Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Post: Michael Shean on Living with Opposing Narratives

From Different Worlds
Or, A Word About Multiple Genres
by Michael Shean


Hello there. I’m Michael Shean, and I write dark fiction. Sci-fi, crime, horror, whatever; if it screams and it bleeds, I’ve either written about it or at the very least thought about it. My readers know this very well. Humor doesn’t often figure into my dark tales, mostly because my characters are too busy trying to uncover mysteries or keeping from being shot in the face. You know, that old chestnut.

But you know, as much as I love the dark stuff, I also love comedies. Surreal and absurdist humor are my favorite forms of comedy - Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Monty Python kind of stuff. With this being the case, I find myself often faced with a dilemma that many authors deal with at any time in their careers: the question of shifting tone and genre. Should an author stick to the work he or she begins with, and becomes known for? What about a radical shift in flavor and tone?

Writing in multiple genres is the sign of a good writer - that’s certainly not up for debate. But when readership is often dependent on consistency, it’s often easiest to simply use different pen names for each genre in which you wish to write. Authors such as Stephen King have written with success with at least one pen name, and it certainly works out for everyone: you can write as much as you like under multiple names, and you don’t have to worry about causing dissonance amongst your readership. Many writers swear by this, and it certainly seems to work for many.

For my part, though, I don’t know that I want to use pen names. The different genres that interest me are as much a part of my identity as the stories I produce, and I want to share that with my readership. By telling stories in various genres, I can demonstrate to the reader the various parts of my personality far better than I ever could just by simply telling them - and for me, connecting with my readers through my work is an absolutely vital part of writing anything. For me, writing under a different name would undercut that connection; I wouldn’t feel like the same person.

Though the number of authors who have written across multiple genres using one name are in the minority, but they stand out: John Updike and Anton Chekhov are sterling examples, and of course William Shakespeare is perhaps the greatest example of a multi-genre author using his own name. It’s a roster to which I think anyone would be proud to join. Don’t try and pigeonhole yourself - either by name or by genre - and just write what works for you. I promise, as long as your heart is in the story and you’ve done your work, your story will reach those who will enjoy it.


Michael Shean is an author of hard-edged detective Sci-Fi, living in the DC area with his wife and over-sized cats. The first novel of his Wonderland series, Shadow of a Dead Star is published by Curiosity Quills Press with its offshoot, Bone Wires serialized every week on the Curiosity Quills website.


This post is part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour 2012

Curiosity Quills is a gaggle of literary marauders with a bone to grind and not enough time for revisions - a collective, creating together, supporting each other, and putting out the best darn tootin’ words this side of Google.

Curiosity Quills also runs Curiosity Quills Press, an independent publisher committed to bringing top-quality fiction to the wider world. They publish in ebook, print, as well as serialising select works of their published authors for free on the press's website.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Interview: Daniel Polansky, author of LOW TOWN (+Giveaway)

Please welcome Daniel Polansky to the blog! Daniel's debut novel, LOW TOWN, was recently released in December. It's a noir fantasy featuring a dark protagonist in a gritty, traditional fantasy setting, but written with a quick-paced modern tone.

Go check out my full review of LOW TOWN, and don't forget to leave a comment there (here is good too, but won't count for the giveaway) for a chance to win a copy. (giveaway closed)

I loved LOW TOWN, and Daniel was kind enough to allow me to interview him. And so, on with the show!



Low TownLOW TOWN is your debut novel. Can you give us a 30 second pitch we won't see anywhere else?

Low Town is a gritty noir in a low fantasy setting. The protagonist is a drug dealer with a checkered past and a very vague attachment to morality. He finds a child murdered in the neighborhood he controls, and decides that his position as de facto overlord requires him to find the killer. This ends up being a good deal more difficult than he anticipates, tying him into a dark web of magic and conspiracy. I'm not sure if that was under 30 seconds, but if you read it quickly it should be.

The main protagonist of LOW TOWN is known to the reader only as "The Warden," a former agent for the Crown turned drug dealer. He's a darker, almost anti-hero character that I greatly enjoyed. What made you decide to leave him unnamed? Any hints to future books where his enigmatic identity might be revealed?

In part, the Warden being unnamed is an homage to the Hammet's classic 'Continental Op' character, who was really the archetype for the whole hard boiled detective thing. Also I think I liked the idea that his pseudonym provided a certain amount of emotional distance between the reader and the protagonist, who as you mentioned is really not a very nice fellow. Future books will do more to discuss the Warden's history, though I'm not sure that I'll ever get around to giving him a proper name.

UK version
One of the most compelling features of LOW TOWN is its setting (thus the appropriate title). Low Town is, itself, a character within the novel, one that immerses the reader into drug-dens and shady alleys with The Warden. Did you draw inspiration for your location from anywhere in particular?

I grew up in Baltimore so there's a lot of Charm City in the mix, but I love to travel and in particular I love to see foreign cities, so a lot of different places found their way into Low Town. Delhi slums, the Old Town in Riga, you get the idea.

Let's talk a bit about the man behind the pages. Can you tell us a bit about your road to publication, and perhaps the most useful tidbit of knowledge you gleaned along the way?

Put with great brevity – I had a day job I decided I didn't want to do anymore, so I wrote the draft of what would become Low Town in my off hours. I was lucky enough to snag an agent, and from there we were lucky enough to get some publishers to look at it. My main piece of advice, and this may not be super useful, would be that the most important thing is to really fully enjoy the act of writing in and of itself. Getting something published is hard, and takes a long time, and requires a certain amount of luck. The best thing for me about writing Low Town was that I discovered while I was doing it that writing novels was what I wanted to do, that the act on its own was enough for it to merit my energy. If that makes any sense to you.

Finally, any future projects in the works you can share? Also, where might my readers stalk you?(Virtually of course!)

At the moment my attention is mainly turned towards working on completing the next two books in the Low Town trilogy, which I'm real excited about. You can find me at danielpolansky.com, you can follow me on twitter under the same name, and of course I have a facebook page because facebook rules the world.

Steph's Note: Daniel also has a G+ page.


Thanks so much to Daniel for letting me pick his brain and to the readers for taking the time to read/comment! Don't forget to leave a comment on my review post for a chance to win your own copy of LOW TOWN.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Low Town by Daniel Polansky (+Giveaway)

Leave a comment with your email for a chance to win a copy of LOW TOWN. (giveaway closed)

Cross-posted at Amazon, GoodReads, GoogleBooks, and my own review page.


Low TownLOW TOWN
By Daniel Polansky

Genre: Fantasy (noir, secondary-world)
Series: Low Town
Publication Doubleday (2011), Edition: Kindle, ebook, 354 pages
ISBN/ASIN: 0385534469 / B004CFAZWW
Source: Library Digital
Links: Amazon | GoodReads | GoogleBooks | Author | Publisher
My Review: (No Spoilers) Start with a traditional high fantasy, add a hefty dose of noir, mix it up with a dark protagonist and a compelling authorial voice, and you've got LOW TOWN by Daniel Polansky.

The story begins with The Warden, the otherwise unnamed protagonist, going about his usual day of slinging dope and running into trouble with the law (known as Black House), when he finds the body of a little girl. Now, The Warden may not be the best person on the planet, but there are some things he cannot abide. With a shove from his former coworkers at Black House, he enters into a web of criminal intrigue and magic in order to protect the slums he calls home.

LOW TOWN caught me by surprise. I picked it up on a whim after being enticed by the blurb, and I quickly found myself swept up in the world of The Warden. It is part mystery, part fantasy, and entirely wonderful.

The pace is snappy from the moment we meet The Warden and his city, and it drives you all the way to a twisty-turvy end. The plot should be fun for any mystery lover to play at-home detective, and the setting will keep dark fantasy lovers enraptured. Writing is from first person, past tense, and commands a strong voice. You can read an excerpt of the first 7 chapters on the author's website to see if it's your cuppa.

The city of LOW TOWN is a character within itself, and the setting was my favorite part of the book. It's a gritty, urban landscape. Those who appreciate more contemporary fantasy will find much to love about LOW TOWN's modern tone. While the fantastic and magical is present, it is not the focus of the book. Traditional fantasy lovers should be warned that you'll find no elves or spell-slinging wizards in LOW TOWN, and if you do, they are periphery at best.

At the end of the day, LOW TOWN was fun. From beginning to end, it pushed me to read. I had to know what happened next to The Warden. I had to know if I'd guessed right about who-dun-it. That compulsion to turn the page is what turns a good book into a great book. LOW TOWN kept me up late at night and made me forget to eat. It's bloody brilliant.

Content Warning: PG-13 (violence, language, drug use, mature themes)

Rating: 5 Stars
My Rating System
StarStarStarStarStar

Trailer:


Blurb: Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops . . . and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.
from Amazon

Books in SeriesOther ReviewsSimilar Titles
Sequel TBA1. Graeme's1. The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan
2. Escape Pod2. The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe
3. SF Signal3. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Leave a comment with your email for a chance to win a copy of LOW TOWN.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The 3 Things Needed to Beat the Slushpile

A few weeks ago, I accepted a job as assistant editor for ParsecInk. Basically, I read slush.

Though I've read, reviewed, and edited for a number of folks, this is my first direct experience with the slushpile. Let me tell you, it's not entirely pretty, and I don't even see the first round of slush. I see the improved slush that has made it past the first editor. I don't envy him his job.

That being said, reading slush is a lot of fun. I get my coffee, load up the submission manager, and read my daily allotment. Most of the stories fall into the realm of good, but not great. Common mistakes are made, and I find myself reading the same problems repeatedly.

So today, my lovely groupies, I'm giving you the inside scoop. I'm going to divulge to you the 3 things needed to beat the slushpile.

The ideal story has all of these things at an expert level, but an acceptable story will have all of the 3 to varying degrees. What I'm saying is you must have them all, but having more of one will make up for a lack in another.

In random order, you need hook, emotion, and writing.

HOOK
Hook is not a captain with a metal hand. It's your story, premise, concept. It's plot. This is often the hardest thing to find in a story, which is ironic because it is the story.

Hooks begin with an opening line and end with the closing. Most of us know this. What most fail to realize is that throughout the story, you should keep hooking your reader. Build the tension, have more conflict, keep scenes immediate and interesting, include a clever twist, and most of all make logical sense. Don't include a clever opening sentence just to toss it in there. It should be applicable to the rest of the story.

You don't have to do everything I've listed, but all of these things can help you hook your way out of the slushpile and into an editor's lap.

EMOTION
Emotion is the most subjective of the bunch. What captivates one reader, can bore another. It's kind of a crapshoot, but there are some things you can do to improve your chances.

Create a compelling protagonist. He/she doesn't have to be the hero (though it's harder to create reader empathy with a villainous protagonist, it can be done), but he/she does have to be engaging. You need to find something that binds the character to the reader. With an unlikeable protag, this is often a redeeming factor. For most protags, it's a flaw or quirk with which readers can empathize.

The next way to create emotion is making a conflict with important stakes. While the end of the world might seem like the highest stake possible, it may not be important. Importance is determined by how much it matters to the protagonist. Personal stakes are better than impersonal. The more deeply your character is tied to the conflict and risk of your plot, the better.

Finally, emotion can be derived from revealing truth through fiction. This is by far the most difficult option. It's effectively your theme, though you may not know what your theme is while you write it. Fiction often teaches us something, shows us a bit of real-world truth that we might not have considered. Most of the time, a writer doesn't do this on purpose; it just flows out of them through the story. You can attempt to create this revelation in a story, just make sure you don't sound like you're standing on the soapbox, preaching to the reader. Let the reader discover the truth on his own.

WRITING
Finally, the writing matters. Your authorial voice, your style and panache, the way you spin a phrase or turn a trope on its head, the sound and flow of your words. Writing is the nuts and bolts of a story. If your craft isn't up to par, even the shiniest hook will dull.

The first bit to improving your writing is easy. Practice good syntax and grammar. If you don't have good grammar, buy a couple books (here's a blog post of my favorite books on the craft of writing) and start learning.

Once you've got that down, expand your vocabulary by using precise words. Learn the difference between black and sloe, and the connotation each word produces. Every word you use should be the most precise, the best for what you want to convey to the reader.

And lastly, develop your voice. No one can teach you voice. No one can give it to you. It only comes through practice. Once you write enough, look over the body of your work, and there you will find your voice.



I hope all of this helps you beat the slushpile. ParsecInk is currently seeking submissions, just follow the guidelines for the Triangulation anthology. You can also participate in Write1Sub1, a yearly short fiction challenge, and by writing a story every week/month, you'll indubitably improve your craft.

Oh, and remember: in writing, there is no "always" or "never." A talented writer can break all the rules and an editor will love them for it. But I highly recommend that you know the rules before breaking them. I'm still learning them all myself.


Did I miss anything?
Agree/Disagree?
Anything you'd like to know about the slushpile?