otherwise. And you would be right. But there’s a reason we call this fiction, folks. It’s a reader’s chance to find that resolution, that solution, that end, that we don’t always get in the mundane world. Escapism, I loves it.

There’s also such a thing as too much boom. A boom that kills off the main character (or even a beloved sidekick) can yank a reader out of the story. This isn’t to say you can’t kill them, but be very aware of what your intentions are when you do. Did it fit the story and character, or are you just doing it to keep the Kleenex industry in business?

There is also the type of boom wherein the reader is denied the chance to “participate” in the world that comes after. Who doesn’t imagine themselves as a Jedi or Sith or whatever in the Star Wars universe, long after the characters we know and love have gone? (What do you mean I’m the only one who does that?) There were quite a few fans of the Harry Potter who were displeased with the epilogue in the final book. Sure, Rowlings tied up everything neatly, according to how she viewed her world, but in doing so, she eliminated the chance for the fans to envision those things on their own. She shut them out of imagining a world they’d grown to love, by dictating how it was to progress.

And speaking of endings, we’ve almost reached the end of this series. The next and final piece will be Part 5: How to destroy a series. I’ve already touched on some warning signs and missteps to be wary of when writing a series, but I’ll try to wrap it up neatly in the next installment.

Or, will I?

Coming soon: Part 5: How to destroy a series