Friday, May 31, 2013

Hero Gender Bender

I undertook a fun little mental exercise the other day. The ongoing discussions concerning gender equality in the SciFi/Fantasy community (for instance, this excellent thread on Mythic Scribes) got me thinking about some of my own characters. Personally I do tend to default characters to male - that is to say, unless there is a reason for a character to be female they are written as males. This has resulted in what even I can admit is a noticeable deficit of female characters thus far. Whether this is because I myself am male or because of cultural programming, I leave to others. It is a situation that I intend to change, though.

Anyways, back to that exercise: I went through a few of the stories I have in my head and flipped the gender of some of the main characters, trying to imagine the difference it would make in the story.

By and large, in many of my works of fantasy it makes quite a difference (though not all). This was usually attributable to the societies in which these characters exist having strongly defined gender roles. So, that's a predictable and fairly boring finding.

The fun part came in when I specifically took a look at the main characters where A) the society had enough gender equality to shrug at the flip and B) the character was dear to me, personally, for some reason. There exists a particular fantasy doorstopper series I eventually want to write with a pair of main characters whose character arcs complement and comment on each other. I took the one I liked best and tried this little game.

It definitely caused some differences. Various characters interactions would need to change, and at least one would be probably more complicated. At least two romantic subplots would change because the significant other of those relationships would have to be flipped (well, I guess I could make the MC bisexual or homosexual, which choice would have additional consequences).

The end result of all this was my realization (which will no doubt seem rather banal to most people) that pretty much every consequence of changing these details about a character sprang from how their society would view it.  There is, of course, nothing intrinsic about a woman that makes her less fit for practically any task. The only possible exception is melee combat, when having a great deal of muscle mass comes in handy - but of course, there are plenty of very strong women (and plenty of martial roles which don't place so much emphasis on brute strength), so that's out as well. Same goes for homosexuals, especially concerning the romantic involvements. I've seen nothing to suggest there is some intrinsic difference, emotion-wise, between heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

What does all this mean? Well, it means that ideally a reader should identify no less with a hero of the opposite gender or a different sexuality than they would with a hero who is "like them" in these respects. The range of human reaction and emotion has no such boundaries.

That is, in an ideal world. In more realistic terms, given two heroes A and B of which A is a woman and B a man (and sure, a third hero C which is transgender), a male reader might identify more with a male character simply because he assumes the female experience is different - even if every other aspect of their story is identical.

I suppose that could be one of the benefits of well-written fiction that is aware of such issues - it will instill such awareness in the readers. Does that mean I have the guts to actually change the gender or sexuality of any of these characters? I suppose that remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Investing In a Book is Not the Same as Buying One

A lot of authors are kickstarting (or, I can only assume, Indiegogo-ing) novels these days, essentially doing what established writers have been telling wannabe's not to do for years: attempting to sell the idea of a novel before having the novel itself.

Obviously, this was advice mostly given to those who had written very little in their lives and thought that a great novel idea was somehow a ticket to stardom - as if they actual work of writing the novel were trivial rather than the actually valuable part of the whole package. Same went for making videogames, in case you were wondering. I see that same trends and same advice repeated ad infinitum in both spheres to the hopeful masses.

I have to admit that this irked me at first with novels where it did not with games. I have proudly backed several games on Kickstarter and intend to continue doing so, as creating a videogame often requires investments beyond the bounds of a single creator laboring away lonely in their basement. Multiple team members, proprietary technology, art and sound resources, etc etc.

But novels? Generally the only thing standing in the way of their completion is the author finding the time to write them - a problem which would seem to be nonexistant for authors who have already "gone professional" and assumedly spend a fair deal of their time writing. Thus I scoffed, at first, at the idea of professional authors kickstarting novels they hadn't written yet. Most of the ones I looked at didn't even have so much as an opening chapter - just some concept art and, indeed, a fairly bare "concept" of the plot.

Of course, being the "live and let not-give-a-fuck" sort of fellow that I am, my reaction to all this wasn't of the they shouldn't be doing this variety. It was more of the would I ever do this? sort, with a decisive lean towards no.

Having thought about it some more, I can't be so sure. I generally see Kickstarter used for novels by fairly niche authors, who have a small but devoted following. These authors aren't getting filthy rich on their books. They make a modest but livable income. They have a proven track record of providing quality products (this is the most important thing in crowdfunding, for me!). Only an utter idiot would throw that reputation away in a scheme to get quick 10 or 20 grand (or whatever the number) up front.

I haven't heard of any audiences being burned on kickstarting a novel, whereas I have heard sob stories from nearly every other sector. Furthermore, it does open up some rather exciting options - offering cool things like big, silk-screened maps to backers without worrying if it'll earn out the investment you made up front.

Of course, when I think of doing such things myself, I remember that I can kickstart extras-packages like that without kickstarting the novel itself. Somehow it seems more honest to do it that way. After all, I don't really intend to write anything I don't think there isn't paying audience for - nor do I intend to write anything just because there is a paying audience. That is to say, I won't write anything I wouldn't enjoy writing (what is the point of pursuing professional authorhood, after all, but to truly enjoy what we do for a living?).

Obviously, I'm a long ways from actually needing to make any decisions on the subject. My thinking, though, is constantly evolving, leading me to repeat something I've been saying a lot:

I'm so excited to be in the game now, while everything is changing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Critics Burn Inferno. Nobody Cares.

The release of Dan Brown's new book Inferno was followed by its predictable trashing by the literary critics, which in turn was followed by the equally predictable sound of millions of readers not giving a fuck what literary critics think.

I have not read any of Brown's books, so I can't give a personal opinion over how good or bad his prose is. However, whatever the quality of his writing, I can say without a doubt that it is "good enough."

Same goes for Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame, or EL James (50 Shades of Grey), or - to go back a ways - Christopher Paolini (Eragon).

Writing is the medium. The story is the message. So long as your message is compelling, and your writing is good enough to get it across, you'll do fine. (Sometimes much more than fine, as the above authors can attest). The message is more important than the medium. The story is more important than the prose. The toy is more important than the packaging.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Map of The Wandering Tale

Or rather, of the area covered by/mentioned in the stories so far: The continent of Eretar.

It isn't quite done yet, but it is pretty representative of where I want to go with it. Click to enlarge - the image itself is quite large and you can zoom in a bit (even though the only detail that will be clearer is the red-dotted locations, which are specific locations from the Tales themselves).

Most of the skills, tricks, and techniques used to make this map were learned by perusing the resources available at The Cartographer's Guild, a fantastic place for any map enthusiast. I'm not enough of an artist to do my own cover art, but I think I can develop the cartographic skills necessary to make my own maps.

Still plenty I have left to learn - like how to make attractive and unobtrusive political borders and labeling. The borders I've tried so far ended up looking terrible, and I'm not quite happy with how the labels look either. I'll have it all fixed up for the first Wandering Tale collection.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


As I crawl towards the halfway mark on the first draft of Clanless, I've begun to spare a bit of thought for thinks like cover art - and marketing. It seems the prevailing wisdom is to make sure your name is associated with one genre and one genre only - in which case I'd want to publish Clanless, and any future works of science fiction, under a different name than Tristan Gregory. Which is itself a pen name.

No doubt keeping things simple for my readers is worth making them confusing for me.

I'm still not sure I'll follow the prevailing wisdom in this case, though. Most of my very favorite authors have published work in several genres, and I like to think that readers are pretty smart. Certainly they can clue to the face that certain books  are unrelated to each other unless specified... right? I can always start including a "other books by" section in my front matter which breaks my titles down by fantasy and science fiction, I suppose...

Still, all the talk about "building brands" is fairly influential. I don't have a lot of marketing clout to leverage, and so any trick I can use to keep  my efforts focused on my most likely readers is a good thing. Then again, I kinda hope that even readers who find me through my fantasy novels might want to try out my science fiction. Personally I've always seen it as one and the same, as summarized by The Third Law and it's corollary.

I suppose it's comforting to know that I can always change my mind and switch the name on the cover. Unless of course I get successful enough that people would notice that kind of thing. In which case... mission freaking accomplished.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Making Some Marketing Noise

While I'm still far more concerned with writing new books rather than promoting older ones, I'm going to be rattling a few cages this summer in hopes of stirring up a few more reviews for both Twixt Heaven and Hell and The Wandering Tale novellas.

To that end, I'm giving away a few copies of Twixt to folks who think they might be interested in reviewing it. You can get more details in this post I made on reddit, but the long and short of it is: If you want a free eBook of Twixt, email me at and tell me what format you'd like it in.

Offer is open for a week or so, or until I've given out twenty or so copies. Response so far has been decent, so I'm not sure which will come first!

Edit: I'll also mention that I've pulled Twixt from publication on Smashwords and downstream channels for awhile in preparation for trying out the KDP Select program. Despite my dislike of the exclusivity thing, I'm gonna be doing a lot of experimenting this summer and this is one experiment that was too obvious not to try.