Monday, April 25, 2011

Novels with a Message - Do they Sell?

Read any writing or agent blog and the advice not to write fiction about 'causes' is relatively widespread. However, like much proscriptive writing advice, the proof is in the implementation. True, few people want to read didactic, lecturing and unsubtle stories about campaigns and causes in a novel -- from environmental activism to religion or political activism -- unless they choose to be harangued in this way.

However, sub-texts on such themes in fiction can work well as long as the story is well-written and heavy-handed finger shaking is not a primary theme.

ANIMAIA has an environmental and animal rights theme, but it is somewhat subsumed in the grand story of one teen's personal journey and a group of teenagers struggling with life, school, and changes in society and personal and international security . . . not to mention each other!

And the best books of this type, in my view, usually present ambivalent themes and challenges to the obvious paradigm. Working and writing in the 'grey' regions of ethical and moral dilemmas not only provides great scope for authors in developing story, but keeps readers interested -- especially young adults who are struggling with ideas and behaviours in a world that's changing rapidly.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Writing Believable Fantasy in the Modern Era

Fantasy writing has many elements. For many modern fantasy constructs, science fiction nibbles at the edges and creates cross-genre fiction. Traditional fantasy of the Lord of the Rings type with medieval settings populated with fantastic beings on Earth is little different to advanced stellar societies with equally fantastic beings and strange powers, in my view. Only the times and settings are different. Yet one is often labelled 'fantasy' and the other 'sci-fi' -- although hard-core sci-fi fans would probably define a more scientifically defensible genre.

And of course magic has always featured strongly in 'fantasy' stories. If not overt magic, then certainly implied magic with the popular notion of shapeshifting, werewolves, vampires, paranormal beings and similar unscientific, if not popular, notions in the realm of the suspension of disbelief.

The trick is to construct a world view that is 'saleable.' That is, you have to convince your readers that within the context of your story the things you relate are entirely believable and logical. This requires that you construct a world with all the believable elements in place. Some should probably be recognisable from existing culture, and some can be way out there and fantastic. Bridging the two extremes enables readers to grasp some familiarity while they are coping with the fantastic. Then, of course, you have achieved 'suspension of disbelief,' which is the foundation of much, if not most fiction. Ultimately you have to tell a good story with great characters as well -- which is somewhat obvious.

The country of Animaia in my novel ANIMAIA is a fictional world on Earth but across an alternative history. It is also a technologically advanced country. I deliberately avoided the medieval setting. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that was undeniably 'fantastic' but verging on the scientifically defensible, even if at a stretch. This depends to an extent on one's culture and education of course. In Animaia, a small number of people can talk to animals telepathically. These people are called Anima. I've hinted at a genetic mutation over a very long period of time. Yes, fantastic for sure, but perhaps not as fantastic as shapeshifting or the magic of materialising objects out of thin air or teleporting or apparating. (Did Harry ever pass that apparation test?)

Publication is nigh!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rowling Set to Approve Harry Potter Ebooks?

A rumour from the Scottish Daily Record, but still, it's bound to happen eventually. And I agree with the sentiment that it would give a dramatic boost to the ebook revolution.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Formatting Ebooks for Amazon and Smashwords

If you know HTML, getting your book set up for Amazon Kindle publishing and Smashwords is not so tough. In fact with Smashwords, you really only need to take note of how they want your Word document when it gets input to their 'meatgrinder.'

On the other hand, unless you know HTML to at least 'competent' level, then you are better off getting a professional service to do Kindle formatting for you. Too many independent ebooks are poorly formatted.

If you want to do it yourself, then you can do an even better job by following the advice of Guido Henkel, who will walk you through it and provide  fine-tuning tips to get your ebook looking very professional. I'm leading up to that in the next few days. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where in the World is ANIMAIA?

Animaia is a fictional country on this planet. But wait, in the tradition of science fiction and fantasy writing, Animaia is also a product of alternate history (which should be 'alternative history' in my view), a fiction construct in which the logical flow of historical events is different from what we know of the world right now.

Animaia represents a different world view, conceivably derived from a divergent history from the time of the separation of the great supercontinents like Gondwana millions of years ago.

In this world of Animaia, which is a technologically modern country, the environmental, ecological and animal compassionate ethic evolved somewhat differently to that which we experience today in the real world -- and mostly because of a superior animal communication ability that evolved in a small percentage of the population. Yes, in Animaia some people can talk to animals, and they are called the 'Anima.'

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

For Percy Bysshe Shelley

Instinctively, I loved the nature poets at high school, which are sometimes called the romantic poets -- Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Blake, Colleridge and probably a few more.

Here is my favourite Shelley poem: The Witch of Atlas, which forms a semi-metaphysical and derivative basis for ANIMAIA, the novel. And here is my favourite stanza:

"And first the spotted cameleopard came,
And then the wise and fearless elephant;
Then the sly serpent, in the golden flame
Of his own volumes intervolved; -- all gaunt
And sanguine beasts her gentle looks made tame.
They drank before her at her sacred fount;
And every beast of beating heart grew bold,
Such gentleness and power even to behold
."

Shelley was a vegetarian and probably a pantheist. This was, no doubt, a salute to the natural world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where are All the Male, Young Adult Fantasy Writers?

It's obvious: JK Rowling started it with Harry Potter, and Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins kept the tradition of female writers doing young adult fantasy blockbusters going with Twilight and Hunger Games.

And now there are a dozen or so young adult fantasy books lined up ready to carry on  the tradition . . . and most of the authors are women. Yes, I know, there's Garth Nix (Abhorsen trilogy), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials series), Christopher Paolini (Eragon), Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game), John Marsden (Tomorrow, When the War Began) and quite a few more including Shusterman and Westerfeld. Several of these books are somewhat old of course.

But when you look at the really big contemporary sellers, and those proposed for release, women authors seem to be kicking arse, or even ass!

It used to be that the male protagonist was the big seller, and that girls would read books with a male lead but boys wouldn't read books with a female hero. At least that's what the publishers said. But that seems to have changed with Lyra and Katniss at least, and no doubt many more strong female leads. Or are teenage girls reading more than teenage boys? Is it a simple as that? Perhaps young women authors easier to promote for publishers?

I should rejoice in James Dashner's Maze Runner I guess.