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January 11, 2012 — 1,625 words

Writers Write What They Write

By Letitia Coyne

 

 

Everyone’s heard the joke about pressing the button harder when the remote control won’t work. Everyone knows a sad irony of humanity is that when something isn’t working,
we do it again but with more determination. It has even been said, quite rightly, that the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

I was thinking about that point as I worked on an essay about the relationship between cumulative workplace stresses and post traumatic stress disorder for a friend. I was midparagraph when I thought - I mustn’t forget to go through [another friend]’s paper on obesity and jot the odd editorial comment as promised. It would mean I could put off the mountain of paperwork involved in arranging tertiary education for young adults in this country. I should also have been giving some attention to the three [snail mail] letters I needed to write at the end of last year, [before Dec 15th, actually.] Plus, I have a number of arrangements with various social and medical support organizations that I really should be getting written up….

That’s when I decided to write this column.

Despite appearances, it isn’t about procrastination. It’s about writing.

Writers write. I’ve always written, but my dream dream, the really big one I’ve always had from the time I was four, was to be on the stage. I even did some amateur leads as a youngster. The trouble is I’m not much of a self-starter. I’m always doing things, nonstop in fact, but rarely ever because I wake up and say, “I’m going to do THIS today.” I’m more like the Buddhist pebble that doesn’t move, and yet is carried across the country by the water rushing around it.

I wrote what and when we were told to write at school. Compositions, they were called initially. Then they were Creative Writing. Various teachers in various years took various pieces and submitted them to school magazines and local, small-town goings-on. Only one teacher, in my senior year, said, “I’m casting the senior play, and I want you for this role.”  Fate took the lead; I said no. Another teacher recommended a writing course at college, just part-time, a time-filler. The tutor on that first course, said, “Pssst. XYZ Publishers are looking for new authors, 95000 words. I’ve given them your name. Can you get a manuscript to them before February?”  Yes, of course I could, and so it began.

I formed and followed a sound rationalization from that point on. I’d get a significant publishing history behind me and then I could write exactly what I wanted to write. No more guidelines. No more formulas. No more OTT submissions. And sound it is. You can make money from the ephemera at the edges of the acceptable literary world. Sometimes you can even give up your day job, but that’s only so you can write what has been requested. It’s a living as long as you keep writing dimestore novellas to specification. I was still just writing what and when I was told to.

But one day, one fine day, boy oh boy, one day, there’d be time and money enough to do the research and weave the threads of the Great Work-of-Art Novel into reality. One day I’d have the freedom to write the trilogy that I’ve kept in my head: meticulously researched, beautifully crafted, and artfully literary; a good yarn with a soul-deep resonance for the as yet unmet masses.

One day.

I spoke to an agent about the project, prematurely I must admit. It was still only forty-five chapters of synopsis, with a one hundred page opening. I suddenly realized I was on the spot, but the spot was more than a little bit shaky. See, as I had to sheepishly explain to her, there was easily two years in research and writing to get up a decent first draft of the first book. Not good.

She had an idea. What if I cut the anthropological detail; what if all the myth cycles and local dialects and seasonal nuances were just sort of smudged over? Just write the story without the depth I had imagined. Maybe even as one book? Three hundred thousand words, not a million.

Luckily, I was having a break from the world at the time and doing something I thought I’d never do - I was reviewing some novels. One had enormous potential. It was really well written, it was a huge apocalyptic tale, but the author had been lazy or rushed or something. He’d brushed over important details. He’d made excuses for his characters and used low plot devices to save himself the effort of actually knowing his story.  In my view he’d taken all the potential of his great and glorious story and pissed them against a wall – for reasons of his own. Maybe he’d been advised to cut it down?

Seeing that wasted potential, seeing more and more brilliance being written online, much of it being totally ignored, seeing myself still tumbling down the riverbed under the impetus of some blind goddesses, recognizing the ‘there but by the grace of God go I’ in the novel I’d reviewed, all made me realize the awful truth about writing. Writers write.

Yes, we all know that. This was more profound still.

Writers write what they write.

I don’t care what they write. I say that all the time, I know. I don’t believe genre or category fiction is a poor cousin cast outside the wall’ed city of literature. Storytelling is the fundamental art; whether it’s done through poetry, epic or haiku; or poetic prose, with well turned phrases and cryptic insider nods to classic references; or in graphic ink slashes or calm and beautiful watercolours; or in simplistic Dick and Dora text that speaks to the less literary focused readers. I just don’t care. The art is in getting the art right.

What I think matters is that I deceived myself. I told myself that if I spent thirty years writing the sort of stories that are published through the pulp mills and magazines, then the day would come when I’d suddenly stop doing that and become a different kind of writer all together. Okay, maybe I never thought I’d still be whistling with my hands in my pockets and going wherever the wind or the spirit took me all this time later, but I’m not sure it matters. You learn to do what you practice doing.

Writers write what they write.

If you have a vision of where you want to be and what you want from your writing, you had better also critically evaluate what it is that you write. If you are not writing what you love – however sound your reasoning is – you had better also critically evaluate where all your practice is going to lead you. I know I am not alone in my misapprehension. Most of you will know someone who speaks of their work as if they are Nureyev crossing the stage on point, when clearly they are Chuck Norris walking nonchalantly away from the Big Bang.

Also, I find a dichotomy in the writing world. I meet those who are infinitely self assured, convinced of their aptitude and brilliance and able to ignore any suggestion to the contrary, and I meet those who have no confidence in what they put forward, and no amount of praise will fill the anxious pit in their stomachs. Simple relativism tells us a large percentage of both groups will be wrong. Are you critically aware of what it is you write? Do you hold yourself to a standard?

There is an enormous freedom in writing and marketing on the WWW. I don’t think it is working particularly well for most writers for reasons I have discussed before on this blog. Do you want to make money? Do you want most to be read? Do you want to make it specifically to the New York lists? There are regional bestsellers that no one in NY has ever even heard of. Do you want to be famous? Develop a cult following, maybe?

There isn’t a right or wrong choice, but my warning is to step out confidently - knowing that the road you choose to walk on will take you to the end of that road. It will not take you somewhere else. One day never comes, or at least, one road never turns out to be another road several blocks away.

The good news is the lovely editors at 1889 Labs – who I can highly recommend as discerning souls of great taste and ability – suggested another course for my magnificent octopus [nod to Baldric]. Serial. And why not? Well then. Maybe. If I start writing again.

Writers write, or they’re hobbyists.

Writers write what they write.

Smart writers write what they love.

January 5, 2012 — 430 words

Copyright Has More Flaws Than a Three Dollar Diamond

By Greg X. Graves

 

 

I had tweeted about this Center for the Study of the Public Domain article on what might have entered the public domain in 2012 if copyright law had not been altered by the 1976 Copyright Act. The act extended the lifetime of copyright on a given work from a maximum of fifty-six years to a maximum of author's life plus fifty years.

Then in 1998 another act extended the copyright protection to the author's life plus seventy years.

These protections privilege many media conglomerates and estates while disrupting derivative, valuable cultural work. The problem is, of course, that the latter is not easily demonstrable. I can't prove that if The Seven Year Itch had entered the public domain this year that next year its logical sequel, Eight Minutes then an Itch, would be up for an Academy Award. Nor can I muster any evidence to support my assertion that we're culturally poorer for never having read Elves Staring Wistfully into Mist, the best-selling sequel to the Return of the King.

The only thing that I can prove is that at least one Real Live Author thinks that the current copyright terms are too long, don't do me much good, but sure screw over the culture that my children and grandchildren will be living and creating.

If you are a publishing house that is so scared of material over fifty years old (under the original fifty-six year copyright term) appearing on Project Gutenberg, maybe you should pull some resources away from re-issuing Moby Dick ad infinitum and try signing a new author?

And, at least as I understand it, even after the author has transferred copyright to a publisher, the term is still seventy years after the author's death.

Publishers should be lobbying for better health care.

Imagine if I, Greg, dropped dead tomorrow of an emu blasting me in the chest with one of its evil emu feet. I'm young. My estate (what a terrible word to call your wife) will need the cash. Especially because my will has several provisions that include diamond statues of me being dusted daily with a fresh piece of golden fleece. Fifty-six years is still fifty-six years. Those statues would shine until 2068 under the older rule.

That's plenty of time. Because in 2055 the statues will be harvested to supply focusing lenses for lasers in order to repel the lizardmen from Pluto.

December 24, 2011 — 2,126 words

Interview with Book Blogger Lauren Smith from Violin in a Void

By Terra Whiteman

 

 

 

Violin in a Void is run by South African book blogger Lauren Smith. She's well known among the book blogging community, spending her free time writing reviews for both larger publishing houses and independent presses alike. She'd been generous enough to review several 1889 Labs books (Hungry for You, The Antithesis), and has also hosted giveaways (Bears, Recycling and Confusing Time Paradoxes) on her blog.

Her reviews are often extremely insightful and give readers an excellent idea of the conceptual elements and premises of each book. One can tell she spends a lot of time doing this, so I would like nothing better than to return the favor.

And pick her brain.


 

TW: How long have you been a book reviewer/blogger? What made you become one, and what initially generated your passion for fiction?

LS: I started blogging in July 2010. Before that, I’d joined LibraryThing, and later Goodreads, in search of a space to chat about books. I don’t have any real-world friends who read the same books I do, or as much as I do, so I went online to have those conversations. Eventually I started writing reviews to post on LibraryThing and Goodreads. Most of them were fairly casual – short pieces that were simply a quick write-up of my immediate thoughts. However, I also started writing more serious reviews. I’d take notes while reading, mark important passages, make a list of topics or issues I wanted to discuss, write up a draft or two, and then revise it a few times before posting. Because I was putting in that much effort, spending several days reading and then several days writing (I’m an easily distracted, procrastinating perfectionist) I wanted a much better platform for my reviews than Goodreads or LibraryThing could offer.

Blogging seemed intimidating, but I was encouraged by the fact that loads of people had taken it up as a hobby, and many weren’t afraid to blog about random, everyday things, or to just pour out their unstructured, unedited thoughts on anything from current affairs and religion to movies and books. If they could do it, so could I, especially since I felt I was taking the task relatively seriously and trying to provide people with information and opinions I hoped they would find useful. I looked to professional and well-established blogs as role models for what I wanted, but the more casual blogs put me at ease about putting my writing out there for the world to see.

Finding a name for the blog was the hardest part – I just couldn’t come up with anything I liked. Eventually I stumbled across the phrase “violin in a void” in Vladimir Nabokov’s prologue to his novel Invitation to a Beheading. It’s such a beautiful image, and I thought that that’s what the best books feel like once you’ve finished reading them – this singularly exquisite thing in a world that seems to have faded, briefly, to insignificance.

My passion for fiction is something I’ve had for as long as I can remember. As a child I was a voracious reader, making frequent visits to the library and dipping into my parents’ novels once I’d worked my way through all the children’s books in the house. It’s not something I can analyse in search of a source – I just love reading stories, and I’m incapable of imagining how I could not.

 

TW: If you absolutely had to pick one, what is your favorite genre? Sub-genre? Why?

LS: Oh god, I’m the most indecisive person I know. Questions like this fill me with anguish. Umm... My favourite genre is probably science fiction. This is a relatively recent development. As a kid, I’d read almost anything. I remember mostly reading fantasy and then a lot of horror as I got older, but I never really thought of myself as preferring any particular genre. There were stories, and some were more interesting than others.

I did a course in my second year at the University of Cape Town called the Victorian Fancy, about Victorian genre fiction (sf, fantasy, horror, and nonsense literature). The next year I signed up for Postmodernism and Science Fiction, which sort of sealed sf as my favourite genre. The lecturer, Jessica Tiffin, was a major genre fan herself, and she really gave me an appreciation for sf as the genre of ideas. In addition, the books and short stories prescribed for the course must have been the most enjoyable works I’ve ever read for educational purposes. Literary + Entertaining = Awesome

Favourite sub-genre is probably weird/dark fantasy (you didn’t explicitly say they had to be linked...). I don’t have a particularly good explanation for why I like it. I just like weird things...

 

TW: What are the most important components of a good story, in your opinion? 

LS: I wouldn’t single out any particular component of a story as the most important. Ideally, a story should be strong all-round, but a good story might just excel in one or two areas. The plot might be so entertaining that it doesn’t matter that the characters are a bit flat. On the other hand great characters can carry a simple or barely-existent plot. A story might be good because of its ideas, its satire, its social commentary, or its depiction of a particular place or time. As long as the story can engage the reader, it doesn’t really matter which aspect of it manages to achieve that.

However, I will say that it’s essential that the writing is sound at the very least. The words you choose and the way you use them are the most basic component of a book. They are the means through which the characters, plot, dialogue, ideas, etc. exist, and as a result they define the existence of those things. I don’t know if a story can be great based on writing alone, but I will definitely say that, for me, a badly written book is a bad book, period.

 

TW: Who are some of your favorite authors? Why?

LS:

Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams

They write in different genres, but I’m putting these two together because I love them for the same reasons – their whit, satirical observations, wonderfully bizarre characters, and endlessly re-readable stories.

China Miéville

As I said earlier, I like weird things and China Miéville’s novels are definitively weird. They’re also incredibly cerebral, exploring brilliantly bizarre, intellectual ideas. In doing so, Miéville plays around with language in ways that revitalises it or creates new meaning. All this is found within wonderfully inventive cities, among strange and fascinating creatures and characters. For all these reasons - as well as a few rather superficial ones - he’s the only author I have a serious crush on.

James Tiptree jr.

I’m not a big short story reader, but Tiptree’s stories leave in me in awe. Her writing is a beautiful landscape of exquisite, subtle details. Her stories are a combination of boldness and tragedy that I’ve never experienced with any other writer. Her titles are sublime. She portrays gender as a complex tangle of influences to the extent that there’s an award named after her, for works that best explore gender and gender roles. Hers is the only biography I’ve ever been interested in reading, and it revealed an amazing life full of adventure, tragedy, contradiction and passion.

Her story, The Last Flight of Dr Ain is my favourite short story, ever.

Iain M. Banks

Elegant, cerebral sci fi that’s also loads of fun. I discovered Iain M. Banks in that sci fi course I mentioned before and I loved his sci fi from then on. If I could choose any fictional society to live in, Banks’s Culture would be it – endless resources, mind-blowingly advanced technology including sentient machines that are basically considered people in their own right, cool biological modifications, no government, no crime, no need for money or a job. You spend your life doing what you find most fulfilling, and die when you choose to. How awesome is that? I also love the odd personalities that the drones have, and the ships’ quirky names.

Banks’s novels also have intense conflicts, often based on the ethical and physical clash between the utopian Culture and a dystopian society. I’m less enthusiastic about Banks’s mainstream fiction, with the exception of his debut The Wasp Factory – one of the best, darkest novels I’ve ever read.

Margaret Atwood

Or at least, I love her sci fi (and it is sci fi, even though she refuses to call it that). Beautifully written, her sf deals with two issues that are particularly important to me – gender and ecology. Her mainstream fiction tends to be hit or miss, but I thought Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride were brilliant, and thus she has a solid spot in my list of favourite authors. I’m not crazy about her short stories, but her short short stories, found in collections like The Tent and Bones and Murder, are delightful, punchy little things.

 

TW: Fiction has been one of the most profound elements of all societies, dating as far back as early human civilization. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, was one of the first written works, created in the Sumerian/Babylonian Era. What do you think story-telling, and books in general, contribute to our world? What is it about fiction that humans crave? 

LS: Oh god, where to begin? I feel like just answering “everything”. Without storytelling I think humanity might as well just curl up and die because who’d want to live as a piece of flesh carting around an emotionless void?

Storytelling is perhaps the most entertaining, meaningful and memorable form of communication. In telling stories we explore concepts that are important or valuable to us. Let’s take the Epic of Gilgamesh as an example, since you mentioned it. A story about a man going on a journey to find the secret to immortality is so much more powerful and meaningful than simply saying how great it would be to live forever. Of course Gilgamesh fails: his cure is stolen by a snake and he’s forced to accept that he will one day die, but he can at least take comfort in the thought that he will live on through his works. As a story, that’s far more elegant than blunt facts stating that you will die but you might be able to create something to be remembered by.

In telling stories we indulge our creative impulses and, especially in social forms of storytelling, we tell people things about who we are or want to be. Stories are particularly efficient at doing this; their details convey a thousand things that, if you were to list them all individually, would be way too long, pretty boring, and easily forgotten. And stories, quite simply, can be these wonderful, thoroughly pleasurable things.

Fiction is necessary to do the job when life fails to be entertaining, meaningful or even ‘lifelike’ enough. Anyone who likes telling anecdotes knows how sometimes they’re better if you tweak the truth here and there to make it a little funnier, a little more ironic, a little more meaningful. Fiction is a means of making the most out of a story, or conjuring up the story that hasn’t or couldn’t occur. It gives you what life has led you to ponder or long for, but which it cannot deliver on its own.

 

 

December 8, 2011 — 943 words

Mass Media … with Teeth.

By Terra Whiteman

 

 

The world is changed. Gone are the cheap and easy websites of old, and all the freedoms they gave. Access to the Internet is strictly controlled by newsmedia superpowers, where success is measured by personal secrets bought and sold.

Dissent fights to survive, forced to the margins in hastily-assembled printed zines known as “destructibles.” The only free voice in the free world.

As Associate Director of Activist Issues, it’s Jack O’Reily’s job to search destructibles and identify threats to the system.

Even the threats inside the system itself. 

 

THE DESTRUCTIBLES: Now available on Kindle and Smashwords for $1.99

IsaKFT's debut 1889 Labs novel, "The Destructibles", features a topic that seems very possible in our real world. It's no secret that politics control the media; especially here in North America. But what would happen if the mass media companies, stations-- even the free associated press websites--all became the politics? What if they eventually controlled the world?

Isa KFT discusses the premise of the novel, saying: "The Destructibles was an exercise in speed writing for me. I was reading an article in Vanity Fair on the NewsCorp phone hacking scandal and I was just inspired by the intricacy of it. I mean it was like something out of a Hollywood conspiracy thriller, wasn't it? The police doing business with the press, the involvement of the politicians, how this web of relationships allowed them to continue for so long..."

Intricate, indeed. But how does The Destructibles reflect our modern day society as a whole?

IsaKFT: "I think it reflects our attitudes. In The Destructibles the resistance struggles to achieve anything because they won't work with the corporation. It's more important to them to be pure and uncompromising than it is to curtail the system's abuses. They feel that way because most of them are upper middle class. They don't benefit from little steps in the right direction, they benefit from huge power shifts that might elevate their status.

Of course none of the characters see things that way, but I think that's the reality of revolution in general. Look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. People are filling the streets all over the world and crying out for more democracy, but also saying that it's not their job to come up with policy. Basically they want the 1% to stay in power, they just want the 1% to make their lives better ... but they don't want to be bothered with the details of how that gets done or who does it. How is that democracy? I think what's interesting about OWS is that it started in New York: the state with one of the lowest voter turnouts in America. New York also has the lowest level of volunteering in the country, which is particularly alarming since we have the highest distribution of nonprofits that need help. I would probably feel different about the movement if either of those two facts were different, but I don't understand how you can embrace a culture of opting out of civil society and then embrace revolutionary rhetoric about bringing down the system. The system behaves the way it does because you don't participate in it."

However, IsaKFT also goes on to say: "The Destructibles isn't necessarily anti-revolution. I just think it's dangerous when people value destruction over productive dialogue and collaboration between rulers and the ruled. Sure the latter is a slow, unglamorous and ultimately imperfect process, but every revolution that has ever resulted in building a better society did so by cooperating with the remnants of the old regime. The ones that purge and try to remain uncompromising end up building more oppressive and evil societies than they started out with."

Isa's other works include Split Self, The Freelancers, and Season in the Red. She describes herself as a 'total stat-geek', who loves data and building unique programs. She is currently working on an online thesaurus, which she describes as 'the most awesome the internet has ever seen'.

For more information on IsaKFT, please visit her author website, or follow her on twitter @IsaKFT.

***READERS who subscribe to our mailing list by December 15th, 2011 will receive a FREE copy of The Destructibles and a chance to win a brand new Kindle Fire!

 

December 1, 2011 — 293 words

It’s the Holidays, and 1889 Labs is Celebrating!

By 1889 Labs

 

 

The Holidays are just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than another 1889 Labs giveaway?

So, what are we giving away? A Kindle Fire!

All you need to do to enter is subscribe to our mailing list. After signing up, we'll be notified and your name will be automatically entered into our raffle. The 1889 Labs mailing list will also notify you monthly of all new book releases, promotional offers for books in our current line, along with other contests and great deals! So, it's a win-win.

How can you better your chances of winning? Anyone who signs up to the mailing list, and then tweets about this contest using the tag @1889Labs (so we can see it, of course), or mentions us on facebook, will have their names entered a second time. Doing both will enter your name three times, tripling your chances of winning.

The winner will be announced January 1st. Subscribe by December 15th to receive an additional bonus ebook gift of one of our current titles.

So, what are you waiting for? Subscribe now, and you could possibly be the proud new owner of the newest Kindle version in only a month.

 

November 28, 2011 — 1,064 words

Sub-genres in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: An 1889 Labs Encyclopedia, sort of.

By Terra Whiteman

 

 

The fantasy and science fiction genres are vast; they are more like an umbrella that encompasses completely different types of stories. There are millions of books out there that are classified as being science fiction or fantasy (sometimes both), but when a reader is trying to find specific stories, these genres alone won't do much to narrow down his or her search.

Fantasy literature, by definition, is a genre that uses either imaginary worlds, races, supernatural or paranormal characters, and magic. It's often set apart from science fiction and horror by omitting scientific or macabre themes. However, if anyone has noticed as of late, there has been some significant overlapping across these genres.

Science fiction literature, by definition, is a genre that often incorporates alternative earthen histories, distant planets, alien races, epidemics caused by volatile, deadly contagions, or practically anything else that offers insight into futuristic scientific progression. Science fiction is commonly seen being crossed with horror. The console game Dead Space comes to mind (it's not literature, I know), FEAR, and the huge zombie outbreak in the literary world often tries to add scientific explanations to the plague that caused the apocalypse.

The sub-genres of fantasy are numerous. Too numerous to go through them all, but some of the major ones include dark fantasy, epic fantasy, low fantasy, high fantasy and the newest one of the bunch, science fantasy.

Dark fantasy is the sub-genre that accounts for the fantasy-horror mash up. It can also contain macabre themes that aren't exactly horror, but contain brooding and often chilling undertones. Dark fantasy has also been known to include the paranormal and supernatural genres. Usually dark fantasy is limited to worlds that are very similar to ours, with humanistic themes.

Epic fantasy is a sub-genre of literature that normally takes place in an imaginary world, telling a tale over the course of a very long time, which usually incorporates war or some other kind of worldly conflict. Many popular fantasy series are epic fantasies. Some that come to mind are Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and of course JRR Tolkien's the Lord of the Ring series.

High fantasy is a sub-genre of literature that usually goes hand in hand with epic fantasy. Many of the mentioned series above are high-fantasy stories, which are pegged as 'sword and sorcery' fantasy. High fantasy usually contains elves, wizards, kingdoms in peril, dragons, and other mythical creatures and beasts. This sub-genre is also sometimes referred to as 'classic fantasy'.

Low fantasy is a little harder to categorize. These stories take place in a real world setting, with less emphasis on the fantastical. Many low fantasy stories are often set with paranormal and supernatural themes, occurring in our world, with human characters. Low fantasy is antithetical to high fantasy, so it does not contain a surplus of mythic and magical elements.

Science fantasy is the newest sub-genre (or at least newest to me, since I hadn't hear of it until last year), which accounts for science fiction and fantasy cross-overs. Stories that have both scientific and fantastical elements to them, but can't quite be strictly deemed science fiction, nor can it be strictly called fantasy, tend to be termed 'science fantasy' instead. These stories contain a blend of elements related to the science fiction domain, but also contain those related to fantasy as well, such as supernatural/paranormal mixed with genetic engineering or other forms of scientific theory. Though I haven't come across this sub-genre much in the last year I'd known it existed, a movie (whose title eludes me at the moment) that contained vampires claiming the earth and experimenting on humans to create 'synthetic blood', others attempting to research a cure using photon radiation, comes to mind.

The most popular science fiction sub-genres, that I know of, consist of hard SF, soft SF, cyberpunk, and steampunk.

Hard science fiction is a sub-genre used to describe the amount of scientific emphasis or technical detail to a story's setting or theme. Hard science fiction authors often use extremely accurate science or technological aspects to drive a story's plot. Some hard science fiction authors that come to mind are Asimov and Larry Niven. Some of Michael Crichton's works could also be deemed hard SF.

Soft science fiction is a sub-genre that contrasts hard SF.  It is not based on the 'hard' elements of science (physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc), but on the 'soft' elements, like anthropology, sociology, political sciences and psychology.

Cyberpunk is one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction. Stories in the cyberpunk sub-genre are usually set in postmodern times with an emphasis on high technology and low life. It's also usually placed in a dystopian world (many of the themes point to the consequences of misusing science and technology). Plots may center on hackers, artificial intelligence and megacorporations, along with a certain degree of radical political discharge and social disorder.

Steampunk is a sub-genre that can also be incorporated into fantasy. However, it's emphasis on contraptions and alternate histories suggest a more SF foundation. Steampunk settings are usually quite interesting, with a Victorian-esque atmosphere, back when 'steam' was still used as a power source. However, steampunk may also have postmodern elements to them; futuristic worlds with unique contraptions and gimmicks, political orders, all packaged into an unusual society of corsets and tophats. Those are my favorite kinds of steampunk stories, anyhow.


 

Terra Whiteman is a scientist by profession, a philosopher by hobby, and author of 'The Antithesis'. For other musings and additional works, please visit terrawhiteman.com

November 21, 2011 — 374 words

We Need a Lunatic

By MCM

It probably doesn't show, but 1889 is undergoing a lot of exciting changes right now. Most of them are gestating under the surface, but they'll be bursting out of our collective chests soon, wreaking havoc on the world.

One of the projects has the potential to be a real game-changer in web fiction, getting back to our roots as a crazy experimental company. We've got the model, the tech, the willpower... but we're missing one thing...

A writer.

What are we looking for? We need someone comfortable with the web fiction model. Tight schedules, regular updates (2 times a week!), audience interaction, and a keen eye towards creating fiction that draws the reader in and won't let go. It will not be easy. There will be creative freedom, but structurally, it will have to fit into a very specific pattern. You won't be able to bank any chapters ahead of time, so flexibility is key. The ideal candidate will be able to answer the question: "How the hell did that banana end up THERE?" without missing a beat.

What genre? Our target audience is women between the ages of 18 and 49... which is to say we don't much care what the genre is, as long as it's engaging. The perfect story will be perfect regardless of what label it's got.

There is a compensation plan for the daring soul who signs up. We can't promise vast riches, but I think a good time is guaranteed. Oh, and when the work is finished, it will be turned into a proper print book and sold all over the world. Snazzy, non?

To be honest, this is the kind of project I would love to do myself. But there just isn't enough time in the day, and I think it's time to find someone new to abuse, here at 1889 Labs.

So whaddya say? Want to do something crazy?

If so, email me at mcm@1889.ca. Include a link to some of your writing, a very quick pitch for what you'd like to do, and any questions you have. And hell, even if you don't have a pitch in mind, just let me know you're interested. We'll figure something out.

November 15, 2011 — 1,586 words

The Costs of Self and Vanity Publishing

By Letitia Coyne

 

 

This week I’m struggling with lines.

I read this comment at bibliotastic:

“Why oh Why don't these self publishing authors get someone to proof read their books before uploading them. Spelling & grammar like we see in these books would have gotten me expelled from school.”

Since order is emerging from the delightful chaos of the digital fiction world, lines are forming where once none were needed and I’m not sure I like where they are being drawn.

Writing of any kind needs only to meet the expectations of its readers to be enjoyed. If readers want foremost to safely predict the plot and the ending, there is no driving need for great literary skill. If readers expect fast moving action, characters can safely be stereotyped. If readers demand a visceral hard-edged slice-of-life drama, they are unlikely to care if there is no punctuation or too many adverbs.

This is borne out in the world of popular print fiction, the only qualifier being that the reader can predict what a traditionally published book will provide because there is a system in place to guarantee such expectations. Readers in the print world can select their preference by genre because someone pays a slew of editors to make sure the genre guidelines are met. Those editors bring with them a host of proofreaders and someone pays them, too.

And who is it that pays for them all? The reader.

Not the author. Published authors are paid their percentage of the cover price. Publishers also pay the acquiring editors and copy editors and the editors-in-chief and the sub editors and editorial assistants, and they recoup the cumulative costs of all successes and failures from the consumer. It is an easy process to follow.

It’s how it’s always been. Everyone knows what they get. Everyone is happy, aren’t they?

No. Readers moan that authors give them rubbish. Authors blame editors who won’t buy their Art. Editors blame the book buying public. An extraordinarily narrow line of titles will sell to a large market, while the remaining buying public is no longer big enough to sustain a suitably broad range of subjects and preferences.

No one has actually been happy about it for a long time.

Meanwhile, once upon a time in a digital landscape there was anarchy and it suited the authors and the readers who dwelt in that green and pleasant land. In cyberspace there was a Utopian balance where art was created for art’s sake and appreciated by hedonistic epicureans in togas, reclining in fruit filled grottos; a flask of wine, a book of verse and thou.

Or maybe they were really tech savvy literati secretly reading geekphic in their grey felt work cubicles, many of them creating their own fiction. Whoever they were, they knew they should expect the best that could be produced and provided for free. They found they were capable of filtering for themselves. They could find fiction they liked and avoid that which they did not appreciate; there was room for brilliance, and any author could make their art and find their audience.

But outside, the unhappy editors catered to the narrowest market, the unhappy authors muttered, ‘Fuck it,’ under their breaths and looked for fairer alternatives, and the unhappy readers, with shiny new tablets under their arms, followed a few well known authors into the promised land.

Suddenly digital delivery made both the editors’ choices and the distribution bottleneck obsolete and a fashion for self-publishing emerged. Suddenly there were queues. Suddenly we needed lines. According to readers like the one above, we must have standards. Where is the line for a reasonable standard?

Now anyone can write a book, anyone can sell their work to the world, anyone can set their ego free on the page for better or worse, anyone can distribute their work to any outlet, anyone can review their own work or others, anyone can spam the ether, and anyone can be a self-published author.

We are all free from slavery and gatekeepers and no one enforces the rules. No one has to write to guidelines so no one can be sure whether they are reading a romance, or an adventure, or a tragic fantasy. No one checks the grammar, no one deletes excess commas, no one makes sure the heroine gets her man, no one cuts those cheap awful plot devices that leave a reader fuming, no one sets a fair price, and no one checks the author can even write a book.

There are no benchmarks.

Along with all the other things they did for a price, the traditional publishing industry kept enough authors out of the game to avoid a saturated market. That kept the prices high enough to cover expenses. After only months the ebook free market is getting soggy. Authors cry, ‘Sale! Sale! One day only!’ Readers are milling around, a bit lost. They would like some quality assurance along with their low prices. Like gayray01 at bibliotastic, they are whining about grammar and punctuation even when the work is free. They want standards enforced if they are expected to read.

But anyone can sell themselves as an editor now, too, and anyone can advise on content, anyone can proofread, anyone can be a publisher, anyone can sell cover art, anyone can sell a service or a package of services to a self-publishing author. That author can then enter the saturated market and hope they can get some of their money back.

If an author wants to make money, perhaps even a living wage from their writing, then they have to treat it like a business. Many businesses lose money in the first year or two, but they cannot continue to lose money. Each successive release cannot cost more and earn less than the one before - so is there a line between a reasonable expense for the production of a professional looking ebook and plain old vanity press?

Authors are not generally rich and famous. 95% of published authors make very little money from their sales. 99% of published authors’ names will be unremembered five years after the event. When is an ebook published with vain hope of making its costs back? What about the authors who have no interest in making money? Should they, too, be sucked into the booming market for professional services?

How much is needed to produce a professional finish? Is an ebook good enough when it meets all the criteria of a traditionally published novel? Does it need grammar and punctuation correction to a professional standard? That will require several proofing edits at $300 - $2000 each. Does it need quality cover art? Does it need a set number of expectations in plotting enforced in order to be satisfying for the majority of readers?

And if it is NOT a professionally finished product, if it is no more than an author can reasonably produce from their own effort, can it ever hope to draw enough market attention?

If reviewers, who no longer need any kind of pedigree, not even a pass in junior English, decide some books have too many modifiers, or suffer from convoluted sentence structure, or are not grammatically correct, or if they are considered too expository, or too slow, or too meandering, or too violent, or too explicit, can those books from outside the common denominators ever hope to succeed, financially or otherwise?

If an ebook must have a professional finish, that is, must meet all the standards of a traditionally published novel, and therefore must cost many hundreds or even thousands of dollars before it will be read by any reasonable share of the market, how have authors improved their lot by self-publishing? It seems to me they have moved headfirst into the vanity publishing market.

Publishers and distributors can even charge for publishing packages now, and reward a chosen few of the broke authors with extended print distribution - the same sort of distribution once promised by traditional publishers who paid their authors. The situation is ludicrous.

How many 99c books, or $2, or $5 books do we all hope to sell? Is hope the operative word? Dream? Pipedream?

There are many good websites filled with free information to help self-publishing authors find the best deals and avoid some of the worst cost pitfalls, but not everyone is able to do their own research. Certainly the loudest message to broadcast is to preserve your copyright under all circumstances. If you are self-publishing you should never be required to hand your rights or your future rights to any other person or organization. And beware editors who believe they have the right to arbitrarily change your text. But if we are required to meet a set of externally approved criteria and to pay for the freedom to self-publish, how have we moved forward from the old system?

If it costs more to produce a book than you can ever hope to recoup in sales, why would anyone continue to self-publish? If work given away free is ridiculed, why should the hard work and generosity of authors who give their work away continue?

If we reestablish the old system of controls and cliques - or allow it to be reestablished - in the end what have we gained?

Why can’t good enough be good enough?

Have we created a system where authors are worse off than they were before the revolution?

November 6, 2011 — 883 words

Dark Romanticism in Literary Fiction: A Historical Look on the Concept of the Infamous ‘Love Curse’

By Terra Whiteman

 

 

After writing a guest post on Heroines of Fantasy, titled ‘The Evolution of Duality in Science Fiction and Fantasy’, I began pondering other historical elements of fiction that have evolved or inspired some of our modern day works.

My own series reflects a lot of components of classical tales; epics, duality, moral ambiguity… But there is one element in particular that I felt it necessary to expound upon a little more.

 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more.”

  - The Raven (1845)




Dark Romanticism—also known as Gothicism or American Romanticism—is defined as a literary subgenre that suggests people are prone to sin and self-destruction. Various works of Dark Romanticists frequently show their characters failing to ‘improve themselves’, and often become destroyed either by the love they can never have due to not being able to change things for the better, or love they cannot escape because it is unrequited.

This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? All modern day supernatural and urban paranormal fantasies have some form of dark romanticism in them. This trope usually falls along the lines of a human girl falling in love with a paranormal creature—a vampire or werewolf, who usually is brooding and full of angst, who mourns their existence but cannot change who or what they are. The heroine is left to either accept this and suffer with them, or leave them and suffer alone.

But I think one of the more important aspects of dark romanticism comes from the psychological components of a broken heart, or one that aches so much for someone they can’t have. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe were masters of this aspect of Dark Romanticism, but prior to the 19th century, works by German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were published, titled The Sorrows of Young Werther and Sturm und Drag in the 18th century, along with the Marienbad Elegy in the 19th century. Even Shakespeare had numerous elements of Dark Romanticism in his tragedies.

 

Like Goethe, Poe’s works often reflected the inner turmoil and psychological decay of his characters who suffered from the loss of love. These are all reflections of the gloomy and morbid components of Dark Romanticism; the elements that describe just how much love (or emotions in general) can destroy us, and this is a very interesting (and mostly true) statement on the power of human thoughts and feelings.

I think that it is important to distinguish between the Dark Romance of today, and that which had surfaced in its early beginnings. Before Anne Rice’s self-loathing paranormal characters, were characters that were human and distraught with unrequited love and loss.

In the beginning, this subgenre was actually a more factual take on love in real life than what we see in romance books and films. There is usually no ‘happily ever after’, and if there is, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to reach. How many times has romantic love burned us in our lives? Dark Romanticism speaks to these certain areas of human emotions--;

The pain, the misery, the confusion and the tragedies of humanized love.

 

Suggested Classical Readings: 

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Telltale Heart and Other Writings - Edgar Allan Poe

The Sorrows of Young Werther - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Hamlet - Shakespeare

The Iliad - Homer

 

 

October 31, 2011 — 1,014 words

Happy Halloween from 1889 Labs!

By Terra Whiteman

 

 

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, mainly because I don't usually have to cook anything. Aside from this, there are plenty of local festivals in my area, along with parties galore. I'm currently suffering from a hangover as I write this.

My last two days off  have been spent watching movies and indulging in some dark-themed literature in an attempt to keep with the Halloween spirit until tomorrow, when all the fun ends and my work week begins.  And, since it is Halloween today, I thought I would share with you some of the pretty awesome things I've read/watched over the last couple days, along with some other recommendations for making your Halloween night entertaining!

 

 


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz


I was first acquainted with this series when I was in the third grade and our teacher, Mr. Metzler (I will never forget him, since he was the most awesome teacher ever) would read some of the stories to us as 'end of day' treats if our class got all of our work done. Even now, some of these stories are particularly unsettling, especially the more ambiguous, malicious ghost ones. I used to have the entire series, but alas I've lost them in the multiple moves over the years. I plan to purchase all of them soon, though.

 

 

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

This is a classic, so I'll spare you the synopsis since I'm sure everyone knows this poem. Edgar Allan Poe is one of my favorite authors of all time, and in my honest opinion, The Raven isn't his best work. However, it's suiting enough for the Halloween theme than his other dark romanticism stuff, so here it is.






Hungry for You by AM Harte

This 1889 Labs published work pushes the envelope in current zombie fiction. It's grotesque, oddly touching, slightly humorous, and somewhat thought-provoking in the sense that it explores life after death on a more darkly romantic side of a zombie epidemic, rather than the running and screaming for your life side.



 

The Walking Dead Series by Robert Kirkman

If you're a zombie fanatic, I'm certain you've heard of this. It's also a television show now. However, the television show is just a fraction as good as the comic series itself, and so I suggest reading it. I'm not a huge fan of zombie fiction to begin with, but Kirkman's stuff is pretty stellar. It's dark, and violent, and it really deals with the relationships made between survivors rather than the zombies themselves. In fact, the biggest threat becomes humans after the zombie apocalypse hits. 

 

 

That's all for now. I'm off to spend the rest of my evening with some friends and haunted houses. Happy Halloween, everyone!