J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

A Horde of Updates

Oct
29
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Brace Yourselves!

It seems I should take business trips more often. In the past two weeks, while I was away from home and my computer, I received a flurry of publication news. November is turning out to be a big month for me. I could bore you with the details of my trip and my feelings at receiving several acceptance letters while in the middle of doing something totally different. Instead, I’ll keep this short and jump right into the juicy bits.

First, my story “Innocence Lost, Innocence Found” will be dropping on Flash Fiction Magazine on October 31st. Halloween is the perfect day for a good old vampire story.

My story “The Sorcerer” will soon be out in Bards and Sages Great Tome of Magicians, Necromancers, and Mystics. The publisher has announced the book should be released on or about the 1st of November. An extract of another story in the anthology can be read here.

I will have another Iric flash story released on Eternal Remedy on or around the 5th of November. I loved what they did with my last one, the site and accompanying illustrations having a great vibe and not being something I would have chosen to use on my own.

A few weeks ago, I submitted a Storm Hamilton flash story to Akashic Books’ “Mondays are Murder” flash fiction series. In fact, I wrote the story specifically for that series. Interestingly, the publisher accepted the story but wants to use it for a band new flash series they are calling “Fri-Sci-Fi.” I’m going to go ahead and take full credit for spurring them to create a new series.

My horror tragedy story “Last Night” will be dropping on Roane Publishing’s Flash Fiction Fridays on or about December 1st. This one has been hard to place, in part because it is not a very happy story. Be forewarned.

Also, my next story with Antipodean SF should come out the month in both text and audio. Like the last one, I recorded the audio myself for their Anti SF Radio Show. This time I sent them a mildly humorous Iric story. The text version can be found here.

Lastly, I have been working hard compiling my “Adventures of Iric” flash stories into a collection, which I will be self-publishing as an ebook (not yet sure if I will bother with print-on-demand with this one). This was, in part, spurred on by Roane asking me for a personal sale link, of which, of course, I have none yet. It would be nice to have something on Kindle by the time the story drops so they can send some business my way.

Well, that’s all for now. I will, as usual, post direct links to all the stories once they drop. Except for that, though, I will likely be away from the blog for some time still. I need to get back to work on drafting the fourth episode of Call of the Guardian (those of you who subscribed to my newsletter have already seen the cover), as my co-authors and I get closer to going live with our StoryVerse. I will also have some edits to do with my novella soon.

No rest for the wicked.

~J.M.

Ice Ice Raven – 3LineTales

Oct
26
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photo by Julien Laurent

Its name was Ice; of course it was.

Kevin held his hand out to the bird, switching on his boombox with the other–Step back, collaborate and listen…

The raven’s dance moves were uncanny.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 91 photo prompt.

Going AWOL

Oct
17

I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be AWOL for a little bit. I am attending a legal symposium for the military–so I guess it’s the opposite of AWOL. But regardless, I am away from my computer.

Moreover, when I return in a week or so I will need to get hard to work on the next episode of Call of the Guardian and other projects that I have let slide recently. I am just starting episode four of that series, and our group has decided we need at least five episodes complete apiece before we even think about going live. I also need to finalize The Adventures of Iric for Kindle publication before December. The blog, and social media, have been a bit of a distraction lately, so I will be setting them aside for a while until I get caught back up.

So don’t take my silence to be anything ominous. It’s just a temporary shift of priorities.

~J.M.

Trouble in Paradise – What Pegman Saw

Oct
16
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Mauritius ©Google Maps

Both cars were out of fuel. Not that it mattered; Kori couldn’t drive a car across the ocean. This island paradise she had chosen for her first vacation after losing Derrik had become a prison. No, something worse than that–a slaughterhouse.

Hearing a shuffling sound down the road, Kori rolled herself over the road barrier. She heard it coming, step by mindless step, its broken leg dragging along the ground, its half-missing jaw moving up and down as if it was dreaming of a meal. But Kori was sure these things didn’t dream. And there were no meals left, except for people.

She drew her knife, leaning tight against the metal barrier, letting it approach. Then dispatched it with several hard blows to the back of the neck. It fell on its back and Kori took a close look of its face–she now recognized the formerly handsome hotel bellboy.

*Written as a response to the What Pegman Saw October 14th photo prompt. For some reason this picture had me thinking of the video game Dead Island. If you haven’t seen the trailer, you should. It’s one of the most emotionally intense bits of zombie film I can recall seeing, despite being a CGI movie that is now visually outdated. The video was widely praised when released. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to these grand expectations.

Random Updates

Oct
14

So one of my stories was just accepted for publication in Roane Publishing’s Flash Fiction Fridays. This was a story that I really liked, but I struggled to find a home for it. The story is a very broody tragedy, not my typical heroic stuff.

(Tangent: Is there a story of mine I don’t like? I always have good feelings about things I wrote, even when they are clearly not the best piece of writing, even the horrible stuff I wrote as an elementary student. Maybe it’s because they are mine and are part of me? I don’t really understand folks who hate something they wrote enough they are willing to just trash it.)

Anyways, the publisher has offered to provide a link to one commercial work, i.e. something I am currently selling. The problem is, I don’t have one! So, I need to get something out by December 1st, if I want it linked and promoted.

As you may know, I have been planning to publish the “Adventures of Iric” collection as my first Amazon ebook, though I was not rushing the project. Seems now it would be beneficial for me to have that done before this story goes live. Just like that, my priorities have shifted again. I need to get a cover made, need to withdraw any pending submissions, confirm all rights have been restored for anything that was previously published, edit the manuscript, and reformat to fit Amazon’s requirements. That’s a bit of work to do in the next month or so.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

~J.M.

Colonialism in SF/F

Oct
13
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Photo by Tongik Saejeam

I generally don’t like to get into politics or heavy topics, which is likely why I lean towards fantasy more than science fiction. However, I recently read something that irked me quite a bit. It’s an issue that has been pinching my nerves for some time.

It came about when I read what is a mostly amazing ARTICLE by Cecilia Tan entitled “Let Me Tell You,” where she defends the use of telling in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F). She argues that the absolute rule of “show, don’t tell” is a part of big Lit culture, and that SF/F authors should not bind themselves to it. SF/F as a genre, and particularly those sub-genres that feature alternate-world settings, require a lot of telling in order for the story to work. While there are many ways of world-building through showing or through action, such as dialogue, it is in no way practical to do that all the time. There’s not enough space, nor reader patience, for it.

Despite having a compelling general argument, Tan reveals some liberal naivete when she describes the “fantasy newcomer” trope as colonialist. These days a lot of folks, particularly college-educated folks (Tan has a BA in Linguistics and Cognitive Science from Brown), like to throw around complicated academic terms without have a full understanding or appreciation for them. I remember when I was an undergraduate majoring in English and was expected to discuss things like colonialism and post-modernism, which even the experts have trouble understanding, let alone explaining (I still think many of the graduate students who taught these classes were confused). It wasn’t until graduate school that I finally started to wrap my head around just how much I didn’t know. This came after my advisor told me to stop using the term “post-colonialist” until I figured out what it meant.

In her article, Tan suggests that the use of the naive newcomer in “stories that center the naive reader will always be about the impact that stranger has on the world that is new to them”–and that this is colonialism. But it’s not. It is simply the nature of cultural interaction. Two people or groups of different cultures who meet and interact cannot but impact each other. If our definition of colonialism is simply impact, then the Indians would be just as guilty of it as the British–which is, of course, an absurd notion.

The idea of colonialism we are discussing here is not the dictionary definition of having colonies, but rather the philosophical definition of cultural domination (a good explanation of which can be found HERE). Imperialism is the use of political, economic, or military power to control another group but not necessarily to change that group. Colonialism is imperialism with the goal of changing the dominated culture or location to be in line with the colonizers. Colonialism is a mix of power and coercion to compel assimilation to the culture of those in power. Thus, the British made the Indians speak English and don western clothes, and the Japanese made Koreans speak Japanese and adhere to Japanese cultural mannerisms.

Any fantasy story about a naive foreigner travelling to another land is not inherently colonialist. What matters is that character’s use of power and their relationship to the native culture. Let’s look at some examples:

The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien — This is one Tan cites as an example for her colonialism argument. However, it is far from the case. While Frodo does travel to foreign lands and interact with many new cultures, he does not feel superior nor try to change them. In fact, he seems to adore these cultures and takes on some of their characteristics, such as elven clothing and weapons.

The Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind — In this set of books, typical country bumpkin Richard Rahl learns he is the blood relative of a great wizard of an exotic, magical land to the east and later becomes ruler of his adopted kingdom. This story is textbook colonialism because Richard knows better than the natives about almost everything and seeks to change their behavior (i.e. culture) to match his superior ways. There is also a very overt anti-communist thread in the later books. The series is very clear in its judgments of one culture being superior to another and often equates this to the typical fantasy good vs evil battle. Despite these obvious flaw though, I did enjoy the series, though I was a lot younger (and dumber) then.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain — Like the Sword of Truth Seriesthis novel finds an intelligent man in a foreign place who uses his superior culture to dominate the natives. Everything about the American is superior, and the character cannot stand the native culture or habits at all. Blatant colonialism.

The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise — This film gets a lot of flak from people who like to throw around terms like “colonialism” without understanding them. Again looking at the story in the context of power and coercion to assimilate, this film is exactly the opposite. Not only does Capt. Nathan Algren not try to change the culture of the people and the samurai he meets, he in fact, abandons his own culture and people in order to assimilate into the samurai village. Moreover, he goes into battle with the samurai, adopting their less-advanced technology and tactics, knowing full well it will likely mean his death. Assimilation into the native culture by those with power is precisely the opposite of colonialism. Most films like this, such as Dances with Wolves or The Forbidden Kingdom, are assimilatory, not colonialist. The hero becomes better by changing himself and adapting the native culture, but the effect on the native culture itself is negligible or non-existent.

Now, this is not to argue against other problems these films have, such as the cultural imperialism of white faces and Hollywood packaging and presenting non-white voices and cultures. But interestingly enough, these films actually do a much better job of presenting the culture accurately, and indeed have a greater desire to do so, that other Hollywood films that simply use the culture or setting for something else. This has everything to do with the naive foreigner point of view that Tan criticizes in her article. It simply makes no sense for two samurai to be in a scene discussing samurai culture, something they clearly would take for granted. The only way to have scenes where culture is taught directly to the audience, is to have a lead character in the same position as them.

I happen to love these sorts of films just for that reason–I feel I am getting a more authentic look of a foreign culture. Even foreign made films, particularly East Asian films, are not wholly authentic to their own cultures because, being under the dark shadow of Hollywood, they now try to hard to westernize their films for global appeal. Thus, Korean cop films play out like LAPD action movies, though that is not at all how cops operate here. Perhaps Bollywood is the only local market with enough power to not have to globalize their work.

I happen to find the naive foreigner protagonist to be one of the best vehicles for making overt telling in your story actually make sense and work for readers.  Forcing world-building into dialogue in a manner that the characters would never actually do is far worse of a crime. Neuromancer is one book that Tan cites as a great example of internal world-building, which is certainly true to some extent, though there were many times when I felt Case was being told things he should already know.

I don’t think the naive foreigner trope is going away anytime soon. In fact, I would argue it’s an entire sub-genre of itself, consisting of journey tales (The Hobbit) and portal fantasies (Neverwhere).

While I do find Tan’s argument for “breaking the status quo” in SF/F compelling, I wish she would not get so hung up on a concept she clearly doesn’t fully understand. Unfortunately, this sort of pseudo-academics is all too common today, and it gets on my nerves.

Do you agree with my analysis? Prefer Tan’s interpretation? Let me know what you think.

~J.M.

A Two for One — 3LineTales

Oct
13
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Photo by Austin Chan

For this week’s Three Line Tales I came up with two–rather obvious–responses. You guys can tell me which is better. Here’s the first try:

Cadriel leaned heavily on the bar, sipping his IPA from a tulip glass–having been around since the creating of beer, he was a bit of a connoisseur–pondering his existence. He set his cold drink down hard, watching the fog evaporate off the glass, revealing the image of a sword. Recovering from his shock, the angel of death rose from seat and approached the miscreant biker gang conversing loudly in the room’s opposite corner.

That one derives from the religious connotations of  “looking for a sign,” though with a celestial being swapped for the typical human. Here’s the next one:

Luke Skywalker rubbed away a stain on the old, decrepit bar, staring down a shady twi’lek who still had not paid for his drinks. “The sign’s a joke–an old jedi thought I might be the chosen one,” Luke said to another nearby patron, “but I never really bought that rubbish, and the New Republic hasn’t worked out as I was hoping.” Raising a hand towards the deadbeat twi’lek, Luke said, “You want to pay your bill.”

This one follows on the obvious source of the sign’s wording, which derives from the infamous “These are not the droids you are looking for,” line from the original Star Wars. Though, I’m not one for fanfic, so I don’t know how I feel about this story. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to write it. 

So which one do you prefer?

~J.M.

SHARE: The Key to an Engaging Story is Conflict

Oct
07

Even a novice writer knows the truth of this: fiction is driven by conflict. It simply wouldn’t be interesting to read about someone going about their day and having everything go their way. The uneventful is boring. We crave big events, flashy and even crazy events. We don’t go to concerts to watch some dude stand around doing nothing. There’s gotta be sound, and lights, and maybe a little rough-housing!

Conflict is critical to any work of fiction and it becomes more critical the shorter the piece is. This is largely due to the connection of conflict and action. Conflict forces a character to make a choice, and ultimately to take action. And the shorter your work of fiction, the more action-centered it needs to be, in order to provide a pleasing experience for the reader. Flash fiction is not a good place for complex world-building or convoluted plots.

I stumbled on the following article in my Facebook feed and found it to be a very well-articulated summary of one half of the conflict topic, namely external (or physical) conflict. These days, Lit is usually concerned with internal (or emotional) conflict, but speculative fiction–especially Fantasy, and soft sci-fi–tends to favor external conflict. We fantasy fans love our villains. It’s no surprise then, that most of the examples given in the article are SF/F works.

I have to say, I really like the look of this site. It feels more like a fiction ezine than a writing blog. Near the end of the article, the author provides a good seven-point checklist for working out your story’s conflict. But I will let you read that at the source.

Head on over and read the full article, linked below.

~J.M.


What is external conflict?

by Kristen Kieffer

As humans, our curiosity piques when two forces oppose one another. “What is happening?” we ask. Why are these two forces at odds? How will the conflict play out? Who will win? What would I do if I were in that situation?

These are the questions readers ask, more or less subconsciously, as they read. Which means they’re also exactly the kinds of questions writers should ask themselves when crafting plots for their stories.

In stories, as in life, there are two types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflicts are the mental, emotional, or spiritual struggles a person faces—Character vs. Self—which we’ll talk about in a new blog post soon! Today, however, we’re going to focus on the second type of struggle: external conflict. Shall we dive right into the breakdown? … READ MORE

A Little House – What Pegman Saw

Oct
07
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Littleton, West Virginia © Google Maps

It was a little house, on a little street, in little corner of West Virginia. Regarding shape, it was about as perfect a rectangle as something could be; it gave off the air of rectangle, and little else. There was a group of little kids who rode by every morning on their little bikes, on their way to the little school a few blocks down the rode.

Everything about the house was little. Everything, of course, except for its gigantic inhabitant. He was Kwerg, first son of Galactic Emperor Tal, Conquerer of Endless Space, Destroyer of Suns, The White Plague, and Enemy of Vacuums.

Kwerg hoped his father would not find him here, hidden amongst the lowly little creatures of Earth. His father simply couldn’t accept that Kwerg did not want to be a destroyer. He wanted to paint landscapes, like his hero Bob Ross.

*Written as a response to the What Pegman Saw October 7th prompt.

The Birth of a Master – 3LineTales

Oct
05
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photo by Kira auf der Heide 

“Master, I’ve completed my work.”

“What’s this?…I asked you to paint reality in its purest form.”

“This is it–here we see only that which is true to the nature of the page, air and dust and pulp, untainted by the arrogance of man.”

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 88 photo prompt. 

~J.M.

I hope you enjoyed the story. If you like what you’re reading here, why not join the Rabble, my little mailing group? I will be sending out the first exclusive bits in the coming days, including the first reveal of the cover for my upcoming epic fantasy serial, Call of the Guardian!