R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Musings (page 2 of 2)

The PC loop

Last night I watched a promising new comedy on ABC called Happy Endings. Here’s the quick premise: Alex and Dave were all set to get married when she leaves him at the altar. Now their group of friends–Max, Brad, Jane, and Penny–worry whether or not this break up will pull their group of friends apart. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s basically the show.

Since it was a mid-season replacement with virtually no-name actors (or at least no-name to me) I didn’t have high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised after the pilot and the bonus episode that followed it. Max’s character is hilarious. He’s an openly gay guy, but he’s not openly gay like Jack from Will and Grace. One of his lines in the pilot was something along the lines of “something something…and I had sex with a dude last night.” It was such a change from the “Sex & the City type gay character” that I commented about it. Then in the second episode, the characters commented about it too. There was some great meta humor about how Max isn’t gay enough because he’s not a gay stereotype.

I enjoyed his character, but during one scene I paused the show, turned to my girlfriend, and said, “I bet no matter what happens in the rest of the episode, there will be people who get upset and complain.” All the friends are at Penny’s birthday dinner–just after Dave and Alex’s disastrous non-wedding–and Max is convinced that Penny’s date is gay. He makes little comments to the guy and comes across pretty strong with the whole hitting on the guy vibe. The date gets freaked out and leaves after other events have further ruined the evening.

Here’s where the PC loop comes in. And by PC I mean political correctness. Facetiously, I said how some people would get upset by how low key Max’s gayness was. He acts pretty much like any other sitcom secondary character–a little like Barney from How I Met Your Mother but with guys instead of women. So one side was going to get upset because he wasn’t “gay enough” whatever that means. Then the other side was going to complain because of how strongly he hit on that one guy. Anti-gays could use that to justify their ridiculous fears that that’s what all gay men are like–they’re just waiting for the chance to hit on you, maybe rape you, and force you to join their gay club or something. So even pro-gay people would get upset because Max’s character continued the stereotype of the “aggressive gay man.”

So in order to avoid upsetting people of various camps, PC steps in. Oh yes, political correctness. I was exaggerating, but really I’m sure there was some person (maybe just one) out there who watched Happy Endings that was upset by Max’s character. How do you avoid upsetting people? PC is supposed to solve that, but at the same time like I demonstrated in the previous paragraph you can get stuck in an endless PC loop. You try to appease somebody, but somebody else takes offense at your appeasement. It’s all highly ridiculous.

Max was a funny character. Happy Endings was a funny show. I liked how he openly admitted to being gay within the first few minutes of the show. Now I will get upset if his character doesn’t grow at all–not as a gay or straight or whatever man, but as a person. It’s hinted that he has some insecurities about his weight and parental issues. Those things need to be explored because that’s what will flesh him out as a character. Those kinds of things are what make characters grow. As long as Max doesn’t stay one note I’ll consider myself appeased…until I find something else to get offended by. That’s how modern culture works, right?

How Do You Define Steampunk?

Steampunk. It’s everywhere right? But how do you define steampunk–as a literary genre. I’m more interested in it as a genre rather than steampunk culture, DIY projects, and the like. There are dozens of definitions and websites dedicated to the celebration of steampunk literature.

Personally, my definition of steampunk doesn’t get bogged down in the Victorian era or 19th century settings. I also tend to focus more on the -punk part of the word. To me steampunk is still linked to cyberpunk, just with different aesthetic touches: challenging authority, oppressive regimes, etc. To me the -punk suffix is perfect for writing things that challenge the romantic notions of the 19th century, a time where European imperialism was at its height.

At the same time I love worldbuilding. I’d much rather create my own setting than use even a fictionalized version of Earth. It’s fun for me, and at the same time I don’t have to worry so much about factual accuracy. If it’s my setting I can make it how I want. But can a work be steampunk if it’s set in a completely made up setting?

I ask because my novel just got rejected by a certain SF/F publisher. While the acquisitions dept. said it had potential and was tightly written, “The steam punk feel came through strongly enough […] It was very modern in language and dress.”

They remarked that this was a subjective view, and I agree. I don’t fault them at all. It’s their prerogative to accept whatever books they want. But I can’t help but wonder, were they working off a different definition of steampunk than me? I think absolutely. According to this publisher, steampunk needs to have an older–read: 19th century–feel to it. On that note I have to disagree.

Just because a book isn’t set in England and doesn’t have people riding pennyfarthings and speaking with faux old-timey accents and diction, doesn’t mean it’s not steampunk. I had airship battles, clockwork automatons, corrupt governments, violence, and other things that I feel fall perfectly within the realm of steampunk. I put this question up on Twitter and according to the responses I got (from a small sample size) people seemed to agree with my view.

Oh well. It is what it is. I’ll continue to describe my book as science fiction/steampunk. This particular rejection didn’t hurt too much. At least they took the time to offer up something more than just a generic rejection, plus it had a little positive something something in the middle. But the best part is that it sparked this little thought experiment.

What do you think? How do you define steampunk? Does it need to have 19th century trappings, even when the piece is set in a completely fictional, non-Earth setting? Let me know.

Small Problem–What to Do Next?

I just finished putting the finishing touches on the rough draft of my sci-fi/steampunk novel Terraviathan. I had a 7 page document full of all the names I needed to implement into manuscript. I just finished doing that. Man my hands hurt from typing ctrl+b to unbold all my placeholder names.

Of course now that I finished, I realize I have a small problem. Terraviathan is a sequel. While I tried to make it as standalone-y as possible, it helps a lot if you’ve read The Exile’s Violin. And this is where things get complicated. The Exile’s Violin is unpublished. It won’t stay that way forever, but I don’t think I’d be able to get this book accepted anywhere without TEV getting accepted first. Now if a publisher does show interest in TEV, I can tell them I have a sequel ready to go, but until that happens, Terraviathan is forced to sit on the sidelines.

So what do I do next? I have outlines for two more novels ready to go. Remember The Swarm? Yeah, I have that one. I also have an outline for a novel set in the same universe as “Runner.” It’s called The Price of Loyalty and it’s straight up sci-fi/borderline space opera. I want to work on it, but my brain’s a little worn out right now. So here’s what I think I’m going to do. I’m going to write some short stories for a couple of weeks; there are publications and anthologies out there I want to submit to. Then when I’ve had a little bit of time to decompress, I’ll start work on The Price of Loyalty. The funny thing is, I already have 6 chapters finished. I’ll probably rewrite most of them, but it won’t be like starting from absolute scratch.

I also have a vague, vague idea for a 3rd book in the TEV/Terraviathan universe set after Terraviathan. That’s always on the table. I also started thinking about a spin-off standalone novel featuring some of the characters from Terraviathan. It’d be more military oriented. That could be fun too. The possibilities are endless!

I’m interested to know what other writers do once they finish working on a novel? It’s in that phase where it needs to sit and marinate before any revisions are made. What do you work on next? Dive right into another novel? Short stories? Or do you just take some time off from writing altogether? I want to know.

Current Project: None!

Deadline: None!

Word count: 0

The Bronze Age of Fantasy Response

Have you read the post on Jeffrey W. Dern’s website about the state of fantasy fiction? Well, I recommend you read it, then come back for my thoughts. This all started after Patrick Rothfuss made some comments about how plays with established fantasy tropes at one of his book signings. This led Dern to think about the state of fantasy fiction as a whole: “After some reflection, I realized why that sounded familiar: it’s the same tactic [playing with tropes] that comic book writers of the Bronze Age used. Which, naturally, led me to wonder whether or not we are living in the Bronze Age of fantasy fiction.”

While Dern raises some interesting points, the fact that he calls the beginnings of modern fantasy “the Golden Age” just because that’s the established nomenclature for talking about comics. The problem with this type of classification is that it attaches worth to the different “ages.” Why do the progenitors of modern fantasy get the “golden” descriptor just because they came first? And why do the ages go down in worth as time goes on? Who dictates these things?

There are different eras and ages in fantasy fiction. Clearly, a novel written in 1950 is going to be different than a novel written in 2011. Why does one get to belong to a golden age while the other belongs to Dern’s hypothetical Bronze Age? I contend that the quality in fantasy fiction has grown since the birth of modern fantasy and science fiction.

In Dern’s own words: “As with the Bronze Age of comics, fantasy fiction’s current crop are dark, sexy, violent, and real. Authors such as George R.R. MartinTerry Goodkind,Jacqueline CareyBrandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss captivate us with new and original stories of heroes we care about and worlds we wish we lived in (or are glad we don’t).” Dern goes on to say that essentially the current crop of fantasy fiction is representing the zeitgeist of the times.

I totally agree with that. No writer writes in a vacuum. Every writer is affected by writers that came before them and by events going on in the world around them. Again this is where I agree that there are distinct eras of genre fiction. I guess I’m just nitpicking the fact that just because comics got classified one way that we should just transplant that classification system to fantasy fiction.

I agree with a lot of what Dern says. Are we getting to a point where the “flavor” of genre fiction is going to change? I can see that happening soon–zombies are played out. Steampunk is extremely pervasive right now; it’s time in the spotlight could be coming to an end. Really if we could just find a different way to name the eras, I’d be fine. Even if calling something a “Golden Age” is just words, with no value attached to them, it still doesn’t work. The words golden, silver, and bronze all have connotations surrounding them. Hell, we could just call the Golden Age of Fantasy — Era A. Right now we could be in Era Q or whatever, or some other words that don’t have connotations of quality surrounding them.

Why Word Count Isn’t Always the Best Method

As you may have noticed, I use a nifty (read: simple) little bit of html in my posts to provide a graphic that shows my word count progress. However, word count isn’t always the best way to keep track of your progress.

For short stories–or works without chapters–word count is a perfect way to keep track of your progress. Say you’re writing a short story for submission and the publisher/zine/whatever only accepts stories up to 4,000 words. You might not want to write exactly 4,000 words, but keeping track of your word count is a hassle-free way to keep yourself on track.

As I’ve found out working on this second novel, word count doesn’t always work. I set a total word count goal for myself: 80,000. A fairly standard novel length, maybe a little longer than standard. Some people like 75,000. Anyway, I just hit 61,000 today (and I’m still going). According to my spreadsheet I’m a little over 76% complete with my novel. Wow! I’m over 3/4 of the way there! Not quite.

I may be 3/4 of the way to my arbitrarily chosen goal, but when it comes to completing the actual story, I’m not at that point yet. I’ve started keeping track of my chapter progress along with my word count. Right now I’m on chapter 19 out of an outlined 28–or 67% completion. Not quite as impressive isn’t it?

Both keeping track of chapters and word counts are useful tools in measuring progress. I just have to remember that word count isn’t everything. I’ll keep posting my little graphic though, because I like seeing it go up. And even if it is a little inflated, it still represents progress. Honestly, I’ll be happy as long as the first draft of this novel is shorter than the first draft of my previous one. If I can keep it under 100,000 words, I’ll be ecstatic.

To all of you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day: have fun, stay safe, make sure to stay hydrated to avoid hangovers. As for me, I’ll be staying in and plugging away on The Exile’s Violin 2. Here’s today’s word count. (I’ll update it again later tonight.)

Oh yeah! Before I forget: There’s a reading/launch event for Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions at Neptune Coffee (85th and Greenwood, Seattle) from 8-10 pm. Go if you can! I can’t ’cause I’m in the wrong state. Right coast, wrong state. You can pre-order the anthology here. You can also read an excerpt from one of the stories, “Necrosis,” here.

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2 (working title)

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 3,399 (as of 6 PM PST)

“Dark” Scenes are Easier to Write

My WIP novel is a thing. Yessir. It’s coming right along. Today I worked on a pretty pivotal scene where the main character has to get some information from a crooked cop who’d just sold her out. She uses some questionable methods that her best friend and accomplice doesn’t approve of. It creates tension between the two characters, and their relationship is already full of drama and baggage.

Some scenes and chapters are easier to write; I get that. But why is it the darker, the more disturbing the scene the easier it is to write for me? I’m not sure I want to examine the implications of what that means about me as a person. This “ease” with which dark scenes come to me has happened before. It happened during certain short stories, and now it happened again while working on The Exile’s Violin 2. I’m not complaining because it means I got a lot written today. Hopefully the rest of the project goes this smoothly.

What about you all? Are there certain scenes or types of scenes that just come easily to you? How do you map out these kinds of things ahead of time–if at all?

Project: The Exile’s Violin 2

Deadline: N/A (maybe 5/1/11)

Daily word count: 4,897 (today) & 2,382 (yesterday)


My Response to “On (Moral) Fantasy Fiction II” and Others

Yesterday I read a fascinating post called “On (Moral) Fantasy Fiction II” by Paul Charles Smith that looked at different types of morality in epic or heroic fantasy. He talks about how there’s a difference in Tolkien’s writing when he was writing in a “tragic mode” or when he was writing The Lord of the Rings. It was a highly insightful look into shifts between a “shame” based culture and a “guilt” based culture. I recommend you read it.

In the article Smith mentions that he was partly inspired by the double review of Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin in Strange Horizons back in 2007.

In the review, reviewer Adam Roberts states that Rothfuss’ book doesn’t quite pan out because of the fact that it’s “medieval trappings” merely amount to post-modern anachronisms. He points to specific passages that if you didn’t know were from an epic fantasy book, they’d look like they could fit inside any modern novel.

Roberts contends that Tolkien is able to write more convincing epic fantasy because of his grasp of language and from coming from a different time. While I agree that Tolkien’s experience as a professor and philologist gave him a linguistic edge, I don’t agree with the implication that a modern writer can’t write authentic sounding epic fantasy.

I have my own issues with Rothfuss’ novel–mostly dealing with how Kvothe is able to overcome almost any obstacle and excel at everything. (Roberts does raise a fantastic point about the framing devices used in The Name of the Wind, especially those that pertain to the art of storytelling and how Rothfuss tries to deflect criticism by using some meta jabs at detractors). However, I don’t have an issue with Rothfuss’ use of language and writing style.

How many times have you read an amateur story that attempts to tell an epic fantasy tale only to be turned off by the use of language? People seem to think that using “thou” and “thee” will make their tale more authentic and “old sounding.” Most of the time it doesn’t work. Robert’s doesn’t explicitly state that inverted constructions and archaic vocabulary make or break epic fantasy, but I can’t help but get that impression.

Tolkien was uniquely suited to crafting prose that sounds like heroic verse because of his background and experience. Not every writer has to do that to create epic fantasy. Not every writer should do that. I took a class dedicated to Chaucer, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try to write in a Middle English-inspired tone, even if I’m writing epic fantasy. It’d come across as stilted, like I was trying too hard. There’s much more to it than just the sound; there are characters, settings, and thematic issues that also shape and guide the genre.

I agree with both Roberts and Smith that there are cultural differences that permeate down to the metacognitive level between our time, Tolkien’s time, and “medieval” times (wherever the setting happens to be based).  But to me, things like where we draw the inspiration for our epic fantasy stories–either from individual achievement or personal defiance against a predetermined doom–are far more important than writing old fashioned and fancy.

What do you think? Am I missing the point here? Is sound/syntax just as important as setting, theme, and characters when it comes to epic fantasy? I want to know what other writers and readers of fantasy think.

Nicest Rejection Letter Ever

Yesterday I got the nicest rejection letter ever. I had submitted a short story a couple of weeks ago to an online publication. I saw the response email in my inbox, and I was all prepared for one of the generic “Thank you for submitting. Unfortunately…” letters all writers have grown accustomed to seeing.

Instead I got a personal note from the editor saying how much he liked the story, but he had to reject it because it was more of a ghost story than the type of Lovecraft story he was looking for, but he was really sorry to have to do that. Seriously, here’s an excerpt: “So I hope that you will consider sending me something along those lines [more Lovecraftian] soon, because you are the kind of author that I enjoy reading.”

Damn. Talk about taking the sting out of rejection. However, as much as it boosted my ego, I can’t help but wonder how helpful the letter really was. Writers need rejection and criticism. It’s the only way we can get better at our craft. If a story gets rejected it forces us to go back to it, dissect it, and staple it back together in some sort of improved way. While the standard, generic rejection letters don’t offer much advice, this super nice rejection letter didn’t either.

I’m not saying he should have sent it. No, please send me more like that. My ego loves the attention. But I know my story wasn’t perfect. I can’t help but wonder what he would have wanted improved or revised if he had accepted it.

The letter was a wonderful distraction, but it was only temporary. So bring on the pain you editors and slush pile readers out there! I can take it. We writers can take it. We need to if we’re going to become better writers.

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