Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Afraid to Seek an Agent

I've been dithering on seeking an agent. Okay, part of it is that I'm not completely satisfied with the editing process. There is some true work to be done to make it just right, but I have a feeling that I will be thinking this way for another year, perhaps longer.

I am afraid to seek an agent. I followed all the 'rules' about writing what I myself want to read, but I am afraid that agents will say that my story is derivative. True, it certainly incorporates many of the traditional fantasy elements so brilliantly done by Tolkien, but how many other novels have done that sort of fantasy well? People say they have read too many novels with these elements, but I would ask them how? I have read tons of fantasy, but few that did the traditional elements anywhere near as well as Tolkien did. I loved Tolkien so much I never wanted it to end, so naturally what I want to read is more that echoes Tolkien's vision.

Now, I don't want to duplicate Tolkien. I prefer a grittier feel to my stories, more realistic. That's why I love George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. I created my own world and over twenty years thought about it until I felt I knew it. Only then did I begin to write. I wrote to fulfill my own dreams of what I love to read, so I aimed at making a world with the traditional flavorings of Tolkien, but with the grittier feel of a Martin story.

What kills me is that I think agents will automatically reject such a book, saying it is derivative, yet I believe there is a vast, hungry audience that loves this type of traditional fantasy. I think other people than me want to read books like this. The LOTR movies weren't so successful just because Peter Jackson did a great job with them. They were successful in part because that story has such tremendous appeal. I think the Hobbit movies will do the same as long as the director does a decent job.

I'll just go on editing it until I can convince myself that I can do no more to make myself happy with it. Then I'll see if I have the nerve to seek an agent, or if I'll just write another book.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Nitpicking Harry Potter

My kids decided to rewatch all of the Harry Potter DVDs this week, and watching them made me see a few things that bothered me. Overall I think the movies have been pretty good. I liked the third one best, followed by the first. The later movies suffered from being too chopped up. They should have learned lessons from Peter Jackson and released extended edition DVDs that flesh things out better.

The most glaring problem for me was that Lavender Brown was black in the early films and then was changed to white. I don't think it is too much to ask for some simple consistency.

Kudos to those who cast the films. The casting was so well done for most characters that I can't imagine them any other way than they look in the films. This does lead to another problem for me - the love interests don't work in my opinion. Watching the actors, Ron definitely doesn't fit with Hermione. She seems more suited to Harry. Ginny seems a better fit with Neville to me.

I was most disappointed with the latest film. The Half-Blood Prince feels so chopped up that some scenes don't even make any sense unless one has already read the book. There is too much cut out and there is little character development. From the Goblet of Fire onward there should have been extended editions at least, if not two movies for each book. I hear they will do that for the final book, so hopefully it will be better.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, etc.

Since beginning my own novel I have been reading quite a number of blogs and articles by other writers, agents, and publishers. One common theme seems to be that most of them are sick and tired of the 'standard' fantasy creatures, such as elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons, Orcs, goblins, etc.

I find this attitude dismaying. I must admit that while I read a broad spectrum of sci-fi, my tastes in fantasy are quite narrow. I love the traditional when it comes to fantasy. If someone wants to make up an entirely new fantasy creature, that is fine, but don't expect me to buy the book. I'm probably a minority, but I want my fantasy traditional. That's what I love. When I finished the Lord of the Rings, I wanted more. When I finished the Silmarillion, I dreamed that great authors might flesh out the brilliant story outlines into full-blown LOTR-type tales. It seems perfectly logical to me to love the traditional in fantasy. For me fantasy taps into something ancient and magical, the legends and lore of our all but forgotten past. When you make up completely new creatures you are abandoning this lore. That is what science fiction is for, in my opinion.

I wonder how it is that people are sick of reading about the traditional creatures of fantasy? It's not like I've seen many great tales incorporating these beasties. Other than LOTR, I can only think of The Sword of Shannara and the Iron Tower trilogy/Silver Call duology that did a good job with these fantasy standards. Who else has? The few Dungeons & Dragons novels I read were terrible. Clearly many people believe that these creatures have been overused, yet to me they have hardly been tapped at all, at least by good writers. I am starving for good stories using the old standards of fantasy.

Okay, so I wrote my novel based upon this very point. I incorporated all of my favorite traditional elements, and I didn't change the elves and dwarves and such to do things that they shouldn't be doing just to make them different. I made them act according to the way they should act. Yes, I set my baseline for how such creatures behave basically as Tolkien viewed them. Dwarves like mountains and mining; elves like forests, dragons like mounds of gold upon which to sleep, and so on.

Naturally I expect little but criticism from other writers. That is what I have had so far from those few who read my first chapter on Absolute Write. That's their choice, of course, but it seems to me that liking or not liking a story should be based upon how well it is written, not upon whether the story uses an element that you have arbitrarily decided you don't want to see again.

They say that one should write what one loves. I have tried to do that, but it seems to me that today's agents will simply ignore my writing for this very reason.

I guess I view this issue along the same lines as the old rant about Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven'. If a garage band dares to play the song, people whine and complain that it is so played out and overdone. How can that be though? I have never heard it played live. True, I wouldn't like to hear the song if done poorly, but I would LOVE to hear a band actually play the song well. The same thing with traditional fantasy creatures - I don't see how people can be sick of something that hasn't actually been done well very often.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I know, I know. I shouldn't worry about the issue of covers until I am fortunate enough to have something published. I just read on Nathan Bransford's blog about various cover issues, and it made me think about just how much it bugs me that publishers don't want to allow most authors any input on their covers.

I have very strong opinions on what I want for a cover on my fantasy novel. Strong enough that I would rather it not be published than have the wrong cover on it. I've been considering trying to commission the artwork myself and self-publishing, but I really don't want to self-publish if I can help it.

My issue with most fantasy covers is that they are far too colorful and splashy. I like them gritty or realistic, and certainly not splashy. The fantasy books that I purchased solely because of the fantastic cover art were the Iron Tower trilogy and Silver Call duology by Dennis McKiernan. Alan Lee did the art for the trilogy, and the artist who did the duology was told to mimic Lee's style. I love those covers, and I sure wish I could get Lee to do mine. He is far too famous for that these days, though.

If there are any good artists out there who can mimic Lee's style, let me know and if I can afford it I would love to have a cover painting done for my novel. I am thinking of checking out some of the local artists here in Baku and see if I can't find one who can do a reasonably priced piece of art for me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On Writing and Everything Else

For more than twenty years of my life I dreamed of writing books, but I always figured it would remain an unfulfilled dream. I love to procrastinate. Why do something difficult like write when I can watch a movie instead?

One day while living in Beijing, China I typed up a chapter for no particular reason. I don't know what got into me. However, once I wrote that first chapter I felt compelled to continue the story even if at a very slow pace. Over three years in Beijing I managed to write only a handful of chapters. I felt daunted by how much I knew lay ahead.

When I moved to Iceland I forged slowly ahead and by New Year's of 2009 I had fifteen chapters done. That might sound okay except that my outline showed something around a hundred chapters for the entire book. One of my New Year's resolutions was to complete fifteen more chapters in 2009. Imagine my shock when I banged out the entire rest of the book by March! I wrote approximately 90,000 words in three months, fifty thousand of them in the last month alone.

I felt mixed emotions upon completing the first draft. I am proud to have done something I never thought I would do, but the editing process is overwhelming. I know the story is good, but not good enough to publish yet. The major problem is that publishers and agents these days insist that the reading public no longer has the patience for books that take their time unfolding. People growing up on television, movies and the internet want instant gratification apparently. I, however, most love those older books that took their time with character and world development before taking off. I love how Tolkien took his sweet time getting to the action in his books. I wrote my book the same way, the way I wanted it to be, but I suspect I'll get no interest from agents. They'll say nothing happens for the first hundred pages. That's not true, of course, but I can see why they would say it.

I love the book. I read it to my wife and children and they enjoyed it. My youngest son, who is nine, even began writing his own stories. So, at least I have that satisfaction. However, I would truly love to see a novel of mine make it into print before I leave this earth. I may not submit this first one to agents, but I think I will try to write a second novel now and see if it will be more palatable to them. It may be difficult to find time to write now that I have moved to Baku, Azerbaijan. Work is much busier here than it was in Iceland. We'll see.

I hope to use this blog to put down my thoughts on writing, but also upon any other subject that strikes my fancy. In other words, this will be another excuse to procrastinate!