R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

Unstructured Thoughts on the Tethys Chronicles

I had some thoughts about writing a series–especially over a long period of time–ever since Magen Cubed did a Twitter thread about this sort of thing. (I can’t find the exact one, but here’s one about “pulp” that’s great. Go follow her. And buy her books (superhero or fucky)! I wanted to do something similar, but I don’t know if Twitter’s the best venue for it. Instead, I’m going to write out some rambling, unstructured thoughts about The Exile’s Violin, its sequels, and my weird, tangled emotions about coming back to the series after a hiatus.

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Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 3: Wikis

Last week. month. year. ohmygodit’sbeentoolong time, I covered mind maps as a tool for fantasy and science fiction writers can use to keep track of their worldbuilding. And we’ve already covered plain ol’ Word documents. Now we come to what I currently use: personal wikis.

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Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 2: Mind Maps

Last time we talked about using multiple Word documents as a system of keeping track of your worldbuilding. For some, that system is the be-all end-all. I used Word documents to keep track of the worldbuilding for my first two novels. But over time, as the series went on, trying to work with multiple, often conflicting documents didn’t work.

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An Update

Quick update for you all. As of May 11, 2016 (which is when I received the signed paperwork), all rights to The Exile’s Violin and the unpublished sequel, Terraviathan, are mine. The series is no longer with PDMI Publications, and I have no further affiliation with them or any of their imprints.

So what does that mean for the series? It means The Exile’s Violin is now out of print, and I’m stopping work on Terraviathan for the foreseeable future. I may have a handful of fans out there who will be disappointed by this news. To you, I’m sorry. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t go into about all this, but finishing Terraviathan and then self-publishing the series is just something I cannot do anytime soon.

Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and loved the book. Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and hated the book. And everyone in between. I’m so, so grateful for all of you.

Moving on, I have lots of other projects in the works. I have a sword and sorcery series that got a tiny bit of agent and publisher attention. That’ll be revisited sometime soon. And I have another urban fantasy novel in the works. My sights are set on getting better as a writer, at not being fucking scared to find my voice.

I’ll come back to Jacquie Renairre and her steampunk world someday. I just don’t know when that will be.

‘Til then, I’ll be over here scribblin’ words and makin’ up worlds.

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 1: Word Documents

It’s a beast that hounds all writers, but especially genre writers: how do you keep track of your worldbuilding? How do you keep it all straight?

Inconsistent worldbuilding (I’m looking at you Supernatural!) is one of my biggest pet peeves. And keeping everything in order, especially when you’re working in a huge multi-volume universe, can be tricky.

One method that I’ve used before (not anymore) is a collection of Word documents. A file separate from your manuscript can be used to catalog your worldbuilding efforts.

Pros

This method is easy to get started with. You just need to use the same word processing program that you write your drafts in. So you’re already instantly familiar with the interface and capabilities of what you’re working with.

You can write in sentences and paragraphs, or just keep track of everything in bulleted lists.

Cons

To be honest, even though I wrote two novels using this method, it’s not my favorite. No matter how careful I tried to be, I always ended up with a dozen different worldbuilding documents. Outlines, character sketches, worldbuilding bibles, timelines. It was too much. Too many contradictions.

But for some writers this may be all they need! A single file that lists important aspects of their story world. Maybe your book is set on Earth in an era or place you’re intimately familiar with. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who makes things up as they go along and keep it all straight. More power to you!

Alternatives?

For those of us who can’t make this method work, don’t fear! In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about some alternative methods I’ve tried including mind maps and personal wikis.

2016: Refocusing on Art

Bear with me here. This is 100% going to be one of those New Year, New Me but Not Saying the Word “Resolutions” Totally Navel Gazing-y posts. I’ll do my best to make it not be insufferable.

2015 was a rough year, for reasons that you don’t want to hear. And quite frankly some of them feel whiny–or at least according they feel that way to that nagging voice in the back of my head.

So instead this whole post, this whole year is dedicated to looking forward. And what do I see in front of me?

ART

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Leveling Up as a Writer

Level_Up

Being a writer can be a mentally and emotionally exhausting profession (especially for those of us who work full-time jobs, have families, have kids, have other obligations, try not to be crusty shut-ins who do nothing but write, etc. etc.). Writing, editing, and polishing manuscripts and then sending them out to publishers and agents. You play the waiting game, and then you deal with the hundreds of rejection letters–more emails these days than actual letters.

So how do you keep it from getting you down? I try to celebrate every little success. I think of it as some sort of experience points bar–really it’s the one from Pokemon because they have such fun sound effects as they fill up.

Each word I write, each book or story I finish, each one I edit and polish, and each manuscript I send out on submission–all those things fill in the bar.

And then whenever I hit a new milestone in my career, it feels like I’m leveling up as a writer. I hear a little ding in my mind, celebrate for a minute or two, then get my ass back to work.

So what were some of the milestones that I’ve celebrated?

  1. Finishing my first short story
  2. Getting my first story acceptance
  3. Finishing my first novel
  4. Making that first novel not suck*
  5. Getting that first novel published
  6. Finishing a sequel
  7. Making that sequel not suck*
  8. Writing a novel in a completely new genre, new style, and new series
  9. Making that novel not suck*
  10. Getting form rejection emails from agents
  11. Getting partial requests from agents**
  12. Being asked to submit directly to a publisher**
  13. Getting a personal rejection email from a publisher and being told to reach out directly with other projects**

These last three are huge to me. Getting agents to request something based just on a query letter feels like a big deal. But also my experience submitting Gifts of the Earth has been a huge step forward.

Even though the publisher passed on it they said the “quality of the book wasn’t in question” and that I should reach out directly the next time I have something to submit. Anyone who’s trying to submit manuscripts knows that being able to bypass the slush pile is an enormous advantage.

Rejections are never fun, but the important thing is that there’s a trajectory here. I can’t help but celebrate that. And now if you excuse me, I have more books to write.

What about you, fellow writers? What milestones count as “leveling up” to you?

Gender-Swapping Writing Experiment

Author’s Note: this is a very, very simple thought experiment I’m throwing out there. Obviously these sorts of issues have to consider intersectionality as well. So this sort of thing can, and I’d say should, be done across multiple axes of oppression. I purposely chose a high level example for this post.

Another Author’s Note: Gender is not binary. But discussing the fluidity of the concept is beyond the scope of this post and what I was trying to accomplish with this little experiment.

You’ve all heard of the Bechdel Test, right? It’s not without flaws nor is it necessarily a quality benchmark. At the very least it just tells you that a particular work has two women who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.

Tying into that is: how often as writer do you make secondary or tertiary characters men by default? Until it was brought up to me a while ago, I had no idea I even did that. I always thought I was pretty good about making sure I had women in my books and stories. But then I went back to my WIP at the time and saw that almost every time I needed a:

  • restaurant owner
  • business person
  • guard
  • solider
  • police officer
  • friend
  • colleague
  • doctor
  • random passerby
  • etc. etc.

These characters would be written as “he” in my outline. Even if they didn’t have names or more than a line or two of dialogue, almost all of them were men by default. It blew my mind to realize that. It wasn’t that I was trying to actively exclude women characters, it was just I was conditioned to think of and create men characters first. As if it had been ingrained and reinforced across multiple spectra–especially pop culture–that men were the important pieces in a story.

As I’ve gotten older and have attempted to be more aware of these issues regarding representation  and intersection, I’ve wanted to fix my shortcomings. Not only does it help a tiny bit to improve the field, but it also helps me grow as a writerThis kind of thing–unconsciously emphasizing men and just writing the same things over and over–requires no effort. It’s lazy. And lazy writing is boring writing. Lazy writing doesn’t challenge the creator nor the reader. This kind of lazy writing accidentally “punches people in the face.” And I don’t want that.

So going forward I decided to do a little experiment. In my current WIP, the main character, Itjani, is a woman detective, and the women in her family are all major characters (mother, aunts, and grandmothers). But there were other characters in the first draft of the outline that were men, including a character that teams up with Itjani outside official police channels to move the plot forward. Let’s call that character K for right now.

I stopped halfway through my outline and went you know what? This book already emphasizes interpersonal relationships between women in a post-colonial context (i.e. how do they form communities and identities going forward and dealing with centuries of colonization in this secondary world fantasy), so why not make K a woman too? How would that change the dynamics of the relationship I’d written into the story? I changed absolutely nothing else about K’s personality or actions other than their gender.

All of a sudden tons of new nuances entered into the story, themes that resonated with other more personal, familial sections. Itjani already had a male partner on the police force and they had a whole slew of interactions (based on gender, tenure at work, political power, ethnicity, social status, etc.) so it made the story better to give a counterpoint to that. Itjani and K interact across those axes in completely different ways (plus a few more that I can’t talk about right now without giving away too much plot).

I continued the experiment throughout the outline. A god became a goddess, a police coroner with a few lines became a woman as well. And so it went. Not every character was changed, but the majority of them were. And you know what? Even just re-reading my outline, it feels like a stronger story with more nuance, more subtext, more everything. I think part of why things felt better goes hand in hand with what Liz Bourke discusses in “How Do We Talk About Strong Female Characters?

This isn’t revolutionary stuff, and I’m not claiming that consciously changing a bunch of characters to women will somehow give this book a free pass. Or that these characters won’t be problematic in other ways. Nope. Chances are I’ll manage to screw something up, but that’s part of being an artist–especially one in a privileged position. It’s how you react to learning of those screw ups, listening to marginalized voices that’re telling you how you screwed up, learning from those mistakes, and not repeating them in the future.

Still, I’d rather make these choices than play it safe and churn out the same face-punchy science fiction and fantasy you’ve seen for decades (see Puppies, Sad & Rabid). This experiment is a small step, but it’s one I’d urge other writers to take too.

How Not to Respond to Reviews

Reviews are part of being an author. Some people are going to love your book; some people are going to hate your book. And if you’ve written multiple books, multiple series, some people are going to enjoy some installments and dislike others. It all comes with the territory.

And it’s not just for writers but for any artists, musicians, creators that put their work out there for the public to see.

I’m of the mind that reviews are primarily for readers and potential readers rather than authors. That’s not to say that an author can’t look at reviews and find common threads running through them. Maybe a bunch of reviews noticed that your secondary characters were cliche or that the book’s middle section lagged. Those are things to learn from. But for my money–you, the author, do not step in and debate these things. It never ends well.

Which brings me to this perfect example.

Reviews aren’t for you. And everyone on the internet should familiarize themselves with the Streisand effect. Trying to suppress a review, getting the reviewer to change it, disagreeing with their opinion, is a terrible idea and only makes things worse.

I’ve never heard of this particular book or author before (which pretty much everyone can say of me too), but based on his behavior, I can damn well say I’m far less inclined to ever read any of his works in the future. That’s what happens when authors try to attack people over reviews that are less-than-glowing. The internet amplifies their terrible behavior and soon people like me–people just scrolling through their Twitter feeds or whatever–see the thread linked and come take a seat to watch the meltdown. I mean as soon as I saw this author’s first comment on the review, my mind immediately went to that gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn.

Yeah that’s the one. Good stuff.

Do not engage with negative reviews. They aren’t bullying. They aren’t comparable to physical abuse (as that author said). They aren’t cyberbullying either. Maybe if a reviewer wrote a negative review that attacked the author personally, then continued to contact the author across multiple social channels to send personal attacks their way, that would be cyberbullying. But I’ve never seen a reviewer do that before.

It bears repeating: Do not engage with negative reviews. Just stay away from ’em. Learn from criticism. Grow as an author. Don’t tell somebody their opinion is wrong and that they’re hurting the consciousness of humanity because they gave your book a one-star review on Goodreads.

Let’s Talk About: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I don’t really do book “reviews” per se, but I just finished Kameron Hurley’s latest novel, the epic fantasy The Mirror Empire. Since I have lots of thoughts (and feels too as the kids say) I figured I’d jot them down here in a loose sorta way. There will be some spoilers so read on at your own risk.

1. The Mirror Empire is the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga. Points for having a badass title and series name. This isn’t an in-depth thought. I just like the name.

2. As Justin mentions in his review, the world of The Mirror Empire starts in a state of flux–and flux seems to be the status quo for the world(s). The world of the story is orbited by “satellites” (moons? comets? actual man-made thingies? No clue and probably not important), and these satellites give certain people magical wizard powers. The closest comparison I can think of is the bending powers from Avatar: the Last Airbender. But each satellite also waxes and wanes at irregular intervals, so each wizard faction can gain and lose power at random. This means the worldview for almost every country in the world is based on change. It’s awesome how deep this theme of change permeates the book.

3. However, because everything is in a state of change–satellites, a bad moon rising so to speak, impending civil war, impending invasion (more on this later), it felt a little hard to get everything straight in the book. Plus, being epic fantasy, there are multiple point-of-view characters in The Mirror Empire. Keeping them straight, their allegiances, their friends and families, and even genders straight can be overwhelming at first. (This may also be partially user error as I tend to read right before bed, so sometimes I fall asleep reading)

4. Lots of stuff happens in The Mirror Empire, but at times, it felt like the opposite. It’s the first book in a trilogy (series?) so a lot of the stuff (heady, dare I say world-breaking even) can feel like setup for future books. There’re quite a few threads and by the end of the book it feels like they’re just starting to really tie together. But I get it, you can’t cover everything and you have to end a book somewhere otherwise it becomes a never ending tome.

Mirror Empire map

5. Hurley some really cool stuff with gender/gender roles in this book. So there’s an assassin that can change their biological sex at will or basically at will. So that character embodies the theme of change in the book. One culture has five different genders each with their own pronouns and an individual gets to decide how they view themselves and which gender they want to be referred as. Cool stuff!

5b. But it goes further than that. One of the cultures, Dorinah, is a matriarchy. So one of the POV characters is a high ranking general. Basically take all of the stereotypes you see male characters think about women in fantasy books (and elsewhere too!) and then flip them around. When you read a passage about this general catcalling a man and then thinking “Well, he just got upset because he doesn’t have a sense of humor,” it’s biting. It hits home because I’ve seen it in real life and on the internet. Women don’t have senses of humor; they’re too sensitive; can’t they just see that men are trying to compliment them? The Dorinah culture in The Mirror Empire flips this all around and man it makes for some caustic satire.

5c. That’s not to say that we’re supposed to read the general as 100% in the right. Or that readers shouldn’t criticize her actions or the actions of her nation. Hurley’s writing makes it clear that we’re supposed to engage all of this critically.

6. Rideable bears. With forked tongues, big-ass claws, and cat-like eyes. Seriously. Rideable bears. Read this book.

7. Alternate universes. That’s one of The Mirror Empire’s big hooks. It’s like Fringe meets epic fantasy meets plant-punk or something. It’s awesome but also a bit confusing. At times I couldn’t remember who was from what universe, and it’s mentioned in an off-hand way that there are more than two universes out there. So when people in World A mention invaders, I think they’re talking about World B. But then I swear people in World B mentioned invaders. Are they being invaded too? And really their invasion of World A is just another word for retreat? Cool stuff, a bit confusing, and I think it will be explored even more in future books.The Mirror Empire cover

8. The characters, especially the POV ones, didn’t quite grab me as much as those in Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series. I get it though. As a writer you don’t want to just create the same main character over and over again. I appreciate that there’s a wide variety of personality types on display here, and all the characters have agency in their own way. Still, and this is just personal stuff (YMMW), I didn’t feel a huge connection to any of them. I think I cared about Lilia the most and probably Roh the least. I’d love to see more of Taigan too.

9. You can’t help but use the word “ambitious” to describe The Mirror Empire. It’s sprawling, but also personal at the same time. Occasionally the number of concepts thrown at you can be overwhelming, and for me, the characters didn’t quite hit the mark. But seriously, what else is like this on the market right now? I honestly can’t tell you. Despite a few flaws, you have to applaud Hurley’s ambition and the way she throws the reader into the deep end of everything. But unlike the Malazan books, I was never too lost that I gave up. In fact, I finished The Mirror Empire pretty damn quickly. The only bad thing about devouring it so fast is that I have a longer wait until book two comes out.

10. The Mirror Empire, her previous Bel Dame novels, plus her nonfiction collection, We Have Always Fought, only cement in my mind that Hurley is a writer to watch and one I want to learn from.

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