Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

It’s been a rough day. Let’s talk the intricacies and difficulties of writing fiction!

I often like to talk like a know-it-all on this blog, but let’s face it, there’s still things I could be better at. Or that I think I could be better at. One of those things is themes. Most stories have them: Harry Potter has destiny vs. fate, prejudice, and our relationship with death; The Shawshank Redemption is about finding hope in a hopeless place, learning to survive and even find ways to thrive in harsh conditions, and, of course, redemption; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar is about how the inevitability of change crafted by thousands of years of evolution and the incessant need to feed to support the process.

Okay, that last one is a huge stretch, but you get the idea. Plenty of stories have deeper meanings and commentaries wrapped into them, like several candle wicks wrapped together to form a new and beautiful candle. Some of these stories are written with the theme in mind, while others arise during the writing of the story. And depending on the kind of story, it can seem odd if a story does or doesn’t have a theme (I wouldn’t expect one from any variation of The Three Little Pigs, but I would expect plenty of thematic elements in an Anne Rice novel).

But how well you carry the theme can vary sometimes. It’s like carrying a tune: sometimes you’re able to do it well, sometimes it varies depending on the tune, and some people, like me, can’t carry a tune that well at all (though that never stops me when there’s a karaoke party going on). With some of the stories I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how well I carry the themes written into them. And after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the realization that authors are probably not the best people to judge their own work.

Which is probably why we have beta readers and editors, now that I think about it.

With Rose, there’s a big theme of toxic masculinity, especially in the latest draft, that becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. That theme kind of arose on its own while I wrote and edited and re-edited the story, and I like to think I carry it very well in the book,* though at times I wonder if I’m being a little too obvious with it. Meanwhile, in this novella I’m working on now, there’s a pretty obvious theme about the perils of racism. I’m not too sure how I’m carrying it, if maybe the angle I’m going for or just the way I carry it is the problem.

Then again, some really good stories do go about exploring racism without being subtle at all. Heck, sometimes that’s the point. A Raisin in the Sun makes no attempt to hide what it’s about. And the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been criticized about how it portrays and explores race relations (as well as who’s writing it), but it still gets its point across very well. Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Despite my own uncertainties about how well I carry themes, I still write and try to carry them as best I can. What else am I supposed to do? I’m not going to give up writing anytime soon just because I’m unsure of how well an idea or a deeper meaning in one of my stories is presented. Hell, I should keep writing, because that’s how I’m going to get better at carrying them. And if I make a few mistakes along the way, I’ll just pick myself up and try again, either by editing the story or trying to write a new one. It beats beating myself up over it, right?

Besides, I may be my own worst judge. What I see as clumsy carrying, others might see as pretty damn good. And that’s reason enough for me to continue writing in the first place.

*Which I hope to have more news on soon. Thank you, as always, for your continued patience as my publisher Castrum Press and I make sure that Rose is up to snuff before publishing.

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Before you ask, no this story isn’t some sort of reference to Game of Thrones and the numerous weddings ending in someone dying that occur in that series (spoiler alert).

I needed a break from the novelette/novella I’m working on, so I decided to tackle a short story I’d had the idea for recently to give my brain some breathing room. The story involves two kids who are given a job by a strange entity known as the Master. And that’s all I’m saying, because I’d hate to give away this story before I’ve had the chance to polish it up and maybe get it published.

The thing is, I have no idea if this story is any good. On the one hand, it reminds me of other stories I’ve read that have gotten published in prestigious anthologies and collections. Heck, it even reminds me of some of Stephen King’s early works, especially in his collection Night Shift. And at only a little over three-thousand words, it’s a lot shorter than most stories I write and therefore I might have more places to publish it. However, the story is a little weird. Not surprising given the fact that I wrote it, but then again, that could also work against me just as easily. Heck, even I find it somewhat odd! And in some dictionaries, I’m right next to the word “odd!”

I’m also next to the words “eccentric,” “strange,” “malevolent,” and “interdimensional being,” but you knew that already, right?

Anyway, I’ll let this story lie for a little while. When I have time, I’ll revisit it and see if I can get it published anywhere after some edits. In the meantime, I’ll use the rest of my Labor Day weekend to watch a movie and do some reading. I’ll get back to work tomorrow on the novelette/novella and hopefully make some more progress on it before I have to get back to work on Rose. Fingers crossed that it all works out.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

Last year I had the pleasure of reading The Cronian Incident, a science fiction novel by my good friend and fellow writer, Matthew Williams. I found it a very engaging and deep sci-fi novel, and I was glad to hear that Matt had a sequel in the works. Last week, Matt released the follow-up to The Cronian Incident, The Jovian Manifesto, and I got my copy courtesy of Matt and the publisher, Castrum Press (my publisher too!). In order to celebrate the new book’s release, I thought I’d bring Matt back on for an interview.

So without further ado, let’s begin!

Rami Ungar: Welcome back to my blog, Matt! Tell the folks around here who don’t know you who you are and what you do.

Matthew Williams: Well, my name is Matt Williams, I am a resident of Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I live with my wife and cat, and I am a writer for Universe Today. In my spare time, I write (obviously), teach Taekwon-Do and generally enjoy the place where we live.

RU: Tell us about your two books in the Formist series, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto.

MW: Both novels are set in the late 23rd century, at a time when the human race has expanded to colonize almost every body in the Solar System. In the Inner Worlds – Venus, Earth and Mars – life is characterized by advancement, augmentation and post-humanity. In the Outer Worlds, on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, are the people who have chosen to live a simpler existence, one that respects the line between humanity and machinery.

The story begins with the kidnapping of a high-profile man from Mars who belongs to the Formist faction (hence the name). These are the people who are dedicated to terraforming Mars so that their citizens can finally achieve the dream of living on the surface without pressurized domes or radiation shields. The Formists hire a special investigator to solve the kidnapping, a former member of Interpol named Jeremiah Ward who’s serving out a prison sentence in a penal colony on Mercury.

In investigating the disappearance of the Formists’ associate, Ward will uncover a plot that is centuries in the making. In the end, he will have to make the ultimate choice between doing what is right, and what may keep him alive.

RU: What’s different about writing The Jovian Manifesto, both in terms of content and just in writing the story?

The Cronian Incident, Book 1 in the Formist series.

MW: For starters, TJM is the second installment in what is planned to be a trilogy. As such, it has a darker tone than the first book. There’s also much more action, which was an absolute must for me! After taking the time to build the setting in Book I, I wanted the protagonists to be thrown into the thick of it. Of course, this book also introduces a few new main characters and a few new settings. This gave me a chance to tell new stories and create some new worlds, which is always fun.

RU: TJM features a female-led cast, something we’re seeing a lot more in various media. Was that intentional on your part?

MW: Not originally, no. In the first book, most of the story is told from a single POV – Jeremiah Ward’s. I wanted the second book to be told from multiple points of view and had several characters in mind when plotting it out. As it turned out, all of the new characters were strong, motivated and independently-minded women. When this was pointed out to me – by my friend and colleague, Rami Ungar, no less! – I was quite pleased. I had not embarked on this book looking to make the cast female-led, but I was happy it worked out that way. I’ve often worried that as a male writer, I would default to writing male leads, or find that writing female characters was more difficult. It pleased me to see that this was not the case.

RU: This is your second book with Castrum Press, and you also have a short story featured in their anthology, Future Days. What’s it been like working with Castrum?

MW: It’s been excellent, really. As a recently-established publishing house led by experienced writers, they know the particular struggles that new writers face. It’s also very clear that they are interested in promoting new talent, which is something you don’t see a lot of these days in the publishing industry. Also, it gives me a chance to entrust my work to people who have been part of the industry and know what it takes to succeed in it. That’s very reassuring to a newly-established writer, and something that independent authors don’t get to enjoy.

RU: Science fiction is often described as a lens towards what the future could be, as well as what our society looks like now. Do you agree with that sentiment? And what do you think the Formist series says about humanity?

The Jovian Manifesto, Book 2 of the Formist series.

MW: Absolutely. Science fiction has always been about predicting what the future will look like, but that always comes down to how the world looks today. In that respect, science fiction books are an extension of the present-day world and are intended to convey messages about the direction it is taking. As for my own work, I believe they reveal that regardless of the time period, or the level of development we will have reached, humanity will always be facing the same basic challenges. How do we ensure our survival and our future? How do we erase the dividing lines and learn to live together? How do we ensure that our most cherished values also survive?

RU: What are your plans for the future at the moment? More books in the Formist series, perhaps?

MW: Oh yes! I hope to write a third installment for this series and very much want to explore the universe I have created further. This could involve some origin stories, since some of the characters I have created have interesting pasts that would require a whole book to explain. I also hope to write additional trilogies that take place farther down the road. But of course, that all depends on how the Formist series shapes up. And of course, I have several other ideas I would like to see in print.

RU: What are some stories, science-fiction or otherwise, that you are reading now and would recommend?

MW: I recently finished The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, both of which I would strongly recommend. I also finished Halting State and Rule 34 by Charles Stross, Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, and House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. I recommend all of these books to people who are fans of classic science fiction, space opera and near-future speculative fiction.

RU: Rule 34? I thought that was just an Internet meme. Should I ask or…? Moving on: if you could pick a fictional universe to live in, which one would it be and what would you do there?

MW: Good question, and one which I really haven’t pondered much. I suppose if I had to choose, I would live in the universe dreamed up by the late and great Frank Herbert – i.e. Dune. I figure I could help with the terraforming of Arrakis given all the research I’ve done on the subject. I have always wanted to try The Spice too, and I figure I would be able to look out for myself since I know how the series goes. Plus, I would absolutely want to see what travelling through folded space feels like!

RU: Final question: Look out! A sandworm out of the Dune universe is about to attack! What do you do?

MW: Ooh, that’s a tough one to answer! Deploy a thumper, stand back, and get your hooks ready, because we’re going for a ride!

RU: I’ll pretend I know what that means, because I’ve been bad and haven’t read the Dune books yet. Thanks for being with us, Matt! I hope both books do very well!

That’s the end of the interview, folks. If you would like to keep up with Matthew Williams, you can check out his blog, Stories by Williams. You can also check out his writings through his Amazon page and through his Universe Today page. And of course, you can check out his Facebook and Twitter pages. And I highly recommend you check out his books, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto. I found the former to be a great example of hard science fiction, and I can’t wait to start on the latter.

And if you have a new book out and want an interview, check out my Interviews page and leave me a comment. We’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully see you very soon with more to talk about. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Whenever I write through the perspective of a particular character in a story, it’s never simply just using my good-ol’-Rami-Ungar-style of narration and pretending to see things through the eyes of said character. I wish it were that simple. Characters, despite being the product of an author’s imagination, tend to feel like independent entities who are telling me their stories (if any psychologists or philosophers can explain that to me, I’d love to hear your two cents). Still, transmitting the story from my head, where the story’s presented as a movie with narration mixed in, to the page requires me to figure out how that voice manifests on the page.

Sometimes that’s easy to figure out. Sometimes it’s not.

The past couple of stories I’ve worked on–Mother of the King, The Night Hitler Came to London, and this novelette I’m working on currently–have been challenging when it comes to figuring out the narrators’ voices. This probably has something to do with the fact that the POV characters in these stories have lives that are very different from mine. For the first two, the POV characters have both been British, which I am not. I’ve been relying on all the British novels, TV shows and movies I’ve consumed over the years, trying to make them seem British, rather than Americans throwing around British colloquialisms like “bloody hell” or “tosser.” And in the case of The Night Hitler Came to London, the two main characters are growing up during the London Blitz, so trying to tap into the mindset living during that particular moment of history isn’t the easiest.

Then again, my country has been at war in some way or another since 2001. So perhaps it’s a bit easier than I give it credit.

And this current story I’m working on…whoo boy! I’m back to working on a novelette I started between two previous drafts of Rose, and the main character is a young housewife from the American South during the 1960s. That’s already pretty alien to my own experience, so it’s a challenge to make her sound like a real person without resorting to a stereotypical Southern accent. I’ve made some progress on that in this latest attempt on the story and I think I’ve figured it out, but I’m sure there will be challenges in the future, I may have to work on her a bit more before I try to publish this story anywhere.

And I’m probably not the only author who struggles with this. Because of how different their lives are from ours, or just how differently their minds work, there will be characters whose heads we struggle to get into and whose voices we struggle to translate to the page. With that in mind, I have a few tips on how an author can figure this out:

  • Look at their background. While every individual is different and background doesn’t determine everything, it can have a huge influence on how a person–and a character–turns out. How they were raised, socioeconomic status, education, religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, who they hung out with, how they were treated by teachers, how they did in sports, what they saw on the Internet. All this makes us. If we can figure all out of this, it can help us get in our characters’ heads and figure out their voices.
  • How do you want them to come off? How do you want your audience to perceive your character? If funny, make sure their observations are full of jokes and witticisms. Narcissistic? Everything comes back to them and makes them look good. Do they feel persecuted? Everything and everyone they come into contact with should reinforce that belief, even if to us we see innocence in these interactions. If you know how your character should come off to readers, you’ll have an easier time writing them.
  • Have an inner dialogue. This is something I did for my character in my current WIP. I go into this in more detail in my article on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, The Inner Dialogue: A Method For Figuring Out Your Stories, so I highly recommend you check it out. If you don’t have time to read it, this is just having a conversation with your inner writer. You can also do this with your character. After all, characters are independent entities after a sort, so you can learn a lot by “hearing” them “speak.”

Some characters are easier than others to understand and translate to the page. But when they are, you shouldn’t give up. There are plenty of ways to figure them out. And when you do, that’ll make all the hard work all the more gratifying.

Have you worked with characters whose voices were hard to find? What did you do figure out their voices?

 

There are people looking at the title of this post and thinking, “What the heck did that crazy author come up with now?”

To answer that question, I just finished writing a short story taking place during the London Blitz. I first had the idea for this story over four years ago, when I went on a study-abroad trip to Europe to follow the Allies’ path through Europe. While our teacher and tour guide (or was it one of the other students giving a report based on the research they did the last semester?) was discussing the London Blitz at Bletchley Park (the site where Alan Turing cracked the Nazi Enigma code), I had this idea for a story taking place during the Blitz, involving some kids encountering something awful while trying to run from the bombs. Over time, the antagonist came to be Adolf Hitler.

Or is it him? You know me, I never write anything simple. In any case, the story reflects something about me that shouldn’t surprise anyone: I’m scared of Hitler and the Nazis. As a Jew, I know how close my people came to annihilation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. If the war had gone differently, I probably wouldn’t be here, let alone talking about my stories and my love of horror with you. This is part of why I studied the Holocaust in college, and why I still study it today (though obviously not as frequently as I did in college). But even though I studied the Holocaust and have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, knowing doesn’t make me any less afraid of the Nazis or their monster of a leader. And with such a resurgence of people saying Hitler was right or worthy of admiration, I made sure to get that fear across in the story. Hopefully I succeeded.

You know, I actually wasn’t intending to write this story. I was planning on getting back to a novelette that I’d started working on in-between drafts of Rose. However, this story started calling to me to write it, and I couldn’t resist the call to listen to it. And yes, stories can demand to be written. At least while they’re in our heads. And I only just figured out why this story wanted me to write it so badly that it grabbed my attention. You see, I went to Washington DC recently for work. It was the first time since I was thirteen or so that I’d been to DC, so obviously I was going to do the tourist thing and check out some places (see my Instagram for photos). One of the places I decided to visit was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could see it after being so much more informed about it than I was as a teen.

The train car at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There’s such a palpable energy of despair coming from it, you can’t help but be affected by it.

I guess my subconscious had me write this story because I was going to that museum. Maybe it was some form of mental preparation, or maybe I felt somewhere in my mind that it was the right thing to write. In either case, I went to the museum on Saturday, and let me tell you, their main exhibit has a palpable atmosphere. You can’t go in there without coming away affected. Seeing all these artifacts from the past–concentration camp and Nazi uniforms, newsreel footage, photographs, testimonials from survivors, even a train car that might have been used to transport Jews and other “inferior races” to concentration camps–along with the museum’s presentation of them, make you fully aware of the horror that occurred so long ago and how it still affects us today.

After I left the main exhibit, I was so glad I was writing this story. It was as if through the story, I was reminding people there’s still a reason to fear Hitler and his ideology. Especially since it’s showing a resurgence these days, long after its abominable creator committed suicide.

So what’s next for this particular story? Well obviously I’m going to have it looked over and then edited. Afterwards though…we’ll see. It’s a little over sixty-eight hundred words, so it’s not too long. I’ll see about getting it published somewhere. There’s a magazine I’ve been trying on and off to get published in, so maybe they’ll take it. Then again, the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member of, has been talking about putting together an anthology. Perhaps I’ll submit it there.

In any case, I’ll let it lie for a while before working on it again. In the meantime, let’s see if I can finish that novelette before I get the latest draft of Rose back from Castrum.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

The other day, I was talking with someone about what sort of tattoo I’d get if I were the type to get one.* This is a topic I’ve thought of a lot in my twenty-five years, and I think I’ve figured out what I would get. As I explained to my friend, it would be a representation of the horror genre, how the various causes of horror in fiction–like demonic entities, the prospect of death, and of course human beings, among others–have a detrimental effect on us. “It’s corruption of the innocent,” I explained. “The very essence of horror.”

And then I realized something: corruption of the innocence is an essential part, if not the essence, of horror. And it can be found in every horror story, if you think about it. I knew it was part of Gothic horror, as I mentioned it in my post about what makes Gothic horror. But beyond that subgenre? Hadn’t even considered it.

I could have hit myself for not realizing that sooner. It was staring me right in the face, goddammit!

As I said above, I mentioned how corruption of the innocent is an element of Gothic fiction, and we see this in Gothic stories like The Shining. Danny sees the world go from a mostly-nice place where bad luck sometimes causes disaster for good people to a dark place where entities like The Overlook exist and kill people or drive them mad. Said entity also tries to corrupt Danny’s shine, to make that beautiful psychic power part of its own dark self.

Innocence corrupted.

However, this concept is found in other horror stories. HP Lovecraft incorporated it into his work quite often. In The Call of Cthulhu, his most famous work, the narrator starts out as being very sure that the world is a concrete place of science and rationality. However, after going through his late uncle’s effects, he realizes that there’s something awful in this world, a worldwide cult devoted to the bloody worship of an awful god that will one day rise to retake the Earth. And not only did this cult kill the narrator’s uncle, its agents will likely kill the narrator, driven close to madness with fear, before long.

Innocence corrupted.

This story is a great example of corruption of the innocent at work without being part of the Gothic genre.

And sometimes the innocence being ruined here isn’t your traditional childlike innocence. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having your worldview changed. Two early Stephen King stories, “The Mangler” and “Battleground,” revolve around hardened men discovering the world can involve the supernatural or just plain weird (in this case, a possessed dry-cleaning machine and toy soldiers that come to life to kill you). As I said, nothing dramatic. Just a shift in viewpoint.

Innocence corrupted.

Even when it’s so ubiquitous though, I don’t think corruption of the innocent is the essence of horror, as I characterized above. Or at least, the only essence of horror. After all, we can’t forget about fear, which is what horror plays on and seeks to create. Without that fear, you just don’t have a good horror story. Perhaps then, like fear or a powerful antagonist, corruption of the innocent is something necessary to writing horror. Without it, the genre would be missing something that cannot be done without.

So while not exactly the full essence of horror, corruption of the innocent is important to the genre. You could even say it’s wrapped up in the essence of horror. And I’m glad I finally realized after such a long time that it was.

Hopefully it makes writing decent horror stories easier.

What do you think of corruption of the innocent as part of horror? Do you think I’m onto something?

Do you think I should get a tattoo? Would you like to see this design of mine realized? Do you know how any artists who could help me create it?

*For the record, I’m tempted, but my religious beliefs aren’t fond of me getting one. And I’m not sure I want something so permanent on my body, anyway. Especially if I have to pay a ton of money for what I’m looking for. Still fun to think about, though.

Also, I want it on my back. Best place to get it, in my personal opinion.

Well, today has turned out eventful. Not only is it the seventh anniversary of this blog’s creation today, but I finished writing another story. And let me tell you, it turned out a lot longer than I expected, just under eleven-thousand words, making it a novelette. I have no idea if I’ll have to trim it down some later on, but I have a feeling that I’ll be doing a lot of editing before this story can be considered ready for publication.

Mother of the King, as this story is called, was born from my recent interest in the legend of King Arthur. I even downloaded a whole lecture course onto my phone to listen to and find out more about this legendary figure. The result not only surprised me (read my post The Weird Truth about King Arthur to have your own mind blown), but inspired a story that I decided to write after I sent Rose back to the publisher. You know how some of the Arthur stories out there say that one day Arthur will return when England needs him the most? This idea deals with that aspect of the legend, as well as the historical Arthur figure. It’s part historical fiction, part science-fiction, part my way to play around with a famous fantasy canon and even do some teaching as well.

It would make for a great TV show on HBO or Netflix. At least, I think it would.

And the cool thing about Arthurian literature is you can literally write any story about Arthur and his knights, and it’s automatically part of Arthurian canon. Doesn’t mean that it’ll be a good addition to the canon,* but it’ll be an addition anyway. Hopefully Mother of the King, should I ever get it published, will make a decent addition to Arthurian literature.

So what happens now? Well, I had my eye on submitting this story to an anthology Castrum will be putting together in the near future, but perhaps the length of it might turn them off. In any event, I’ll probably have a few people look at it and give me feedback. I’ll use that to edit the story, and after that see about getting it published.

In the meantime, while Rose is still being looked over at Castrum, I’ll be working on finishing up a few unfinished novelettes. With any luck, I can get them done before I get the fifth draft back and have to dive back into doing edits.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. It is very late for me, and I’ve got work in the morning. I’ll be seeing you again soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares, one and all!

*Looking at you, 2004’s King Arthur and 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. You both aimed big, but in the end failed miserably. Also, Friday the 13th remake, you suck. You’re not Arthurian literature at all, but it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned how much I hate you. You stupid, pornographic excuse of a Michael Bay film.