Monthly Archives: July 2010

Gaiman v. McFarlane

For those of you who were unaware of the legal tiff going on between Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane, I won’t even try to fill you in, for I won’t do an adequate job, but you can hear it, as it were, from the horse’s mouth.  All I’ll say is that Gaiman and McFarlane’s conflict originates because of these guys:

and

Anyhow, the judge’s ruling in the case just came down a few days ago, and while I’m sorry that there had to be such a conflict in the first place, I’m glad that the judge for the case was so smart.  Maybe I generalize a bit too much, but it’s refreshing to read of a judge who so thoroughly familiarizes herself with the source material surrounding the case as Judge Crabb did, even when the material might seem rather silly to an outsider.  I expect judges to talk sense about everyday serious things, but to even see a judge write sense about comics is something else entirely.

Much as defendant tries to distinguish the two knight Hellspawn, he never explains why, of all the universe of possible Hellspawn incarnations, he introduced two knights from the same century. Not only does this break the Hellspawn “rule” that Malebolgia never returns a Hellspawns to Earth more than once every 400 years (or possibly every 100 years, as suggested in Spawn, No. 9, exh. #1, at 4)

. . . .

If defendant really wanted to differentiate the new Hellspawn, why not make him a Portuguese explorer in the 16th century; an officer of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages, a Roman gladiator, a younger brother of Emperor Nakamikado in the early 18th
century, a Spanish conquistador, an aristocrat in the Qing dynasty, an American Indian warrior or a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I?

You can read the whole story (as well as a lot of other interesting things) on Neil’s journal.

At this time, I should mention that I’m going on vacation for two weeks, so I won’t be updating again until the 14th at the absolute earliest.  I’d like to thank all of you readers; I hope I haven’t been wasting your time.

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Brandon Sanderson, You Magnificent Bastard

For someone who seems to dispense advice quite regularly, it would seem that I could stand to take that advice a bit more often.  Any writer will tell you that you need to read assiduously, both in and outside of the genres within which you write.  On that subject, though I may be just a little late to the party, I just finished Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson.

So why mention it here?  This blog is ostensibly about urban fantasy, not epic fantasy.  Well, in my reading of Mistborn, I came across a perfect illustration of the point made by Urban Phantasy reader (and all-around awesome person) Penguin in response to my post about sex and romance.

Without giving too much away, there is a romantic subplot that runs through a significant portion of Mistborn. While one could argue that this subplot is fulfilled by the end of the book, it should be noted that the characters involved never even kiss, though they come close.  Nevertheless, I was satisfied.  Was this because I know there are still two more books?  I’m sure that that contributes, but I would still be fairly happy if Mistborn were a standalone novel.  Sanderson is a canny author and knows enough about the rules (or guidelines) which I seem to write so much about that he can break them.  I think it will still be some time before I can come to terms with how Sanderson does what he does with this subplot, but in the mean time, I recommend that any of you who haven’t already read Mistborn go and do so post-haste.


Everything in Moderation

First, an apology for the spotty updates.  No excuses here, I’ve been a slacker.

When I wrote my last post, I knew which subject to follow it with: violence and gore.  What do violence and gore have to do with sex?  Well, outside the world of fetishes, violence and gore and sex are linked very closely.  All of them can be graphic, they all generally get a strong reaction from readers, and they’re best used in moderation.

Sure, just as there are Harlequin romances, there also exists the literary equivalent of slasher flicks, where blood and guts almost drip from between the pages of the books, but such stories sell to a more specialized audience.  For everyone else, you can’t overdo it if you want to sell.

As with sex, the question you need to ask yourself when you have violent or gory scenes in a story is, what is this doing for the story?  Are you just trying to shock your readers, or are you trying to get a reaction from your characters?  There isn’t a one-size fits all rule for putting violence and gore in your writing, but there are a few things to consider.  First, with violence and gore, as with strong language, less is more.  You won’t shock readers, if that’s your intent, if your story has non-stop gore and graphic violence, and you run the risk of not only desensitizing or turning your readers off, but also going over the top, from serious to comical.  Second, if you’re trying to sell your stories to magazines, a lot of magazine editors specifically warn against graphic, gratuitous gore and violence.

If you’re unsure if a graphic scene is just there for the sake of itself or not, the easiest thing you can do is to read a version of your story where the scene in question takes place off-camera (assuming that the violence had to happen in the first place) and ask yourself if it weakens the story at all.  The other question to ask yourself, or your characters, is what effect violence has.  How do such acts of violence affect your characters?  If your hero commits acts of casual violence without thought, are readers going to keep rooting for him or her?

Until next time, keep writing.


Because it Often Sells

So, let’s talk about sex for a moment.  Way back when I started this blog, I made a couple posts about the differences which I perceive between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and I still stand by those opinions, but sex sells.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start writing paranormal romance novels.  Just because a story features sex, or the suggestion thereof, doesn’t mean that it’s a romance, and, if you ask Jane Austen, just because a story is a romance doesn’t mean that it has to feature sex.

Some of my more recent stories have contained sexual situations, though there has not been, as my father would put it, “naming of parts.”  Nor have I actually described any sex, leaving it to a scene break and to readers’ imaginations.  To some extent, this is due to the nature of the markets which I target with my works.  There’s many a magazine that doesn’t publish explicit sexual content.

Further, I shy away from gratuitous sexual content.  Even if I were to feature explicit sex in a story, I would only do so if it served the story in some way.  Kurt Vonnegut has been quoted as saying that “every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action,” and this is especially true when it comes to writing sex.  Action in this context refers to the action of the wider story, and if the scene isn’t advancing the story in some way, then it should be excised.

In the case of sex scenes, consider why the characters in question are having sex.  What does it tell readers about the characters?  How does sex serve to advance any of the plots or subplots of the story?  If there’s a romantic subplot and the characters are finally ready to admit to themselves and each other that there’s an attraction, for example, Kaylee and Simon from Firefly, then go for it.  If your characters are having sex because there’s nothing else to do, consider skipping to the next scene that will keep the story flowing.

How far you go in writing your sex scenes is entirely up to you and how comfortable you are writing sex.  Just keep in mind that the level of sexual content in a given story will play a part in which markets you’ll be able to sell your work to.


Hugo Award Musings

Ah, yes, the Hugo Award nominations were released ages ago.  Why so late to the party, Hilary?

I was going through some back issues of Locus that were lying around my house and, on a whim, took a look through the 2009 in Review issue.  I was somewhat surprised when I saw so many people going on about The City & The City by China Miéville.  When I say surprised, I don’t mean to impugn the quality of the book; more like I was surprised that, for once, I hadn’t been late to the party.  I read The City & The City way back at the start of fall semester when it first came out based solely on the byline on the spine.  I’ve been a Miéville fan for a while, something my father knew, and was pleased when he brought me a copy of his latest book.

The book itself is a strange sort of duck, very unlike anything else you may have read from Miéville.  It’s one of the grandest and most ambitious urban fantasies I have read, but has no magic, no alien worlds, no elves.  What it does have are two cities occupying a space maybe the size of Jerusalem, separated by customs, dress, language, and politics.  The residents have been taught, from birth, to simply ignore the other city, though it may be as close as the house next door, for there is only one official border, and crossing anywhere else is a serious crime.

I would recommend The City & The City to anyone as an enthralling work.  I had a hard time putting it down at night, and a harder time not picking it up when I had homework to do.

Meanwhile, my work continues on a pair of urban phantasies set in my more serious Weird Philadelphia setting (home of Marshall Celan and Project Red).  Time, soon, will be the judge of one of the stories, a piece which is now in final revisions after sitting on the back burner for a year, while the other one is partway through being a first draft.


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