Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The existence of gritty dark fantasy?

I wanted to write today’s post about my experience of reading dark fantasy and the number of female authors.

Dark fantasy is defined as fantasy with a horror/supernatural element.  So your vampire and werewolf books can be classed as dark fantasy.  My Emily May series is dark fantasy.
When I go into our local bookshop and head straight to the sci-fi/fantasy/horror corner, I will eventually drift into the realms of the dark fantasy shelves.  I used to head straight to them but I quickly tired of the novels found there.  The majority seem to be all about the female protagonist who is vampire/werewolf/demon/human, possibly runs her own business, usually as a detective, or is a ‘chosen one’, who will then meet and fall in love with the sexy, dark, tall and handsome antagonist.  In fact, in most of the books I’ve read the strong, independent protagonists will lose all of their faculties and dryness between their legs just at the mere sight of this man/vampire/demon/angel.  All of these books are notably written by women.
I don’t read these books anymore.

What I have started to love over the last six or seven years is what can be defined as gritty.  My favourites include Joe Abercombie – I will never forget the first time I picked up The Blade Itself and read the first page and George R R Martin – yes, I am loving Game of Thrones even though I’m late to the game.  My taste in films is the same.   I define this grittiness as dark realism.  These books are all true of life but coated with violence and darkness.  Not necessarily dark fantasy, but with characters disturbingly real, horrific, intelligent and wonderful.

I feel I should add, the only male dark fantasy novelist I can think of is Paul Magrs with his Brenda and Effie series.  Thing is, while this series includes vampires, among other things dark and supernatural, it doesn’t have the same feel as the dark fantasy novels mentioned previously (not necessarily a bad thing) but neither is it gritty.

At first I wanted to know whether men can write good dark fantasy (where the female protangonist doesn’t go weak at the first sight of an attractive man)?  I did an internet search of this and found very little.  The ‘dark fantasy’ books I did find that were penned by men included Alice in Wonderland and The Picture of Dorian Grey, which I don’t necessarily class as dark fantasy.  Have I got the definition wrong?  Has the definition changed with the rise of the teenage vampire/werewolf obsession?  

So my second , or perhaps third or fourth, question is, can dark fantasy (vampires, werewolves, etc) be gritty, dark and wonderful (books, not film)?  Is it possible to have a First Law version of the supernatural?  If you know of a book like this in existence please let me know as I'm having trouble finding any! 

Do you know of any male dark fantasy writers?  I would love to read some – maybe I already have without knowing!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sex, blushing and grit!

I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy this weekend.  Honest.  But I have just had erotica thrown in my face at every turn.

My weekend started at midday on Thursday.  I took the afternoon off to enjoy the heatwave out of the office but sadly it was just too hot so me and my mum went to the local shopping mall to eat ice cream and be Ladies What Lunch.  Very nice.

We ended up in Waterstones and before I marched into the Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror corner, I spotted the piles of 50 Shades of Grey hidden beneath a table.  Gleefully, I ran over, pulled out a book and opened it randomly.   My mum followed and we stood, flicking through the pages, reading the odd line out to one another and, needless to say, made a bit of scene, laughing until we cried at the entrance to the shop.

The first word I saw was ‘blush’.  I randomly flicked to another page and there was another ‘blush.  Another page and there the heroine ‘flushed’.  Another page and there she was, flushing again.  My mum’s copy was the same and the game of ‘find the sex references’ quickly turned to ‘find the word ‘blush/flush’ on every page’.  Seriously, does Anastasia Steele spend the entire book with a red face?

It reminded me of one of the first novellas I finished when I was a teenager.  My mum read it, as she reads everything I write, and pointed out that everything my characters did, they did slightly.  They smiled slightly, they inclined their heads slightly, they frowned slightly.  I re-read it and she was right, I had used the word ‘slightly’ an infuriating amount. 
Without even reading 50 Shades of Grey, I can tell that E L James has made the same mistake.  Could no one have pointed this out to her, like my mum kindly pointed out to me?
Ok, maybe Anastasia needs to blush.  Apparently this woman goes from no sex life whatsoever, not even with her own hand, to s&m sex.  Personally, I have no idea how someone makes that leap and if it’s going to make her blush on every page maybe it’s not the right lifestyle choice.

I took Friday off work to write.  I failed miserably and am very annoyed with myself.  I did, however, have a think about a new title for The-Novel-Previously-Known-As-Silver.   Perhaps, Duty Bound?
I know that every title will be taken, I just need it to not be taken by a dark fantasy book.  Duty Bound sounds more like a naval or military fiction to me, so I did a quick search.
Was my Kindle app filled with military and naval fiction?  No.  Erotica!  Bondage erotica. 

I didn’t take any time to see when these were published and whether they are the result of 50 Shades of Grey’s success.  I was just disturbed by the sudden influx of bondage erotica on my innocent smartphone.

So I won’t be renaming The-Novel-Previously-Known-As-Silver as Duty Bound.  Emily May deserves more I think.  Although I have been reconsidering the plot as well as trying to finish editing my second novel and the conclusion I’ve come to with both of these is that I want my writing to be darker and grittier. 
Maybe more sex is needed, although I’m concerned I’m falling into the 50 Shades of Grey trap every time I think that.  Maybe more violence.  Perhaps more realism.  Finally, the years of The Dark Knight trilogy, Game of Thrones and Joe Abercombie has crept up on me.  I want my writing to sparkle, I want it to move people, I want my books to be page turners and I want them full of realism, darkness and grit.

And then I read this article, about gritty fantasy.  It’s like they read my mind...

The word of the year may be erotica but I'm sticking to my fantasy, but perhaps more sex is needed?  Hmm, might have to explore this further on Tuesday...

On a separate note, did everyone enjoy the Olympics Opening Ceremony?  Bloody marvellous!

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Twilight Zone

What a beautiful, glorious Friday.

I booked today off work a month or so ago with the aim to spend the afternoon writing.  Like every day this week, the sky is blue and it's baking hot so I am very happy to be at home with all windows and doors open.  I have two contented guinea pigs who are fast asleep and one hot and bothered one who's been hiding for the majority of the week.
Today started well, I tidied and cleaned the house (can't write in a dirty house, can I?), I put the washing on and changed the bed, I made my lunch and accidently watched half of a film and then finally I turned my laptop on...and went on Facebook and Twitter.

But here I am, finally, with this week's installment of The Twilight Zone!

Read part six here.
Read previous installments here.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Ding! A lightbulb editing moment

Yesterday I had a ding! moment.  On pages 14 and 15 of this month's Writing Magazine, Lorena Goldsmith talks about the common shortfalls in fiction and how to avoid them in a new series about self-editing.

I read it with relish.

For months now something about The-Novel-Previously-Known-As-Silver has been bothering me.  First I thought it was the structure but lately I've been thinking about the plot. 

Lorena's fiction shortfalls include;
  • the conflict not being strong enough
  • plot holes
  • inconsistencies
  • too many red herrings
  • the conflict not escalating
  • the sequel trap
  • loose ends
While I began to ponder about whether The-Novel-Previously-Known-As-Silver fell into any of these pitfalls, one caught my eye and my breath.
That was it!  That's what's wrong with the manuscript!

It's obvious really and right in front of me all along, I just needed to read it in black and white and out of context.

Now my mind is whirring with solutions but I can't touch the manuscript until the publisher comes back to me. 
I know, I know, I shouldn't have submitted my manuscript anywhere until I was absolutely ready.  But I followed the rules; put it away for a while and then come back to it.  In fact, I did this twice.  I was happy with it.  The truth is that writers are always learning and growing and I've learned enough since finishing the fourth or fifth draft of The-Novel-Previously-Known-As-Silver to know that I went wrong somewhere.

So where does that leave me?  I won't tell you where I've gone wrong because it's actually embarrasing and I should know better.  It's also glaringly obvious from the synopsis, which can mean one of two things;
  • the publisher is rubbish and doesn't know what they're doing!
  • it isn't actually that much of a big deal!  It's still a good premise and worthy of reading.
I really hope it's the latter!

Monday, 23 July 2012

I had a dream

I had a dream last night, that my first novel (previously Silver, now name unknown) was published.  It was reviewed and the reviewer tore it to pieces.  Strangely I wasn’t upset as everything the reviewer said made sense to me.

There were also snails, and running away and a school trip but I don’t think those things were relevant.

The reviewer told me my plot was awful and to be honest this is my main worry for Previously-Silver.  I’ve always been good at dialogue but plot is something I’ve had to work hard at.  This is something I’ve been considering (and I told the reviewer as much).

I went to sleep thinking about my Emily May series.  As I climbed into bed (on top of the duvet because suddenly summer is upon us and upstairs was like an oven last night!), I was suddenly hit by a plot theme for the third book and then boom!  An idea for another.  I quickly wrote them down before they drifted from my mind and I bet that’s why I dreamt about such things.

The snails can be explained by the number of them we keep finding.  They haunt our recycling boxes and my mum nearly squished two on our Ladies-What-Lunch lunch on Friday (my mum was also in the dream, trying not to crush any).

I am often running away in dreams.  On this occasion, I blame it on being Sunday night; I was running away from Monday and work.  It didn’t work, I hasten to add.

I can’t explain the school trip…

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Let me ask you something.  Which do you prefer?  Batman Begins or The Dark Knight?
They are two very different films.  Batman Begins is a complex story about substance, it tells of the development of Batman’s character, something I had never experienced before and that is what made it a good film.  The Dark Knight, on the other hand, was a film of action, showcasing fiction’s best villain in a new and beautiful glory the likes of which we’re likely to never see again.

The Dark Knight Rises is the last film in the Dark Knight Trilogy.  It is set eight years after The Dark Knight, although I strongly recommend watching Batman Begins before seeing it.  The Dent Act has been passed, locking up all of those involved in organised crime and therefore keeping Gotham a safe place.  Batman is gone, taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s actions and death, and Bruce Wayne hides in his mansion never to be seen as Wayne Enterprises collapses into ruin in his absence.  Then, a man with connections to the League of Shadows comes to Gotham, that man is Bane (Tom Hardy) and he is there to destroy the city and rid the world of Gotham’s evil.

The film starts slow despite meeting Bane early on.  Bane promised to be an interesting foe for Batman.  While The Joker was wildly intelligent and charismatic, he was smaller and weaker than Batman.  Bane, on the other hand, is physically stronger than Batman but still wildly intelligent.  How can Batman ever hope to defeat him?
We also meet the beautiful Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) early on.  Hathaway plays the strong, flexible cat burglar who becomes entwined in Bruce Wayne/Batman and Bane’s battle with great, subtle poise. 

The action sequences are unfortunately few and far between but they’re good.  Not The Dark Knight good, but good.  There is perhaps one great chase scene and the fantastically done football stadium scene.  The choreography, however, is poor.  You often see someone fly backwards without knowing how Selina/Batman/Bane hit them which feels a bit of a cop out and makes the scene disjointed. 

Actually, the whole film has a disjointed feeling, which may be because it is just so busy.  I was constantly asking why?  Why is this happening?  Why do people want Batman back when there is no organised crime left to fight?  Why is Bane doing this?  Who the hell is that bloke in the bag at the beginning?  You may think this may be a communication problem what with the concern over understanding Bane.  I actually didn’t find this a problem.  I understood nine of out ten of his sentences perfectly.  I still didn’t really understand the plot, not until the end. 
Speaking of Bane’s communication issues, what I did have a problem with was the music.  The volume of the background music was far too loud which meant that during the action sequences I couldn’t hear a word people were saying.  I was leaning forward, straining to hear them over the din and possibly lost a few plot points because of this.

I was disappointed by the ending (there is greater detail on this with spoilers via the link below).  I feel that a lot of Bane’s potential was lost.  There also wasn’t enough of him, or of Selina Kyle for that matter.  I wanted more of this beautiful cat burglar, more of the powerful Bane and, yes, more of the Batman.  Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy were all excellent, so why couldn’t we have had more of them?

I didn’t feel I learnt enough about Bane.  I spent the entire film waiting to find out how he got his mask, who he really is, what’s his motivation.  Despite learning bits and pieces I was left completely unsatisfied.
I feel sad that Bane’s potential wasn’t realised but my main issues are with Miranda, Wayne’s poorly written love interest.  Sadly I can’t explain this without some major spoilers, so to find out more click on the link below.

There wasn’t enough of the three main characters, so who was on the screen?  A rookie cop, Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), that’s who.  A young man with unfaltering faith in justice and Batman.  I will say no more.  I found this character so predictable that I feel just writing a few words will let you in on all the secrets.  However this film was less of a Batman film at times and more of a Blake film.

The very end is also predictable but very satisfying (other than Bane).  The film  is fairly empowering, it  made me smile, shed a small tear courtesy of Michael Caine’s Alfred and even a little chuckle in places but I wasn’t left grinning and buzzing with the dark inspiration that filled me after The Dark Knight.
However all of the actors are excellent and cannot be faltered.  The film is visually breathtaking with the same gritty, dark realism that made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight so compellingly wonderful.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a follow up to The Dark Knight, it is a sequel to Batman Begins.  Other than the references to Harvey Dent, and there are flashbacks for those who can’t remember, you do not have to have seen The Dark Knight to understand or enjoy this film. 
If you preferred Batman Begins then I think you will enjoy this film.  The Dark Knight Rises is another film of substance; it develops Batman’s character further, pushing him to very edge.  I enjoyed it but was left frustrated.  It’s a good film, it just wasn’t the film that I was expecting.  I will still be adding it to my collection however.

Warning:  This is a long film.  You may have to remember all of your Lord of the Rings bladder training.
For a little bit more, including ***spoilers***, scroll down!

The Dark Knight Rises is a good film but it could have been so much better.  The film needs more of Bane, Batman and Selina.  I’m a very character focused person, give me good action sequences and well developed characters and I’m happy.  My main gripes with this film involve three of the characters; Bane, Miranda and Blake.
Throughout the film we learnt very little about Bane but we do learn that he is intelligent, and sounds a little like Darth Vader.  I found him fascinating and was desperate to learn his back story and see more of him.  This was not to be.  In fact, by the end all of his intelligence and strength were ripped from him in one swift moment and his death (if he does die?) is short and quick.  How can Batman defeat this huge, strong and intelligent man?  Shockingly easily apparently, when it suits him.  It felt like by the end the writers decided he wasn’t to be the main villain and he just wasn’t worth bothering with.  What a missed opportunity.
Why did Bane no longer matter?  Because of Miranda.  A woman that’s there from the beginning of the film talking about investment in Wayne Enterprises, who then suddenly and magically sleeps with Bruce Wayne (for a man who hasn’t left the house in eight years he gets some action shockingly quickly, without even doing much talking!) and then turns out to be the mastermind villain of the whole thing (I knew there was something off about her).  She is the reason the plot didn’t make any sense throughout the main bulk of the film.  She is the reason that Bane is swept aside.  She proclaims his love for her (you read right) and he sheds a tear.  A tear!  While it is always wonderful to see a villain’s soft side, it was so poorly done it was like watching a completely different character.  Almost like a new writer walked in as they were working on that part of the script and took over without reading the beginning of the film. 
Yes, that’s right, I don’t like it when women go gooey over their men and I don’t like it when men go gooey over their women.  To add insult to injury, her death scene was so awful I nearly burst out laughing.
I figured out early on that Blake is Robin pre-tights.  I’ve never liked Robin.  Never.  I think Batman is much stronger as a solo character.  Don’t get me wrong, Blake seems like a great squeaky clean character and will probably make a fantastically dark Robin but I hope we never find out.  Please don’t let anyone be tempted to make a fourth film.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Twilight Zone part five

Part five of The Twilight Zone comes early this Friday because the sky is blue, the sun is shining, I have the day off work, the house is clean and I'm off for a girly lunch followed by ungirly Batman.  Can't wait!

Will Emily find out why people are disappearing from the nocturnal house?

Read part five here.

Catch up on previous installments here.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

This time it's personal

If you want to be a writer when you grow up, there are a lot of things people will tell you;
  • You won’t make any money
  • It’s really, really hard work
  • You need to widen your vocabulary
  • Read more!
  • You’ll need a thick skin.
It’s the last of these I want to concentrate on today.  I have spent what feels like my whole life trying to develop this thick skin thing (does anyone know if there’s a cream?).  My mum is always telling me that I take everything personally and I am continually trying to distance myself and quieten the voices of paranoia.

Two of the worst things any writer must accept in order to be any kind of success are rejection and criticism.  Rejection I can take, for some reason, but criticism just leaves my heart pounding, my eyes welling up and a despondent feeling of failure which can last days, if not weeks.

I haven’t always been like this.  In my good periods I have been able to take criticism and use it as writers should.
Every writer should be able to take criticism – it makes you a better writer.

The rules of criticism are;

  • To stay calm and polite (which I know I can do because I’ve put it on enough job applications)
  • To only use the criticisms that truly speak to you – if someone tells you that something isn’t right about your work and it strikes a cord, you think yes, that’s true, then use that criticism and improve your work.  If you feel in your gut that the person is wrong then ignore them.  Simple.

Criticism can take many guises; as reviews, feedback or through conversation.  I haven’t suffered a review yet and I avoid conversations (due to a mechanical failure of rule 1) but I have received a lot of feedback.

When I completed my novel Silver (which, by the way, might be undergoing a name change due to a person innocently pointing out an already published novel of the same name about werewolves.  Typical) to the extent that I didn’t know where to go with it next, I uploaded it to Authonomy.  No one read past chapter one (because I never read past anyone else’s chapter one) but I received a lot of feedback and criticism.

I printed it all out and went through it, piece by piece.  I crossed out the criticisms that I didn’t agree with and starred the ones I did so that I could make the appropriate changes.  Then I copied and pasted the positive pieces of feedback and printed that out as a confidence boost.

So now I need to find a way of coping with criticism full time, no matter what sort of stupid quarter life/30s/mid-life crisis I’m going through.  Not only criticism, but the vulnerability of putting myself out into the world and leaving myself open to such criticism.

Unfortunately there aren’t any good tips to offer.  Believe me, I’ve checked.  All Google could give me were the usual – criticism makes you a better writer, listen and try to stay positive, blah blah blah.

The important point to remember is that all writing is subjective.  For every person who enjoys your writing, there will be those who don’t.  That’s one of the reasons for rejection and it is a major reason for criticism.  Therefore do not take it personally!  I really must drill this into my mind.

And it is a matter of the mind.  If I just convince myself not to take criticism personally, maybe I will succeed in this mad writing world.  I don’t take rejection personally, in fact I see rejection as evidence that I am a writer.  Surely criticism is the same?
All professional writers receive criticism.  My writing has been criticised; therefore I am a writer.