Sunday, May 27, 2007

Characters in Torment?

Of course. That's why they call it fiction. I can do all sorts of mean, nasty, hateful things to them, and they just come back for more. Gosh, I just love it.

As a writer, I know that I have to throw a whole bunch of problems at my characters, otherwise my fiction will be boring. The secret of failure as a writer is to try to please everyone, especially the characters. Oh, those people in my head may want happiness, but there are huge obstacles in the way, obstacles which can thwart those characters, making their lives pure hell. Without realistic conficts, the best characters and beautiful landscapes are about as entertaining as a painting. You may look, but you won’t hang around.

Talented writers of novels and of screenplays know this, and they compose their conflicts every bit as well as they build their worlds and describe their characters. What is so entertaining about stories? Nowadays, much of network television is populated by far more “reality series” than stories, so are stories now passé? Not if you look at the movies, and not if you peruse the shelves of a library or a bookstore. Nope, people still like stories.

As a writer of novels, I do realize that I have an uphill battle. Whatever else has been said about this country, seldom has it been described as a nation of readers! However, fiction writers have plenty of tools available to give readers what they want. Not the boring, not the mundane lives we often lead, but rolicking adventure and many problems to solve.

My most recent release, Trinity on Tylos, has a main character who has many dilemmas, especially those posed by the malevolent alien presence hovering beside her ride through the galaxy. This book has its roots in those space operas which I have enjoyed since I was a kid, with elements of space travel, advanced weapontry, and robotics, but it has a very human side, when my main character Venice Dylenski is forced to choose between losing her life along with all of her colleagues or saving her people and embarking on a first contact adventure which probably won’t have a happy ending. Venice has many problems, her companion has a problem, and her captor has a really big problem, so there is conflict galore as each person attempts to bring the conflict to a resolution which makes him or her the winner.

In my previous novel, The Gift Horse, the main character has so many problems that I've sometimes been accused of being mean-spirited. Nope, not really. I just wanted to see how far I could push the characters and how many times I could shock my reader without ever getting really graphic. The Gift Horse was an experiment in creation of suspense, and I've had some readers tell me they finished it in twenty-four hours, which I consider success. Indeed, two people told me they finished it the night they began, albeit having very little sleep. After all, it is almost three hundred pages long.

I don’t like stories without character development, and in order to get to know characters, an author has to throw impossible tasks and heart-wrenching dilemmas in their way. Only then can readers and viewers see how these folks deal with adversity. That’s why you have to torment your characters to create memorable stories.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Star Wars at 30

Yep, on May 25th, the movie that finally made it cool to love science fiction was released. At that time there was little fanfare, because no one in the industry had a clue what was about to happen. I didn’t see it until a few weeks after the release, in the middle of summer, having read an article about this movie which was sweeping the nation. Fortunately for me, I was dating a guy who was a rabid fantasy fan, and he liked science fiction well enough. We saw it in Athens, Georgia, our most frequent date spot, and rode home in his mom’s metallic green Buick Skylark. What a seventies ride!

The movie itself is very much a product of the seventies, despite the “timeless” labels that fans foist upon it. However, for a generation whose parents laughed at the ridiculous stories set in outer space and who had fought for a chance to see Star Trek on Friday night, the lovingly produced Star Wars was an affirmation that these stories could appeal to a mass audience. Lucas and his crew believed they were filming something which would at best be a cult classic, but instead they made a movie which would change the film industry.

I’ve been doing a bit of research for my panel at SFSC, and in so doing, I contrasted the list of all-time box office champs based on actual dollars earned with a list adjusted for inflation. Either way, Star Wars ends up in second place. However, the “actual income” list is dominated by special effects science fiction blockbusters, even when they aren’t called sci-fi. Indeed, the so called prequels, Episodes I and III are also on this list, along with ET and the first two Spiderman movies. Modern movie fans love the films that Star Wars spawned, and that is clear when you look at what is popular now, verses what films made a big splash prior to it.

There were comparatively few special effects in the original Star Wars, due to budget constraints, but it was clearly a space opera, and the movie lovingly embraced the themes and plot devices of bygone eras. Margaret Mead dismissed it as, “just another western” and it may have been, but it was a western dressed up with space ships, blasters, and comic androids, along with the most menacing villain that anyone had seen in quite a while. The opening sequence dispelled any notion that Star Wars was like science fiction films of the past.

Thirty years have gone by, and some people don’t understand why this film was so important. But a look back at the cheesy science fiction like “Lost in Space” or a look ahead at the current box office champ list yields an answer for even the sternest critic. Star Wars made science fiction a genre for everyman, and that’s only one reason that I love it.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Want to know more about writing?

I’m always looking for great resources for myself and for other writers and wannabes, so I have a couple to share this week. One is online, and for the other one, you will need to either live in northeastern Georgia or be willing to travel here for a long weekend. Hey, this is a nice spot for a mini-vacation, so do consider it.

Authors Victoria Strauss and A.C. Crispin maintain a Writer Beware blog which goes along with their Writer Beware website, and it offers up-to-date information for writers of all levels of experience, but since newbies are often the ones who fall prey to scammers, anyone new to seeking publication should visit and revisit this blog. The authors have links to their latest publications, which is natural, and links to other helpful resources. I was especially impressed with their “two thumbs down” lists of agents and publishers to avoid. If you are remotely interested in writing for publication or in the publishing business, pay a visit to this one.

I recently received a brochure from the newly resurrected Harriette Austin Writer’s Conference, which will be held in July in Athens, Georgia. This conference was the first stop on my own journey toward publication, and the new website looks better than ever. The featured speakers for this year’s conference are Terry Kay, Ralph McInerny, and Peter Reinhart. Among those presenting at small groups is Bob Mayer, one of my favorite conference speakers, and a jim-dandy writer of science fiction and military fiction thrillers. This event is held at the UGA Continuing Education Center on the campus of the University of Georgia. If you are new to writing or want to advance your skills, this is great place to begin.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Year Three

Have you noticed that people either go through life looking through the windshield, i.e. looking forward, or in the rear-view mirror, i.e. looking backward? One of my close relatives seems to have her eyes fixed upon that rear view, evidenced by her constantly talking about people I haven’t seen or heard from in thirty years. I find that somewhat irritating, so let me say that I won’t be looking backward at my blog. For that, just see the archives.

Looking forward, I know that I’ll be a guest at Sci Fi Summer Con, and that Chris Barber will be joining me for a promising panel topic, “How to Torment Your Characters” which should be entertaining for the audience and for us. I’ve been told that Living Jackson magazine has placed Trinity on Tylos on their book review calendar for later this year, and I hope that spurs some sales for local vendors who stock it.

I’m hoping that my career as adjunct instructor of English will continue, since I am enjoying that. One goal for 2007 is to brush up another manuscript or two and send out some queries. Sales of my current offerings have been slow, so I don’t feel much pressure to get something “out there.” My publisher has only a two year contract on Trinity on Tylos, so that book may be out of print by next February.

Our children are growing up, which will mean some changes in our household, including more financial pressures, which is another good reason to put publishing on the back burner and give more lucrative projects my attention for the next few months (or years.)

As for those of you who read Pam’s Pages from time to time, I appreciate your interest, and I do intend to keep posting on a regular basis. Due to these shifting priorites, the topics will probably venture beyond publishing with more frequency, but I am always reading books and trying to keep up with the publishing industry, so I won’t be abandoning either of those entirely. Science fiction is still one of my favorite genres in print or on the screen, so expect comments on that as well.

What you won’t read are more personal topics which might either bore or offend certain readers. One of my friends says I need to create an anonymous online persona for that, and I am quite intrigued with that idea. Just who will I become when I decide to start that more controversial, “tell all” exposé blogging experience?

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