Victims of Abuse, Easy Labels, and Fiction

Rant warning.

Are we getting too eager to be seen as victims? What happened to brushing the dust off your shoulders and going on with life?

“Nowadays, we are conditioned to see ourselves as potential victims of numerous groups, races, organizations, institutions, chemicals, climates, and people. It’s almost humorous the degree to which some will go to apply the label of ‘victim’ to themselves, despite the harm it does to those who genuinely have been victimized.” ~ Mike Duran

Yep. Totally agree. He’s talking about abuse in churches in particular, but I’ve seen the terms “abuse” and “victim” getting tossed around every which way. Even in situations where it’s clearly not a case of victimization.

There is real abuse, and there are real victims. But I make it harder for them if I throw labels around like a troublesome student tossing paper airplanes in the classroom. And the real victims and abuses are cheapened, easier to ignore and marginalize, when everyone’s claiming to be a victim of abuse.

Chik-Fil-A, anyone? Don’t like their owner’s stance on gay marriage? Then don’t eat at their restaurant. By all means, complain. Write letters. Boycott. However, the owner’s opinions don’t translate to gay couples not being allowed to eat there, or being forced to drink from separate drinking fountains. Why slap the label of abuse onto his words?

I’ve also seen it a lot in talks of “sexist” or “racist” or “homophobic” content in fiction writing.

And it’s getting exhausting.

[Side note: I’m looking right at you, io9.com. Why must so many cool or interesting articles be buried under all the ridiculous, completely false character assassination? To be fair, that last link is from Jezebel, but io9 shared it. Close enough.]

Do those attitudes sometimes pop up in fiction? Of course they do. Heck, H.P. Lovecraft still makes people shake their heads with the clear racism in his writing.

But a book isn’t racist just because all of its good characters are white. There are lots of white villains in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, too. Remember? A lack of strong female characters in a TV show isn’t enough to charge the writer with chauvinism. (On a related note, it’s sad to see lots of people arguing who is or isn’t a strong female character on Doctor Who, but then writer Steven Moffat is accused of being a sexist pig. Cut it out.)

Maybe he/she just grew up around white people and they’re writing in a mode of existence that is “default” for them, or he/she can’t write strong female characters well, and they’re playing to their strengths.

Variety in fiction is a beautiful thing, and if political correctness has its way, authors will write books that all have the same feel, cater to the same hot-button topics, say the same things, seek to satisfy the same audience in the same way, and they’ll never be allowed to go anywhere unusual or dangerous.

If authors are frowned upon every time they take a risk, or we try forcing them to focus on aspects of life they don’t feel qualified to write about, are we really allowing authors to be themselves? I don’t think so.

But, back to the overall topic about abuse and victimhood making easy labels. Again, please be careful in saying who’s a victim and who’s abusing someone else. These trigger words have wrecked reputations and lives without adequate cause, and that…well, that does qualify as abuse.

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The Everwind Times: A Newspaper for Another World

Author and friend Janden Daniel Hale (a pen name for Dan Donche) has begun promoting his dark science fiction series Everwind in a lot of unique ways online. There are the posts on Facebook and the interviews a lot of authors do, but I like his unique style in using spoken word and graphic design to build up a deeper online picture. So far he has a few short stories published on Amazon here and here, but there is a lot more to his world than that (you can read another short story for free here).

I’m posting about him here to show you one of the ways he is promoting his series: a newspaper chronicling events in his intricately built and detailed fictional world. The Everwind Times is a refreshing, creative way to immerse readers, generate interest, and show you more of the gritty, harsh setting Hale has created. The fascinating articles include topics like “1 in 3 Eggs Sold Are Bad – Here’s How to Tell Them Apart” and “String of Murders Linked to Cursed Deck of Arcanum Cards.” If you’re a worldbuilding nut like me, this is one site that is especially worthy of your attention.

Even if dark sci-fi isn’t your thing, I recommend giving it a look, especially if you’re a writer fixing to do some promotion on your own. Marketing is an area where more authors than ever before are taking the reins. The internet (and physical promotional objects, from coasters to pens) has taken this marketing in a lot of strange but exciting directions. Maybe it will give you some ideas as well.

Are there any neat strategies like this that you’re using to promote your work? Are they more physical promotional tools like paperweights, decorated coffee mugs, or T-shirts? Or are you using the many available tools online to pique peoples’ curiosity?

Donald Maass: Boundary-Breaking Fiction

Along with all the mountains — no, continents — of praise I have already thrown onto this blog about the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I have one more. And this is something that shatters that particular boundary, something that needs to reach writers everywhere.

On Saturday, while we enjoyed lunch in the hotel’s elegant ballroom, the man some have called “the Mick Jagger of literary agents” blew us all away with a speech I don’t think anyone in that room will ever forget. Nor can we afford to forget it. Donald Maass, author of the indispensable books for writers Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction, was our keynote speaker for that meal, and spoke of how fiction would change in the twenty-first century.

One of the important points in his address was how the borders between genres are beginning to crumble. The landscape of fiction is starting to blur its own borders. Steampunk is getting blended with science fiction and mystery (Perdido Street Station). Fantasy mingles with alternate history (Temeraire). Horror and urban fantasy meet with teen romance (Twilight). Many of the barriers that kept genre firmly divided are finally breaking down like so many Berlin Walls. Writers are more free to write what they want to write without having to hew to genre conventions.

Another huge issue Maass addressed was that people are still buying books because of two main factors: Word-of-Mouth and In-Store Displays. Some authors, especially if they are self-published, put a truly Herculean effort into trying to convince others to buy their works, slaving away at building social media platforms and trying to market their books like products. And while that is an important part of the business side to writing (and, I think, will take on a larger role in the years to come), I was shocked at the statistics Maass quoted that demonstrate all that effort currently results in less than 2% of overall book sales. Bestseller lists, print newspaper/magazine ads, and book reviews were even more surprising with similarly low numbers. By far, people buy books because they see them in the bookstores (far more titles than you see during an average visit to Amazon), and because their friends recommend the books.

And finally, Maass reminded a room of over 400 writers that the twenty-first century will give us books that will change the world. It can be problematic to call an author “The next Hemingway/Tolkien/Shelley/Doyle,” but there are still plenty of ways a book can affect a generation so powerfully that they become timeless classics. Just look at what’s happened to The Hunger Games. And Maass expressed an inspiring optimism toward the people in that ballroom, saying that we could commit to writing fiction which would still be read and loved a hundred years from now.

The best way for authors to get that kind of recognition is simply this: To write terrific books. The first step of marketing a book is to have a great one in the first place. A difficult task, of course, but it’s essential for lasting success as a writer.

Donald Maass, as a literary agent, is constantly looking for exactly that sort of novel. He wants to see you succeed and excel. So, writers, go forth and create something remarkable. It’s a huge challenge, but at writers conferences you are among friends who can help you achieve it.

Pikes Peak Writers Conference: Coming Up Fast

Well, as I have stated before, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is coming up fast. Slightly under two weeks until we are there. Right now, it costs about $450, but I’m passing along the word that it’s one of the top ten writers conferences in the country, and is the friendliest overall. Seriously, a Marriott with a great view of Pikes Peak, you’re surrounded by professionals – writers and agents and editors with years of experience – and quality dining and service from the hotel. What’s not to love about that idea?

There’s still time to register. If you are a writer who wants to expand their career, make connections in the business, and meet with hundreds of other writers, this is the place to be.

With people like Robert Crais, Jeffrey Deaver, Donald Maass, Susan Wiggs, Kevin J. Anderson, Bree Ervin, Ronald Cree, Angel Smits, etc., there will be hundreds of fellow writers, either going for the first time to give their professional careers a shot of adrenaline, or returning veterans who have stayed with the conference since it was formed twenty years ago. And you will be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant city to hold an event like this.

Hope to see you there!

Why I Picked Traditional Publishing

Ah, yes, the old chestnut of self-publishing vs. traditional. As if nobody was blogging about this before…

Authors are presented with a lot of options these days, when they want to get published. That’s not news to you. You already know the Kindle, and other outlets like PubIt! (for Barnes and Noble’s Nook) and Createspace have made it possible for a writer to share his novel with the world, within hours after the last word has been typed. Indie publishers who take the misfit works of writers who can’t find a wide audience, self e-publishing, and print-on-demand are seeing an all-time high, and many writers celebrate the new wave of author-focused publishing opportunities that slice away the middle men and let a novel’s creator make their own road to success.

In the wake of the digital era, more than a few bloggers have asked, “Why are some people sticking with traditional publishing, the plodding mastodons of a bygone era that surely must bow to the march of progress? Is it because old habits die hard? Is it because the writers are too insecure to take responsibility for publishing the work themselves? Is it because those publishing mastodons, carrying the nametags of Alfred A. Knopf and Tor and Random House and HarperCollins, still hold a lot of the prestige and reputation writers crave? Is it because they want those corporate fat cats to take most of their hard-earned money?”

In my honest opinion, the answer is a little more complicated. It’s not enough to say that “greed” or “giant corporations” are the reasons why writers now flock to Kindle or smaller publishing firms.

God knows that greed and the sometimes unfair policies and practices of publishers contribute to the problem, though. Several authors I know have been unfairly marginalized, neglected, or even cheated on by the publishers that were supposed to help the author market their work and give them a certain cut of the profits. They have decided that self-publishing is much less aggravating, and gives them far more control over the books and stories they sell. And I wish them the greatest success. Forget the numbers and the “odds” against self-publishing getting them fame and fortune. I want them to get so lucky, it’s as if they grabbed the finest pot of gold a leprechaun ever put at the base of a rainbow.

But there have also been a lot of self-publishers who might have given up on traditional publishing too soon.

See that statement I made up there, that the new trends in book publishing are author-focused? That’s truer than you might know. When writers talk amongst themselves, it’s easy to forget that books are not just marketable products that help spread our names to the farthest reaches of Amazon. And it’s easy to forget that it’s not even about us, the writers. It’s about the readers. Writers, in effect, serve anyone who finds and treasures their words. You give their imaginations and minds a chance to expand, to thrill, to love or hate. Those might be your words, in your novel, but you’re giving the reader an experience. With every new page they turn comes a new chance to enrich their lives, or simply to make their day.

We also have to consider the aversion to risk and difficulty. We don’t like putting our precious work up to the judgment of a large entity (like a publishing house) that doesn’t care about it like we care. And sometimes that drives people to self-publishing. At least your work is guaranteed to reach the world if you e-publish it yourself. But is risk and difficulty always a bad thing? Doesn’t it do a novel good when it’s edited by people who have been editing novels for decades? Sure, it’s your feet that are being put to the fire. The same can be said for every writer. This is a part of the job if you want to be traditionally published: killing your ego, to make sure the reader finds your book in its best possible state.

[To be continued…]

 

With the End in Sight…

After a lot of freeze-ups and mediocre resolve to finish my novels, and more than a few nights wondering if  I was ever going to finish it, the end is in sight. Now things are clipping along with a little more purpose in sight. It looks like there is a point to the whole novel again. I love those moments of clarity when you start remembering what the book is about. Yay. Speaking in terms of war, the troops have just hit the beaches of Normandy, and by tonight (at a writer’s workshop, where more words shall be written), they will have taken the whole shoreline.

Of course, it’s awfully early to declare victory now. So, having to remember that I could easily become lazy again…I choose to not let that happen. I resolve to write a bare minimum of 1,500 words per day, from now until the end of the month. I’ll keep a progress report going on this, until the book is done. Even if the novel doesn’t quite get finished by the end of January, I want to see how close to that date I can get, how fast I can write.

So, in the immortal words of King Theoden, “Ride for ruin, and the world’s ending!”

I shall soon meet with you again, everyone.