Moral Responsibility

Icy Morning Water

What is an author’s moral responsibility with regards to social issues?

So, apparently, I’m going off and being pretentious straight out of the gate with my new blogging schedule.

Still, it’s a thorny question. Does an author have a responsibility to be socially conscious? To try to reflect the values they believe in, to have characters who embody what they want to see in the world?

My answer is – it’s complicated. This is just the answer for me of course, but not all of the characters I write are characters I agree with, even the protagonists.

The Strange Tales of Jenny Dark features a narrator who has a very, very progressive view. Miranda is not just politically to the left of centre (as am I), but she’s very, very far to the left. I don’t know if she’s further than I am, but she’s followed a different direction. She’s very, very into identity politics. That’s something I find problematic.

Most of my villains share at least some of my points of view. It’s part of how I establish them as more complex characters. They don’t have single points of view, they aren’t cut from a single cloth, they have some views that I actually find morally positive, and some I find actually evil.

My heroes are the same, I don’t agree with them completely. Now, that doesn’t mean they aren’t heroic, or that they aren’t somehow good people. They are just complicated.

Same for my stories. I don’t agree with all of the outcomes or decisions, good doesn’t always triumph, and sometimes it isn’t even totally obvious that good is good.

So, what’s the moral responsibility? Moral is subservient to story. I will always side with a good tale over a moral tale, both in my reading and in my writing.

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Research and Oddness

A body by a stove

The last few weeks have got me thinking about character development. I can’t go into the details too much, but it’s been intense and strange. I think one thing I’ve been reflecting on is how people don’t react to stress consistently. One time someone might be a rock solid person, and the other time goes to pieces (this isn’t one of those times and things are good with me, just intense).

It’s also interesting to note how not all stress is the result of bad things in life. Sometimes something really good can cause a lot of stress as well. Just because it is a cause for celebration doesn’t mean it comes without stress and panic. We tend to think of stress as being the result of negatives, but imagine getting a dream job – for most people that would involve a great deal more responsibility and hard work… there are many things like this in life, and it’s hard to know which ones they are.

I like to test my characters, to try and break them, but one of my books actually has a character come into a great deal of money, and it almost kills him. It’s not the main stressor of the book, but it’s a big one.

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Being Stalled on Writing

A Snowy Road

Not writer’s block. It’s not that I don’t know what to write, hell, I have like fifty novels planned out, I write scenes in my head, I have all of this storytelling in my head. The problem is something else, I find that when I sit down to write right now I’m not focusing. I can do code right now, which is cool, but I really need to get some fictions written.

Anyway, something changed last night, and all of a sudden I find I can write again today and I’m slightly resenting that today is a busy day where I have all kinds of non-writing activities I need to do. I want to bang this story out, and I want to do it fast!

So, a good feeling, and I think it might just last for a bit.

I figured out what was blocking me, and I think it’s on the path to being dealt with. Not story related at all. It’s a combination of factors. One huge one: The focus on getting up early. That’s not who I am, and it’s not my life. I’m a night owl, a writer of the classic model, and when I try to force my life into that more mainstream version, well, it doesn’t work out terribly well.

There are other factors, but that’s a huge one. The rest of the getting up and getting going things, I should still do those things, but the forcing myself to early mornings? It’s bad for me.

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I just had an idea

A Tunnel

I don’t know if I’m going to do it or not, but I’m thinking about doing a movie review channel dedicated entirely to zombies. I think I’ve watched almost every single zombie movie in existence, and there are a lot of them. Some are good, some are brilliant, and most are terrible.

The idea is to once a week (or a month, I haven’t really figured that out yet) review one of the almost infinite number of zombie movies that exist in the world. I have a couple of candidates for the first episode even (probably the original Night of the Living Dead, although The Girl with All the Gifts would also work).

So, what do people think? I’m tentatively thinking of calling it Reviews of the Dead, but it’s probably taken. Well, I guess I should find that out.

Okay, I checked… Reviews of the Dead is officially one of my youtube channels now. I will update once it has content.

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Editing is Finally Going Well

Stone Arch

I know I said that before, but it is… I’m more than halfway through my first edit pass on Resource Economies. I’ve identified a couple of minor issues and one major one in terms of structure, but nothing that I would call a show stopper if it was software instead of book writing. My main concern is something that may or may not be a major issue. I have two main plots, and they don’t really intersect. I’m worried about that, but I think I will leave that to beta readers. I think both are good, and both affect the story arcs in a major way.

The core theme is the interaction of two civilizations, one of which is steeped in superstition and ignorance, the other which is trying to move forward, even if it is often not doing so terribly well. Both plotlines reflect that struggle and come out of it. The main thing is that one of the struggles is more of a struggle and the other one is less of a struggle. I hope people will enjoy both. Oh, the one with less struggle might be darker than the one with more struggle. Nothing comes without a price.

I will be posting some excerpts from Resource Economies as I get edits done. Just teasers, it won’t be free on the site unless people decide to do the patreon thing… sorry, I’m trying to make a living at this stuff.

Having said that, there is a lot of things I think are valuable in the book – I actually plan to post some excerpts to the survival subreddit, because it has some concrete survival tips. So does A Long Walk come to think of it… maybe I should post it there.

I’m trying to work out the marketing as I do the editing. I think dipping back into that world has really inspired me. I miss that world, the simplicity of it. I love the Jenny Dark stuff, but it’s definitely more grey when it comes to who needs to be killed. Zombies are pretty obviously not worth worrying about.

This post is going to get well and truly rambly now.

I had a few ideas for things to add to the World of the Dead books. One that’s high in my mind is a book about a kid who survives the apocalypse by hiding out in a hunting camp (modelled after my families camp) but doesn’t run into another living person for five years, when he meets a girl around his age who is also a survivor. It’s kind of a survival romance concept, with a lot of the focus being on the two of them growing to know each other. By this point, they would be around seventeen or eighteen.

I also want to do a series of stories set in the city of New Hope, the largest human stronghold left after the zombies (yes, it is named after the movie… one of the founders of the city is a huge nerd). Kind of slice of life stories in a city where anyone who dies comes back as a zombie and resources are stretched to their limit.

So, that’s stuff that’s being added to my writing queue.

I’ll get to them someday.

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Changing the Ending

An Apple Orchard

I wrote a short story not that long ago called The Chosen Pigherder. It was okay, but it didn’t quite work for me. There was something just off about it.

Yesterday I had an inspiration, I figured out the ending.

I wrote it out last night.

I will be finishing off the cover and putting it up on Amazon within the next two days! Yay! New short story!

Sorry, I’m just excited because it works now and it didn’t quite work before.

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Black Mirror

Haunted eyes

I think I’m a decent writer, that I have ideas worth exploring.

Black Mirror is usually the ideas I wish I’d explored.

I sometimes start down that road, but I also kind of like my adventure stories, my zombies and demons, but man, this show is just so incredibly bleak. It speaks to a part of me that’s probably not even all the emotionally healthy… I love the show.

Seasons 1 and 2 were among the greatest television ever made. Season 3 isn’t as good, and so far neither is 4. Both are better than almost everything else out there.

I think that what Black Mirror gets that so many other things don’t is how isolated we are these days. It’s rather an intense feeling of isolation, a kind of dark exploration of exactly what technology is doing to us.

Also, it’s on Netflix

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December is a crazy month

Holy Palm Tree

This month has not been good for my word count. After having such a successful November, I am now turning out very little in the way of word count. There are a few reasons for it, and the amount of work involved in just the holiday season can’t be ignored. I mean, the holidays are a bitch timewise.

Part of it was a mistake I made. Going backwards from one novel until the previous one is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.

I am finding it very hard to write these scenes because in my mind the arc is already complete. I might be distant enough from the story to start editing it… and I need to be connected to it instead.

Next year I am going to plan things out better. I’m going to do my NaNoWriMo novel without being in the middle of another novel.

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What Marvel Understands About Stories That DC Doesn’t

Riot officer with tear gas gun

There are spoilers for The Justice League. If for some reason you care about that, probably stop reading. Don’t care about that, it’s not worth it, the movie isn’t very good.

I think it’s obvious that Marvel has figured out something about making movies that DC has missed. There are a lot of clues showing that. The biggest one is that people actually seem to like Marvel movies, and for the most part, they don’t like DC movies.

Because I’m a huge nerd this is something I’ve given far more thought than I should. So, the biggest thing is personality. Yes, DC heroes do have personalities, but not really. Batman is grimdark. Superman is conflicted by dutiful. Wonder Woman has some layers, some depth, a bit of a sense of fun. Interestingly her solo movie is the best received DC movie to date. Even the new characters have a bit of this issue. The Flash is actually a fun character, but he’s badly misused. He is, however, entertaining. I wanted to like Aquaman, but they made him too 90’s edgy, which makes sense since 90’s edgy is kind of where Zach Snyder is emotionally. Cyborg had no real personality. He was just… there. They substituted the old “Am I still human?” angst for actual character development.

So, basically, nobody in the DCEU has a personality at all.

Now, let’s look at Marvel. Tony Stark is brash, arrogant, brilliant, caring, likeable, a bit paranoid, kind-hearted, he isn’t just a cliche trying to be a personality. There are layers, and sometimes he acts in ways that are internally inconsistent, almost like a person. Thor is adventurous, larger than life, dedicated, glory seeking, vain, kind of dumb. He’s not a deep person, but his characterization has depth. He plays a big dumb nice guy extremely well. Black Widow has all kinds of depth. She’s like sixteen people in one, and her backstory justifies that. She’s also always looking for redemption. Even Captain America, theoretically the most wooden boyscout of all possible characters ends up being an interesting person.

Okay, they didn’t give Hawkeye depth until Age of Ultron, but when they did he went from being the least interesting Avenger to actually having a personality, actually being someone people cared about.

When we watch a Marvel movie we know what we are getting, but we want that. When we watch a DC movie we hope to get something different. We hope to get people we can care about.

I used to think it was stakes that made the difference, but then I realised, no, the stakes in Marvel movies actually sometimes work against them. They are too big, too bombastic. I don’t take the threat to earth seriously, but when it looked like Tony Stark was going to die, I took that seriously. I have a reason to care about the characters in Marvel movies, there just isn’t enough person to care about in DC movies.

Mind you, in Justice League, it never even felt like there was a threat. Steppenwolf never felt like he actually had a chance against the team. It felt like if they just let Flash use his powers he would destroy Steppenwolf. Add in Superman and it was more of a question of why the rest of the team was even there. I guess to save that nice Russian family.

So, DC has no characters (okay, two – Wonder Woman and The Flash qualify). Marvel makes sure that even the most minor of its heroes who will never get a solo film end up being fully fleshed out characters that we care about.

Character beats spectacle every time.

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Pulp Fiction (the thing, not the movie)

Goats

I write pulp. It’s true, I’m not looking to win any literary awards. My characters don’t necessarily change and grow a great deal over the course of the story. My writing is plot-driven and the point of it is what happens, not necessarily what people feel.

Sure, emotions come into it. Clearly, when Jasper comes to the realisation that his daughter is very far away and in severe danger he has emotions, fear, panic, etc.

Sometimes those emotions are even important to the story, sometimes my characters face depression, sorrow, panic, all kinds of things that get in the way of them achieving their goals. Hell, sometimes overcoming that is something that is driving the plot a little bit.

Make no mistake, however, the threats Jasper is facing are much more material than existential. The zombies that keep trying to eat him, the psychotic ex-soldier that wants him dead, those things are the threat. His depression, his fear, those are obstacles to overcome just like that cliff face that needs to be climbed to get away.

That’s why what I write is pulp; because it’s not about the inner struggle of the characters, it’s about the very real threats that surround them, that are trying to kill them day to day. That doesn’t mean my characters don’t have to be good, that they don’t have to have voices that sound real, that resonate. They need to be good characters, in fact, if anything they need to be better characters. They have to be interesting from minute one, they have to have motivations that make sense to the reader without knowing exactly what happened during their childhood. I can’t rely on the prose I write to make my characters better, they have to be good right away.

Pulp has a special place in my heart, because to me pulp is the better writing. I use pulp as a way not just of escaping the day to day, but of exploring it. When we see extremes that can help us better understand day to day life.

To me, fantasy, science fiction, the stories of ideas are there as ways of exploring what it means to be human, in a way that a million novels about navel-gazing and dealing with your feelings about your mother never can. See, in pulp, specifically in the more action-oriented genre’s like science fiction and fantasy, we are seeing people being pushed to their limits. Sure, they aren’t real people, but they are what a real person sees real people acting like.

That’s part of why I have no shame about writing pulp, quite the opposite. I love pulp, I take pride in it, I want to write things that many people want to read, and that actually say something about the world, about the human condition, without being incredibly boring. I want to write things I would read, things that I might even stay up late to finish, because I want to know what happens, I want to reach that ending.

I am a pulp fiction writer and I’m proud of that fact.

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