JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

The Color of Kings — 3LineTales

Dec
23
tltweek99

photo by Emily Morter

The dark lord just did not appreciate good aesthetics–color and light in particular–no matter how hard Ur-Benu tried to convince her. Why must the sky always be a gloomy shade of gray or black, when purple was the color of kings? The orc concluded that his services would be better used elsewhere, and one day, left the dark tower for good.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 99 photo prompt.

Author’s Note: I’ve been playing a lot of Middle-earth: Shadow of War these days. It’s a game where you recruit orc followers into your army. Here’s one of the warriors I captured, the inspiration for the tale:

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There’s something about his name, and the way the deep-voiced, melodramatic narrator says “UR-BENU!” every time I click on him. Sure, he looks scary with his size, and all the fire, but he’s just a softy at heart. A fiery machine destroyer…of expectations. He is terrified of Ghuls because they threaten his kittens. Lots of kittens. He is an EPIC kitten-cuddler, his little precious-es. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you know.

Hope you enjoyed the story. Happy Holidays!

~J.M.

An Ambitious Work

Dec
22

I hope that my comments yesterday on Stephen King’s IT did not come off as hyper-critical. I know I tend to rant when the passion gets in me.

I could have easily continued rambling on about what is wrong with the book (one thing that really bugs me is the over-reliance on pop culture references, which I find to be a very lazy sort of writing…but I’ll have to save that for a future post).

In all honesty, I am enjoying the book. It is a story I have always enjoyed, since I first saw the TV miniseries in 1990. I enjoy this book much in the same way I have enjoyed the last two Star Wars films–having fun on the ride, but acknowledging the many bumps along the way.

Many critics, including VOX, have described the book as “one of King’s most ambitious works.” Is it?

 

It is all too common to associate ambition with length. The phrase “ambitious work” is often directly tied to, or at least associated with, the work’s length. This is the case with the VOX article, where the length of the book is given in the same sentence where it is described as ambitious.

But is length all that matters when considering a work ambitious?

My answer is no. In fact, I would argue the most ambitious novel you could write today would be 40,000 words. That’s the standard length given for the cutoff between novel and novella. I mean exactly 40,000 words, not one word more or less. To put things in perspective, IT is 444,414 words, more than ten times the length I am suggesting. And the book needs to be a complete, deep, and fulfilling novel in its own right.

Anyone can tick off all the boxes on the novel-writing checklist with enough pages. The test of a really good writer is doing more with less, efficiency and brevity. All the more difficult it is to hit an exact word count without either filler or holes.

But as I mentioned in the last post, we have a tendency to equate length with quality. Longer works are “ambitious” while shorter works are generic. It really bothers me how many speculative fiction publishers have minimum word count requirements of 75,000 words or more when the cutoff for a novel is 40. They often state outright “we will not even look at anything below this.” Why not? You cannot know what you will find unless you look.

The first fantasy book I wrote, In the Valley of Magic, clocked in at 66,000 words. This was after several revisions that added to the length. But the work itself, structurally, is really unlike anything else out right now that I have seen or heard of. That’s why I started with that project, thinking that a unique and novel approach to the fantasy novel (pun intended) would be an easy sell. It’s disheartening to see that it has been rejected several times without consideration just because it didn’t meet some arbitrary length requirement.

On a side note, Fiction Vortex, who is publishing my fantasy series Call of the Guardian, will be picking In the Valley of Magic up later in 2018, after they get their app (Fictionite) and core stories rolling. Good thing about this is that their contracts are dope. Bad part is the waiting, after already waiting an eternity (okay, only since March, but it feels like forever).

All this is because science fiction and fantasy readers have been led to believe that length is quality. Well, sorry it be the bearer of bad news, but length is more often indicative of weak, lazy, bloated writing. You get length when you refuse to cut what needs to be cut, when you do not take care with every word choice. And of course, there is that sentiment that with a longer work you are getting more product for your money. But in the arts, that is not necessarily the case.

This is why I enjoy writing flash and microfiction. These forms force you to consider the efficiency of your words. They train you to be a better writer.

IT is too long for it’s own good, having many sections and even full chapters that should have been cut in the editing process. I don’t find that ambitious at all.

All that being said, I still enjoy the story and find Pennywise to be a disturbing and compelling manifestation of evil. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it. I’m almost to the “apocalyptic rock fight.”

Here’s an important question, since if you are following this blog you probably read some sci-fi and fantasy: Would you be turned off of a fantasy book if it was “too short”? Would you open it to look at the writing, or just pass on sight alone?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments

~J.M.

What Makes a Classic?

Dec
21

This is something that has been brewing in my head for some time. Perhaps fermenting is a better word, because it’s begun to stink.

I ask you, what makes a book a classic? Besides that some stuffy old white men in an ivory tower say so. What makes a book or a story endure?

It’s well acknowledged that Moby Dick is terrible long winded, that Melville in his opus, had a tendency to go on long tangents.

The book Dune, by Frank Herbert, is often consider the best science fiction novel of all time. But it, too, suffers from some weak writing, and more critically, constant and almost nonsensical point-of-view jumps. Not only is the POV done in a way to reveal everything upfront, leaving no room for the reader to wonder or inquire about events or character motives, the POV even jumps heads after one or two paragraphs!

An interesting side note is the fact that the “best science fiction book of all time” is actually more fantasy than science fiction. Sure it’s set in space, in what seems to be the future, but little about how the world functions is explained, and explanation is what makes science fiction scientific. But I digress.

Both Moby Dick and Dune are considered by many to be classics. Both have been reprinted continuously and have had their stories told in other formats such as film, to this day. This is despite the fact that if someone were to have pitched either manuscript to a modern agent or publisher, it probably wouldn’t make the cut for the problems I have already mentioned.

What’s another famous book that has been reprinted and turned into film several times?

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Tim Curry will always be Pennywise to me.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that It is a literary masterwork. But Stephen King is one of the most popular writers of our time. And as noted in The Guardian, “It is one of King’s most enduring novels; it’s crossed over from just being read by his fans, and become a part of a wider cultural consciousness.”

But IT is far from a great book. In places, it is even outright bad. I am currently about sixty percent through the audiobook, but I know the story, I’ve seen the movies. And I am becoming more and more convinced that the movies are simply better.

Most people will tell you, about any film adaptation, that the book is better. This is primarily due to the book having more content, and being able to explain the characters better, cover more ground. In the case of IT, length is a bane not a boon.

Clocking in at 1100 pages or more, depending on the format, the book is a beast. Length is not, by itself, a problem. There are many long books that work just fine. But people seem to have a tendancy to equate length to quality, that a long epic must be some sort of masterpiece. Masterpiece IT is not.

It was Stephen King himself that famously said in his manual On Writing to “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” To this he was rehashing the age old writing rule of write once, cut twice. Writers today are expected to cut down their work, to make it efficient and concise.

It’s perhaps not surprising that On Writing was first published in 2000, almost 15 years after IT. And it shows.

In this book, King violates almost all of his writing rules. In regards to cutting and editing, the book has several sections and even chapters, that have no bearing on the central characters. They might be nice and scary chapters, they might illuminate the monster a bit, but they are far from essential. They would not survive a modern publishers red pen.

The structure of the book is all over the place, and relies on the main character having amnesia, an old cliche. There’s a reason why the films are more appealing. They are linear, and don’t really mention the amnesia bit. It is, in fact, wholly unnecessary for the characters to not remember the events of their past in order to bring the memories up in the narrative bit by bit. It is a a tired, and unnecessary narrative tool.

Then there is the writing itself. King said in On Writing, “Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created for the timid writer in mind.” Well, King must have been timid in his earlier days, because his book is just stuff with adverbs, bad adverbs. Things like “[the door] banged gustily” and “sitting miserably.”

These combinations of verbs and adverbs don’t even make sense. Adverbs are tied directly to the verb they are modifying. So in the case of “banged gustily”, while King surely meant to mean that the closing of the door caused a gust of wind, what it really means is the sound of the bang was like the wind, as in not loud or at all intimidating. And how does someone “sit miserably”? When I heard that one, the first thing that came to mind was sitting on thumb tacks or something. The miserableness must be related to the verb sitting, that’s how adverbs work. It does not relate to the state of the person sitting. To convey that, you should say something like “Richie was miserable, sitting by himself.”

King continues his assault on adverbs in On Writing, saying “I insist you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions.” Tell that to the guy who wrote IT. I would guess that more than a quarter of the dialogue tags in that book have adverbs. There are whole exchanges where each new dialogue tag has some cute adverb after it. Some are just bad, like “‘daddy… ‘ she whispered huskily.” How do you whisper huskily? A husky voice to me is one that is deep and resonant, the opposite of a whisper.

And of course there’s the problem with Beverly. King should be given credit for how socially conscious his book is. He addresses class, and racism. You even get the feeling that he tries to deal with sexism, too, but he fails. The book is horribly sexist. The only lead female character is constructed solely through her relationships to men. She is also the only character that is sexualized, and often. We are introduced to her in a chapter section that is in the POV of her abusive husband.

Moreover, I have trouble believing that Beverly, after being abused by her father, would fall in with another abuser. My understanding is that child abuse makes people hyper-vigilant, and turns them into future abusers, not victims. There is a time when, during that introductory section, I get the feeling that King might be leading us on, that Tom Rogan just thinks he is in charge and it’s Beverly abusing him. But no joy.  Tom Rogan turns out to be one of the most cliched, and unbelievable characters I have ever read (“I’m going to teach her a lesson”–does any man, even the most abusive chauvinist really think that? I feel like they probably don’t process what they are doing until it’s done).

So with all the problems in this book, and the others mentioned earlier, why are they considered classics?

It’s the story.

King’s book might have problems with it’s prose and structure, but the story is incredible. There’s a reason why Moby Dick is replicated in countless revenge stories. Most people know what Romeo and Juliet is about, but can’t recite more than a few lines from it and often mistake the meaning (wherefore art thou, Romeo?). But the stories are timeless.

The stories are classic.

Well, that’s all the time I have for right now. I think I’ve said my peace about IT. Now I need to finish it. The audiobook is 44 hours! What in the heck?

What do you guys think? Have you read any classics that probably wouldn’t cut it today?

~J.M.

Random Updates

Dec
20

Oh my, a lot has been going on. Where to begin?

I should probably start by offering my thanks to anyone who voted for my story “Catching Cameron Ellis” on Astounding Outpost. I made second place! That means a little bit of treasure will be coming my way. You can read the announcement HERE.

Also, that story I mentioned a while back that was going to be published on Space Squid? Well, much to my surprise, it has already come out! You can read my story, and another quirky story by an author named Hillary Dodge, HERE.

Lastly, Bards and Sages just released the schedule for the Society of Misfit Stories for the first half of 2018. My Storm Hamilton story “A Step Too Far” drops on July 13th! Something to look forward to. You can read that announcement HERE.

To anyone who picked up a copy of “The Adventures of Iric” (or received one from me), I would be deeply humbled and grateful if you would leave a review on Amazon. Even one or two reviews go a long, long way to break a book out from the pack of self-published mush on there. It only takes a minute to make an author’s day!

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, there should be a Amazon button on the right side of the page. Took me forever to figure out how to get it there!

That’s it for now. I’ve been working hard on episode 5 of Call of the Guardian, and think I need to catch up on some sleep. Hope your projects are going well!

~J.M.

Audiostory on Tall Tale TV

Dec
19

Chris Herron of Tall Tale TV did an awesome job reading one of my Iric stories. The production quality is the some of the best I have come across for short stories and indie podcasts. His pacing, tone, voices and accents, everything about this production is just great. I cannot offer enough praise. I have been invited to submit more work and I certainly will.

Without further fuss, here is the story:

Wasn’t that great? If I were a rich man, I’d pay this guy to do the whole collection for Audible!

Thanks for listening!

~J.M.

Speaking of the collection, you can get your copy below. Both kindle and ebook versions are available for purchase.

Celebrating the Big 35!

Dec
17

No, I’m not that old yet. Almost. My time for running off to become an FBI agent is running thin.

No, in this case the 35 refers to my 35th short story acceptance. And a humor story no less. At least that’s what my submission tracker is telling me. But could be lying to me. 

This most recent acceptance came from Space Squid, for a flash story that I originally posted to the blog about an old Viking having a midlife crisis. I had almost forgotten about this one, having sent it to the Squid way back in December! Color me surprised when I got an email that started with “We apologize for the delay but…” Color me extra shades of neon when I saw that the phrase didn’t end with “we’ve decided to pass on your work,” as is typical.

I will post more details when they come, for now I am going to just bask in childlike giddiness for a while. 

Hope you guys are having an equally productive weekend! Now I really need to get back to Call of the Guardian. The series won’t ever release if I don’t write it!

~J.M.

REBLOG: An Open Letter to Netgalley and Goodreads

Dec
17

Thanks to Laura for sharing this important information. I have just started on Goodreads as an author, have my first book listed on my account, and have yet to start working on giveaways (though I planned to). I am an American writer, and write in a genre that is more popular in the US (SF/F) but many of my blog followers are international peers, and I love that. I have already run into trouble trying to get copies of my book to them through Amazon (I’ve ended up having to manually send MOBI files). I recently did a giveaway on Amazon, which was only available for US residents. I was hoping to do more with Goodreads. If anyone is concerned about this issue, please read the original post in full.

~J.M.

via An Open Letter to Netgalley and Goodreads

A Miscalculation – 3LineTales

Dec
15

Caterina watched the majestic polar bears, frolicking on dirty ground that should be paved with ice and snow. Little did she know, these creatures were placed in the arctic by hyper-intelligence beings from a distant star–close enough to keep an eye on mankind, but far enough away to be safe from the effects of the apes’ habit of self-destruction. Well, maybe those beings weren’t so intelligent…

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 98 photo prompt.

It’s been a while since I did any writing on the blog. I’ve missed the past few weeks of the 3LineTales. I need to be more diligent!

Hope you liked my little story.

~J.M.

The Artifact — My Audiostory on the Centropic Oracle

Dec
15

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My second flash story, “The Artifact,” has just been released on The Centropic Oracle. This one is set in the world of Storm Hamilton and the Seraphim, though of a slightly different vein.

The story was read by the wonder CB Droege, who does it great justice. If you recognize his voice, it is because he is the editor of Manawaker Studios and did the reading for my story “The First Sighting,” which was recorded for the flash fiction podcast on his site.

If you like sci-fi steeped in nostalgia and pining for the past, you’ll like this one!

You can listen to the story HERE.

If you’d like a bit more of this sci-fi world, check out the Storm Hamilton story “The Old Bird.”

~J.M.

2 Days Left to Win!

Dec
15
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Cover by the awesome E. Rachel Hardcastle

Just a friendly reminder that there are only two days left to enter the giveaway for a copy of “The Adventures of Iric.”

Unfortunately, the contest is only open to US residents. So, for all my international friends and followers out there, I’m going to do something extra. Comment to this post on what country you are in and why you deserve a free copy of my book. I will choose one person and send you a copy.

Do you love Iric? Are you an active follower? Why do you deserve a free copy of my book? Let me know in the comments!

For US residents, you can find the official giveaway HERE.

~J.M.