A Little Housekeeping…

With everything else going on around here, I’ve completely forgotten to do my publishing updates! First of all, The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition is now available in both trade paperback and eBook formats. Early reviewers have called it the best of the series so far.  I’ll leave that to the reader, but it does have 100% more soft-core bondage artwork on the cover than the previous volumes.

Also just released is an excellent anthology, “Sidekicks!” Edited by my friend Sarah Hans as her first antho project, it focuses on the Number Two’s of the superhero world. The often overlooked proteges, lackeys, personal assistants, and groupies.  My story, “Coffee and Collaborators” leads off the collection with a duo meeting in secret to keep their bosses from blowing up the planet, while protecting their personal gravy-trains. It’s one of my favorite short stories yet. The stories that follow are also excellent, ranging from funny, to action-packed, to desperately sad. A lot of the other authors are friends of mine, and I’m proud of what we’ve put together. “Sidekicks” can also be had in trade paperback or eBook format.

Please consider giving these books a try. I have motorcycle insurance to pay for while I pray for spring to actually start.

Show, Don’t Tell.

Hello all. I’m having a tough time getting this chapter going today, so I thought I’d get the juices rolling by listening to myself talk about writing and hope someone out in the aether benefits from the bolivating.

Earlier today, I had a phone chat with another writer just getting rolling on his first novel. He’d let a couple different people look at what he’d done so far, and they came back with advice nearly every new writer hears at one point or another. “Too much exposition.” “Show, don’t tell.” Often, these phrases are thrown about without additional instruction, as though their meaning were inherent and self-evident. Well, I heard that same sage advice early in my career, and had no idea what was meant. The same happened to the gentleman I spoke to today, and I’m sure we are not outliers. In time, I’ve grown to understand this previously opaque advise, and I hope I can clear it up for everyone.

When someone says, “too much exposition,” what they’re trying to tell you is your story reads like a textbook or a travel guide, not a novel. As the author, you are taking the reader out of the story. In a sense, this is natural. We all spend a lot of time telling stories about where we’ve been and what we’ve done, often in exhaustive detail. But when you do that in fiction, it disrupts the flow of the story and pulls your reader away from the very place you want them to live in for a while. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re writing a fantasy novel and want to introduce a castle. The way most of us would explain a castle we’ve seen to another person would go something like this:

The castle was built in 1547 of granite chiseled out of a quarry ten miles down river, then floated to the site on temporary reed rafts.  Its walls were over six feet thick at their stoutest, and the battlements rise almost seventy feet above the ground. In 1583, it withstood a six-month long siege from the forces of the Duke of Cromwell…

Still awake? See how I just told you everything I thought you should know? I sounded like a hung-over tour-guide working a minimum wage summer job, didn’t I? That’s exposition. Avoid it at all costs. But what’s the solution, you ask? That’s where the showing comes in. Instead of droning on and on about this new castle, what you want as an author is to let your characters, and therefore your readers, explore and learn about it for themselves naturally. You can do that either through dialogue between characters, or better yet, observations made directly from your Point of View character. Here’s what that might look like:

Claire walked up the rutted path towards the mouth of the immense castle. As she passed over the drawbridge, she marveled at the sheer mass of the structure. Its battlements reached for the clouds, nearly three times as tall as the simple, two-story houses in her village, maybe taller. Its stones were old and weathered after centuries spent standing up to the elements, but they had lost none of their strength. Indeed, the whole castle had been battle-tested. Here and there, Claire spotted pockmarks and scorching on its walls, testament to the infamous siege it had survived under the notorious Duke of Cromwell. Claire smirked a little as she entered the portcullis. The evil Duke never got the view of the courtyard she was about to enjoy. As she passed through the great stone archway, she couldn’t help but hold her arms out as far as they would go. The wall was thicker than her arm-span, and she was easily the tallest girl in her county. On impulse, she scratched at the rock of the entryway with a fingernail. To her surprise, no bits of sand came free. The castles and garrison forts out in the provinces were all made of wood or limestone. But this, it was all solid granite. No wonder it had passed the test of time. At the apex of the archway, she could just make out an inscription in the capstone. They read: Laid Down in the Year of Our Lord 1547.

See how much better that reads? You are learning about the castle right alongside Claire as she explores it for herself. Not only does the castle seem like a real, living place, but you learn more about Claire in the process, making her a more convincing character at the same time. This is showing. Yes, it took a little longer, but that’s not a bad thing. It ate up some wordcount, and managed to share all of the same information contained in the first example while being a more compelling read.

I hope that helps. I’m going to go write something now. You should too.

Happy Birthday, Douglas Adams.

Today we mark the coming of a truly formidable mind. As certainly all of you know, Douglas Adams was a novelist, satirist, screen-write, and I’m told quite the MMA fighter (I made that last one up). His seminal series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a must-read classic of both the humor and sci-fi genres. His genius touched print, radio, television, and the silver-screen. He was a towering figure among the British people, who’s humorous insights and razor-sharp wit spoke truth to power and  advanced the causes of rationality and environmentalism at every opportunity. He is among a cabal of my personal heroes who passed before I had the chance to meet them, such as Gene Roddenberry, Jim Henson, Carl Sagan,  Christopher Hitchens, and which ever clone of George Lucas was responsible for the first three Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.

But even among these great men, Douglas Adams stands above them in my own life, because the man done me wrong.

Lemme explain. No, that would take too long. Let me summarize. You see, I started reading Hitchhiker’s Guide at a most inopportune time. After watching the excellent movie adaptation, I picked up the book to see where the story went. It took me a couple of years of bouncing around between different books before I finally finished the whole five-book trilogy. For any of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the fifth book ends in a place that is about as bleak and hopeless for the characters as it’s possible to be. To say it was an unsatisfying way to end a series would be like saying that the Committee of Public Safety maybe went just a teensy bit overboard with the Guillotine.

Upon turning that last page of Hitchhiker’s, and with the knowledge that the author, through an epically poor sense of timing, was not going to be available to fix this lapse in good judgement, I, like so many angry nerds before me, started to put pen to paper to correct this egregious assault on decency and the proper order of the universe. That’s right, the first piece of fiction I ever wrote was Hitchhiker’s fan-fic. Don’t tell anyone. By the time I was about five chapters into this ill-advised tome, it was announced that Eoin Colfer was in the process of writing the sixth book in the series, the under-appreciated And Another Thing, so I abandoned the project and returned to the real world. It sat there, unread and unloved, in a folder on my computer for many months, until it came up in conversation one day and I emailed it out to a few friends as a joke.

Much to my surprise, everyone who read it came back and told me to keep going. They wanted to see the rest of it. And my circle of friends aren’t exactly a mindlessly supportive group of ditto-heads. We’re pretty ruthless. So I sat down, stripped out everything that connected the work to Mr. Adam’s universe, and started crafting a brand-new story. That evolved into my first novel, A Hole in the Fence, (which is still looking for an agent…). The joke was apparently on me, though, because during the eighteen months I spent writing the damned thing, it never occurred to me to investigate how many sci-fi comedies make it to print in a given year. In case you’re wondering, it’s not many.

However, other stories followed, some short, some serious, some fantasy, but all because of the angry little spark the last page of Hitchhiker’s lit in my mind. Within a few months, I had my first acceptance letter, and I was hooked on this whole story-telling path for good. So thank you, Douglas Adams, for dying when you did. But, more importantly, I, and the world, have been enriched by the fact you lived at all. And that’s all any of us can hope for.