I start off this episode with a shout-out to some awesome author friends of mine who have been doing dynamite work recently: children’s author (and my illustrator for Hello, Halloween) Donovan Scherer; award-winning horror author Matthew Harrill; and hilarious master parodist Paul Erickson. Pick up their books for your loved ones this Christmas!
Now, on to the meat of the show, where I read you the first story from my book Christmas Calamities. ‘The Lost Helper’ tells the tale of a poor elf left behind in a family fireplace on Christmas Eve. Things only get worse when the household children discover him. Will he be able to get back to Santa in time?
Listen in to find out!
And while you’re at it, pick up the book! ‘The Lost Helper’ is only one of several fun holiday yarns therein. It’s inexpensive, easily transportable, and makes a great stocking stuffer. Enjoy!
Yes, ladies and gents, your favorite Englishman Matthew W. Harrill has returned to the show. Just in time for Halloween, he’s plugging the release of the final novel of The ARC Chronicles trilogy, Hellbeast. It looks awesome!
Here’s the Amazon description for it:
The fate of the world is balanced on a knife-edge. Despite everything Madden and Eva have been through to prevent it, the ARC Council is in disarray, demons roam the Earth.
The Apocalypse is closer than ever. The solution couldn’t be further from her grasp.
Enter the final chapter of The ARC Chronicles, where Eva throws off the yolk of personal tragedy and follows her destiny to the one place she doesn’t want to go, the one place she cannot hope to avoid.
Enjoy my lecturings! I gave this talk to a group of 9th graders a few weeks ago, and they got a kick out of it (though I think I kind of terrified them). Now it’s your turn to listen in, read along, and enjoy the fun.
And an announcement:
This weekend – Friday, February 27th through Sunday, March 1st – the books below are available for FREE on Amazon. Pick them up!
And for the next five days (through March 4th), the books below are ONLY $0.99!! Grab them as well.
Enjoy the reads, and thanks for listening!
If you do like my books, please review them on Amazon! And if you like the podcast, please rate and review it on iTunes, comment below with what you’d like to hear me talk about, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and most importantly, subscribe to the Fun with Fiction newsletter! I’ll send you all kinds of free stuff and good news (but no more than once a week), 100% spam-free.
First off, I apologize for taking so long to get this episode out. I actually did this interview a while ago, but since then I’ve been in the midst of a move from Chicago to Phoenix, and I only just got my internet hooked up in my new location, so…
Here it is! [I know, I know, I already broke my New Year’s resolution to publish one episode a week. (But aren’t such resolutions made to be broken?) They’ll get more regular from here on out, I promise!]
A few weeks back I had the honor of speaking with J. Thorn. J. is a best-selling horror author whose name has graced the top of the charts alongside the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. How epic is that?
What has rocketed J. to a permanent place in the list of the top 100 (and occasionally the top 5) horror authors on Amazon?
In addition to the quality of his work, though, it helps J.’s sales that he is incredibly prolific. I count over 20 separate (non-overlapping) titles on his Amazon page – many of which are full-length novels. Not bad for a career that only started in 2011! J. also has a great head for book marketing, and, being a friendly and cooperative soul, he has joined with other great horror and dark fantasy authors to create bargain book bundles, each of which costs only $0.99, and each of which features 7 or more funtabulously frightening novels. (Click the pics below for those great bargain buys.)
Last year J. got even more ambitious in his collaborations, and became one of the authors (as well as the compiler/editor) of a 10-author collaborative novel, The Black Fang Betrayal. It’s a fascinating dark fantasy, blending the imaginations of some great modern authors into a single cohesive story. (I compare it to George R.R. Martin & friends’ Wild Cards series.) Grab that one now. It’s seriously cool.
Speaking of collaborations, if you want to be a good person, why don’t you drop $0.99 to join J. and other great horror-makers as they Scare Cancer to Death?
Now, if you haven’t already, listen in as Mr. Thorn and I discuss the business aspects of being an independent author, the good feelings even the tiniest bit of success can give us, our favorite horror/dark fantasy books and movies, and many other weird topics.
J. lives in Cleveland, where apparently no one but him rocks anymore. But the man has spent large parts of his life performing heavy metal – so, of course, we talk about our favorite metal bands, and how they may or may not inform our literary tastes.
Along with everything else he’s done, J. was the co-host (with Richard Brown) of the Horror Writers’ Podcast. That ‘cast is sadly no longer going – and of course I give J. a hard time about that – but I encourage any fiction writers out there to listen to the back episodes! It certainly informed and inspired me in its brief run, and I someday hope to hear J. once more sharing his wisdom in the podcastsphere.
As I said, J.’s a good dude, and he proves it by looking out for his fellow indie authors. Check out his thoughts here:
J. convinced me to join Pinterest a few months ago, though I confess I still have no idea how to use it. He does, however, so go ahead and follow him on Pinterest. It’s hella-entertaining.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did! J.’s a fantastic author, a hell of a businessman, and an all-around cool guy.
Comment below or shoot me an email at email@example.com and let me know what you thought of this episode! And while you’re here, don’t forget to sign up for the Fun with Fiction Newsletter – your way to keep abreast of all the awesome stuff going on in the made-up world.
Now to business. After a two-week holiday hiatus, I have returned with a vengeance, ready to kick 2015 in the arse in the best way possible. And what better way to start the year than by listing some of the great books I plan to read in the next 52 weeks?
To begin with, I have had such a blast interviewing and getting to know so many cool authors these past few months, that I will be digging into their stuff post haste.
Right now, for instance, I am in the middle of Matthew W Harrill’s Hellbounce, book 1 of The ARC Chronicles. I interviewed Matt back in early November; if you haven’t heard that episode yet, go back and listen! Matt’s a Brit, so his accent alone is fascinating. Plus he’s a hell of a horror author and an all-around outstanding gent. And seriously, Hellbounce is wonderfully terrifying. Grab it now!
Post at least one Fun with Fiction podcast episode per week. (Sorry if I’ve been bad about consistency. I’ll get better!)
Publish at least six books, including:
Two full-length novels
Three children’s/young adult books
One non-fiction book
Get to know and interview at least twenty more great authors, delving into what makes them great
Meet a hundred or more fans and build a community of fellow acolytes of awesome who will spread the word about Fun with Fiction (and how great stories make all our lives better)
This I do resolve. HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE! Don’t let me get away with short-changing listeners, readers, fellow authors, and everyone else who deserves my very best. Contact me and call me out on any b***s*** I try to pull. Tough love is the love that really counts.
How about you? What outstanding resolutions will you follow through on in the coming year? Is there some way I can help you pursue your goals? Let me know!
Thanks for making 2014 fantastic, Fictioneer! Let’s make 2015 even better.
My guest for this episode is Donovan Scherer, who does it all. I mean, like, everything. This is a guy who’s mastered all the levels of indie publishing, from writing (and illustrating) great stories to designing awesome covers to building wicked cool websites. Now he’s moving beyond his graphic design background to start his own publishing company, all while packing guitars for Amazon during the day. He even created a free video game (Zombeans) to promote his books. How cool is that???
I met Donovan online a few months ago, and in person this past weekend at the Mighty-Con Comic Show. Let me tell you, this guy is a pro. His display was fantastic, with everything from handmade buttons to books to bookmarks to Zombeans plushies to an actual mounted iPad featuring the Zombeans video game.
But he’s not all style and no substance. I have read the first book of his Fear & Sunshine series (pitch: “It’s like slasher films for kids!”), and let me tell you, it is good. It’s a kids series, sure, but it’s a lot more complex (and dark) than you’d expect from standard children’s fair. The mythology is deep, the characters – including Death – feel very real, and the story keeps you turning pages and wanting to know more. And the illustrations only add to the fun-but-threatening mood of the books.
Mr. Scherer and I talk about his formative influences – which were cartoons that both he and I watched growing up in the ’90s. Shows like the Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck. True classics. He and I are also fans of some of the big names in modern indie fiction, including Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and J. Thorn, all of whom have had covers designed by Donovan.
We also discuss comic-cons and other art shows, and the great times we have interacting with our fellow acolytes of awesome there. Donovan runs an insane show schedule. He has a booth at nearly every con in the Chicago and southern Wisconsin area, as well as one every weekend throughout the summer at the Harbor Market in Kenosha, WI. If you’re in the neighborhood, look him up! He’d love to meet you, nerd out with you, and sign one of his beautiful books for you.
Don’t forget to pick up Fear and Sunshine, as well as Donovan’s latest book Monsters Around the Campfire – a creepy short story collection reminiscent of my favorite Boy Scout trips, available now for only $0.99! Totally worthwhile.
Thanks for listening as always, Fictioneer! I hope to get you at least one more mayhem-filled podcast before the Xmas takes us all. Stay tuned, and be wary.
And don’t forget to sign up for the Fun with Fiction newsletter! It’s free, and you get occasional emails from me with fun free fiction and news about what’s going on in the made-up world. Totally worth it, right? Exactly.
Hola, Fictioneers! Here is part deux of my fantastic interview with fantasy author and all-around badass Orlando Sanchez.
In case you missed it last time, these are Orlando’s books:
And his magnum opus, The Spiritual Warriors (Book 1 of The Warriors of the Way), is being re-edited and re-released in January, with the next two books in the series to follow shortly thereafter. Can’t wait for that!
As you can probably tell, Orlando likes to incorporate martial arts philosophy into his fiction (whereas I tend to keep them separate). We discuss how he accomplishes this, making his books read like mystical kung fu films for the modern age. (Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets The Matrix.)
Returning to the writer’s perspective, we talk about how horrible it is to get a great story idea while you’re in the middle of writing another story (I’m sure our fellow writers can relate). What can you do? Keep on pushing through, no matter how much your ADHD and self-doubt scream at you to change course. Remember, though it is art, you must treat it like a job. And sometimes, jobs just suck.
And the rough draft (a la NaNoWriMo) is just the beginning.
Then comes the editing, and the wretched pain of murdering your darlings (meaning your words, not your children). As Bruce Lee put it: hack away the inessentials, and let the beautiful tree within flourish. And in a rough draft, there are a lot of inessentials. Only once a book has been thoroughly edited and revised is it ready to show to the world.
But you also can’t show it to the world without a great cover. Sure people say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… but everyone still does it. Since the great book cover designer and book publishing/marketing master Derek Murphy introduced us, it’s only fair to give him a shout-out here, as well. (Derek designed the new cover for The Spiritual Warriors. Take a look at it in this post’s featured image!)
Yes, all of this is a lot of work. But hey – no one said writing was easy. (Well, actually, a lot of people say that – but they’re not writers.)
Thanks again for listening! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be on the Fun with Fiction podcast. If you’re an author, an avid reader, or just someone with an interesting take on storytelling, I’d love to talk to you.
Peace out and read on,
[P.S. – I know I say this EVERY time, but I’m going to keep doing it ’til everyone signs up: If you want some great FREE books, other give-aways, and to hear all the latest stuff going on in the Fun with Fiction world, CLICK HERE. Thanks!]
Today I had the great pleasure of talking to Sensei Orlando Sanchez – a fellow independent fantasy author and martial artist with a lot of insight on what makes fiction fun.
Seriously, we talked for over two hours, and I (devout professional that I am) decided to simply hit the record button in the middle of our conversation – so the “interview” begins with Sensei Orlando in the middle of a sentence about the need for an editor. Our talk moves on to a whole range of topics, from our favorite authors (including J.R.R. Tolkien and Jim Butcher) to the horrific despair we writers feel when we’re 30,000 words into a manuscript and we positively HATE our novel. (I blogged about that just yesterday here.)
I’ve had to split this interview into two pieces due to system constraints – but both halves are well worth the listen! Entertaining and useful information for readers and writers alike.
If you want to try Orlando’s writing out, click on the pics below to pick up these short stories for $0.99 each. They’re tons of fun.
If you’re ready to dive into the novels (I know I am!), grab these:
And keep an eye out for the newly-edited 2nd addition of The Spiritual Warriors – coming in early January 2015. (See his Facebook post about it below)
It’s mid-November, Fictioneer. What do you like to read at this time of year?
Okay, okay, I’ll tell you my favorite Fall fiction first.
Everything’s dying, so the horror & dark fantasy genres are perfect (yes, even after Halloween) – particularly the ghost story.
What is a ghost story?
Definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
a story about ghosts
a tale based on imagination rather than fact
(Incredibly helpful, that.)
a tale in which such elements as ghostly visitations and supernatural intervention are used to further the plot and a chilling, suspenseful atmosphere.
(That’s a bit better!)
A ghost story may be any piece of fiction, or drama, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters’ belief in them. The “ghost” may appear of its own accord or be summoned by magic. Linked to the ghost is the idea of “hauntings”, where a supernatural entity is tied to a place, object or person.
While ghost stories are often explicitly meant to be scary, they have been written to serve all sorts of purposes, from comedy to morality tales. Ghosts often appear in the narrative as sentinels or prophets of things to come. Belief in ghosts is found in all cultures around the world, and thus ghost stories may be passed down orally or in written form.
(I guess that’ll do.)
For me, a ghost story isn’t just a story with a ghost in it, or just any scary story. A true ghost story requires three elements:
A supernatural visitor. This may the spirit of a dead person (most common), an invisible malevolent entity (such as a poltergeist), the mystical personification of an idea (the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, & Yet-to-come), or the spiritual energy inhabiting an old house (as in the traditional haunted house tale).
A human (or otherwise ‘normal’) protagonist. A tale of a group of ghosts hanging out and getting on each other’s nerves may be a “ghost story” in the prosaic sense, but it’s not the kind of lore you share around the campfire on a dark night.
An eerie mood, a creepy vibe, a haunting atmosphere. This is a more esoteric element, harder to pinpoint than the other two. It must be conveyed through the interactions between the humans and their supernatural foils, and the time and place in which those interactions happened.
Word choice is crucial in creating the atmosphere. The order of events is very important in conveying the story effectively. Establishment of character is important in making the haunting real to the reader, and in making the reader care about it. (Yes, these things are important in all forms of fiction – but in the ghost story they are crucial.)
So, let’s have some examples!
To begin with, I disagree with Wikipedia that a ghost story has to be short. A ghost story can be any length, from a single sentence to a series of novels.
I’ve already talked about Poe, Lovecraft, & Stephen King ad nauseum (that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop).
Most of Poe’s & Lovecraft’s works have elements of the ghost story in them – though in Lovecraft the supernatural goes far beyond ghosts, while in Poe most of the ghostly elements are in the characters’ minds. That doesn’t diminish their power or disqualify them as ghost stories, however.
Outstanding modern, full-length novel ghost stories include King’s The Shining and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. (Yes, Gaiman’s tale does feature a bunch of ghosts hanging out with each other – but there is a human protagonist, a haunting atmosphere, and a human antagonist more threatening than any ghost.)
The best full-length work of the genre, though, may be Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. Hell, that may be one of the best horror novels of the twentieth century. Why is it so effective? Because it begins with characters that seem like real people. Characters with good points and flaws and human emotions. Characters that we, as the readers, can’t help but care deeply about. When horrible things start happening to those characters – when they start to become haunted – we want to know how, and why. As the ghost is revealed, bit by bit, the mystery deepens, the danger increases, the atmosphere becomes more oppressive. Straub ratchets up the fear with an expert’s touch.
But it’s true, ghost stories more often play in the short form rather than the long.
Ghost stories may be my favorite form of horror fiction. When I say horror, I’m not talking about gore – I’m talking about psychological horror (with or without paranormal elements). Ghost stories usually do feature the supernatural – but sometimes (as in Poe) the ghost’s are all in protagonist’s mind.
In some of the best of the genre, you don’t know for sure whether the ghosts are real or not. Classic ghost stories like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James leave it an open-ended question.
Other great ghost story authors include:
M. R. James (author of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and other collections; huge influence on H.P. Lovecraft)
The conversation moves to movies. In this medium many of our favorites tend more towards the humorous than the horrific. I personally think the combination of horror and hilarity is one of the most effective in all of storytelling. Make ’em laugh, and you can make ’em scream (and vice-versa).
Also check out Tyrion and I on the latest episode of Mo’s Eyeteeth Podcast! You can hear that here:
Thanks for listening, Fictioneers! Have a happy and safe Halloween.
Of course no discussion of Halloween would be complete without recommendations for great horror movies. Mo and I both highly recommend Cabin in the Woods – Joss Whedon‘s twisted meta-horror take on the entire ‘cabin in the woods’ horror genre. Seriously, even if you’re not a horror fan, watch this movie. It’s so much more than you expect!
Back to books! Mo delves into the mystical creepiness of Aleister Crowley, occultist and contemporary of the great H.P. Lovecraft. Seriously – if you think Lovecraft and his creations (like Cthulhu) are weird, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Crowley is the godfather of magick and the occult movement. Wonderfully whacked out, and frighteningly fascinating.
Our conversation turns well beyond fiction and delves into the realms of religious tradition, philosophy, and the argument of free will vs. determinism. We draw the connection between superheroes and gods, gods and monsters. Examples range from the adolescent wish-fulfillment of Superman to the superhero deconstruction of Watchmen.
Oh – regarding Mo’s top obscure suggestion of the day – click the pic below to get an illustrated collection of some of Aleister Crowley‘s best works – including the Book of Lies, which Mo most highly recommends – for only $0.99!
For this Halloween season Mo and I also recommend our own book, Cthulhu 4 Kids: Old Ones at the Beach! (Totally unbiased recommendation, we swear.) Cthulhu 4 Kids II: A Day in R’lyeh is coming out later this month, so grab the first one today. We think Lovecraft would approve.
And lastly… this conversation isn’t over! We continue our discussion into the Eyeteeth Podcast. Mo and I start that episode with a discussion of troubles going on in the world today, but quickly transition into the much more fun topic of superhero movies. If you like Fun with Fiction, you’ll love this! Give it a listen below, and subscribe to the Eyeteeth Podcast on iTunes. (And while you’re there, don’t forget to rate and review Fun with Fiction. This helps me keep this podcast alive. Thanks!)
Thanks for listening, Fictioneer! Keep on reading, keep believing.
P.S. If you want to meet me, and get gorgeous prints and signed paperbacks of mine and Mo’s books Cthulhu 4 Kids and Tales from the Teeth, come out to Ultimate Con tomorrow! The comic-con takes place at 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL, on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 10 AM to 5 PM. I’ll be at the Parable Comics booth with some fantastic artists. Hope to see you there!
I had lots of fun putting this week’s show together for you. That’s because this time I lay it all on the line and tell you my top 5 favorite fiction authors ever.
Okay, to be fair, the list is always adjusting, and picking an all-time top 5 is actually an impossible task… but I did it anyway! Check it out below, and click on the pictures if you’d like to buy the books at Amazon and find out what all the fuss is about.
Also, let me know: do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Want to murder me with a hatchet for having such horrible taste? Who are your top 5??? Comment below, review me on iTunes, and email me at email@example.com to tell me off.
I ordered my top 5 mostly arbitrarily, but I can say with near-certainty that my favorite fiction pharoah is and always has been J.R.R. Tolkien. Author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and other masterworks, he is the father of fantasy and one of the greatest minds to ever put pen to paper.
Next on my randomly-ordered list makes the giant leap from fantasy to sci-fi: Robert Heinlein. The founder of future history is one of the primary reasons science fiction became a major force in contemporary literature.
That’s my list! I call out a dozen runner-ups in the show, and have another hundred that I could add (since truly picking a top 5 is, as I said, impossible), but I’m sticking to my story. If you haven’t read any of these authors, click one of the pics above and grab it on Amazon (for cheaper than you’d get it in most brick-&-mortar bookstores). This helps the Fun with Fiction podcast out, and doesn’t cost you a penny more. 🙂
What, you want to challenge my palette? Bring it! I’d love to hear from you. (Also don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for free books and stuff!)
I apologize for my summer-long hiatus, and I hope you returning listeners will forgive me and stick around for some of the great stuff I have planned. And for you new listeners – welcome! I shall strive to keep you informed and entertained beyond your wildest imaginings. Or somethin’ like that.
To begin with – in order to make up for my fair-but-harsh treatment of Divergent a few months back, I here offer a far more positive, uplifting review of Guardians of the Galaxy – both the movie, and the comic books. They are excellent. Read them. And watch the film (still in theatres, I believe). It’s totally worth it. The combination of humor, action, and pathos is on a par with Casablanca.
Except in space. With a talking tree.
You’ll love it, I swear.
Let me know what you think about this episode! Comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and sign up for my mailing list to get the latest news and cool free stuff.
Also, just so you all know, I will be at Mighty Con Comic Show in Wheaton, IL on September 27th (less than two weeks away!), signing books and meeting fans and fellow creatives/enthusiasts of awesome. If you’re in the Chicago area, I’d love to see you there. Stop by my booth and say hi!
Part 2 of my conversation with Mo Simpson starts off on a brilliantly blasphemous note, introducing a neo-pagan interpretation of Biblical scripture and an insane but believable etymology of the word “Hollywood”. Did you know Hollywood, the right arm of the government, was founded by Druids?
You do now. Consider yourself edumacated.
Speaking of Hollywood, we can’t resist discussing the tenuous relationship between comic books and the movies. Just how unfaithful is Hollywood’s recreation of Watchmen? Is Alan Moore right to condemn the medium of film for corrupting the art of the comic?
From there we transition to a discussion of the various film incarnations of a certain nocturnal superhero (I’ll give you three guesses). Who was the best Batman? The best Joker? The best supervillain in general? And the controversial topic of the day – Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight: horrible mistake, or spitting in the face of God?
While we’re on the subject of gods, does anyone else think that superheroes are our modern versions of the ancient Greek deities? (I mean, heck, some of them areancient Greek deities!) I do, and I make my case fantastically, if I do say so myself.
This leads to a discussion of mythology and the necessity of myth in providing meaning to culture. No one recognized this better than J.R.R. Tolkien, who created his Middle Earth to provide a new mythopic structure that Britain was sorely lacking. Granted, he did this in a very Catholic way (see my friend Brad Birzer‘s book J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth for a better understanding of that), but it’s hard to deny the brilliance of his symbolism, no matter what your beliefs are.
We talk about varieties of myth throughout the ages, the benefits of reading The Bible and other spiritual texts as literature (whether or not you believe they are literally true), and what makes myth still essential to the modern man. Calling something a myth, in the traditional sense, is not saying that it is untrue. Myth was rather a way of stating the truth – that is, telling the truth through a story that people could relate to and understand.
People need myths. This is why Nietzsche, anti-Christian that he was, lamented the “death” of God. While Newton’s mechanistic view of the universe might have had the positive result of turning many people away from irrational superstitions, it left a void; it left people with nothing to believe in. Those of us who no longer hold to religion – or no longer hold it as a dominant force in our lives, whether or not we nominally believe in it – must find a new locus of meaning.
Throughout this discussion, Mo peppers us with historical etymologies of numerous terms, including “Lord of the Rings” (Saturn?), “Luke Skywalker” (Horus, Loki, or Lucifer?), and “The Holy Trinity” (um… you just gotta listen to this one). I point out the difference between symbolism and allegory, and Mo adds that his favorite fiction is the real world that we face every day.
That last happens to be my least favorite fiction, as media-fed B.S. is more depressing than enlightening. This is why I read (well, one reason of many).
What do you think? Does myth have a function in the modern world? If so, what kind of mythology do you turn to – religion, superheroes, esoteric theories, or some other collection of weird and wonderful concepts?
Speaking of books, I have a new one out! It’s Captain Napalm vs. the Grungious Gundabad, based on disturbingly hilarious superhero stories I’ve been telling my son at bedtime. The Kindle version is available on Amazon for only $0.99, so if you want to support the Fun with Fiction podcast, pick it up today!
Or here’s an even better option: if you’re into superheroes and sophomoric humor, you’re interested in reading Captain Napalm, and you’re willing to write it an honest review on Amazon within the next month (it’s not a long book), send me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll send you a free review copy! (In the interest of sanity I have to limit this offer to the first 25 people who email me, though – so shoot me a message today.)
Thank you all, Fictioneers! I hope you’re enjoying my ramblings. If you have anything to say – what you like, what you hate, what you want more of – let me know. Comment below, review me on iTunes, or just shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you.
That’s right – Mo Simpson is back on the Fun with Fiction podcast, talking to Luke J. Morris (yours truly) about the struggles of artists, the connection between religious texts and ancient mythologies, the shortcomings of the classical “hero’s quest” version of story, the tenuous relationship between books and the movies (or TV shows) they spawn, and the great weirdness that is Chuck Palahniuk.
This is a two-parter, folks, so don’t forget to tune in next time, when things get even crazier!
Well, Fictioneers, I confess: I did it. I read Veronica Roth’s Divergent. And its sequels.
What can I say? I love a quasi-dystopian adventure-romance told in the first-person present-tense point of view of a repressed and sexually confused teenage girl.
Wait – no I don’t. (But if that’s your thing, have I got a story review for you!)
Please, the next time I get such a notion – slap some sense into me. Before I do something I’ll regret.
I didn’t bother to rewrite my review in pretty prose. Here you can read my notes for this episode in all their raw glory:
My review of the Divergent series (with spoilers!)
o Why the hell did I read this whole thing? It starts out okay, with an interesting (albeit ludicrous) premise – then goes rapidly downhill. It’s like doing a bad drug, getting hooked, and riding it out even after the high isn’t that fun anymore.
o Starts out with the “factions” – Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, Amity – a division of society by virtues they seek to cultivate
o The city is closed. We don’t find out why until book 3. We don’t even know they’re in Chicago until they zipline dive off the Hancock building halfway through book 1. (How do they know the names of buildings & streets in a post-apocalyptic world? How’d all those signs survive?)
o Turns out they’re all part of some grand eugenics experiment by the government – to correct eugenics experiments they’d done generations before.
o The U.S. still exists, but we only ever get a vague idea of what the world is like. Apparently, every place is unsafe, and all violence & misbehavior is blamed on “genetic damage”
o Dystopia done wrong – sending a million & one mixed messages.
“We are all individuals.”
“Those in power distrust those with ‘flexible’ minds.” (What.)
“The truth is dangerous, & some people fear it.”
“Revolutionaries can be just as bad as the system they rebel against.”
“Life is worth living, & some things are worth dying for.”
“In the end, we all have to rely on each other.” (WHAT?!)
o In short, this is a moral parable that doesn’t know what its moral is. At the climax of the final book it seems to justify essentially lobotomizing a whole city of people because many of them hold a wrong-headed belief. “The ends justify the means,” as it were. Huh?
o At least it’s not afraid to kill off major characters – but their loss is more irritating than sad. It tries to strike emotional chords, but its whole tone is superficial.
o Another dystopian YA adventure-romance told in the first-person present tense POV of a teenage girl
o Difference is, this one has a well-built world – though there are conspiracies behind the scenes that are revealed as the books progress, we know from the outset the general structure of the world of the day, & partially how it got that way. Morals aren’t black & white, but it’s very clear that a despotic regime is to blame for the people’s hardship (this is entirely muddled in Divergent). It’s also clear that a rebellion could result in an equally despotic regime – but this may be abated (for a time) if the people are vigilant
o The moral parable isn’t black-and-white, and doesn’t attempt to be – but it’s not nearly as muddled.
Sometimes you have to kill to survive. Still, you should try to do the right thing, to help people as best you can, even in the midst of a brutal reality (the arena of the Games).
There are human beings on both sides of a conflict. The heroine of the Hunger Games series wouldn’t try to justify mind-wiping everyone in the Capital just because she didn’t like their beliefs.
Heroism is about doing the best you can in hard situations.
o It’s not a deep moral tale, though people tend to treat it as one. Still, it doesn’t preach too much, and it knows the story it’s telling – doesn’t get all muddled trying to send a million moral messages.
If you want great dystopian lit that passes its moral along beautifully, try:
o We, by Soviet dissident Yevgeny Zamyatin – the prime inspiration for all anti-utopias to come.
Now, try writing your own dystopia! It’s fun and easy. Make it 500 words or less, and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I like it, I’ll read it on a future episode of Fun with Fiction, to spread the fame of your name far and wide.
Turns out he wrote Clapping because he really likes comedy, and he noticed a dearth of fiction works dealing with the lives of improv comedians. He’d also never written a children’s/young adult book before, and he wanted to try his hand at that. So naturally he penned a 4-part novel about a boy who loses an arm in a horrific accident. The best of both worlds!
(And honestly – if you don’t want to read the book after a pitch like that, why the hell are you listening to my podcast?)
As for 188 – that’s just Drew trying to mess with our heads. He tells 188 stories of 188 words each, but they’re actually the disconnected pieces of 47 stories, which all fit crazily together into one larger narrative. I think he just hates the concept of linear time. But so did Homer, and The Odysseyand The Iliadare still pretty popular.
Drew’s favorite author is Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows, one of the most painful children’s novels ever written. (Seriously. I still get teary-eyed when I think of it, and I don’t think I’ve read the book in two decades.) It’s beautiful storytelling – with a beginning, a meaty middle, and an end that punches you in the gut hard enough to knock your spine out your back.
In a work of fiction, Drew says, “I want to be transported to a place I’ve never been before; and if I have been there before, I want to learn something about it that I didn’t know before – something that may or may not even be true.” I think a lot of us can relate. Otherwise, why read fiction?
What would you like to see more of in the fiction world? For Drew, “People need to get a lot more weird. And they need to be comfortable with being weird.”
Amen, my brother.
To that end, we discuss authors as diverse as Jack Kerouacand H.P. Lovecraft, with a nice plug for my book Cthulhu 4 Kids – my Batman Begins, as it were. And he raises a few good questions, like: How do you pronounce ‘Cthulhu’? Are there boat tours to the sunken city of R’lyeh? What’s the connection between Lovecraft and Gene Roddenberry? We also discuss Metallica‘s brilliant Lovecraftian tribute songs ‘The Call of Ktulu’ and ‘The Thing that Should Not Be’.
So if weirdness and transport to a new place or new perspective are what’s good, what sucks in fiction today? Drew’s answer: derivative work. Veronica Roth‘s Divergent, for instance, is the latest instance of a formula that was already overdone beforeThe Hunger Gamescame out.
This leads, of course, to talk of Hollywood, and how almost every film released is either a sequel or a remake of some previous work. The upside of this is Quentin Tarantino– one of the greatest storytellers in the medium of cinema today.
Tarantino knows how to tell a story – from quirky badass characters to mucking around with time to leaving the right things out to entice the viewer’s interest – that sucks you in and won’t let you leave till the credits are done. (I use the word “brilliant” about 15 times in about two minutes, but that’s okay, since the subject deserves it.)
But back to the written word…
Drew’s plans for the year – once Clapping is complete – include delving into the Book of Genesisand rewriting the story from an altered perspective. He doesn’t mean to insult religion outright, but he does want to challenge readers to think about deeply held beliefs and ideas in a new way. (And really, look at the source: talking snakes and massive floods and 600-year-old men. What’s all that about, huh?)
Like any dedicated writer, Mr. Flynn is constantly working to improve his craft. To that end, his (and my) advice to fellow authors is to…
Keep writing. Write as much as you can, as often as you can. (Every day if possible.)
Keep reading. Fill your brain with good stuff – the quality of work you’d like to produce.
Get feedback. Have editors and beta readers that you trust read your work and give you their honest reactions to it. What’s good about what you’ve written? Where could it be better?
Use proper grammar, dammit! If you are going to break the rules, make sure you do it consciously, in the right way and for the right reasons.