Saturday, 7 March 2015

MFA - Creative Writing Teacher Quits - With A Few Choice Words

Hi Guys,
 
Recently you will have read since its all over the blogosphere, about Ryan Boudinot, a former teacher of creative writing in an MFA programme who quit and then decided to leave a few unfortunate comments.
 
 
And of course there have been a great many (outraged) responses to his blog, which seems to have become something of a storm magnet. This is my own response which I hope will be somewhat more balanced than many.
 
To begin with let me just say that teaching is a hard job. Ask anyone who's been in the profession. It wears down the soul. And so first I applaud Mr. Boudinot for having made this a career of his and having tried to teach. But I would also say that given the general tone of his blog, I think he may have been in the job too long. It strikes me as the sort of post someone would write who's a bit on the jaded side of things.
 
I would also say that as has been said many times, the most convincing sort of lie is the half truth. The lie that has a nugget of truth at its core. And most of his blog post reads like that. It is not that there is no truth in what he says. If there wasn't people could simply look at it, laugh, and walk away. It is that there is a nugget of truth in there which is expanded upon and then made into a great flat blanket claim.
 
And last let me just say that Mr. Boudinot's claims - at least the headlines - read as black and white. As absolute rules that must be adhered to. But the truth is that with creative writing as with most other human endeavours there is a huge grey area. There are no hard and fast rules. If you do this you will not necessarily succeed. And if you do that you will not necessarily fail. You will just make things either easier or harder for yourself.
 
Okay, over to the claims he makes.
 
1 Writers are born with talent.
 
Well this is absolutely true. Everyone is born with all sorts of talents for all sorts of things. Maths, rugby and writing to name but three. But no one (or at least almost no one) is born with so little talent that they will never be able to produce great creative writing. And equally no one is born with such great talent that they can simply write masterpieces without some study and hard work. Mr. Boudinot actually alludes to this once you get past the salacious headline.
 
2 If you haven't started writing seriously by the time you're a teenager you're probably not going to make it.
 
Again a half truth. Yes if you start writing seriously at a young age you have a better chance of succeeding. The same is true everywhere. Tiger Woods would have to be the world's best example of how valuable starting as a toddler practically and training from then on can be. But if you start later does that mean you're doomed to failure? No. Even Mr. Boudinot says "probably". The fact is that many great writers have started later in life. What those of us who do start later - like me - is that the journey for us will probably be harder. But if we're willing to put the hours and sweat in, there's no reason to assume that any of us can't make it.
 
3 If you aren't a serious reader don't expect anyone to read what you write.
 
Well this ones a complete pile of pooh. Yes reading is vital to becoming a good writer. But is there any evidence that what you read will make you a better or worse writer? No. What we do know is expressed in that mantra every writer is told almost from the start - Write what you know. So lets take two well known authors - Dame Barbara Cartland and Feodor Dostoyevsky. Do I know what either of them read as kids? No. But is it a fair bet that the first read romance and the second serious literature? Yes. And what does this tell us? That That Dame Barbara Cartland probably couldn't write serious literature (don't you just hate the sheer snobbishness of the term) and Feodor probably couldn't write light romantic fiction. But is either of them not read? No. The truth is that both of them are highly read and respected. What you read won't determine whether you'll be read in turn. What it will do is probably steer you in a certain direction writing wise, and that in turn will decide who reads you - not how many. But that's one of the great things about creative writing. There isn't just one thing you can write to be read.
 
4 No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer.
 
And here were return to the issue of burn out among teachers. (Note that I choose to see things this way rather than the unfortunate alternative which is that this is how Mr. Boudinot always felt.) What I read here is that Mr. Boudinot is saying don't come to me with your problems unless you have something great to bring with them. As I said at the start teaching is a hard profession. But one of the things that stands out for me when I think about the teachers I've had, is that the best of them were the ones who understood that I like everyone else had problems and were willing to listen and help.
 
5 You don't need my help to get published.
 
Well this one is actually completely true in this day of the internet and the indie.
 
Okay guys. That's my two cents worth on this unfortunate episode in the annals of creative writing. Now it's up to you to go and write and prove this guy wrong.
 
Cheers, Greg.
 
 

Friday, 30 January 2015

Happy New Year and Je Suis Charlie.

Hi Guys,

 

Bit of a gap between posts this time, and as you will notice no nice graphic at the top either. The reason I believe is called technical difficulties. A polite way of saying I'm a computer moron. For some reason I can't seem to upload anything to my blog anymore - I just get error messages. Something about server connections failing and a resumable file which I can't open. So if anyone knows what any of that's about, kindly drop me a note.
 
However this blog will be short and sweet.
 
At the start of the year you'll remember I usually like to set out some resolutions, and also to see how I did on the previous year's ones, and this year I did the same thing. I find that this is one way to cut out the BS and just get a benchmark for how I'm going as a writer.

Last year I decided that my goal would be to put out six books - which was a goal I had achieved previously. I felt that was an ambitious target, but not an unachievable one - and goals should always be achievable. Sadly I didn't achieve it, putting out only five books, but in my defence one of those books - The Godlost Land - is a 250K monster. So I think I'll give myself a B on that - with the proviso that I should really get off my arse more often and write!

Over to 2015. This year my new goal is to do the same (five books not six since I've included a second goal which will slow things down.) And my second goal is that one of those books will be a genuine sequel to one of the other books I've already written. This as I'm daily discovering, is a tough goal, since most of the books I'm looking at sequels for I closed years ago. I've forgotten so much about them, that it makes continuity a major problem. However, I am pushing on and Mage, (The sequel to Maverick) is now over 100k.

This year however, one other thing impacted on my writing as I'm sure it did on the lives of many other writers. Terrorists, murdered a dozen innocent cartoonists in Paris.

That monstrous act left a disquieting feeling in my writing guts, as I'm sure it did in the guts of many others. It brought home the reality that there are people out there who truly believe that they are the only ones who should be allowed to decide what people can write and say. And ultimately I assume, what they can even think. And it reminded me that if I write the wrong thing I could become a target for them.

That of course was the terrorists intention. To scare people like me.

It failed.

That was the other new years resolution I came up with. I will not be bullied into writing only what other people want to allow me the right to do so. Granted I don't write a lot about Islam, but if the subject comes up it will be written about and in a way that suits my creative purposes, not the desires of these thugs.

Because in the end people have said that this was an attack on the freedom of speech - which of course it was. But it's something more fundamental than that. This was tyranny in action. These people believe that they have the right to determine how others should live, act and think. They aren't just opposed to democracy, they are opposed to freedom - yours and mine.

And the bitter irony is that they claim that they do this in the name of God. They don't. What seems to have escaped their notice is that every person they bully, intimidate, harm and kill is a child of God. These people were created with free will and out of love. And they were not created with the intention that anyone should harm them.

So to any out there believing that these modern day savages are in the right, think again. And if you support them you support their acts. You are as guilty as they.

Lastly in conclusion: Happy New Year and Je Suis Charlie.

 


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Lessons Learned From TV Land Which Every Writer Should Know!

Hi Guys,


As a writer I am an avid tv watcher - usually when I should be writing! And in point of fact as I sit and struggle with the endless continuity problems involved in writing Mage, I have found myself watching a lot of the idiot box lately. There comes a point at which the thought of going back to a book I closed four years ago and promptly forgot about, just to fact check one tiny piece of information, becomes unbearable. A point at which I would rather hit the remote control and watch anything other than write another line.
 
There is a lesson here to be learned my fellow writers. Or actually two. The first is obviously don't start writing a sequel four years later - the pain of maintaining continuity between the old book which you've completely forgotten about and the new one, is not worth it. The second lesson for those who like me keep a companion document with all the facts and details about the book I'm writing, is of course, don't lose that damned document. It is so much easier to go through a companion document than to do endless word searches through an entire novel.
 
However, that's my pain at the moment, and completely a problem of my own making. I accept that, just as I accept that by the time Mage is completed I will in all probability have pulled out all my hair and may well have started on the cat!
 
But on the positive side, all this tv watching lately, has been useful. It has reminded me that there is wisdom in tv land. Great wisdom - and some of it even affects authors. So here - also in part because I can't stand the thought of doing any more word searches through Maverick tonight - I have pulled together a few of the most important lessons I've learned lately. Lessons that I believe we should all take to heart!

 
Lessons Learned From TV Land:
 
 
1 Never piss off a serial killer! Enough said I think. Not sure if this has any relevance to writers save of course for the obvious - don't write unflattering things about these people!
 
2 There is a subset of human beings who are literally too stupid to live. We call them reporters. These people will literally go out at night, unarmed and without any allies to meet strangers in dark parking garages when they know the people they are supposedly going to meet could be dangerous. And even within this subset there is another subset who are not only too stupid to live, but think its a virtue. We call them plucky female reporters! So the lesson for writers? Don't take up reporting as it's clear it will have a detrimental effect upon both your IQ and your life expectancy!
 
 
3 Writers are cursed. I call this Greg's law of Sodding Synchronicity. But whatever you want to call it it is a fact that in any tv series where there is a writer he will always end up at some point being attacked by whatever he writes about. If he writes about vampires, he will suffer a vampire attack. If he writes about werewolves, werewolves will attack him. Crime writers will always end up at some point embroiled in some sort of true crime – often a murder. And so on. The lesson for writers? Either write about pink fluffy bunnies or brace yourself for the consequences!
 
 
4 Never stand near the captain or other important members of a cast or crew. If possible don't even be in the same episode. The chances of suffering a horrible death increase exponentially as your rank decreases. And if you don't have a full name, you're doomed. The chances are crewman number five that you're going to die. The lesson for writers? Yeah I don't think there is one – it's just fascinating!
 
 
5 Time travel always happens. In any series once it passes a certain number of seasons, you will encounter a time traveller. It cannot be avoided. And said traveller will of course vanish leaving the main characters without evidence and scratching their heads. At much the same time Father Christmas will also appear and then vanish. So the lesson for writers? Expect strange visitors!

 
6 There are certain people in the world who thanks to their advanced hacking skills will be able to build a neutron bomb from duct tape and paper clips or carry out brain surgery by reading a few books. The lesson for writers? Get to know them – they may also be clever enough to be able to programme the damned dvd player!
 
Anyway, those are just a few of the lessons I've gleaned lately from the idiot box. No doubt more will follow in time as my hair thins and the cat heads for the hills!
 
Cheers, Greg.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Maverick to Mage - The Pain of Sequels

Hi Guys,





New topic this time, and the title says it all. Yes Maverick, three years after I published and put it away, is getting a sequel - Mage.
 
It's a long way from anywhere at the moment, with maybe 40k written. And as yet I don't know where it will end up. I've only got to the beginning which is set up five years after the events in Maverick ended. But I am excited about it. So excited that as you can see I've done a rough draft of a cover for it.
 
I'm also pulling my hair out over it! 2015 may be the year I finally go bald!
 
2014 has been a funny year so far. As those who read my posts or my books will know, I don't write series. I generally write stories with a simple beginning and an end. It's not for ideological reasons or because I have any particular objection to series. (Actually I'd quite like to write a series since they sell better!) It's simply the way my somewhat fossilized brain works. But this year I've started three follow up books. The first is to Doorways, a book which at this stage has only the working title - Doorways II. (Original I know!) Then a month or so ago I completed The Godlost Land, and immediately found myself starting its sequel - Pluto Rising. And now Mage has finally started to be written.
 
Where it will go I don't know. I never do. Nor do I have any idea how long it will take to write. As you may have gathered by now - I can never write just one book at a time.
 
Sadly this is the curse of being a pantster - a writer who writes by the seat of his pants rather than planning and plotting. I probably have more unfinished novels on my computer than any other writer in creation. And though it hurts to admit it, some of them are very close to completion. The Arcanist for example - my first venture into steampunk has forty something chapters written and only needs another five or six - essentially the end of the book. But unfortunately each time I return to it - and it is years old - I keep writing, rewriting, refining and revising those first forty some chapters and then can't work out how the book ends.
 
With Mage however, I have a different problem. I know the direction of the story. But the details elude me. It is one giant continuity puzzle. Last night for example I spent half an hour rereading Maverick, skimming through endless references to one character, just to find out what her hair colour is. Then I had to run through my old notes looking for distances in leagues between destinations. Let this be a warning to others - never simply start writing a sequel three years after finishing the first book! (If only I could listen to my own advice!)
 
But at least to all those who have sent me emails about when sequels will be written to various of my books, I can honestly say now that some are on the drawing board. And I'm hopeful that some will be finished next year.
 
Cheers, Greg,

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cyber Bullying and Reviews

Hi Guys,






New topic this time, and one that veers a little from my previous posts about handling reviews. This one concerns cyber bullying, a scourge on the web, and a crime in my view that has been engaged in by one writer / reviewer according to sources.

A couple of days ago Laura J Mixon posted the results of her investigation into the activities of sci fi writer Benjanun Sriduangkaew who has been posting reviews of other authors' works under a variety of pseudonyms including; Requires Hate, Winterfox, pyrofennec, acrackedmoon and others. Reviews that if she is correct, have amounted to a campaign of cyber bullying, including insults, harassment and exortions of violence.

Now I have no knowledge of this author or any of the avatars mentioned. Nor have I personally been aware of any of these attacks. If you want details I would suggest (strongly) that you go to the source: http://laurajmixon.com/2014/11/a-report-on-damage-done-by-one-individual-under-several-names/

However this post is not about these incidents in particular, disgraceful as they are and shameful to the entire science fiction and fantasy community. It is about the more general issue of bullying, and in particular on line bullying.

Now as published authors we all are subject to receiving reviews that are not particularly flattering of our work. And that can be hurtful. I speak from experience. But it is not bullying and it is simply part and parcel of having put our work out there to be judged. It is the right of everyone who reads your work to have an opinion about it and publish that opinion. And it is the responsibility of authors to develop a thick skin as they say, and deal with it.

However there are lines which should not be crossed, and which when they are crossed should be responded to. And here I do not mean by engaging with the reviewer. That is still a no win situation at best, and in the case where cyber bullying has occurred, probably a lose, lose situation. (A basic rule of bullying of all forms is that the bullies get a kick out of seeing your fear. Ignore them and they usually go away.)

So what are those lines?

First, when the reviewer moves on from the review of the work to attacking the author personally, through insults etc. This may be serious or not. It may be taken to heart by those receiving the review or not. Everyone is different in how they will react to these sorts of things.

My general response will be to remember the golden rule. An insult reflects more upon the person giving it than the one receiving it. And my response to it will vary. Mostly it will be nothing - because lets be honest these things are usually minor and wasting a single second of my time worrying about someone who cannot control their fingers is basically wasting my time. I don't care about such people and I have more important things to waste my time on. But at the other end if the insults are particularly egregious, I may refer them to the moderators of whatever forum it's in and ask for the posts to be removed. I will not engage directly with the reviewer because I have no wish to reward him or her in any way.

For those worried about the effect that such posts / reviews will have on their sales, my thought is that I trust most readers to be unswayed by such things. Readers are not stupid.

However, there comes a point where another line is crossed, and that is where threats are made. And here I cannot say this strongly enough, NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO THREATEN YOU!

In this case should it happen, my policy - and I would hope everyone else's policy - will be to report the poster to the police. I am an adult. I assume the poster is an adult. And every adult should know that threats of violence are both unacceptable and a crime. And the number one reason that people get away with crimes is that others don't report them. Bullies on line or in the real world, should not be allowed to get away with their behaviour.

But more than this, bullying is a scourge on society that should be wiped out. If I and everyone else in the on line community, stands behind this simple set of rules, cyber bullying will be if not wiped out then at least cut back.

The one thing I can say with certainty from having read Laura's blog, is that this particular cyber bully would have been stopped long ago if people had acted instead of doing nothing.

Because bullies are capable of learning. And the lesson they should be learning is that their behaviour will not be tolerated. They will get no emotional pay off for their actions. And if they go too far they will find themselves in trouble with the law. No reward, punishment for bad behaviour - this is classical operant conditioning at work. And if pigeons can learn from this sort of conditioning, so can bullies.

One last comment - and I know that some who have received this sort of abuse and threatening behaviour will find it hard to accept. Cyber bullies are toothless for the most part. They can threaten anything. But most of them can do nothing to back up their threats. So though it may be hard to do, stand up for yourselves. Laugh at them - not on line of course - and think of them instead of as being big and scary, as pathetic.

And report them.

In conclusion I'd also like to commend Laura J Mixon for carrying out this investigation and reporting it.

Cheers, Greg.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Authors Behaving Badly

Hi Guys,






OK this one tickled my funny bone a little. The story of an author so incensed by a bad review that she started stalking the reviewer! And the article is well written and suitably funny in places (by said author), which makes it a good read and lends sympathy to the author's point of view even when she agrees she's done wrong. But she has most definitely done wrong.


However my post here is not about this case specifically. It's more about the nature of reviews and how as authors we should deal with them.

Now first I wholeheartedly agree with the phrase that as an author "your book is your baby". It is. Speaking personally you as an author put everything you have into your work. You love it, agonise over it, hate it at times. And what you come out with at the end is absolutely your creation. It is impossible for most of us I would guess, not to feel a little emotional when you finally have that book in your hand. Not to feel a little like a parent who has just suffered through a difficult birth.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's natural and completely understandable. And as any new mother would tell you, you insult her baby you can expect a reaction. But in the case of authors and their books, that reaction is a problem. Here's why.
 
1 It's Not Your Review:
First, and this cannot be repeated often enough, reviews are not done for you the author. I know. It's your book, you feel possessive, but the reviewer was not writing to you. He was not writing to tell you how good or bad your book was. He's writing to other readers. Offering them his opinion. Whether his opinion is good or bad, it's not for you.
 
2 Publishing Is Not Writing:
In this sense a book is not at all like a baby. When a mother has a baby she does it for any number of reasons - but they are her own personal reasons. The same as when an author writes a book. He loves the story, he wants to enjoy the creation of it etc. But when you publish a book, you do it for an entirely different reason. You put it out there for others - readers - to read. Mothers do not publish their babies. (Of course I could say something here about those mothers who put their babies into pageants at such a young age - but that would be another story entirely.)

The point is that you - you sad sad fool - published it! You put it out there to be read. You might have wanted everyone who read it to love it, but that's not possible. Every book no matter how good, will be hated by some. And every author assuming they sell their book, must expect some bad reviews. And you put it out there. You said please read this. And then when someone comes back having read it and deciding that they don't like it says as much, you think you can truly get upset?
 
Bottom line. If you didn't want to face the danger / hurt of bad reviews, you wouldn't have published it. If you published it well you just have to suck it up.
 
3 It's Opinion:
Yes I know it's hurtful. But the reality is that everyone has their own opinions and some are not flattering. I personally hate peanut butter. I consider it once step removed from sewage. So if someone produces a new peanut butter and asks for my opinion of it, my opinion will be that it's awful. I don't even need to taste it to know that. Does that make my opinion right? Only for me. But the important thing is that it's an honest opinion. You can't get upset with me for honestly hating something can you? The sad fact is that I'm entitled to my opinion and so is everyone else.
 
4 You Aren't Going To Win:
This is the often overlooked in anger and pain rule of life. Very few authors are ever going to win by responding to their reviewers. A reviewer loves or hates your book. It doesn't matter whether the review was unfair or not. You aren't going to change his mind. What you are going to do if you respond to a negative review, is create hostility. And there are very few cases where hostility will help. What you may well do is give other readers reason to dislike you as an author, and colour their view of your work.
 
5 It's Not The End Of The World:
A bad review may hurt your sales or not. It may make you feel miserable. But if you believe in your work then you have to believe the good reviews that will come in, will more than make up for the few bad ones. And strangely, sometimes a bad review can help your sales.
 
Decried as one of the world's worst authors, Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860 - 1939) was lampooned by critics and other authors alike. The Oxford Literary group the Inklings, used to hold contests to see who could read her work the longest without cracking up. One described her work as literary diarrhoea. And her work did not sell in huge volumes.
 
Yet here we are, over a hundred years after some of her books were published, discussing them and even holding retrospectives of them, while her works are held in the Belfast Public Library and one of her books is still in print. Why? Because of the negative reviews.
 
So bottom line when someone gives your precious baby a bad review - Do Not Engage!
 
Cheers, Greg
 
 
 

Monday, 22 September 2014

How to Script an Election

Hi Guys,



Well the big news this week from New Zealand is that we had our general elections on the weekend, and the National Party romped home while almost every other party lost ground. This despite the fact that the National Party has been in power for six years and this would be its third term - and the normal cycle is that parties in their third term lose support. In fact this surprising turn of events we are told by the people who take note of these sorts of things, has happened only once in the last century.
 
So how did this happen?
 
Well my take as an author is probably a little bit different to that of the media, who are busy portraying the left as having run a dismal election campaign - and I should at this point declare myself as a Green voter - which places me squarely on the left of the political spectrum. And to be fair I do think the campaign from Labour - the main opposition party - was on the boring side. Maybe they didn't have enough money to produce slick advertising, or maybe originality deserted them, but there is no doubt that their campaign was flat.
 
But there was far more at work here then just that in my view. This was an election that was completely overshadowed by a popularity contest. The Prime Minister versus a German Millionaire who doesn't want to be extradited to the US for trial. (I won't mention his name since he ran a website where people could pirate and post artistic creations and thus is far from my favourite person as an author.) And reading from the Castle playbook of crime solving (I love that show!) I looked for an answer by asking the question - what would make a good story?
 
Now so far what I've laid out is I think fairly uncontroversial. But it occurs to me that one way to boost your popularity if you're desperate to gain a third term and the numbers aren't looking so good, is to reframe the debate. Housing prices going through the roof? The gap between rich and poor growing greater? Don't have enough money to offer tax cuts as the right always seems to want to? Then don't run a debate on the issues. Your numbers will be hurt.
 
But instead when you have a popular Prime Minister - and I can take nothing away from John Key in terms of being a popular political figure - make it a battle for credibility. So bring an enemy (sort of) from out of left field. Let him build a political party and campaign out of a single political agenda - to get rid of John Key. Let him just before the election take a huge personal swing at the Prime Minister through a dubious email which he can't seem to back up. And then let him miss. Miss so horribly that it looks to the entire country as though he never had anything at all. Just hatred.
 
And there you have an election won and lost in my view.
 
The voters on the centre and right side of the electorate are incensed. Their hero / everyman has been maligned for all to see. So he and by extension his party gets a massive protest vote. Not because of a massive swing to the right - though that's effectively what it looks like. But because John Key has been made out to be an innocent under unfair attack. So he has to be supported. The left are tarred with the failure and perceived malicious attacks on the person of John Key, while at the same time their campaigns on the issues have been completely overshadowed by personal politics. So many of them stay home instead of voting for what they believe in and the left vote collapses.
 
Is this what happened? More or less in my view. But the real question is, was it planned? I personally don't know. I'm not privy to the secrets of the various political machines. But it feels right. Horribly right. It feels as though we - by which I mean the New Zealand voting public - have been played.
 
And as I sit here with the taste of bile in my mouth - yes I freely admit it -  I look to some of the other things that happened that shaped this election and wonder. For example another right leaning political party, the Conservatives, who were trending towards the five percent threshold and had they crossed it would have been in parliament and would have prevented National from being able to govern alone, had a melt down two days before the election. The leader's press secretary resigned declaring that the leader was manipulative. And immediately the Conservatives who National would not have wanted in parliament, lost votes. Instead of five percent and maybe six or seven seats, they got four point one percent of the vote, and no seats. Coincidence? Again I don't know. But from the Castle school of investigation it looks damned convenient.
 
So how do we find out? I don't know. I'd guess we could look at the futures of the two players who seem to have delivered an election between them to National. Do things coincidentally come up rosy for them? And maybe someone will investigate - it won't be me. I'll just sit in my home and write my books and feel as though I've been played like everyone else.
 
But maybe Nicky Hager you have your next book waiting for you here. Dirty Politics Two. A book of which even Machiavelli would be proud. At least one author seems to have done well out of this campaign.
 
Cheers, Greg.