Tag Archives: fantasy

Not actually a #BayWriteClub submission: A response to a dragon-moved-into-your-neighborhood writing prompt

The dragon’s voice barked defensively out of the darkness. “You don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!”

Nick answered aggressively, “No, you tell you that. It was you who told us when we first arrived here why you don’t leave your cave, why you don’t hunt any more,” but his voice betrayed a hint of fear.

“Hundred of years!” the dragon answered. “Hundreds I’ve been cooped up in here!” And a roar and a burst of fire lit his corner of the cave, and Nick and Dora saw a flash of Dimclaxadon, horrible in his agitation, the royal blue scales of his crown black in his own read light.

“I don’t–” Nick started, but he faltered, startled. “I don’t–” he began again, but he couldn’t find the words.

“You put yourself in here,” Dora answered, as calmly as she could, as if she were reassuring a friend. This was only her and Nick’s third visit to the cave, and neither had ever seen him in such an agitated state. “You keep yourself out of sight. You hide from the humans,” Dora said plaintively, hoping to elicit some reason and self-control.

The humans,” Dimclaxadon sneered. “And what of you humans?” he asked with contempt, his head leaving the shadows of the darkest corner for the first time since Nick and Dora’s arrival, his eye a cruel slit that put fear in Dora’s heart. She gasped and clutched a hand to her chest, and Nick stumbled and fell over backwards onto the cave’s stone floor, and he scrambled backwards quickly, his eyes wide.

This time Dora faltered: “We–” she said, but her racing heart had frozen her mind, and suddenly all she wanted to do was grab Nick and leave the cave. Then, as quick as his head had emerged, Dimclaxadon’s eye softened, and his head fell to the floor at his feet. “I–” he stammered. “I’m sorry,” he said at last. Dora’s heart skipped a beat as if it couldn’t decide whether to calm down or take her out of the shallow cave. “I–” he started again. “I’m… restless.”

Nick got to his feet and placed a dirty hand on Dora’s shoulder. He gripped her warningly, and she could sense his strong unspoken suggestion that they leave. They had discussed their fears at home after the first visit, but after leaving unscathed that time, they had returned, and now they had returned again, even more confident. But Dimclaxadon inspired fear in them anew. He was fearful to behold, a towering fifteen feet tall, and since they’d never seen him in the light, they didn’t know his full length, but they knew enough: a dragon, larger than them and firebreathing, worthy of fear and awe.

“Humans,” Dimclaxadon said accusingly, “and their guns.” He inhaled a long, rattling breath and sighed. “Sometimes the price of safety is more than I can stand.” Then he fell to the ground in a great clamor as his scales shifted and rippled. Dust and dirt flew about the cave, blasting abrassively into Nick and Dora’s eyes and against their skin.

“It was always assumed that we were magical,” Dimclaxadon said sadly with another sigh. “No swords, no spear, no arrow could pierce us, and though there were never many of us, we roamed the world fearlessly. “I don’t know how many of us still are, but I know some of us have died, and we never knew death before.” He had fallen again into moping, which was the state Nick and Dora knew best. “I live here on deer and bear and dog, too afraid to take humans or what they count too closely.”

Dimclaxadon’s head had fallen within ten feet of Nick and Dora, eyes closed. She approached him and kneeled down next to him and placed a hand on his head. Nick had given her one last meaningful squeeze as she left his grip.

“It’s you,” Dimclaxadon said thickly. “Your arrival has woken something in me that I haven’t felt since I fled the world.” He sighed deeply again, and the heat of his breath brushed over her leg and made her wince as she pulled it away instinctively from the corner of his mouth.

She asked, “What is it? What makes you so restless now when you’ve stayed here hidden so long?”

“Respect?” he asked. “Fear?” he asked next. He breathed deep and sighed again finally, and Dora heard a conclusion made in the sound. “The smell of you,” he said without a questioning inflection. Then he said with an unmistakeable note of bitter anger, “I have power.”

Dora had backed away from him as he spoke, and she now felt distinctly threatened and began to turn to Nick to leave, but the dragon’s head lurched towards Dora and knocked her backwards. Her legs flew in the air as she tumbled, and he bit her, ripping her body apart at the pelvis, and her bones cracked between his teeth as she screamed, but the noise petered and stopped quickly, and he dropped her lower half from his mouth. Nick barked a scream, too, and it echoed around the cave and off Dimclaxadon’s scaly hide. He turned to run, but the dragon was on him in a heartbeat, and Nick felt the heat of his throat on his head and smelled his own seared hair as the dragon’s jaws closed, the teeth pierced him, and he died.

Dimclaxadon roared savagely and victorious, a sound that hadn’t been heard west of the Rockies since he went into hiding more than two hundred years before, and his cave acted as a trumpet, blasting the sound out over the Pacific. No longer would he wait patiently for prey and pounce like some lesser lizard. Fire roared forth from his mouth, turning his cave’s ceiling a bright red, and in that glow he reveled in his madness, for madness is what had won: he would be Dimclaxadon, horror of the west, strong and awful and free to fly and fight and eat as he wanted.

He scrambled from the searing cave over the ripped and bleeding bodies. He stretched the wings he hadn’t used in so long and moaned a terrible screech at the feeling in his muscles. He pulled with them, and the ground trembled beneath him, and he took flight and cried again with another burst of flame. For a moment, the world was silent except for the echoes of his power.

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As Tanya put it, I crap on everything

Some readers feel compelled to remind me that I’m twenty-six. Within that group, a subset tells me (as often as they get the chance) that I do not know everything. But telling an intelligent and ambitious twenty-six year old that he does not have the capacity to understand everything is like telling a teenager that he is not immortal:

He will agree with you because of course you’re right. He might even understand that what you really mean is not that the teenager can die but that actions have consequences some of which he is not prepared for and others which he is totally incapable of handling. But of course the teenager can die, and he knows this. And of course actions have consequences, and he knows this. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters most: He does not know the horrible threshold consequences can elevate to. He does not know the terrible burden consequences sometimes aspire to. He does not know just how quickly his life can turn from seeming security to irresistable loss. He does not even know that some things in life are irresistable.

What I understand from readers of this type, when I take them at their best critique, is that I am not capable of understanding everything in the world. But of course I know this. I am a student of Socrates, where all knowledge is vain, and I have no faith in the things I know. I am a student of Ptolemy, where when I see two systems side by side that work just as well, I consider one as good as another and arbitrarily choose one with which to move forward (I must move forward.). I am a student of Galileo, where when I come to see that one system surpasses the other I had arbitrarily chosen, I hold no qualms in switching systems. I am a student of Einstein, where even as systems become more complicated they become simpler, and yet even as I abstract out of my perspective, these systems can never grow outside my perspective. I am a student of Kuhn, where the system of switching systems is itself a science, for all the paradoxes that entails.

I know, as well as the teenager knows that he is not immortal, that my knowledge is vain. What matters is what I do not know.

I do not know that knowledge has negative consequences beyond the fickle: peoples’ jealousy, peoples’ annoyance, peoples’ opinion of my arrogance. I do not know that loneliness matters in the grand scheme of things; isolation is the birthplace of human genius, but loneliness is so wearisome. I do not know how difficult it will be to unsubscribe from all the human systems I have digested, should my spiritual growth ever attain that level. What more consequences I do not know, I do not know.

In college I told friends that my vision of entering afterlife was a process where you receive one opportunity to let go the burden of your accumulated knowledge such that, should you choose to accept his offer, God fills you with Truth and Knowledge, fulfilling all the desires you ever had to know him and his gifts. Should you not except, you remain stuck with yourself. I imagined a white light, a time-eclipsed experience of floating in his essence. I suppose in some small way I still cling to that fantasy, that all my effort and knowledge are moot, accumulating inevitably as I wait for the opportunity to cast them aside. And yet the longer I hold them—for I cannot let them go—the more tempting assuming them becomes.

I also believe that self-knowledge is a system that shall one day require letting go. I believe that despite the deception of relativity, we learn about ourselves through a third-person perspective. Our only benefit is that we are so much closer to ourselves than others are: every waking moment can be spent on self-reflection. But one comes to know oneself as one comes to know any other self, and one can never know oneself as it is promised that God knows one. But perhaps there is no omniscience who knows you as you do not know yourself: I cannot promise it is so; only in the void of my impressionable imagination do I see anything of the kind. Therefore, even concerning self-knowledge, as it is with all other forms of knowledge, I am aware that either all is vain or all is moot: either way, it makes no difference. And yet I cannot help myself.

So, please, take me at my word: I know I do not know everything. I know I lack the capacity of wholly knowing the world or human knowledge or myself. I persevere in my authorial attempt and poetic displays not because I think I am some messiah sent to set the world straight but because, so long as I suffer life, I suffer human capacities, most specifically the being dragged along by the unflinching juggernaut of everincrementing time.

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Personal essay, Statement of purpose, Writing

A letter to a client

This is part of a letter I wrote to a client and friend last night that I thought a few of you might benefit from. It concerns writing in the fantasy genre and how one ought to maneuver in order to find success.

**

I was thinking about your project this evening and came to a question that should have an answer: What does your project say that your audience needs and wants to hear? The closest answer is a given, that you speak to a child’s sense of wonder. However, that’s genre-broad and won’t on its own seize a publishing deal, no matter how successfully you fulfill that objective. The fantasy genre is so flooded with books that in order to succeed one much find a niche, much like an sponge grabbing onto a crevice in the ocean floor. Otherwise any book is just a floating homeless thing waiting for an opportunity to root, which necessarily comes before flourishing.

Take the Harry Potter series, which I know you like, as a case study. The popularity of the series did not start with the first book nor the second. Both were fairly run-of-the-mill stories that were lucky to find a publisher; they had symptoms of something larger, such as Harry’s distrust of authority via Snape, but the driving force of the series was wholly undeveloped and ephemeral.

The third book held the foundations for what really made the series work later on. Larger branches of authority than school administrators were offered; real-world weight became attached to the consequences of Harry’s failure or success. The Prizoner of Azkaban stepped beyond the scope of the schoolyard into the world at large, and a fairly metropolitan world at that, offering students what they so long for in an age whose marketing and art are so overly focused on them: importance and a place in the world’s troubles. Children can sense, in my opinion, that the world is shrinking before them, and even if they can’t, it’s certainly a message that their parents would want them to hear.

After the development of the Ministry of Magic and the mythology behind the characters, stepping into problems of the culture became the order of the day, such as Hermoine broaching classism (or perhaps slavery, depending on which side of the pond you’re addressing the question to), awkward social dynamics, and tools through which one can challenge authority. That all of these structures were well developed and paralleled feasibly actual-world problems simply heightened the draw of readers of all ages into the story.

The problem is not one of artistry but of thoughtfulness. If you see how your world connects with the real world, you can exploit it in your writing to the delight of your fans; nobody how poorly this is done, your readership will appreciate the effort and the depth.

For another example of this same point, take Terry Goodkind, a favorite of my adolescence (alongside Heinlein and Barnes) whose books have been mentioned as offering one of the best-developed fantasy worlds since Tolkien. To whatever extent that claim may be true (his world, perhaps in the beginning, was seen to a limited extent, but by the fifth book had grown too large and unwieldy), I would argue that his success hinged on his ethical messages inside the text. Indeed, the title of the first book in the series was The Wizard’s First Rule, clearly outlining that the books would focus on a series of rules dictating how one ought to live ones life. This caught my attention easily according to my nature, but I suspect that many adolescent boys just like me clung to the masculine figure of Richard Cypher and the short, too-the-point rules he came into contact with. That this episodic tool failed Goodkind in the end by becoming too demanding and dogmatic seems inevitable in hindsight, but it’s just the sort of depth that the audience will be looking for, hence that an editor will be looking for. It is that well-discussed but seldom hit-upon force called the niche.

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Giving Value: A practice in blogging

It’s about time I put an actual blog post on this blog. Mostly people have contacted me saying I should call it an ezine since blog seems ill-used here. I don’t often post my opinions, and I don’t cover popular topics. Is this, really, a blog?

IT IS NOW !! MUAHAHAHAHA.

**

The echo chamber

A general word of advice in blogging is to give value to your readers, to provide some service that they find worthwhile. This theory is so well accepted that I hear it at least five times a day through various social networking sites and how-to-blog services.

The very existence of such an echo chamber should serve to make the irony of a statement about providing value so stark that serious readers couldn’t ignore it. However, the statement merely provides the words which the reader should repeat as the writer so that his reader can repeat them, (seemingly) ad infinitum.

However, it is also said that, while web viewers claim to view the internet for entertainment and education, they in fact expect to learn nothing and, while browsing hundreds of pages, somehow manage to learn nothing. Also, the subjects of their entertainment are so abused as to weather away fascination, and yet they, the readers, keep plugging away at article after article waiting for some new tidbit to come up that they can gleam or meme, twist or copy as long as they can link. Millions of readers of this type exist, just as do millions (probably only thousands, but what the hell) of blogs.

To change tactic a little bit

Gold. The word looks closely related to God. For all intents and purposes, it doubles, either critically or actually, for a god. It replaced the materials in the scales of justice. It has moved countries and reshaped societies. It has single-handedly killed more men than any other artificial force on this planet, fueling wars (even [or especially] the religious ones), driving slaves, falsely empowering some men over others. In its mythic power, gold has generated false cities and idols, and even fabricated tales of glory.

One story in particular matters to us today because it shows a symptom of blogging as a means of American entrepreneurialism, which we usually hold so high. The people of the gold rush weren’t concerned with adding to the wealth of our nation, though a drive for success fueled them as mightily as any tycoon; the rushers wanted, as many of us dream, to get rich, preferably for as little effort as possible, but who’s going to complain about a few days’ worth of digging?

Unfortunately, quite a few of them died trying (for a fun expiriment, research how many actually died), and the ones who survived their trials merely settled wherever they ended up. The greatest problem they faced, as anyone playing the game Oregon Trail soon learns, was a lack of planning. The thoughts that run through your head–generated by the basic managerial imagination we each have, honed to greater or lesser extents by experience–are not sufficient to survive the trip. Even the people that did survive found out quickly that they had no idea how to look for gold or even where to find it. But the west coast looked pretty good by the time the Rockies were behind them, I bet, and you can read a brief history of Seattle if you want to see where the survivors’ remaining entrepreneurial instinct took them.

Blogging, to writers, resembles these traits. We put our ideas onto electronic drives where they appear as pixels to whatever ghostly visitor happens to stumble across them for whatever reason. Just like the ’49ers, we bloggers barely grasp the technology, hardly fully or in a way that would benefit us most, and more importantly we understand or misinterpret the tools and benefits of social media. Yet despite the technical inability of most writers and our lack of ambition to succeed in the ethereal communities of the internet (as opposed to our ambition to succeed in the commodifiable community of publishing), we press on into this dream. Why?

Blogging: A mythopoetic

Because we hear tales, of course, great tales of success. The recent movie Julie and Julia highlights the basic success fantasy that lies under most of our attempts: write blog, gain readers, break the media ceiling, get published. In what ways is social media most useful to us? Doesn’t matter; people will find the blog somehow, and my uneducated efforts will help. How hard do I have to work at generating compelling content, and what does that even mean, anyway: compelling content? I can write, we answer; I have thoughts.

To these arguments, I answer with an Eve6 lyric: “The liar in me says something’s gonna happen soon because it must.”

Despite our overpowered fantasies, there is no moment in which, climactic, the phone will suddenly ring, filling our voicemails with phonecalls from studios seeking our hands. In the current market, where blogs are a cute fuzzy place where MFA students and other writers post their cute fuzzy brains, there’s only one instance in which that might happen, and I promise you that you don’t want to follow that path.

Ashley sent me an email copied from her friend Steuart [sic] that addresses this hope:

I think that there are some individuals that understand social networking sites and how to leverage them effectively, but most don’t. Typically, the larger the company/corporation/label/band the more they -don’t- get it.

The power in social networking sites doesn’t have anything to do with your own individual or your group’s/company’s presence on it. You don’t need a twitter account to leverage twitter to your advantage. The power of social networking sites are in the PEOPLE that comprise it. From a marketing standpoint, twitter is best viewed as the ultimate in word-of-mouth amplifiers, NOT just another place to plaster plugs for yourself.

Marketing over social networks and the internet, as things sit now, is not about yelling the most and yelling the loudest yourself; it’s getting other people to do the yelling for you. As it pertains to the music business, people will be happy to start ‘yelling for you’ IF your music is good, with very little extra effort on your part. But if that takes up 95% of your efforts…well you’re doing it backwards and doing it wrong.

The only way in which Steuart’s breakdown of social marketing rings true is through viral marketing. It works one way: you produce something so astounding that it constitutes a freakshow, it doesn’t matter whether it’s genteel or actual freakishness. Child prodigies, the “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” guy, Shamwow… the list goes on quite a while and is mostly comprised of multimedia, not text. Companies trying to break into viral marketing attempt to break it down to a list of rules, but really it flows from this basic socio-instinct: one thousand quirks snap quite suddenly and almost inexplicably. That’s all it takes to generate a meme, as irrational as it is unpredictable.

Social networking as marketing

If you’re serious about your work and the work you make has value on its own, people are less likely (in my own, brief experience) to take the effort to spread it around. If anything, they’ll expect you to succeed on your own without their help outside of their continuing to view what you produce.

So what’s the right answer here? Buy a spambot that will get a thousand other spambots to follow you so that you have a thousand viewers, none of whom are listening to you because they’re all just bots that help you feel cozy at night? Well, no; the answer is work hard and do your research, even though I know that doesn’t sit well with some of you.

My strategy for maximizing my Twitter experience is relatively simple and, if I knew how to code, could be mostly automated.

  1. If the tweep have over two thousand followers, it’s unlikely we’ll be friends.
  2. If the tweep has a follow ratio larger than 1.5, same goes.
  3. New tweeps are found only by crawling retweets from friends and follow fridays, though some friends prove their recommendations more worthwhile than others.

I’m beginning to add people by channels, but it’s proving largely unnecessary as I’m fairly aggressive about following the tweeps my friends retweet. I use several websites to aggressively cleanse my list of followers and followees (contact me if you want a list, but I’m not certain I’ve got the best tools). If you don’t follow back after a few weeks, toodles. If you follow me and you’re a spambot, you get BLOCKED. If you follow me and I’m not sure I want to follow you back, you have three weeks to respond to any of my posts via mention or retweet or get blocked. I strictly maintain a near 1:1 ratio and keep Twitter bloating to a minimum.

Also remember that despite the upgrade in technology, this basic axiom still applies: You will be your greatest supporter. Connections through a network will amplify your advertising, but if you don’t speak out on your own behalf, how can you expect that of others? Rather, even if your fans/viewers are inclined to send out a message on your behalf, it will generally be in the form of a repost/retweet, which necessitates that you have something fresh in the stream for them to repeat when the mood strikes.

But such a force will strike rarely and in full force only on others who are paralleling your struggle. You have to work hard and work reasonably. You have to sing like an angel and then shout like a demon about it. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re not prepared to succeed. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re setting out on the Oregon Trail without a shovel. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re chasing the myth rather than living the dream.

And for those of you who are prepared to tread down the well-worn path of celebrity and political gossip rather than make the psuedo-tantalous trip up the path of creativity, fair you well with your immediate success, and may you keep your viewers. May you carry your banner into the mudpits that might’ve been fields, and may bugs sting your ankles forever.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Journalism, Publishing