Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Keeping the faith. Or, not.

As writers, we all have to deal with editorial rejection.  That's what you sign on for.  It can hurt, of course.  Sometimes, you can use the criticism you receive from a rejection to improve your work, or if you're extremely lucky, your style as a writer.

Sometimes, you can't.  And, those are the rejections that can make you question yourself as a writer.  Even after many acceptances and publications, you can encounter a rejection that makes you question whether you have the ability you thought you did.

You can labor at developing a character, pour your heart and soul into that character, feel that character's pain, sweat blood at trying to make yourself and your audience feel what that character feels, see the world through his eyes, and then be told by an editor that the characters in that story are more stereotype than flesh and blood.

That's not easy to recover from.  It's one thing to be told you don't know anything about the technical aspects of a topic you're writing about.  That can be dealt with through more extensive research, or simply by avoiding the topic.  But, how do you react when someone calls the work you labored and struggled over "pulpy and stylized?"  You can try to improve as a writer, but there are some insights and abilities that can't be learned.  If you doubt you have those basic abilities, what good are you as a writer?

We write because we have to.  At least, I do.  All you can do is go on.  I know I'm not trying to be "stylized."  It might just happen.  Sometimes, you re-discover the wheel.  I suppose all you can do is stay true to yourself and always ask  yourself if you're making a genuine attempt to breathe life into a character - even if it's a blind stab in the dark - or, if you're unconsciously reacting to something you've heard or assumed.  Something superficial and empty.

Mainly, the question is whether you can stay true to the leap of faith you took when you first took up the pen.  As I said, you have no choice.  You have to set sail.  But, the scary part is not really knowing if you're following a true course, or just kidding yourself and steering into the abyss.  Oh, the joys of writing.

On to the next editor...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writer's Threads...

A great way to connect with other science fiction writers, to offer and gain critiques of writing style, promote and learn about upcoming projects and venues, is to join a writer's thread.

A thread in which I've participated  for a while now is the monthly Science Fiction Microstory Contest, currently accessible on Goodreads:

Each month,  participants submit short - short stories of 750 words or less.  Critiques and comments can be posted on accompanying sections.  At month's end, all participants vote on which story is their favorite.  The winner of the contest gets to choose the theme and required elements for the following month.  This month's theme is:  Alien Invasion.

It's a fun and constructive way to interact with other writers and sharpen one's own writing skill through critiques and discussion.  It's a great and diverse group. 

Though right now, we could use some new participants.  Some of the female writers have noted the largely male membership tends to lean towards stories of the "hard", technical variety, seldom voting for the more "fluid", psychological or "unconventional" stories.  The thread could definitely benefit from more participants, especially female writers.

I hope some of you will stop by, time permitting.  I think you'd find it an enjoyable and beneficial experience.  I have.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A heroine for today...

The fantasy heroine Wonder Woman has held a deep meaning for audiences since the character's first appearance in comic book form in the dark days of World War II.  Over the decades, the character generated controversy, a patriarchal society feeling threatened by what the character represented, finding the need to soften, to weaken and enfeeble the character, stripping her of her powers.  Feminists protested outside the offices of comic book publishers, demanding the Amazon princess be restored to her former glory, and they won.  But, even after that, the character was largely neglected for years.

She has been brought to life on the small screen, albeit in the glossy superficial format of the 70's.  Now, she's born anew on the big screen, a version of the iconic super heroine who many seem to hope will become a badly needed symbol of feminine empowerment for young girls in an age when they desperately need to be empowered.  They were denied the presidency. By a reactionary misogynist, at that.  Hope has to come from somewhere.

The big screen debut of Wonder Woman was quite a visual spectacle.  She's been pushed back in time one world war.  We've grown accustomed over the years to seeing her fight Nazis, everybody's favorite villains.  But now, she's fighting the Kaiser's men.  The familiar scene where Steve Trevor's plane crashes near Paradise Island, ancient home of the Amazons, is followed by a spectacular battle scene in which the fierce feminine warriors match superior strength, skill and ferocity against the modern weapons of the male-dominated world.  The scene, brutal,  visceral, and beautiful in its way, as well as tragic, is easily interpreted as a starkly symbolic depiction of the battle of the sexes in its purest possible form.  But, it is marvelously interwoven with the first meeting between the title character and her future lover, the heroic pilot who is the first man she has ever met.  He is the source of Princess Diana's rebellion against her mother, the Amazon queen.  The queen warns her daughter that men are not worth saving, but Diana, inspired by Trevor's courage and idealism...and, perhaps by her own almost child-like wonder and curiosity, and secret longing for him...insists all she has to do is kill Ares, God of War to free mankind from the tyranny of war.

Of course, she is proved tragically wrong.  Her voyage into the world of men is one that begins with gentle comedy relief, which barely mentions the suffrage movement, as she experiences the tyranny of corsets and dresses, and men who refuse to listen to her opinions.  From there, it steers into increasingly dark territory, the horrors of war and slavery becoming increasingly apparent.  Diana is morally outraged that the male rulers of this world would sacrifice countless innocent lives in the name of political convenience.  The message is one of soul-searching idealism which crosses all the lines.  Hardly a feminist message in its purest form, as Diana embarks on a forbidden mission behind enemy lines in the company of a colorful and motley crew of men under Steve Trevor's leadership.  Trevor is a quietly tortured young man, unsure of himself and desperate to do some good in a darkened world.  His philosophy is simple.  "My dad taught me you either do something, or you do nothing.  I've already tried nothing."  From his ethnically assorted comrades, Diana learns the cruel history of man's inhumanity to man, the scars of racism and slavery reflected in every face she sees.

In the hellish trenches, innocent victims reach out to her, begging for help for their stricken villages, but she is told by Trevor that the mission must come first.  The heroine is best presented here, I thought when she charges headlong into no man's land, her shield and gauntlets her only defense against withering machine gun fire.  Her lone stand inspires Trevor and the others and they follow her into battle.  The message is one of uncompromising love taking a warrior's shape.  The battle scene is followed by an innocent encounter between Diana and Trevor in a hotel room, her warrior's prowess of the scene before parting to reveal an innocence and vulnerability that cries out for love among the carnage.

The film culminates in the eternal struggle between cosmic forces embodied in Wonder Woman vs. her arch nemesis Ares, God of War, enemy of humanity.  Their fierce and titanic battle on its face seems symbolic of the war of the sexes, but there's a wider meaning too.  Ares is revealed to be Diana's brother.  He tempts her with offerings of despair.  "Humanity is not worth saving," he tells her.  "I didn't make them like this. They do it to themselves."  Shattered and disillusioned, she confronts Trevor, and he stands as the accused representative of all mankind.

He pretty much pleads guilty, but tells her it doesn't justify giving up.  "It's not about what people deserve," he tells her.  "It's about what you believe."  Trevor's martyrdom is the birth-cry of her awakening.  She is tempted to lash out and kill the warmongering humans a part of her wants to destroy, but she resists the temptation, realizing that Trevor was right.  It's about what she believes.  And, she believes in love.

A century later, when she returns to the world of mankind she had long ago forsaken, she looks back with sorrow and wisdom at that turning point in her life and renews her mission to save the world, whether it deserves it or not.  She is indeed a heroine for us all.  Not so much consumed in egocentric self-pity (as Batman and Superman nowadays seem to be) but turning her pain outward to try to help others.  In some ways, the plight of women through the centuries, perhaps.  But, she embodies courage as well as love.  And, God knows we all need both right now. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

It's the First of May....

It's May, it's May...the lusty month of May...

It isn't May Day without Guinevere singing "The Lusty Month of May." (Of course, the Tysche side of me likes the NSFW tribute by Jonathon Coulton "First of May." And I DO mean NSFW. If you have small children around or an aversion to the word f**k DO NOT click this link. You have been warned.)

But what is it about May Day that inspires all these "wicked little thoughts"?

It is a time of celebration, that originally had a pagan significance as the First Day of Summer. It was celebrated by such festivities as the crowning of the May Queen and dancing around the Maypole.

Now most often relegated to the grounds of a Renaissance festival in the States, it is still actively celebrated in many European countries.

May Day was chosen as International Workers' Day in 1886, to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in Chicago.

It's a great time get down to business and be a little naughty -- read some of the great stories in Mocha's store, like Beauty and the Geek: The Princess and the Professor or C.A.K.E. The Complete Series.

And that's it for me this month. Happy May Day!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Challenge of Allegory

A writer always wants to put himself or herself into a story; writing is, after all, an expression of oneself.  One's fantasies, demons, dreams, or opinions.  Sometimes, that means a story will reflect your emotional or moral reaction to the real world around you, whether intentionally or not.

Sometimes, allegorical representations of current events and people in fiction is blatantly obvious to the reader.  Take Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" for example.  Though now a classic in childhood fantasy adventure, its original allegorical meaning lost to time, Carroll's contemporary audience had no trouble seeing through his allegorical references and all-too-obvious symbolism.  That didn't make his work any less enjoyable, though.

We all know the challenge of allegory:  not to sound preachy or self-righteous.  Above all, not to sacrifice literary quality or entertainment value for the sake of getting your point across.  The best allegory is the kind that slips under the reader's defenses, delivering a message without letting the reader know it.  Until its too late for the reader to shut it out.  That's the game between writer and reader.

Sometimes, if a story is exceptionally good, a reader might even forgive the most blatantly obvious political or social metaphor.  Everyone knew exactly what the writers had in mind when the classic "Star Trek" episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" aired about a year after the Watts riots.  Two men, one a policeman, the other a radical, who despised each other with a flaming passion, simply because their half-white, half-black skin coloring was reversed.  A stark and obvious symbolic representation of the absurdity of racism.  It worked because it was so obvious, and so direct, building through passionate hatred and all-too-familiar scenes to its inevitable and tragic end.  Sometimes honesty can work more effectively than cleverness in reaching an audience.

The most important thing, I believe is to be honest with yourself.  If you've got something inside you that's screaming to get out, then let it out, no matter what.  Then, find a way to tame the beast so it can reach an audience.  I've approached issues that I felt strongly about through fiction.  Sometimes an editor will reject such a story, saying it "drowns in the politics."  And, others will accept it, focusing on the texture of the story itself.  As with anything else, it pretty much depends on what the reader wants to see.

Odds are you're not going to convert anybody to your way of thinking.  But, if you can effectively convey your opinion ... more importantly, your passion about an issue... and keep the reader entertained at the same time, even if he disagrees with you, then you've beat the challenge.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes

"Curious Incidents:  More Improbable Adventures", Mocha's long awaited second volume of Sherlock Holmes paranormal fiction has arrived, and I'm proud to say I am one of the contributing authors.

The theme of this volume places Holmes in environments other than his native Victorian England.  The authors approached this from a number of angles.  I've only had the pleasure of reading the first three stories of the anthology so far:

"The Case of the Tainted Blood" by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
"The Case of the Burning Man" by Lucy Blue
"He-Who-Knows" by Derrick Belanger

I enjoyed them all immensely and look forward to reading the rest of the anthology.  The three authors used very different and extremely imaginative visions of alternate reality to depict alternate versions of Holmes and Watson in different time periods or historically alternate versions of their own time period.

Liese Sherwood-Fabre depicts Holmes and Watson as vampires in an alternate 19th century in which the world suffers a vampire apocalypse.  I loved it. Vampiric Holmes was still Holmes, bored out of his wits and contemplating suicide for lack of crimes to solve.  In a world of the undead, murder and robbery are things of the past.  Holmes finds a challenge to test his razor sharp investigative skill in a plot involving humans killing vampires.  Holmes, that paragon of goodness now finds himself on the side of darkness, working against the cause of humanity.  But, his characteristic attention to detail remains undiminished by his altered circumstances.  A problem is a problem, and Holmes finds the chase as addictive as he now finds blood.  A mixture of an intriguing case with a supremely bizarre premise and delightfully quirky characters makes this one a gem.

Lucy Blue takes it a bit further by introducing Holmes and Watson to each other in another sort of alternate reality:  a 1950's Micky Spillane-type urban noir involving a brutal murder, a knock-out of a doll spilling her guts (literally and figuratively) on a dark, rainy night.  A case involving a WWII mystery from Holmes' past, an old enemy with apparently dark mystical powers, a secret coven of white witches and a mystery surrounding a rich dame with plenty to hide.  Watson is black.  Holmes has a secret of his own.  Bigotry in all its forms and evil in its purest form are dealt with in a fast paced, tightly plotted mystery which pits Holmes' intellect against a supernatural menace the existence of which his stubbornly rational mind refuses to accept.  It was an incredibly enjoyable ride.

Derrick Belanger's approach was the least conventional of all.  Holmes is not Holmes and Watson is not Watson, at least not by name.  They are rather wise men, shamans of sorts in an aboriginal stone-age world which is afflicted by a mysterious monster that no one understands.  No one but the wise man He-Who-Knows.  His name doesn't have to be Holmes for us to know who he is.  His keen logic and deductive wit is his calling card.  It seems every era needs a Sherlock Holmes.  He takes whatever form is needed.

I rather took the easier route.  I used the original, unmodified Holmes and Watson and simply transplanted them bodily from the familiar surroundings of 221 B Baker street into a wild ride through future time periods in the company of a time traveler.  Rather than creating a modified Holmes who was at home in his alternate universe, I wanted to see the old familiar Sherlock trying to cope with unfamiliar surroundings and adapting his deductive methodology to alien worlds.  I had fun with it because it had the spirit of adventure to it; like Jules Verne, a ride into the otherworldly and unfamiliar.  Watson provided the wide-eyed wonder and child-like curiosity, while Holmes, as always, coolly and unerringly mapped his path through his new world.

The other entries I mentioned delved more into the inner space of the mystery that is Holmes himself.  His human weaknesses, his flaws, his hidden vulnerabilities.  Mine was more a straight-forward adventure story.  It may have lacked the daring of the others, as I was focusing more on concept than character, I'll admit.  In my own defense, I may feel inclined to treat another author's character (especially one as immortal as Holmes) with kid gloves, hesitant to speculate about or tamper with the familiar defining features of the character.  Mainly, I was just enjoying myself immensely.  I only hope I've provided as much reading pleasure for others as I found in the other stories I've mentioned here.

Support Your Small Presses!

Most of us here at Mocha Memoirs write for multiple small presses. There are many reasons to choose the quirky, independent atmosphere of a small press where the author is treated like a member of a family rather than a number on a ledger sheet, but it is also harder to make a living here.

And it can be disheartening -- I received royalty notification from one publisher of a penny for six months sales.

Or scary -- another publisher I know received word over the weekend that Amazon was closing their Kindle account and would not pay out anything for the last quarter of 2016. After some tense hours, it was resolved as an error on Amazon's part, but, as you can imagine, the authors were very worried.

Why am I telling you all this? So you can see that this business is a very fragile one. One of the biggest third-party sales sites went under in December with little warning and very little recompense.

Two days after I released my latest self-publishing project I had to send two DMCA letters to pirate sites. TWO DAYS. I wonder if they had more downloads than the two I've sold on Kindle...well, three, if you count the one I bought myself.

My point here is this. If you love the work of your favorite small press author, show them. Buy our books from the small presses who take the chance to publish them. We will all appreciate your support.