Writing Fantasy Is Hard

VHS box art for "The Iron Master"

“The Iron Master” VHS box art, aka “Every sword & sorcery cover ever”

Writing fantasy stories is tough work.

I’ve been slowly grinding out a fantasy/horror novel over the past year, and I have a whole new respect for authors of the genre.

I’ve always loved fantasy novels, especially the “sword&sorcery” sub-genre, but they are definitely outside my wheelhouse when it comes to writing. I stick almost exclusively to horror and weird speculative stories, but I wanted to venture outside my comfort-zone and dip my toes in the shimmering magical pool.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned.

World Building Sucks

“Sucks” might be kind of a strong word for it, but I find it frustrating. Sure, it’s really cool stretching your imagination to create all these fantastical places and things, but it’s also REALLY difficult! There are supernatural elements in horror, but they are often limited, and can be put into real world settings, like New Mexico or something. I vastly underestimated the amount of time and effort that goes into fantasy world building. Now I get why so many books rely on variations of time-tested tropes.

Names, Places, Names, and more Names…plus Dragons?

How do fantasy writers keep track of all this stuff? Character names, places, and magic systems. The number of things you need to record is mind-numbing. All novels require some level of research, but the nature of fantasy usually requires deep backstories, complex interactions between entire races, and “systems”. For the most part, other genres can safely assume things like gravity and physics are a given. Even Science fiction (at least the good kind) is grounded against certain rules, that provide a baseline to start against. TL;DR – If you write a fantasy novel, buy extra notebooks and Post-It’s.

Being Original is Difficult

Creating an original idea in 2017 is tough no matter what you write. We all have influences that shape our voice. Fantasy cliches and tropes are especially easy to spot though. As soon as “Orcs” or “Orks” show up, you’re already ripping off Tolkien. Kids who use magic? You might be treading on Harry Potter’s toes. The wide berth of stories and subjects in just the last five decades speak to both the popularity of the genre, along with the extraordinary challenges inherent in coming up with something unique.

 

I’m determined to finish my fantasy book, because I love the characters and the story, but my expectations have certainly been adjusted since I started the first draft. I have a newfound respect for fantasy novels and the people who write them.

 

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New Book “When Animals Attack” Available

Book Cover of When Animals Attack

Hey everyone,

So it’s not technically “new” (I’m late to the party on my own work being released), but I’m excited to let you all know I had a non-fiction piece published.

My critical essay on the SyFy Original movie Sharknado was published in the anthology When Animals Attack: The 70 Best Horror Movies with Killer Animals (Moonlight Creek Publishing).

I’m really proud to be a part of this compilation, and Vanessa Morgan (the editor) did a great job bringing together horror movie fans to create a truly definitive guide. If you’re a lover of horror films (especially in this sub-genre) I cannot recommend it enough.

The book is available for purchase on Amazon and if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can download it in eBook format for free.

I’d like to thank Vanessa for reaching out to me and having me participate in such a fun project.

 

Published!

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I just found out that my short horror story Trading Post has been picked up for publication in Corner Bar magazine.

I’m super psyched!

This is the first time in many years that my work has been published, and it feels great. It also reinforces my current plan of adhering to the “traditional publishing” route as much as possible.

I’ll provide an update with links once the story is available.

Self Publish, Traditional, or Hybrid?

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A question for all my fellow writers out there.

When the time comes to unleash your completed works into the world, how do you do it?

Are you taking the DIY route of self-publishing, with its steep learning curve and up-front costs? Or are you walking that traditional publishing road, fraught with long wait times and piles of rejection letters?

I ask because I’ve been reading articles like this one at Writer’s Digest about “hybrid publishing”. Most writers I speak with choose one path or the other, but it would seem the hybrid model has some advantages from both.

I’ve begun the process of submitting work to journals and other outlets (short stories, flash fiction) while continuing to write larger pieces that will either be self-published or queried. It seems like the stigma of being “one or the other” is slowly fading away, and I’m interested to see if one strategy pans out better than the other.

Does anyone else use a “hybrid model” for publishing their work? Do you take different publication routes for your individual projects, or try to stick solely to one strategy that works for you?

 

Author Influences

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Someone asked me who my writing influences were yesterday, and they were surprised by my answer.

If I had to list my Top 3, they’d be “in order of appearance”

  • Harlan Ellison
  • Lloyd Kaufman (of Troma Entertainment)
  • Zora Neal Hurston

Harlan is a master of dark and twisted writing. If you’re in the mood to feel gross and awful, go read I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. It delivers what it promises.

Lloyd is responsible for helping to create films like The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. His movies with their over-the-top stories, violence, and social satire irreparably inspired/damaged me during my youth.

Zora is the curveball. She’s always the one who makes people say “Wait, who?”If you went to a public high school you’re probably familiar with Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s her most celebrated work, but there is more to her story than just one novel.  Author, notorious liar, political critic, and alleged voodoo initiate. She was heavily criticized by many for creating unapologetic writing. As a writer and a human being, she was fascinating.

Honorable mentions also include:

  • Stephen King (a master of horror)
  • Kurt Vonnegut (a, maybe THE?, master of satire)
  • Rob Zombie (hit or miss, but always with great aesthetic)

I find myself influenced by a variety of media. Books, movies, video games, and music all inform my writing and story telling in different ways.

Do you have author influences that are unexpected or others find surprising, and do you find other art & media besides books having an influence on your writing?

Let me know down in the comments. I’d love to hear about them!

Creating A Writing Space

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I recently discovered the Write Now podcast hosted by Sarah Werner. It’s inspiring and the host’s positivity is infectious, so this is my suggestion to check it out if you need something to listen to during your commute or workout.

As I was cherrypicking old episodes, I found this one about “Creating A Space For Writing”, and it struck a chord. I realized that I’ve been without a true place dedicated to writing & creating for almost a decade now. I aim to fix that.

If you’re anything like me, being a “writer” is constantly under siege by work, family, and social commitments that burglarize precious hours from the day. I mean, is it too much to ask that real life pauses so we can sit around writing our next novel?

Anyway, this means we have to write when we can, and where ever we can. For me, it’s on my laptop during lunch breaks, or scratching ideas in an old notebook while lying in bed at dawn. I rarely have the opportunity to sit down and collect my thoughts in a place dedicated to my craft. Even as I write this, I’m sitting on my couch with my laptop.

I now realize part of the problem is that I haven’t created a comfortable place to actually GO to write.

So my goal is to convert my “office” (junk room) into a study/writing space. I’m slightly, mildly, handy enough to be dangerous at DIY projects, so I’m going to fix up the room over the next year or two (I’m being realistic) to ensure I have a dedicated area to write. I feel like the investment of making a comfortable space will also help me to keep a more regular writing schedule.

This started yesterday with de-cluttering (I owned a LOT of empty cardboard boxes), and beginning to save for something I’ve always wanted; a writing desk. I have an old desktop computer with Scrivener, but it’s sitting atop a cheap “computer workstation” I’ve had for the past 15 years. I’m surprised the thing held up as well as it did, considering how many times I’ve moved.

Kudos to you, Staples.

Does anyone out there have their own dedicated writing space? Is it a home office, break room at work, or a specific table at your local coffee shop? I’m curious how many other writers feel that need for a dedicated place to create, and whether it helps their productivity and creativity.

Maybe you’re just existing like me right now, and using any old place to scratch words down when you have the free time?

 

 

Your First Draft Stinks

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It’s a nasty title, but it grabbed your attention!

I was discussing first drafts with a colleague yesterday; bemoaning them. This led to me wasting time on the internet lurking around writing subReddits. The copious internet lurking led to this blog post, since I’ve wanted to write about first drafts for a while now.

I’ve come to the extremely general conclusion that there are two types of writers. The ones who HATE their first drafts, and the ones who LOVE them.

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Politics in Writing

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For a creative writer possession of the ‘truth’ is less important than emotional sincerity.

-George Orwell

 

So much of the current landscape in the United States (and the world) is being dominated by politics. The constant, overwhelming media barrage seems to be exhausting and polarizing people at an incredible rate.

It is also inspiring writers and artists.

I’m not surprised by this, since most creators are informed by their worldview, which is reflected in their work. I am curious how many other writers include personal politics in their work, intentionally or not.

A large amount of my work is satirical. For better or worse, I attempt to make light of real world events and situations (to varying degrees of success) and that includes politics. While satire can be “on the nose”, I’ve also caught myself designing characters that tend to reflect my own personal views in writing that had no intended political message.

I’m interested to know whether other writers create characters who express their own views, whatever they may be. As a writer, have you found the increasingly political modern landscape seeps into your writing? Or do you explicitly go out of your way to avoid any political statements in your work, overt or otherwise? Maybe your protagonists uphold your beliefs, or a an antagonist holds opposing values to yours.

No matter what your viewpoints, creativity is a valuable outlet. I believe the world would be a better place if more people expressed their emotions through art.

Have you found that your personal politics have an effect on you as an author?

 

When Do You Write?

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I write best early in the morning.

It seems counterintuitive that my brain would conjure up words out of the fog of sleep, but then maybe it’s because morning is when I have the most freedom for creative inspiration (and coffee).

Juggling a career, family duties, and all the other things that come up in a day; mornings are when I can really focus on getting words down or revising. I’ve tried numerous times to write in the evenings, or even mid-day during lunch breaks, but it never works for me.

Maybe the stresses and responsibilities of the day expend too much mental fuel from my tank?

This isn’t a product of age or evolution either, from what I can tell. Even in high school and college I was always a morning person, and got my best work done in the early daylight hours.

When are you the most creative and productive with your writing? Hopefully you’re one of those lucky writers who can just knock out great ideas around the clock whenever you have the free time!

Writing Tip: Don’t Hate Adverbs

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Adverbs get a bad rap.

If you’ve ever taken a writing course, perused writer’s forums, or heard soundbites from Stephen King, you’ve likely encountered adverb hate.

The thinking goes like this –

  • “Adverbs are largely unnecessary.”
  • “Adverbs belittle your audience.”
  • “Adverbs are for amateurs.”

The internet writing community has generally come to despise adverbs, and I think that is unfortunate. Like most things, if used properly and in moderation, the lowly adverb can be a great tool that adds flavor to your writing.

That’s some intense paraphrasing, but you get the general idea. The below tips argue in favor of leaving at least some adverbs in your work.

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