Over the years, one of the points of pride I have in my work has been in the effort to do things that may seem almost pointless to others. The story of an agency policing the supernatural isn’t particularly new and there are certainly more well known examples even in the last couple of months, but I’ve always made an effort to look harder at the details. Anyone following the Alterpedia or Alterpedia Historia can see this pretty clearly. Where as some versions of the concept are willing to simply go “everything is exactly the same, there’s just magic here”, I tend to look harder at the idea of these two worlds colliding. Wouldn’t the existence of Vampires motivate the creation of a viable blood supply that doesn’t require armed conflict? If magic wands were genuinely a thing, what would prevent them from overwhelming the whole planet? And if mythical creatures had to deal with a world like ours, full of the messy and troubled conflicts we’ve had, wouldn’t it have left an impression on them?
So I’ve always made an effort to take concepts from fiction and then find ways to work them into the real world as much as possible. A little tweak here, a modification there, and we’ve got something that looks like it could live in tandem with our world and our history. But there are some details where I’ve hesitated because I’ve seen just how deep the rabbit hole may go – not in fiction, but in the real world. I’ve been chewed out by people who really believe in Witches and others who think I’m somehow shilling books about actualGhosts to prey on the gullible or grieving. Neither of these were anywhere close to having substance to them, but they make me realize some things have genuine believers, and I always tread lightly in those spaces.
When I was a kid, there were these commercials where a kid would tell the story of the birth of Jesus and then would say at the end that it’s the “reason for the season”. Even as I type it now that little cherub-like voice rings in my head. The kid that narrated that is probably middle aged and doesn’t even remember doing it now even though I do. But the thing is, the kid was kind of wrong, because this season has always been important to people in the northern hemisphere.
People in recent years have gotten a bit upset over the concept of “Happy Holidays”, but when you look at the history of mankind this time of year is full of holidays. Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Yule, and so many other festivals crop up in the dead of the winter months. And for all the argument about Christmas, the fact is that none of these holidays is any less valid than the other because all of them are really celebrating the same thing. As the world grows darkest and the harsh winter months are still ahead of us, humanity banded together to celebrate one thing above all others… Continue reading Spirit of the Holidays→
Drawing inspiration from many sources, be they cultural or even corporate, the figure known today as Santa Claus is a mercurial figure that changes for almost every region he’s in. His clothes, his figure, his behavior, and even his name change from one region to another. He’s associated now with names like Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and of course Santa Claus. But regardless of what influences he may have mixed with over time, the figure started long ago with a man named Saint Nicholas.
Living in the city of Myra in the 4th century AD, in what is now Turkey, Saint Nicholas is the root of many of the stories and traditions that dominate the Christmas season.Having been associated with stories of great generosity and a penchant for secret gift giving, Nicholas was a natural fit for the gift giving season. And, as a Saint, he was also an acceptable figure to associate with the Christian holiday (even if it was originally a pagan holiday instead). However, one question presents itself:
It’s been weeks and you just can’t shake the feeling. You met with your friend at that party not too long ago but something was different. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it didn’t sit right with you. They didn’t seem like themselves. Maybe it was the drinking, or the night’s festivities. Maybe it was even the outfits.
But whatever it was, you’re fairly sure, that was not your friend doing that keg stand while a dozen people, men and women, dressed as Wonder Woman chanted their name. They insist they’re still the same person, even tried to prove to you that they knew your secrets – even that one about the dream you swore them to never tell anyone ever again. But, in the days since the Equifax breach, you just can’t be too careful. Sure, you’ve locked your credit. You’ve gotten identity theft coverage. You’ve been doing everything you can to be absolutely secure. But let’s face it, there’s no way to be sure anymore that someone isn’t stealing from you at this very minute – and they could have found all that information somewhere else. So now, as you’ve taken every sane precaution possible, one last thing has to be investigated…
What if your friend’s been replaced by a Shapeshifter?
As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, we enter a time of traditions. The holidays are soon to be upon us, the stores are filling with decorations, people are starting to complain about the fact that Christmas shopping season “seems to start earlier every year”. For writers, this is the time of year when people new and old take an opportunity to challenge themselves by trying to write a novel in one month’s time. National Novel Writing Month is so ingrained into the culture that I do not personally know a single writer or writing enthusiast in my life who hasn’t taken a swing at the challenge at least once. And, while I myself tend to avoid rushing through word counts to meet these sorts of challenges, I’ve always had a tradition of my own.
Though I was hesitant at first, I’ve made a point in years prior to throw out some writing advice in November and editing advice in December. Though it’s often joked that everyone becomes a “guru” on the internet, it was never my intention to do this. Only after being nudged by friends did I even try to. Hopefully, over the years, I’ve said something useful to someone who was just taking their first steps into writing novels. If not, at least I hope it was entertaining to watch me try. Given the projects I need to get done before January, I’m not entirely sure how I’ll do this year. But, at the very least, there’s one lesson to be shared that I’ve been pondering lately.
Sometimes there are elements in the real world which are too ripe with material to pass up for a fiction writer. As many often say, the truth can be stranger than fiction. But sometimes there are things in the world we can’t exactly define as truth or fiction which can be even stranger. Urban legends and the fields of cryptozoology are full of stories like these – stories where it sounds like bullshit, but something about them makes it feel more tangible. Sure, these things are only really believed by people on the fringe, but they seem to be based on something and every once in a while a creature jumps from legend to reality when they’re confirmed. So, while such a thing still existing in the modern age seems pretty unlikely, there are always some true believers. Plenty of people will swear to the existence of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, or Chupacabra and there are a lot of people who will believe in UFOs well into the future. Each of these is of questionable validity, but is trying to explain something people have actually seen, and speaks to something of the human experience.
And for regular visitors to the blog you’ll know I included an urban legend in the alternate history of my books just last Friday. The “men in black” have long been part of pop culture and have been at the heart of conspiracy theories and ufology for at least 70 years now. But for most people the term is inseparable from the charming franchise of movies based on the legend. For the people most familiar with that depiction and the basic idea of where the stories came from, it may be strange that I included them into a world centered more on creatures from folklore.
Creative professions are infamous for being full of people who are wrought with self-doubt. Though it’s easy to overlook it in others, I’ve rarely encountered someone who doesn’t have at least a little bit of doubt. Even the most famous of us will admit to having touches of imposter syndrome and a need to constantly reaffirm that they deserved to be where they are. We all know this on some level, so it’s not news to anyone. After all, if you’re here, it’s likely you followed a link about writers and you’ve felt it in yourself from time to time.
Frequently the advice that we get is about trying to simply be “okay” with the fact that voice exists and remember that the only way past it is to just keep going. The longer you keep doing what you’re doing, the more your chances of overcoming it will become. And that’s not terrible advice, you shouldn’t let it stop you even if it’s always there. But what I’ve long felt is that there’s something else that we really need to do with that voice to take ourselves to the next level… Continue reading Owning Your Doubts→
As a speculative fiction writer, I spend a lot of time looking into the roots of mythology and the ways that our genres have evolved over time. It’s easy to see a straight line that can be drawn from the stories of our ancestors to the stories we tell today – especially in fantasy where some of the same elements remain in circulation. And it’s certainly easy to see how some things we have today are derived from things that came from antiquity. Superheroes, though wrapped in contemporary trappings, are obviously comparable to the heroes of the ancient stories. In fact, frequently these heroes are so similar that you can slip those mythological characters into the mix and not have them seem out of place at all.
So it’s not too surprising that we often hear someone define comic books and fantasy stories as the “new mythology” that we create today. These statements, comparing the traits of the heroes of old to the stories of today, essentially say that today’s mostly secular culture has adopted superheroes to fill in the place that characters like Hercules had filled before. And this makes sense on many levels. It’s true that we make great productions about these heroes and that someday they’ll sit comfortably next to each other in the historical records of future generations. But one chief difference has always jumped out at me and makes it feel like the statement isn’t entirely accurate:
Years ago, when people were still feeling out the eBook market, I had what we would call a “rough year” and made a couple rash decisions. The first was that I was going to self-publish a book because I’d seen numbers suggesting that my chances with and without a publisher were roughly about the same. This was during that hazy time back when the economy was crashing and no one was confident about anything – advances were down, advertising was shaky at best, and Amazon was starting to eat enough of the market to kill Borders (ironically thanks to a deal they made with Borders). So, of course, I wanted me a piece of that action.
But self-publishing lead to my second rash decision: I was going to start trying to promote myself – something that anyone who knows me can tell you was probably the bigger mistake of the two. My personality, in real life, is fairly conflict driven and yet introverted. For those of you doing the math, yeah, that generally means I’m my own worst enemy. So the idea of trying to be my own hype man is a bit like having Moriarty give the elevator pitch on Sherlock. Sure, he’s well aware of Holmes’ strengths, but he’s also invested in ruining the guy.
Still, I went about making content on a fairly regular basis by starting this blog. It wasn’t a vanity project as some critics have suggested, but an attempt to look like I know what I’m doing. Perhaps, with enough effort, I can find my audience and make those efforts worthwhile. And, despite everything, there is a benefit to the fact I second guess every move I make: I am constantly using this blog to do a self critique.
As such, I occasionally go back through old posts, old work, and old concepts to find new ways to hate on my younger self. It’s beneficial, despite how I make it sound, to take stock of what mistakes I made in the past and then learn from it. I know I’m not perfect (something we should all keep in mind), and that I have to constantly improve to progress. So I’m willing to give myself an honest performance evaluation every once in a while. There’s just one thing I tend to regret about these evaluations: I end up re-reading or remembering comments I’ve gotten on the internet.
Speculative fiction, being that it is purely speculative, is an evolving set of genres. Science fiction and fantasy are generally meant to be fluid and will reflect the times they were made in quite often. And because of this a great many variations will appear within the genre for things that everyone happens to share. What are the differences between Orcs and Orks? How many kinds of vampires are there actually? How distantly related are Legolas and the Keebler Elves?
Sometimes these differences are pretty profound, other times they’re almost non-existent. But what I’ve found most often is that the differences are generally discouraged if a specific work has reached an iconic status. Vampires have had dozens, if not hundreds of variations over the years, but many of the traits which are accepted as “canon” were originated either within Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the movie adaptations to follow. This is strange, because it means the original source material, the folklore, is generally forgotten in favor of variations on a theme of Dracula. It’s because of this that I personally went out of my way to include several variations of vampire in my stories and bring back old bits of lore that are often forgotten – like the fact a vampire can’t cross certain materials without counting every grain in their path.
The funny thing is that, in my world of sci-fantasy reinterpretations of the mythological as biological creatures, I’ve had a few run-ins with people who felt that I had somehow been “wrong” to change the lore. As one person said to me very early on, “I prefer my version”. It’s not the only feedback you get, but it’s one that you realize is quietly prevalent. Though some books and movies get away with it because they’re popular, if something has flaws, it will be immediately criticized for getting the lore “wrong”. Hell, at one point even I took part in doing this before realizing the flaw in my thinking.