Pushing a Snake Up a Hill
(and other metaphors for life)
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Will It All End in Gloom and Doom? (or) What Kind of Writer Am I, Anyway?
Every once in a while, if you're any kind of artist, I think it's good to reflect on the question of what you're trying to bring to the world.
I got an email the other day from a reader of The Chaos Chronicles. This fellow—let's call him Q—had read and enjoyed the first four books (bless him), and was wondering about the next one, which I'm currently writing. Q wanted to know if I was intending to follow the path of other once-favorite writers who had let him down, saying:
"One class of authors have determined that you are not a professional writer unless you rip your heroes to shreds in the end. [My once favorite] author subscribed to that theory and turned [his] protagonists into really rotten people ready to kill each other." Was I planning, he wondered, to do something like that with my characters—and if so, could I let him know now, so he could save himself the trouble of reading my next book?
Although I might not put it in such stark terms, I've noticed a similar trend in current entertainment. I can't count the number of times I've read about the upcoming season of a TV show, or a sequel in a movie series, promising: "This next one will be darker. You'll lose some people you love." Examples include even comic book fare such as the Batman movies, and Superman (both in film and in TV's Smallville). And I just recently read that we can count on the next Avengers movie being "darker." Darker is better, so often goes the thinking. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the trend. I don't find it all that entertaining, or a particularly wonderful world view; and when it's done just for the sake of being dark and not for sound storytelling reasons, I don't see it as necessarily contributing much to the human endeavor.
Not that darkness is never warranted, or is always wrong. There are great tragedies, obviously. (Though on balance, I'm way more drawn to humor than to tragedy.) But in SF terms, take BSG, with which I was peripherally involved as a novelist. That certainly went dark and gritty, plumbing the depths of its primary characters' pain. It was so well done, and for the most part justified psychologically, that I kept with it (though my daughter dropped out of watching it, saying enough is enough). Certainly there was realism in it: If your race has been nearly exterminated, and you with the final remnant are being pursued across space by an implacable enemy, things will probably get pretty dark. At the same time, there's a fine line that divides dramatic exploration from wallowing, and at times I felt BSG sheared pretty close to that line.
So how did I answer Q? Here's what I said, more or less:
"I do not subscribe to the school of thinking that all roads lead to misery, or that all good characterization leads to corruption and degradation. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have viewed the journey of my characters as being one of growth and maturity. Obviously there's sacrifice. But if there isn't a sense of hope and redemption at the end of the story, you have my permission to shoot every one of my characters and put them out of their misery. I don't promise no pain, loss, or grief. But if something good doesn't come out of the pain and loss, then I'm not doing my job as a writer, as I see it—which is to bring a ray of light into the world. I do not want the reader to feel depressed at the end of one of my books. Sad maybe, grieving at a loss maybe, but never dark or depressed. Uplifted, preferably."
Think the end of The Lord of the Rings. There's a kind of ending I aspire to.
Why do I feel this way? If I said it was because I think uplifting is better than down-dragging, healthier for life and better for us as an audience and as a planet, that would be true. If I said it was because I think God gave me some talent as a writer so that I could bring a little more light and life into the world, hope rather than despair, that would be true. If I said it was because those are the kinds of stories I want to read, that would be true.
So take your pick, whichever works best for you. They're all me.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Ebook Sales: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the UK
This has been a good summer for ebook sales. Although my short story collections haven't gained much traction (Whattza matter, you don't like short stories??), the other books have been gaining steadily. There was a big jump in July, for no obvious reason, and August was almost as good, with September so far following suit. I'm talking mainly about the backlist books I put out myself, because those I have timely numbers for—but I have reason to think Sunborn, in its Tor edition, is doing pretty well, too.
We're not talking headline numbers here, like some indie authors you may have read about. But over a thousand ebooks a month generates a meaningful contribution to the family budget, and represents continuing growth in the audience.
The vast majority of those sales are through the Amazon Kindle store, with Nook, Apple, and Sony bringing up a distant rear. That makes me a trifle uneasy, I admit—not because there's anything wrong with the Kindle store, but because I wish there were more healthy competition in the marketplace. I wish, for example, that I had more sales in Book View Café, because it's a terrific little store and a terrific cooperative of great writers. And I wish the Nook store would get its mojo back.
So what's the funny thing? Here it is: My sales in the UK have taken off in the last two months. In fact, they now account for about half my total sales. In fact, in September, I've sold more books through Amazon UK than I have through Amazon US. That's amazing, and I have no explanation! But I'm delighted to have a lot of new British readers. Welcome to the Chaos Chronicles! And welcome, too, to the daring few German readers who are trying the books.
I'm grateful for every book sale and every new reader. Still, it's fun to try to figure out the patterns. Only this time I can't! I'm stumped!
Watch a sweet, kind of sad, 9-minute film that has nothing to do with the topic of this post. I just like it. It's about a robot marooned in space.
Robbie - A Short Film By Neil Harvey from Neil Harvey on Vimeo.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Which Is Scarier?
I was about to flip off the TV last night when I saw what was playing in real-time: a B-52s concert on PBS, recorded live in 2011. Fascinated, I dropped into the couch like a baked potato and watched for a while. I've always liked the B-52s, from the time I first heard "Rock Lobster," back in the day.*
Thirty or so years later, they still sounded pretty good. But when my daughter came over and said, "Wow, I thought they'd look older. They look really well preserved," I winced a little. Because I was kind of thinking just the opposite. Not that they don't look well preserved, but the truth is, I still picture them as they looked, well, back in the day. Their stage moves had that slightly awkward quality of aging rock stars still trying to look young. I thought with a shudder of how I might look, up on stage, trying to come off as vibrant and hip. [Ow.]
But what really got me was the shots of the audience, wearing silly headgear and gyrating to the music. And that's when I wondered which is scarier: the sight of an aging rock band still truckin' on, or the sight of the aging Boomers who turn out to see them? Speaking, you understand, as an aging Boomer.
On the other hand, they all looked like they were having a really good time—so who am I to criticize? Besides, as I zoned out and listened, I got an idea that I needed to help me work out problems in my current chapter. Keep on truckin', guys!
*circa 1979 or 1980
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