Markets, Armadillocon, and Cranky Rambling

Colonial-themed anthology, from the colonized native people’s POV. On this one, read the submission guidelines very carefully. (deadline 9/14/12)

Writing Multiple Genres
for me, a lot of this panel was chewing on the same gristle as last year. you must remain true to the soul of the genre, not merely put on the trappings of a particular genre while really being something else. For me, akin to the fannish fashion tendency of gluing cogs and gears on something, like a hat, and proclaiming it “Steampunk”. the form must have function.
and again, the startling revelation, STORY IS WHAT MATTERS! color me surprised.
how the story ends determines its genre. if a story has a horror ending, no matter how much comedy, romance, and mystery (for example) you’ve put in the story, it’s a horror story. the others genres are qualifiers.
i was about to yawn my way out of the panel, had put away my pad, and then Urania Fung made a comment that gave me a reason to believe genre labels actually have a use… genre and labeling (such as ‘paranormal romance’ or ‘space opera’ and so on) serve the purpose of telling the reader what kind of ride to expect. the reason you don’t just use the trappings of a genre as window-dressing is so that you don’t break the labeling’s promise to the reader as to what the ride will be like.

Writing Strong Female Protagonists
okay, here we’re getting into some potentially dangerous waters. off the bat, i’m not a feminist. i’m an egalitarian. if you need that defined, google away. so after i decided i wanted to attend this panel, i got to thinking on the title, and realized that i felt it should be “Writing Strong Protagonists” or “Why We Need More Strong Female Protagonists” or even “Why There Aren’t More Strong Female Protagonists?”, because all the traits of a ‘strong female protagonist’ are the traits of a strong character, regardless of gender.

Evolution of the character – they don’t start in one state and remain there, unchanged, through the story.
Well-rounded, with vulnerabilities.
Personal integrity – even if its to their own peculiar set of morals.
They act as agents of their own fate.
Strength – physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual.

see what i mean? let’s face it, my peeps, what makes a good story makes a good story, regardless of genre. what makes a strong character makes a strong character, regardless of gender. now, before you start crying that when female protagonists are written this way, they’re perceived as unrealistic, shut the fuck up.either you’re going to write a strong female character, or you’re going to make excuses for why you didn’t. if your story is rejected because your editor is stupid enough to find well-written female characters unrealistic, find another goddamn editor – the one you were dealing with is a moron.

now, a bit of bitching (i know – you’re shocked)…
if you’re wasting valuable panel time referencing your own work every goddamn time you answer a question, letting no chance to push your own books go unused, YOU NEED TO STOP THAT ANNOYING SHIT. believe it or not, you egotistical idiot, i didn’t come to this panel to hear about your books. if you need examples to make your point, use cultural touchstones that all the audience is likely to recognize/be familiar with, not stuff from your books that i can guarantee everyone in the audience hasn’t read. no matter how full of yourself you are, quit wasting panel time.
next… you don’t “defy female tropes and cliches” by using female tropes and cliches. you can’t bemoan the inaccuracy and injustice of female tropes and cliches while using the ones you happen to agree with as fact. you can’t say female tropes are bullshit while speaking as if every male trope is the God’s-honest-truth.
sorry, the game don’t play that way.
from these two issues, two panelists ensured that even were i given their books for free, i’d throw them away, another two left me indifferent toward their work, and after the panel i bought works from the last two. and no, i won’t tell you in this ‘public forum’ who’s who. ask me privately.

now, back to panel notes. good leaders know what they don’t know, and are okay with “sharing dominance” by finding and cooperating with those who do know what the leader doesn’t.
in the dichotomy of “strong (active) female protagonists vs. weak (passive) female characters”, both have their audiences, and a lot of those audiences can be the same people. if a woman (or man) leads an active, intense existence, then they may read about strong protagonists for inspiration, and ‘weak’ protagonists for fantasy (as in, “it would be nice if i didn’t have to be the hero of my own life”), and vice versa. reading for entertainment is inspiration for AND/OR escape from whatever the reader’s reality is.
(and sometimes it’s just visiting with an ‘old friend’…)

testosterone and estrogen are both poisons and can result in overdoses. Rambo and Rambette are both equally ridiculous (and before anyone says shit about market expectations, see above comments about finding another editor). Lone Wolf characters are great fictionally, in reality they’re impractical. we’re a social species, at our best when linked into a support structure. if a lone wolf doesn’t come across as disturbed, they’re probably not being written well.
remember that ‘exceptional’ is NOT the norm. if it was, it wouldn’t be ‘exceptional’.

Story Ideas I Never Want To See Again
“The Chosen One” – a character who is otherwise completely unqualified for their part in the story.
Wish Fulfillment fantasies – no consequences, no action – the good things just happen… POOFTA!
Prophecy-based stories where that’s a shortcut for authorial laziness.
Perfectly skilled know-nothing protagonists – make the little bastards EARN their knowledge, even if it’s “off-screen”. Avoid the whole “she’d never picked up a sword in her life but upon her hand grasping the hilt of ‘Sturmunddrang’, Amanda felt the sword become a part of her. She turned to her enemies” and after much sword-wank “made short work of them” syndrome.
Non-well-rounded characters of any import to the story. sure, Bob the butcher can be one-dimensional, although he’d be better with two… but Roberto the love interest? yeah, he needs some rounding out.
use tropes – don’t rely on them. don’t get lazy with them. tropes are there because they can ring true, but don’t use them to prop up bad writing.
heartless heroes – “I’m the savior of the world… excuse me while i kick this homeless veteran out of my way… now, where was i?”
Double Chosen – these two people MUST get together or all is lost!
Snowflake Special People – no mere mortal is good enough to be my mate…
Write relationships that are real and not ongoing cases of selective blindness – that’s fine for the first blush of love, but after that the vision clears… “Oh my GOD, after four years, I realize my vampire lover is a MURDERER!” “Oh no, my monster is a MONSTER!”
No “It’s just a dream/simulation”.
No “reset buttons”.
Inaction is boring. Boring should be cut.
If you can parody tropes well, that’s a good thing. If you can’t, don’t publish it. keep working on it ’til you get it right.
Rape is never “gotten over” by “Even with the horror you’ve endured, I still love you.” or “I have avenged myself upon my defilers”. There are no quick and easy fixes. Some, very few, will try to ‘fuck their way to mental health’ (according to a woman in the audience who claims to have known several), but if it works, it should be really rare and very well written.

Alternate History
Avoid “how many historical characters can you cram in?”
The further back you make the change, the greater the divergence.
it helps to determine, for you, is history driven by great individuals, or inevitable courses. “Jack Kilby was necessary for the invention of the integrated circuit.” vs. “The integrated circuit would have been invented when it was time for it to be invented, Kilby or no.” also, Determinism versus Free Will…
don’t write alt history if you don’t know history. the people who do it best are Fans of history. historians play the ‘what if?’ game for fun.

Guns in SF/F
okay, for a multitude of reasons, this panel pissed me off so bad i had to skip the next panel just to vent and get the taste of this one out of my mouth.
our moderator asked us before the panel even started if we had a clear idea what the panel was supposed to be about. it was her second year moderating and she still didn’t have a clear idea. so, a panel on guns where the panel was completely unfocused and everybody had only the vaguest concept of why we were there. do ya feel the clusterfuck a-comin’?
on this panel, which i had hoped would be on how to write guns well, with a sense of realism, the panel couldn’t even reach a consensus on what a gun fucking was. and there’s a reason for this…
on a panel of five, only one person had been trained in the use of firearms – an ex-Marine. two of the panelists weren’t real fond of guns and didn’t read books with guns (one of these later tried to make this a debate about gun control), and the other two panelists thought guns were okay, but had little to no experience with them.
when i first realized this panel wasn’t going to be what i was hoping it was, i was tempted to get up and leave, but i was sitting in the middle of the room, and didn’t want to be rude. later, it was all i could do to hold myself in my chair and not be mega-fuckin’-rude. oddly enough, two of the people mentioned by the panelists as knowing something about firearms were Elizabeth Moon and Joe Lansdale. both of them were at the con, neither of them was on the panel.
the panel piddle-futzed around, a former writer of hard sf revealed, probably inadvertently, that when they wrote a space opera they pretty much threw the laws of science out the window to make weapons that wouldn’t puncture the walls of a space habitat, instead of doing any research into non-lethal technologies, or frangible bullets.
to give you a clue – me, who’s not particularly fond of firearms in real life, a left-wing liberal who’s in favor of gun licensing and registration, who has to talk to people like my wife or a friend in the army when i want to make sure i’m getting things right, would have been a MUCH better panelist than four out of the five.
the panel finally settled into a half-assed attempt to talk about favorite firearms in fiction, authors who did write guns well, before ending after an attempt to discuss gun control and a plea for an end to war. (perfectly good topics of conversation, mind you, just not on this panel.
next year, DEFINE THE GODDAMN PANEL, get some people who know their shit, or don’t hold it at all.

Avoiding the Mistakes of Others
know what’s been done, don’t reinvent the wheel. (that’s called READING, and it’s essential to a writer)
have strong first sentences/paragraphs.
love your words and kill ’em when you have to.
don’t argue with an editor… unless they’ve already purchased the story, in which case you have some leeway. editors talk to each other. if you’re an asshole to one, a whole lot of them will know about it ere long.
have faith in your vision. at the end of the day, your name goes on the story. listen to editors, but don’t be a sychophant.
don’t make up words if you don’t have to. your alien language may be cool and all that, but your reader will be pissed if they find out they didn’t need to be grinding their way through your new words when old ones would’ve worked perfectly well.
skip the boring parts.
make your mistakes – and you will make them – small ones. do enough research to avoid the really big and obvious ones.
write to your audience.
Words = What Happens. are you spending too many words on not enough action? are you using too few words for too much action?
let’s repeat that for those of you in the cheap seats: SKIP THE BORING PARTS. if it’s boring you to write it, it’ll bore your readers.
avoid ‘too vague’, but avoid ‘too concrete’ as well when it comes to descriptions. we’re pattern-making creatures, we’ll fill in the unnecessary details.
research your publisher, agent, editor – if you go that route – don’t make the simple fuck-up of taking the wrong story to the wrong person.
and finally, write strong characters, dodge exposition, be as brilliant as you can be. work to make your writing the best. then if it’s rejected, it’s their loss, not yours. somewhere it will be accepted.

Building Fictional Societies
why redo what’s been done historically? think outside the box economically, socially, politically. broaden your foundations. using what has worked here on earth is lazy – now, it’s an understandable lazy, it’s a short-form to a proven system, and depending on the length or depth of the intended, that may be okay.
question your bedrock assumptions, but make it believable. some real worlds systems are too much to be believed. “Truth is no excuse.”
always explore the ways your fictional civilizations rebel against their social mores.
how much cultural background to you need? leave blank spaces, don’t block yourself in. only build as much as you need. if the interaction between your society and the ones around it aren’t important, don’t feel you need to flesh them out.
if you have a well-rounded world and a book at the end, you’ve succeeded.
random background touches lend reality.
ask why? why are things the way they are?
characters should be an organic outgrowth of the society.
the character shouldn’t tell the reader something until the reader needs to know it.

Writing Erotic Fiction
okay, here we are again… an entertaining panel, but i’m arriving, more and more, at the opinion that ‘literary erotica’ is ‘porn with pretensions’. that doesn’t mean it isn’t good, that just means it’s not the style for me. one of the panelists held forth, at great length, that if a story wouldn’t change if you dropped the sex, then the sex didn’t need to be there in the first place. why is the sex scene even there?
it’s there because i want my readers to cum.
i don’t write erotica, by the literary definitions. i write smut, porn, on occasion, even stroke. luckily we had someone on the panel who writes erotica/porn/stroke for money, and does quite well at it. he didn’t argue with the literary types, but in general took a very practical attitude about things.
i don’t want this to sound bitchy, because i did enjoy the panel, but i had my issues with it as well.

There ya have it folks, my impressions of Armadillocon this year. No Bruce Sterling to harsh my buzz, but no Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch either (desperately wanted to get things signed by both of them). discovered some new authors, we’ll see how they and i get along. had a lot of fun, thanks to Rie Sheriden Rose for inviting me as her “+1”, thanks to Shandy Smith for the ride in on Friday.

i’m tired, and calling it a night. later, you frenzied gator-mutants, dream on, you frolicking zombie-burros…

listening to: Johnny & the Sea – Jordan Reyne
mood: minorly miffed

One thought on “Markets, Armadillocon, and Cranky Rambling

Leave a Reply