If you have read some of my posts, it’s no secret that I can’t stand most contemporary fiction. The last few posts have been an attempt to explain, mostly to myself, why I rarely can’t get past the first paragraphs of most books I open. Some of those posts have been quite successful and a few people have told me they have had similar experiences, so I guess I’m not the only one.
I ran a little experiment a few days ago, although you can consider other of my publishing attempts in the previous years a long experiment, and I’m a strong believer in the principle of publishing negative results, not just your successes.
I knew the results wouldn’t be great, and as I began reading up on the subject my gnawing feeling got worse, but really, never for I moment I thought it would be that bad.
I have uploaded a new
short story adventure novelette, Life of the Party [I took it down as explained in a future post], and to celebrate that Cirsova #9 is out, where you can read my short story The Orb of Xarkax, both The Butcher of Greystone, a gothic dark fantasy short story, and my non-fiction book Dangerous Gamers will be free from September 3 to September 7, Pacific Time, (well, the second book from 4 to 8, so you’ll have to wait at least another day.) As far as I know, this doesn’t work for those outside the USA, but for those living there, it should already be working, at least The Butcher.
I mentioned in a previous post, and here they are, Schuyler Hernstrom’s latest two works, “The law of the Wolves,” a short story fable, and “Morty and Kyrus in the White City,” a sword & bikery novella with future installment already in-the-making, or at least planned out.
I’ll start with The Law of the Wolves, which is the shortest one, and one that won’t require me to sperg too much. Also, if you are a stingy asshat who can’t bother buying two books at 1$ each, I’d recommend this one first. Simpler, straightforward, shorter, and in a style underrepresented these days.
The original goal of this post was to write a mini-essay on something that annoys me about contemporary writing. As far as I know, it has no name, and I struggled to find one, so I had to settle for something as cumbersome as “mid-action or mid-description beginnings.” Essentially, the story starts in media res, but not in the middle of the plot, but in the middle of a scene, with people (sometimes a lot of people) doing, sometimes exciting or action-related, stuff… for no reason we can discern. No goals, context, purpose, or meaning are given. It’s just a picture, like a movie scene (and in many cases, it shows the writer imagined it as such.)
The protagonist can be fighting another person (and we know nothing about them so we have no reason to care,) sweating profusely from some equally strenuous activity, engaging in a heavy dialogue with a character we know nothing about, or sometimes it’s a cliché-ridden description as the character prepares to do one of those things (the standard in fantasy until a few years ago was to describe, for some unfathomable reason, the sky – usually a sunset or dawn- and how that light reflected on the local vegetation.)
The opposite, of course, is to start like all stories have always been written, with a small, perhaps only a single sentence, explanation about the why, where, and when so we can contextualize what is happening and will happen.
Ursula Vernon has been nominated a few times for the Hugos, and I have read some of her stories (Jackalope’s Wife and The Tomato Thief.) I didn’t dislike or like them. I know I’m not their audience but, unlike what happens when I read other Hugo finalists, I didn’t get the feeling someone was trying to insult me. They had a personal touch and a bit of humor here and there, plus some of the elements that any Hugo finalists needs, but aside from that, I found them generally unexciting. Tepid.
Reading this piece by Jon Del Arroz about alleged anti-male bias in SF&F made me think about two events of my life which bear on this issue. Jon’s point –and the numbers he presents seem to support his claim– is that there is an anti-male bias in some parts of the short story market (and probably also in others.) I think that’s plausible, and there are some obvious examples like Tor.com or Uncanny. However, the problem goes deeper than that, and the alleged anti-maleness may be just an unfortunate consequence of an even more indelible bias than merely avoiding stories by testosterone-poisoned individuals. Let me tell you about two things that happened when I was young, so you get an idea of what I’m talking about.