Writer Pep Talk

This Guy.Shopping for a Space Marine chapter to write about is hard.

Very hard.

From what I can tell, the first and some of the second founding chapters are the most interesting, and the ones that everyone wants to read about the most. After browsing through the Black Library’s current selection of Space Marine books, there are very few books about non First Founding Space Marine chapters.

My theory? It’s those amazing Horus Heresy stories. We associate what happens mostly to those Legions. We’re drawn to the Imperial Fists, Blood Angels and Iron Warriors, because those names have been around a long, long time. Guys like the Brazen Claws, Chosen of Nemeroth and Minotaurs? Not so much.

Take a nobody and make them interesting. That’s a big challenge.

I’ve been at this for a few years now. Only this year, I’m more serious than ever. I’ve been published a few times in other, non-Black Library anthologies and I’m going to continue to be published whether or not I ever make it into the BL. Win, lose or draw, writing is what I do and what I’m going to continue to do, big leagues or not.

A few years ago, I was content to be the same as a thousand other fans out there, who wait for the submission window, shoot them something, and then do nothing else with their career. I was content to do fan fictions before, now I want more than that. I’m serious about writing.

I’m hungry for something bigger.

I can understand how other people can be disgusted by that. The thought of writing for total pocket change. Having to not only work creative, but editing and marketing and finances. Being an artist sounds totally beautiful, but when they hear about the sheer amount of work that has to be done to get published and keep getting published, they see the ugly. The guys who try, fail and give up thought they were going to get a runaway hit.

Life doesn’t work like that. Even the best had to hammer it, and hammer it hard.

You get told you can’t do prose?
You keep writing.
You get that rubber stamp template rejection letter?
You keep writing.
Your story bombs?
You keep writing.

And you keep writing, writing, writing. And you don’t stop. No matter who says no, you keep writing.

Maybe I started this with some thoughts about writing for the Black Library. But there is so much more to it. Maybe you, who is reading this, wants to get accepted by BL, or Tor or Random House or whomever else out there. Weird Tales, Dark Moon Digest. Maybe you want Stephen King to say your work inspired him to write again. Maybe you want to write that book that is so incredible, even J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell and Robert E. Howard get out of their graves to go get a copy. Whoever you want to get published by is just the symptom. Writing is the disease.

Keep writing.

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Origins, Origins…

So I just watched the first (and thus far only released) episode of Awake. The premise is simple if a bit strange; a detective, his wife and his son were involved in a car accident. The detective then isn’t sure if he’s awake or dreaming, when he goes to sleep, he visits two worlds. In one, his son survived but his wife didn’t. In the other, vice versa. And somehow, the details of his cases in one world reflect the other, despite the fact that (thus far) the crimes are different, but committed by the same person.

After finishing the episode, the sneak peek of the next episode immediately brings up hints about how and why this detective, played by Jason Isaacs, is experiencing these two alternate worlds. Desperate to keep their baby alive, the show’s producers put the detective’s son on the line in the next episode, hoping that a snap of drama and the possibility of finding out the origin of this psychological phenomenon will keep audiences hooked.

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

I have to say that this kind of bugs me. For some reason, it feels like American audiences (or at least our television and movie producers) have an obsessive need to clarify the origins of everything unusual. While the origins of a problem need to be clarified in order to diagnose the solution (as House would be quick to remind us), does every situation or every character need a completely fleshed out background story?

Why?

To understand the nature of my complaint, take a look at the past three Conan the Barbarian movies. In the first with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rebooted third with Jason Momoa, the developers felt they needed to explain Conan’s childhood and origins.

What makes this strange is that Robert E. Howard never actually clarified Conan’s origins. The only crucial detail* Howard ever gave was that his father was a blacksmith, and that Conan had a wandering foot. The two origin stories where Conan was taken by slavers and the other where his father was slain by a power hungry madman were never part of the original Conan tales.

I remember reading (though I can’t recall where, probably IGN) about the new and rebooted Spider Man movie coming out. The author suggested that Marvel skip the whole origins story. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been done, we get it, we don’t need to hear it again. Not only do I recall it from the first movie, I have seen it retold in no less than two animated series.

Do heroes and villains always need origin stories? Heather Ledger’s Joker didn’t in The Dark Knight. Look how unforgettable he was.

I guess I ask all this because of my own writing. I would say about two thirds of my tales have addressed origin tales for both heroes and villains. Yes, even villains who die off at the end of the story get origins and reasoning, an explanation for their dastardly deeds. They hurt people because it is worth their time too. And probably because they enjoy it.

I guess it worries me because one of the heroes of my stories does not get a background. There is a story of course, about all the other supporting characters and the villain but not for the hero himself. Or perhaps I’m going about this wrong. Maybe he isn’t the hero, but an element that just happened to be there to help the main characters. Man, am I glad the story is only in draft form.

* – There are details I missed/forgot in my first draft, but Howard did keep Conan’s origins fairly vague. Thanks to Al Harron for this tip and correction.

Blackhearts Omnibus

How can a man survive that cold with such a thin mustache?

How can a man survive that cold with such a thin mustache?

The Old World is an easier setting for people to get into than its 40k counterpart. For one, it’s more jovial and humourous. It feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s more fun and less serious. Second, thanks to gentlemen like the father of swords and sorcery, Robert E. Howard and high fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, a lot of people get fantasy settings long before they touch the pages of a new novel. The concepts of Orcs and magic have long had a place in our minds.

The double edge of this sword is that some people are tired of fantasy as there is plenty of bad writing in the genre. And others have a distinctive taste for it, which may easily reject the details of ye olde Warhammer.

But the Blackhearts Omnibus isn’t like most fantasy. Never mind complex details like magic or the history of Altdorf. Forget needing to learn a whole bunch about the universe. You don’t have too. It’s an easy read about ordinary guys in extraordinaire situations.

Nathan Long‘s tale stars luckless trickster Reiner Hetzau. Although far from innocent, Hetzau is imprisoned on false charges and is spared for a secret mission with a group of other criminals. Eventually earning the leadership of the group, the Blackhearts face against the Chaos marauders of the north, treacherous Imperial commanders, rat men and plenty more.

Nathan Long excels at two things; characters and plots. The plots throw enough at you to keep you guessing, as the Blackhearts face traitors within their own ranks. They are convicts, after all. Meanwhile, a combination of political intrigue and unforeseen elements keep shaking up the story. There maybe times you wonder if the plot has gotten off track, right before it comes sailing right back at you. And then explodes.

Another version of the cover.

Another version of the cover.

With the Old World setting established for him, Long focused on creating a group of smirk-jerking characters who remind you of an adult version of The Goonies. What’s more, you cannot help but feel that there is some similarity between Reiner Hetzau and one Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean fame. It kind of helps that the book feels like it was made for the movies too, with many of the character’s backgrounds told through dialogue over the writer’s narrative.

But in that statement lies the single real weakness with the omnibus. The story is written surrounding Hetzau. Even though it’s always in third person, the narration never leaves Hetzau’s side. If you happen to like him and his roguish ways, you’ll probably end up loving this book. If not, then this isn’t the book for you.

But the Blackhearts Omnibus is an enjoyable, leisurely read for even the uninitiated. Try a chapter. You’ll probably like it more than not. If not love it.

Mr. Miyagi Me

Last Friday, I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love. In it, Ryan Gosling‘s character is trying to teach Steve Carell how to pick up women. Gosling asks Carell if he has seen The Karate Kid, mentioning the scene where Mr. Miyagi teaches his pupil by having him wax. By paying attention to Gosling, Carell had been figuring out how to connect with women.

For me, I get the same thing through reading various authors.

There’s J.R.R. Tolkien. His stories are powerful, but most of the story isn’t told through narrative but through the conversations of his characters. It’s not difficult to imagine Ian McKellen telling the tale of Sauron in his powerful and magnetic voice. But by using dialogue, the words and sentences are simpler. It’s easy to digest and harder to put down, simply because of how well the tale is told.

That's the one, officer. He changed my writing style against my will... with AWESOMENESS.

That's the one, officer. He changed my writing style against my will... with AWESOMENESS.

Then there’s Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan the Barbarian, he had a passion for bold and powerful descriptions. His character was beyond larger than life, but rather like Atlas, a titan who carried the world on his shoulders. The poignant paragraphs swamped the mind and made the stories a challenge to enter. But once you were in the story, you keep going. And it grows on you and grows and grows. But it frustrated me because most of his work was short stories, so they often came to abrupt endings. Only The Hour of the Dragon kept going, and as such it was probably my favorite of his works. Like a horse walk that builds to a trot before galloping to glory.

Stieg Larsson is new to my repertoire, and his writing style is completely different than the rest of them. The difference being is that the pieces written by Howard and Tolkien were fantasy pieces from the imagination, but Larsson’s work stemmed from his experiences as a writer. I’ve only finished one of his books and will check out the other two eventually, but the thing I love about this guy is his ability to develop characters. They are very deep, complex characters who don’t always follow society’s rules. Sadly, I cannot really rely on his writing style for short stories because a single character would eat up so much space within the story, unless introducing the character is the entire point of the tale.

I could go on with more examples, but I think my point has been made. That in reading of the work of these men, I like to pretend that I’ve learned a little something about writing.

Maybe. Possibly. No? Okay…

Still, everyone learns from someone. We are usually fans before we are writers ourselves. And I figured, it’s always good sometimes to reconnect with those people who inspire you. To never lose sight of the where it all comes from. And to build these little shrines in our own writing, these mementos so we don’t forget. Guess I’m just sentimental like that.