Writing about Talking about Writing

12977219_812672861431_378475512593826059_oLast week I went to my alma mater twice to talk about writing and Sci-Fi/Fantasy.  I also did an audio interview for a friend’s website.  So, since I did all this talking about writing, I had a lot of notes and points I naturally forgot.  Here’s the gist of everything I’ve been thinking about writing lately.

A sum-up of my writer’s journey:

I self-published my first book, The Kota, my senior year of college.  I had no idea what I was doing, really, I just had this story in my head that I’d been working on since I was 9 and I wanted it in book form.  That was 2004, before eBooks had really taken off and certainly before Kindle Direct Publishing was even a thing.  I didn’t care about being traditionally published, and I knew I’d want to get a lot better before the public read my stuff, so really I just wanted a tangible BOOK of this story in my head.   So, when I opened my first box with my book inside, it was a great feeling – it’s so far the closest thing I’ve experienced to having a kid.  I hear that comparison from tons of authors, and it’s completely true.

After graduation, I was busy with “real life.”  I’d basically set myself up to get a degree for my hobby, so I had to make some pragmatic decisions about what to do with myself.  BUT, I had 4 books planned at the time, so over the next couple of years I followed the same pattern – wrote in my spare time, self-published with the only company familiar to me at the time, and in the end I had 4 books that I could hold and sell/share with people, and I had the fulfillment of knowing I’d written a series.

Again, real life took over.  But if you like writing, you find an outlet.  So I blogged, I started a book reviewing service, I tried for the zillionth time to like poetry and published a few but still hated it (sorry, Professor Stevens).  Basically I was just writing to continue growing and get better and keep myself entertained, plus the bonus of entertaining anyone else.

Then came the social media boom of Goodreads and Facebook and Twitter.   (To any students reading this, this is the world you live in AND WRITE in now, so I’m kind of jealous you get to start your writing journey with all these resources for writers, authors, poets, etc.)   One day on Goodreads, I “met” an author guy who was just starting out, and he was like, “Why haven’t you made your books eBooks?”  That re-started everything for me, and I started doing more research on what it meant to be an author nowadays… I sound old.

So, basically I’ve spent the past decade or so learning how to be an author.  I re-published my first 4 books so that they’re now suitable for public consumption, I made eBook versions, an eBook box set of The Kota Series, I have 2 short stories with several more in the works, and I have 1 audiobook with 1 on the way.   I have a website, blog, Facebook Page – in total I have a decent 4,000+ followers.   I’ve won some awards and special honors, and I sell at least enough books every month to cover my HBO bill – which is a weird goal to set and a low bar certainly, but it keeps me optimistic and elated when I sell 100+ books a month.

How do I stay focused on writing?

I write as a second job, which is how I’ve learned to treat it.  It’s not just a hobby anymore.  If I think of it as a hobby, I just go, “Meh, when I get to it.”  But if I want to have any success as an author, I have to treat it more like a business.  And if it’s a business, writing is the product.  If you don’t WRITE, there’s obviously no point.

I’m not a person who can schedule x-amount of time at x-time every day to write.  I can’t force it.  I write when the mood and muses strike.  And I’ve learned to listen to that pull – if I’m in the zone, I let myself write and write until it’s all out.  Sometimes this means 8 hours of nonstop writing.  For me, that’s just how it works.  It might not be healthy and sometimes I forget to eat, but I think when you’re doing what you love time flies, and I never experience that more than when I’m writing.

If you write, it might be completely different.  You’ll always have people tell you how you “should” write, but that’s kind of crap.  Everybody works differently.  Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction or whatever, writing is a creative process.  Take advice and instruction and apply what rules work for you, but you have to find what works for YOU.

(That was a tricky thing to say in front of professors who taught me how to write, btw.  Again speaking to students here – I’m not about to definitively counter anything they’ve told you.  But I’d bet even they don’t want you to write like everyone else has always written.  For fiction writers in particular, the whole fun is finding some new way to say something new.  And YOUR voice and YOUR originality can only come from you.)

What DID I learn at college?

I honestly don’t know if you CAN teach creativity, but you can be taught where to look to get ideas.  You can be taught ways to use those ideas.  While at college, I definitely benefited from professors’ guidance as I experimented with my writing.  I always knew how to put a sentence together and I come from a family of Grammar Nazis, but professors made me get better and sharper and sometimes forced me out of my writing comfort zone so that I grew and wasn’t just regurgitating my old writing style.

Interesting thing:  I still have a folder of old notes from Colonial Lit and Intro to Philosophy and World Lit, etc.  They’re covered in side notes about The Kota, the book I published my senior year.  Those classes should NOT have given me ideas for Science Fiction novels, but they did!  It’s amazing where ideas come from.

So, even more than learning how to write, college benefited me because of all the reading.  Writers who only read in their genres are doing themselves a disservice, I think.   I still look back on my time at college as invaluable for the exposure that I got to different writers and perspectives.  I know the variety of books I read made me a better writer.

Everyone always quotes Stephen King:  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”   That’s absolutely true.

Obviously reading good writing can sharpen your brain.  Alternatively, any BAD writing can do the same thing, I think.  I know some people think reading bad writing will rub off on you, but when I read crap books I take note of the things that are bad and make sure I DON’T DO THEM.  Or – this might be bad to share – when I’m in editing mode with my own writing, I read books I know are crap because it keeps me critical, and that carries over to my own work.

But in general, reading stirs your “writer brain” more than anything else I can think of.

Oh, and writers who don’t read IN their genre are seriously missing out.  I recently did an interview with an author who said that he knew a science fiction writer who boasts that he never reads books or watches cinema in the genre.   He claims that this allows him to “be original.”  That’s horrifying and disrespectful, in my opinion.  First of all, if you don’t read or watch science fiction, why would you even like science fiction?  Same goes for Romance or Thrillers – if you’re going to be a part of a genre, know the history of the genre and writers who paved your way.   The author I interviewed brought up the point that “Literature is a conversation, a dialogue between the reader and writer.  If you haven’t been listening to the conversation, how can you contribute anything?”

I think that applies to all writing – you need to read what’s out there to be a part of it.

And as far as being a part of the literary community, if you want to write, you need to find people (whether in real life or online) who GET IT.  Your mom might love your writing, but she probably doesn’t get it if you want to talk about publishing opportunities.  You need to find a community of like-passioned people to help you grow and offer objective feedback on your work.  Via Facebook I’m part of an international group of authors, the #Awethors, and engaging with that community is the single best thing I’ve done as an author.

For those of you in college now, you’re never going to be more surrounded by physical, real life people who share your interest in writing.  You might never again have direct access to people literally TEACHING you how to write.  Take advantage of that and write now if you have any interest at all.

About the current state of publishing: 

(This was the most interesting thing to talk about, considering I’m not sure students had heard it before.  And it was surprising and exciting that they had so many questions specifically about this topic.)

Here’s a thing to remember:   At the end of the day, publishing is a business, and traditional publishers – even ones who genuinely love literature for the pure sake of loving literature – sometimes have to prioritize potential sales over even quality.  I mean, Snooki has a book published by a Big 5 Publisher…let’s all think about that for a second.   Does that mean her book is better than yours?  God, I hope not.  YOUR book could be absolutely amazing but still get rejected by publishers simply because they don’t have a place for it in their marketing system.  They might not think it will sell to their audience.  Does that mean your book is crap?  No.  Just keep trying.

Or, publish it yourself!   How you publish these days is a choice.  There’s still this lingering, outdated, elitist perception that people self-publish because their books aren’t good enough to be traditionally published.  That is simply not the case anymore.  My favorite book that I read last year was self-published (Jason Greenside’s The Distant Sound of Violence).   Some big name authors have even gone the self-publishing route because – believe it or not – there are benefits to self-publishing over traditional publishing.  Royalties and percentages and all of that are highly speculative depending on what study you look at, but it’s no longer necessarily true that being traditionally published will sell more books or make you more money.

Side note:  Really, any good English Major knows that if you’re getting into writing for the money, you’ve made a huge mistake.  It’s a shit-ton of work and luck if you want to make it big.  But, as I talked about in my interview, we don’t do this creative thing for the money – we do it because creating is what fulfills us.  I think the approach of writing on the side or as a second job is a very healthy way to go.  If you HAVE to make money off your writing, that puts a lot of pressure on this thing that is supposed to be enjoyable.  When you HAVE to do it for $$ to survive, it might not be fun anymore.  (This is why I’m marrying for money.  Just kidding! …Mostly kidding.  My fiancé jokes that we’re retiring on my royalties.)

Of course, some students raised valid criticisms against all the self-publishing out there, no doubt echoing at least one professor I can think of.

Don’t all these free and $0.99 books out there cheapen Literature?

I see this a couple different ways.  As for the financial “worth” of art, I think expecting art for cheap/free is just how consumers are in the digital age – ask any musician.  Yes, I wish our work was valued/rewarded financially at a level that makes it worth our time and effort.  But, by making so many books cheap (in order to compete, but that’s a whole other thing), more people can afford to read, and that’s never a bad thing.  More people can get our books whereas at higher prices those same people might not be able to afford it or might not “risk” it on us unknown artists.

As for suggesting that lower prices = cheap “bad” books, I again refer to Snooki’s book.  Or a certain popular vampire series.  Or dozens of other traditionally published works that I would argue cheapen literature and dumb it down.  (However, this argument is an example of the elitism of “Literature” that I try to remind myself not to have.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying ANY book – art is subjective and I understand why some people enjoy the escapism of aforementioned popular vampire series.) All I’m saying is that the price tag does not necessarily reflect the quality of the writing.

Some say that having so many (“too many”) books out there cheapens Literature.  They long for the days when the gatekeepers of traditional publishing held most of these books back.  Honestly I don’t get this argument because I will never say that having MORE books out there is a bad thing.  Having more stories to consume is never a bad thing.  Even if it’s not a story you or I might enjoy, someone else probably will.  And whereas a traditional publisher might think a story is too weird to sell and therefore tweak it to conform, self-publishing that same book means a whole new kind of story/writing might be introduced.  That, for me, is exciting.  It doesn’t cheapen “Literature” at all but just might evolve storytelling and take us in new directions.

Isn’t it true that a lot of self-published books ARE crap? 

It’s true that some authors don’t know enough about what they’re doing and SHOULDN’T self-publish, yes.  And believe me that the rest of us wish they wouldn’t because they make us look bad and validate this criticism.  But, there’s also that saying about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  To say that “all” or even “most” self-published books are crap is just plain wrong – and you might miss out on some amazing examples of writing.

This gets back to what I was saying about how you publish being a choice.  With all the resources available to Indie authors now, there’s no reason anyone who takes writing seriously should make a bad book.  If you care enough to write a book, you should care enough to do it right.  And that CAN be done without a traditional publisher.  You can get beta readers who’ll help you work out your book’s kinks, you can get edited by a professional, you can hire a professional cover artist, you can even properly format a book yourself very easily if you can follow instructions.  Nowadays there’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, DraftToDigital, and crossbreed companies like Booktrope – there are a ton of resources available!  I think that most writers are seeing the value of doing a book right, and that means fewer and fewer crap books being out there.

Isn’t it crazy hard to be an Indie author, so isn’t it better to be traditional?

I know other authors who’ve taken both routes – some love one way, some will never do the other.  I know editors and publishers who’ve told me about the pros and cons from their perspective inside traditional publishing.  Like I said earlier, there aren’t many differences anymore as far as what can be guaranteed – one way might have success for some, the other is more beneficial for others.

Traditional publishers often have to go by what they think will sell, and they know their markets.  If you fit, great!  But even then, sometimes you have to do a lot of marketing leg-work yourself if you want to really branch out to an audience.  As an Indie, all that work is a given.  BUT, as an Indie, you also reap all the royalties/rewards of your efforts, and you get to keep complete control over your work.  (There’s a lot more involved here, but those are basic widely-acknowledge factors when considering this choice.)

I myself am sticking with the Indie route because, after over a decade of being at it, I know generally what I’m doing and what I would want.  It helps that my genre of Sci-Fi/Fantasy is a bestselling genre and there’s an established audience for my books.  I love having full control of my own work and being free to do whatever I want with it.  I’ve been approached by a few traditional publishers, but none of them could offer me anything I couldn’t do for myself, so that doesn’t make sense FOR ME.   (Granted, if I’m ever offered an Andy Weir kind of deal, I’ll jump on it.  And that IS an option – you can always start Indie, prove your marketability, and then accept a deal with a traditional publisher.  I know more than a few authors this has worked very, very well for.)

At the end of the day, you need to figure out what’s best for YOU.  Either way you go, the #1 IMPORTANT THING is to write the best book you can.  Then, good luck if you want to get an agent and/or go the traditional route.  If you want to go Indie, PLEASE do the work of making your book the best product it can be.  Then, good luck with marketing.   Either way, there’s a lot of work involved.  But if you love writing and want to be an author, just do it.  You gotta start somewhere.

#TheFourFriday

I bought a new toy that has resulted in MANY hours of digital drawing…sketching…painting…whatever it’s called.

Exhibit A!

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New Book Cover Reveal

Oh, what the heck.  I finished this up last night and can’t wait to share it!  I mentioned in my February Update video that I was going to “start” working on a new cover for The Woman of the Void that’s a little more sci-fi and a little less fantastical/girly.  Well, I’m already done, so here it is!
It should start updating on all the retail sites soon.
Hope you like.

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#TheFourFriday – Collaboration

Every Friday, I’m posting something about how the real life “The Four” overlap with the fictional four Kota Warriors.
As some of you know, The Kota Series is based on what “The Four” (myself, my brother, and our childhood best friends Kaly and Luke) played as kids.  Each of us is represented by one of the four Kota Warriors (Bullseye, Rave, Tigris, Whitewolf).  So, I’ll be sharing personal quirks that carried over into fiction, fun/weird stories we played as kids, our childhood drawings, pictures related to The Four and The Kota, etc.
Should be fun, and it’ll give you an idea of how weird or little minds were as we created this story that, years later, turned into my book series.  🙂

This week, Collaboration.
Kaly and Luke contributed in many ways, but the more…obsessive, perfectionist creative tendencies definitely lie with my brother and myself.  And we’re both rather stubborn.  And we both tend to think we’re right.  Which, when working together on a creative project, can result in arguing and disagreeing to the point that other people feel the need to leave the room.

But we DO see eye to eye from time to time.  And usually the end result works out, with each of our creative flavors thrown in.

Enter current Kota project: A video trailer with “Trok” narrating the basic outline for The Kota: Book 1.   For this project we also enlisted the help of our father, which added a whole new dimension…especially when he had a beer beforehand (“9.5%!”).   It helps that I knew what I wanted for the video and did it myself, and I have no idea what I’m doing with audio and so am leaving that entirely (ha, we’ll see) to Christian.

Fingers crossed, people.

Check out a behind the scenes look here.

#TopTenTuesday

Top 10 Favorite Paintings:

1:   The Japanese Footbridge.  It’s hard to pick a favorite Monet, but I guess this is my favorite of my favorites.  He has a lot of “oh, look, flowers…and a bridge” paintings, but I like the vibrant greens of this one best.
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2:   The Kiss.  Gustav Klimt’s use of color and intricate shapes is great.  This painting seems simple but complex.  And I’ve always liked that, to me, it looks like she’s wincing and trying to get away.
The-Kiss
3:   Starry Night. 
It’s hard to limit myself and not put mostly Van Gogh paintings on this list, but this is probably my favorite.  It’s used ALL THE TIME, but no matter how often I see it, I never get sick of the swirls.
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4:   Agapanthus.  I know, another Monet so soon.  But I absolutely love the blend of colors in this.  It looks like you *might* be able to pull it off with fingers, but one little overuse of any one color would throw it off.
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5:   The Veteran in a New Field.  The title gives this all the meaning.  It’s a very simple picture of a man facing a field as he supports a scythe (my back hurts just looking at it) instead of a gun.  It SAYS a lot, maybe especially because of the simplicity of the actual painting.
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6:   I  and the Village.  This is pleasantly weird to me.  There’s an odd symmetry to it with the geometric shapes, colors, upside-down-ness… and a goat.  I’m also pretty sure I wrote a paper on this for a college art history class.
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7:  Exploding Raphaelesque Head.  What’s an art list without a Dali?  I like weird.  I really like weird that inspires my own creative juices to slop around.  This one’s particularly cool to me because it takes known art and goes one step more by breaking up the head like a liquid explosion.
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8:  Cafe Terrace at Night.  Another Van Gogh.  This one’s always made me want to be there.  It looks calm, cool, and exciting all at once.  (I also like it because of a personal bit of nostalgia for that time I covered a print of this in zombie figures for Halloween.)
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9:   The Procession to Calvary.   I love the richness of the colors.  And everywhere you look, there’s some emotion behind what the people are doing.
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10: Death and the Maiden.  I forget about this one, by Schiele.  Then I see it and it’s freshly creepy and sad and cool all over again.  Looks like a mummified painting, to me.
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Anybody have their own list?   Comment below!

#TopTenTuesday

I know it’s late in the day, but my internet was being crap and I’m tired.  So here…

Top 10 Favorite Colors:

1:   Blood Red.  I know this is probably bad.  But I love this kind of deep, dark, shiny red.
2:   Cyan.  Favoring blues as I usually do, this is my particular favorite.  If I didn’t control myself, I’d paint half my furniture this color.  Especially love accented by gold. 
3:   Kelly Green.  
If you’re a girl into fashion, you probably remember this color being big a little while ago.  It’s bright and nature-y, to me.
4:   Orange Sherbet.  Pretty sure half the reason I loved Push Ups as a kid was cuz I liked the color.
5:   Black.  As a teen of the 90s, I never really went through a goth period.  But there’s something comfortable about wearing black.  And it goes with everything, right?
6:   Fall Leaf Yellow.  You know that burnt yellow with a touch of orange some leaves get?  That.  I’ve never been a fan of straight yellow (I blame my name and everyone thinking they’re funny with “sun” birthday cards and such), but burn it a little and I love it.
7:  Detroit Tigers Blue.  I loved this color even before I was willing to give baseball a chance.
8:  My Eye Color.   Like my hair color, I’ve never known what color exactly my eyes are.  Part blue, part green, with gold rims around my pupils and a dot of brown in one.
9:   Raspberry.  Looking at anything this color makes me almost taste it, you know?  I like the richness of it.  Not quite purple, not quite red, more punky than pink.  
10: Bright Neon Green.  Gotta say, this color never struck me until I started dating this certain guy who’s obsessed with anything green.  Now I see it everywhere, and it’s growing on me…or at least it seems to be growing all over my apartment.

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Anybody have their own list?   Comment below!

Sum-Up of My Nerdiness

For those of you who miss my more serious blog posts, I apologize but simply have such raging cabin fever that I’m getting a little slaphappy and have to amuse myself to stay sane. 

I’ve spent a LOT of time on the internet lately while cocooned in blankets, sipping spiked cocoa, and thus I’ve spent a lot of time taking in fandom.  My observations have led me to the conclusion that people are crazy, and people are awesome.  My real-life friends and I have had multiple conversations about the difference between being a nerd, a geek, or a dork – the fact that we’ve had this conversation probably proves some kind of point.  (I don’t mean to leave anyone out or offend anyone, so see my previous blog post “Is My Nerd Showing?” if you need clarification on my general definition of what it means to be a nerd.) For the most part, I enjoy interacting with fans of things that I too am a fan of, and I’m endlessly fascinated by how fired up people get when talking about things that don’t really matter.

Really, I’m kind of asking for it.  My Twitter profile @kynacoba declares, “I love all things nerd,” and that has led to questions I might as well elaborate upon here.

First of all, what’s the point in being a nerd?
Having interests is always a good thing.  Caring about and connecting with stories is, I think, an important part of how we understand and relate to each other.  And, quite frankly, sometimes it’s just fun to discuss/argue/debate things that don’t really matter.  A friend once said that it’s okay if someone has different opinions on religion, politics, etc. but that it’s NOT okay if someone doesn’t like your favorite TV show.  It’s kind of a nice break to care so passionately about things that don’t affect daily reality.  It’s nice to connect with people who love what you do. I try not to be an elitist about matters of taste (that’s never really made sense to me as a mindset), and it’s infectious to see others’ enthusiasm, even if you don’t care about the subject of their enthusiasm.
At the very least, being a nerd exposes you to a wide range of new things and to the people who care deeply about them.

 As a writer, how does being a nerd matter?
I think being exposed to other peoples’ beloved stories does a lot for stretching the imagination.  And people who really, really know their stuff help me see the importance of making a story as deep, as rich, as complex, and as smart as possible – people who like things and really like things don’t want to be insulted by a lack of creative effort.
As for my own nerdy things that I love, there are some TV shows, movies, books, etc. that I know are absolutely foundational in shaping my own creativity.  Some stories from childhood are so ingrained that I probably don’t even realize how much they shape me.  Some stories from adulthood trigger some part of my brain that goes “Ah-ha!” because I see something in a light I hadn’t considered before.
I think it’s arrogant for artists to not acknowledge that other art inspires and shapes our own creativity.  Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. (If you just sang that in your head, +100 points.) The things we love obviously influence the things we create. But there’s also a problem when you love something so much that all you’re doing is copying the object of your affection.  I read some books and think, “Wow, you like Stephen King” or “Lost fan, much?” So, I think it’s also important to watch out for not going overboard in how your beloved stories shape your creativity – you have to find a way to use ideas that you love but make it YOURS, in your own voice.

 So, what are a few of my favorite things to be a nerd about?

  •  Star Wars.  The originals, I mean – and if I even have to clarify that point, we’re probably not going to be friends.  When I was little, my parents taped the Star Wars movies off of TV.  My brother and I watched them to the point of memorization and tape exhaustion.  Even today when watching on glorious Blu-ray, I still know where the commercial breaks would cut off about 3 seconds.  I think a big part of my love of Star Wars is the fact that most of it looks like something we could have built in our fort.  The imagination and creativity it took to literally create these movies’ worlds is amazing – free of the temptation to overuse CGI…which came later.  The adventure story is simple, with a layer of depth underneath that clearly shaped my own imagination.
    My brother dated a girl who didn’t watch Star Wars until adulthood (I know, right?!), and when she finally humored us, at the end she said that it was probably something we enjoyed out of childhood nostalgia.  There is likely some truth to this for anyone who grew up watching Star Wars three times a week, but I also think these movies are essential for anyone who loves Science Fiction.
  • Star Trek.  Admittedly, I don’t like Star Trek as much as I probably should.  I appreciate the history of what the show/movies did/do for Science Fiction, but I’ve never liked the general world that much.  As a kid watching The Next Generation, I didn’t like how they either made alien races a part of the Federation or else those aliens seemed to be the bad guys.  Even in my little pre-teen brain, I remember thinking of the Federation as “The Man.”  Something about the neat and tidy, semi-utopian world just doesn’t feel realistic to me – replicators making essentially whatever you need, most everyone conveniently speaking English, etc.  I understand the philosophy behind it, but it’s a little too optimistic for me.
    All that being said, Star Trek is important enough that I have to list it as one of my favorites.  The scope and variety is impressive and fun.  The different incarnations over the years have been interesting.  I like Deep Space Nine best of the shows, and I think I liked the depth of characters there.  Also, I’m glad the new movie versions are tweaking the story now.
  • Lost. Yes, even the end.  The whole “sideways” part of things ended so beautifully that I forgave a lot of the flatness of that last season.  And if you try to tell me they were dead the whole time, expect an eye roll.
    I think the #1 thing I enjoyed about Lost was that it didn’t question the intelligence of the audience.  Right up until the end, I had no idea where things were headed – as someone who regularly sorts out plots before they’re done, this was a welcome joy.  The complexity and mystery and the variety of characters was wonderful.  I think probably more than any other show, Lost pushed me to be a better storyteller.
  • Firefly.  Oh, sweet, charming, clever, funny, lovely show, how I miss thee.  My earliest memories of this show are:
    1- My friends dismissing it because of the “hooker in space” only to then later become obsessed fans.
    2- Having a great inside joke about the “special hell.”
    It’s just flat out enjoyable, and I don’t think you necessarily have to be a Sci-Fi fan to love it. Highly quotable, I’ve solidified friendships over love of this show.  It’s like gateway Sci-Fi.
  • Arrested Development. My thoughts on AD are very similar to my thoughts on Firefly.  A guy once thought I was great and said, “Marry me,” and of course I responded, “Babysit me!” He didn’t get it; we’re no longer friends (there’s probably more to it, but this is the reason I remember).
  • Space: Above and Beyond.  This one’s a little out there, I know.  But this show did a LOT for my childhood creative juices.  Shane was an early inspiration for my own character of Bullseye.  Everything with the In Vetroes inspired a lot of my use of clones. And I’ve never looked at pancakes the same again.
  • X-Men and Batman.  HUGE influences for my own series.  As kids, we watched the cartoons at every possible moment.  We read the comics.  We spent literally hours upon hours drawing our own mutant characters (see some examples here).
  • Enders Game, Speaker for the Dead, Ender’s Shadow, etc.  I have a love/hate relationship with Orson Scott Card, but crap damn it the man can tell a story.  It’s one of the prouder accomplishments of my adult life that I’ve gotten almost my entire friend circle to read this series. 
  • Dr. Who.  I really do love Dr. Who, but I list it here as more of a confession:  Until about 3-4 months ago, I’d only seen 4 episodes.  I just could not get into it.   But, I felt like a bad nerd for not liking Dr. Who, so my brother made a list of which episodes to skip because he knew they’d be the ones to turn me off.  Thus entering with low expectations, I was soon sucked in.  I still have a ways to go, but I can honestly say that I think I’ve cried over this show more than anything since the Lost finale.
    And, as a fan of my own books has pointed out, it is nuts that I was capable of creating my character of Trok without knowing about the doctor.  That might, in fact, be the reason I connect so much with the Doctor – I’m very, very familiar with the immortal, time-traveling, searching-for-connection kind of character.  The consistency of the writing for this one character over DECADES is also really, really impressive, as is the ability of the different actors to play the same character. 

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So, yeah.  Those are things I’m nerdily devoted to.  There are many, many more.  And people who enjoy these things also enjoy other things I’m not as well-versed in, so there’s always more to take in.  For example, I know next to nothing about video games.  This is mostly because I’m absolute rubbish – my brother will attest to the fact that, if there’s a corner to run into or a way to grenade myself, I will find it.  I really love watching people play video games, and the artistry is usually quite impressive to me.  So that’s up next.

Has the digital age changed readers?

[taken from my Koobug blog here]

I’ve had this conversation with my author/editor friends of late, so I thought I’d pose the question here. In this day of instant access (via eBooks, YouTube, OnDemand TV, Netflix, etc.), do you think that has changed the way people interact with Story? Has it shortened our attention spans? If we’re not sucked in right away, do we abandon a story and move on too quickly? If a story doesn’t fit the assumptions we have based on reviews or synopses, do we dismiss it rather than take the time to get to know what’s actually involved? With so much entertainment right at our fingertips, are we really looking for the BEST or just the easiest?
I haven’t been reading eBooks nearly as long as most people, but I immediately noticed the differences in the very formatting of eBooks versus the paperback forms I’m more used to. On the whole, eBooks are shorter. Paragraphs certainly are shorter. It’s as if the formatting itself acknowledges that people are only willing to spend so much time on a story and our minds/eyes will get bored if we have to read anything lengthy. I myself have been guilty of seeing a page-long paragraph in an eBook and thinking, “Ugh,” to only then realize I would have no problem with the paragraph if it was in a paperback book. I think this has forced many authors to chop up their books into formats people are going to accept. Maybe this is why there are so many short eBooks that make up very lengthy collections, when really it could be a few bigger books in a short series – you have to trick people and make it easier for them to read any lengthy story. As a result of readers being shaped this way, I think writers are changing to fit the mold.
Also, we seem to not have time to let something unfold and draw us in. You read in reviews all the time “I didn’t get sucked in right away” or (Heaven forbid) “it made me think too much in the beginning and didn’t jump right into action.” An editor friend explained to me that this whole thing started because writers were instructed to submit their most engaging beginning/chapters first so that the publishing houses could make a decision (this is an over-simplification, but the basic point). Now, that’s trickled over into authors thinking they HAVE to open books in the midst of action, and readers have come to expect that. It might be the style that will most date our era’s books, actually.
It’s interesting to wonder if this is the just the way literature is evolving with technology, or if we really are in some way making readers (ourselves included) simpler, impatient, and maybe even dumber. Would a Dickens, Bronte, Hugo, or Tolkien have made it in today’s world? There are examples of lengthy books that still are amazing bestsellers – think George R.R. Martin’s mammoth books or even the later Harry Potter books – but are little-known authors given as much patience by readers? Even if a new author IS exceptionally talented at writing deep, rich, and interesting stories, it seems like length and style can hold many readers back. Would some of the greats even exist if they were just emerging in today’s literary world? You read a 2-page Tolkien description of a mountain and have to wonder.

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