Tag: Wednesday

WWW: Pareidolia

See that?  That’s an artist’s rendering of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.  It’s cute, right?  It has those two big eyes on the top of its head, which is located at the end of a long and skinny neck.  It has this goofy arm, all spindly.  It somehow connects with us in the same way that a puppy might.  Look, it even has a tail, you can almost imagine that tail wagging.

Spirit is dead.  It froze to death.  Opportunity is dying, NASA thinks it may have just weeks to live.

That’s kind of a bummer to hear, isn’t it?  I mean, they’re both so cute and they fought against all odds to keep going for years when they were designed to operating for mere months.  They’re going to power down alone and abandoned on an alien world millions of miles away from earth, and doesn’t that make you feel just a little sad?

Here’s the thing.  That face you see on the rover?  All the emotions you’re feeling?  In part it’s  result of something called Pareidolia.  Here, let me bring up another example.

This is the famous (perhaps infamous) face on Mars, as imaged by the Viking orbiter in 1976.  There’s a very clear eye, nose, mouth, even a long hairdo.  The human mind sees these things because it is wired to look for faces, to look for patters.  We even think we see another eye, even though it would be obscured in shadow.  Even though the whole of the mesa clearly slopes very quickly away from the “nose”.  Even knowing it’s a random rock outcropping, thanks to shadows and pareidolia, it’s still nearly impossible not to see a face in this.

And that’s fine.  It’s perfectly healthy.  It’s part of the human experience, and it’s a very important thing to remember when crafting human characters who have interactions with anything non-human.  We tend to impart emotions and personality on inanimate objects all the time, and the more life-like something appears, the more likely we are to think of it as more than a sum of its parts, especially as it gets increasingly anthropomorphic.

It’s something I’m working through myself in a story, dealing with a lot of little robots that don’t actually have personalities, except those imparted onto them by the main character.  I was worried for awhile it made her seem a little crazy, a little too quick to talk to herself, but this is what we do.  We talk to our computers when they misbehave.  Hell, we call it “misbehaving” as though they’re petulant children and not emotionless bundles of circuits and wires.  I even felt a little bad writing that last sentence because I was worried the laptop I’m working on could “hear me.”  This isn’t a sign of insanity or being alone for too long without human companionship.  This is a sign of being human, it’s a quirk, and it’s one that most readers are going to be able to empathize with.

Or else I’m crazy, and all of this should be ignored.

Images both courtesy of NASA and released to the public domain.

WWW: In and Out

What?  No, this isn’t me finally making a post about writing erotica.  Rather, this evolves out of a question asked by a Twitter friend and proprietor of the Humpday Challenge, Tracey Hansen:

That got me thinking about trends in literature and keeping track of what has come “in” or what has gone “out.”  Which first requires me to admit I don’t really track what goes in and out all that closely.  I know Steampunk is in right now, but that’s just because it’s hard to avoid, and I enjoy dabbling in it.  Zombies are in, because zombies tend to be in during any downturn in the economy.  But I never knew dystopian had come in, and I didn’t know it had gone back out again.


Because largely I don’t care.  And I would posit that’s not a bad attitude to have towards writing.

This will be a long analogy, but stick with me.  I think of things going in and out the same way I think about movie genre fandom.  Being a fan of a certain genre of movies means that a person can appreciate the good that comes out within that genre, but I think it more means that someone has a higher tolerance for the mediocre and bad within that genre.  Not being a fan of a certain genre conversely means that a movie within the genre has to be that much better.  I consider myself a science fiction fan.  As such I’m willing to endure a lot more bad science fiction than a lot of people.  Example: I loved League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Alright, maybe that doesn’t so much mean I’m a science fiction fan as I have bad taste.  But on the flip side I’m not a big western fan, which means it takes a movie like the True Grit remake to get me to really sit down and enjoy the hell out of a western.

Things coming in and going out?  That’s the market in general become a fan of something.  Note: I didn’t say readers.  I said the market.  They’re two slightly different creatures, but the market is the attempt to respond to readers by tracking what they’re buying.  It can also over adjust if something extremely popular comes out, and try to ride that wave.

So.  When the market is a fan of dystopian stories, there’s going to be more magazines willing to pick the stories up, more anthologies dedicated to them, and more non-dedicated anthologies willing to consider them to be up on what’s “in.”  What that means is more opportunities and potential a lower clearance bar.  In a way it’s a supply and demand situation.  When people start getting burned out, anthologies start specifically saying “please god no” on certain ideas, but the demand never entirely goes away for one reason and one reason alone.

There’s always a demand for well told stories.  And there’s always a demand for interesting ideas.

And that’s the thesis I’m shooting for.  That’s why I don’t pay attention to what’s coming in or what’s going out, because I want to tell the stories that I want to tell.    Does it mean that I occasionally have a hard time finding markets for stories?  Yes.  But there are always going to be markets out there that are willing to take what is good, what is different, and what is well told.  And that’s what I’m striving for as a writer: good, different, and well told stories.  I suspect a lot of us are.  Do I always hit that mark?  Perhaps not.

Now, does that mean submit anything everywhere?  No.  If someone doesn’t want dystopian, they don’t want dystopian.  Don’t be the person who says “well, but mine is so good they’ll bend the rules,” because you don’t want to get that name for yourself with editors.  When submitting it’s always about what the publication wants, but there will be places where that story will fit, even if the general concepts aren’t as hip as they were a year ago.  They just require a little more digging.

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WWW: Monsters and Horror

I am aware that this is posting on Thursday, but I swear it was written on Wednesday, and was delayed so as to give Day’s anthology announcement a full day as the top story, rather than just a few hours.

Monsters are scary.  I don’t think that’s going out on a limb.  We’re scared of the giant eating-machine shark prowling the coastline.  Of the huge lizard knocking over Tokyo.  Of the squid-headed creature from beyond the stars sleeping under the Pacific.  It’s natural to be scared of these things, as they were written to scare us.  To feed on base instincts and make us question our survival or our place within the natural order of things.

But, just because they scare us, does that make them horror?

Horror is perhaps one of the hardest of the literary genres to define, and part of that is entirely because it isn’t a genre.  Not really.  It’s a mood or a feeling put on another story, and it’s the only mood or feeling that often gets separated out on its own.  You don’t go to the book store and browse through the maudlin section right after the horror section.  Or the hopeful section.  Yes, there’s a humor section, but that’s not typically for humorous fiction.  But many book stores have a horror section.  Many video stores, when those were still a thing, had a horror section.

I’ve already made the argument of horror being a mood rather than a genre once this week, so I’m not going to get distracted from my main idea here, and that’s looking at monsters and “horror.”

So, back to where I started.  Monsters are scary.  Horror is scary.  So why, then, shouldn’t monsters necessarily be horror?  In large part because there’s a difference between the characters within a story being scared, and the audience/reader being scared.  And we’re not talking cheap black cat scares where the monster suddenly appears out of nowhere, we’re talking the slow dread that keeps your heart racing through the movie and leaves you on edge even after you’ve put the book down or left the theater.  For the most part, monsters tend towards the science fiction, being either coming from beyond science’s comprehension, or being created through the misuse or misapplication of science.

Does a monster story have to have horror elements?  Absolutely not.  That isn’t the point of this post at all.  The point is more about the way genres are created and lumped together, and that if you want your monster story to actually be a horror story, it needs something other than rampaging and crashing.  It needs something that I can relate to, which means it needs a much more personalized human element.  And even if the story doesn’t leave me with the idea that this could happen to me, I want the dread that it could happen to someone at some point.

So it’s fantastic if you want to write a monster story.  The world needs them, and they can be wonderfully entertaining.  But I don’t agree with the automatic classification of monsters as horror.

WWW: The Fraud Police

I would take credit for winning the blog, but Day and Renee were both kicking ass and taking names (which is to say: networking like madwomen) at Balticon this weekend.  So let’s just get down to it.

People who follow this blog or my blog know that I like doing the occasional inspiration speech post.  Those are in part for people who are doubting themselves, those are in part for myself.  It also means when I find someone else’s inspirational speech, I like to pass it along.  Which is what I’m doing today.  The video below is musician Amanda Palmer, half of the Dresden Dolls and Mrs. Neil Gaiman, delivering a graduation speech for the New England Institute of Art.  It’s something I think is fantastic for anyone who creates in any form, so I present it in its entirety, NSFW language and all:

I really don’t have anything I can add to that.  The fraud police aren’t out there, so just keep doing what you’re doing, have fun doing it, and eventually someone will take note.  Write.  Submit.  Network.  Be you!

Oh, and update your blog.  Oops, I wasn’t going to say that.  Though that does give me transition to say that my State of the Writer is up for June, and there will be a new-ish Fortnightcap tomorrow.

WWW: Non-fiction

“This book is a work of non-fiction.”  So begins the prologue to a book I’m reading before it starts on a story of the Soviets stealing Nazi designs for flying saucers, manning them with genetically modified teenagers, then crashing one in Roswell, New Mexico to try and scare the American public into believing there was an alien invasion at foot, an idea they got from the War of the Worlds hysteria in 1938.

“This book is a work of non-fiction.”

I’m having a hell of a lot of fun reading the book, but it does raise some interesting questions about the line between fiction and non-fiction.  Cryptozoology has its own place within the Dewey Decimal System: 001.9, the land of not just bigfoot, but UFOs, ancient aliens, bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, and Intelligent Design.  It’s called “Controversial Knowledge,” and is fittingly home to the book I’m reading, nestled right in at 001.942 (UFOs).  But just because something has a Dewey Decimal number does not mean that it’s actually non-fictional, that every word is a word of factual and determinable truth.  It more means that the intent is non-fictional, is research based, is in any number of ways not worthy of being lumped into that vast Dewey-free zone: Fiction.

This brought two things to mind.  First is a story told by the esteemed head of CVS about a critique she received stating a story couldn’t be fiction if a computer was a character (computers fittingly sandwich cryptozoology in the Dewey system, occupying 000, and 003-006).  The second was my own thoughts about how to approach a piece of fiction from a non-fictional perspective.  It first came up as an idea while I was reading Road to Ubar, a story so fantastic that it might as well have been fiction, and now this book, a story so apparently fictional that it become entertaining when read as such.  I’m still not sure what the story is that fits that concept, or where to take it, or even how many people have trod the road before me.  All I know is that the idea feels like a solid one, and that non-fiction and fiction aren’t necessarily the diametric forces they initially appear to be.

End notes.  End notes would be key.  Footnotes are nothing new, end notes however…  Okay, now I’m just muttering to myself.

WWW: Back to Kindle

Well, if I’m pulling out the Kindle image, it must be once again time for me to talk about self e-publication.  This time the origins come from Saturday morning when I grabbed the Sunday Washington Post Arts section and was greeted by the headline: Novel rejected?  There’s an e-book gold rush.  I tucked into the article, expecting another story about how Amanda Hocking has made millions of dollars and so too could anyone else who put their book up on Kindle.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the media darling of Kindle self-publication was mentioned as part of the article, but not with the glowing amazement of the websites that picked up her stories around two months ago.  Rather, the article points out that she has since decided to sign with a traditional publisher saying, “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc.”  But the main focus of the story is Nyree Belleville.  She’s made a good amount of money through self publishing to Kindle.

But here’s the rub.  What is she publishing?  Well, she started with novels that had been traditionally published years ago, but the rights had long-since reverted to Mrs. Belleville.  Thus, what she started putting on Kindle were novels that had been through the traditional vetting process and been professionally edited.  She has since put original titles on Kindle, but she’s also a writer who thus has experience creating professional quality novels.

I’m not going to say that’s the only reason that she’s successful.  That’s selling her short.  But the story is very even handed with presenting the idea that, while some people are being insanely successful with self e-publication, it’s a huge outlier.  From the article, the founder of Smashwords is quoted saying, “We have less than 50 people who are making more than $50,000 per year. We have a lot who don’t sell a single book.”  I’m massively impressed by those 50 people, but the article also cites nearly 20,000 authors on the site, meaning only one quarter of one percent are making what could be considered a living wage on their writing.

Then again, what percentage of authors traditionally published can say the same?  I don’t have the numbers, but even mass market authors still have day jobs.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the article as being one of the better presentations I’ve seen of the actual trials and tribulations of self e-publication presented from a major source.  It actually bothers to look at the work people put into it, where the success stories come from, and the reality that self e-publication isn’t some magic money making machine.  It also comes at a time when I’m considering ending my own experiments within self e-publication, but you’ll have to head over to my blog to read exactly why.  And go read the article linked above.  I gave some bullet points, but the whole has far more information than what I digested.

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