Sunday, August 21, 2016

my war on pronouns

I listen to a lot of punk music. Growing up, I listened to a lot of metal. I wore the torn jeans. Had the long hair. I never quite grew up, in fact. I still don’t like collared shirts and I’ll never work in a job which requires a tie. I’m not sure that I ever consciously wanted to rebel against society by refusing to start wearing plain clothes and listen to Bon Jovi with wistful nostalgia, but I’ve always had a hard time bending to the pressures of growing up and giving in.

Of getting a mortgage.

And, while sometimes I have my regrets (I’ve ‘ad a few – but then again, too few to men-shun – ha ha ha), I don’t regret the paths it has led me to explore over the years. While I encourage all the younger people I know to get real jobs, I couldn’t face doing it myself. And, if I could go back, I’d probably only do something worse and live in a trailer beside the beach somewhere. Again.

My rebellion isn’t one of in-your-face two-finger salutes. It’s more cynical and quiet. Kind of nerdish. I refuse to listen to the radio. I don’t watch TV with advertisements. I do not own a Che shirt. Some of my friends joke that if something is popular it means I will automatically hate it just on principle.

They might be right.

It was only fair, then, that I brought this instinctive rebellion to my writing. I remember writing a lot during my teens, thinking I was awesome. And it might surprise you to learn I cut my teeth on horror stories despite wishing I could write scifi. I never felt good enough to write scifi. Horror was where I began. Specifically, vampire stories at a time when vampires weren’t very popular. This was just before that grey time when the Interview With a Vampire movie came out and turned vampires emo. It’s what I was reading at the time, too. I was enjoying the Necroscope series by Brian Lumley, the Don Sebastian Chronicles by Les Daniels, Chelsea Quinn Yabro’s more historical romance St Germain Series, and even the Anne Rice novels.

My favourite was Poppy Z. Brite. She brought a kind of street edginess to the genre which was refreshing in a big way. I loved her goth style as I’d just exited a goth-industrial phase (surprise!), and also liked her imagery which seemed to grab from all over the place. I loved Lost Souls. It embraced being different, which is pretty much the chorus to every goth’s life.

It was from these horror stories, and my dream to write just like them, that I learned the value of well-placed gore…

When I made it to Uni, I was 21. I had left going for a long time while I explored art and the usual teenage angst things you do when you leave home at 15 and don’t really know who or what you are, let alone what you want to be. It wasn’t so much exploration of myself as much as a desperate need to not self-destruct.

I remember by the time I made it to Uni I already considered myself to be too cool for that school. I was obviously far too awesome and there was nothing I needed to learn. Luckily, unlike most people with an ego the size of Jupiter (and a love of heroin spoon stories), I lost that misconception pretty quickly after I got to one of my poetry classes tutored by Zan Ross. I remember Zan being enthusiastic about editing your poetry. What I took away was the need to cut words. To slash the poem down to its core, gutting it of unnecessary words. Any useless description or pretty language which acted only to be pretty. Adverbs seemed to warrant particular slashery. Show, don’t tell was the mantra at my Uni at the time.

I worked hard on that, because I could actually see the point of it. It was one of about three important things I think I got from my Uni when it came to wrestling with my own writing. I really admired the idea of ripping prose apart to bare its bones. I wrote my first books with this in mind. While not very good books (another lesson I learned was that you could pretty much accept that the first book you write is shit – and I feel this is true), they explored this sense of sharp prose. I aimed for shorter sentences. Less adverbs.

Then, I discovered Eric Dando, whose work Snail is one of the single-most important books to me as a writer. Eric (his works can be found on Smashwords) has been criminally neglected by local publishers. His book was pure poetry. Fragmented and hilarious segments interwoven into a story. Almost a diary. It’s gentle and humorous. It’s a work of absolute art despite its subject being what it’s like to live in share housing in the 1990s. I have no idea why this book was abandoned by Penguin and why He Died With A Felafel in His Hand became more well-known. Dando’s book was better. It was also where I learnt you don’t need impressive words to make a great story. Dando used simple language, but well-constructed in tone and texture. I could rant about it for days, but it was the book which taught me: keep it simple, stupid, because simple is not always stupid.

When writing my first drafts of Revenge of the Elf, I took a lot of the lessons I’d learned over the years and tried to weave them into something every writer yearns for: my personal style. I took a real risk with this, because though I wanted to write something accessible to a larger audience, I couldn’t bear to give up my rebellious streak. I tried very hard on the first draft to be “normal”, and failed. I failed because I couldn’t be normal. I’m not normal. I don’t imagine myself to be any kind of literary writer by any means, but I do try to be an artistic one where I can. I try to fill your head with imagery, even if that imagery is distasteful and melodramatic sometimes.

So, what led me to slash pronouns?

Again, Zan Ross’ poetry classes are to blame. I have become allergic to repetition in my writing. If I see the same word repeated, I start breaking out in pimples. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand every sentence beginning with a pronoun. I can’t stand them ending on pronouns. I can’t stand them being filled with pronouns. I couldn’t bear it. So I cut a few.

And then a few more.

And found I really did like the way it made the action POP. It’s like it turned it into a comic book. Or a fast stream of conscious poem fuelled by energy and violence. A list of scenes crashing into each other with frenetic pace.

I loved it. Along with my allergy to adverbs when describing speech, I feel it has defined my style and turned what might have been a bland page-turner into something I’m hoping could be seen as violent expressionism. Splashes of sentences slapped across the page in glorious colours.

Mostly red.

- published 09/12/2014

series review: a tale of the final fall of man by andrew hindle

When you're forging a career as a writer, it's sometimes painful to have writer friends. Especially when they want you to edit or read their work. I've always got a few excuses ready. Some of them are genuine. Andrew and I have been friends since Uni and, by rights, I should have an excuse ready for him, too. But I never need one, because it's always a pleasure.

I was entirely unsure what to expect when he first turned Eejit over to me. It was, he announced, the first in a new series for him. A scifi series which is set during the aftermath of some terrible Event. So, it's kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story set after some mysterious armageddon. In space. Okay, says I. Sounds fun.

To provide some background, I have to mention that in all my life, I've never met anyone who can churn out stories filled with humour like he can. He has a blog which you can read if you're interested. He posts short stories, background reading to his books, chats about general stuff and influences and you'll also get a look at what it's like to be an immigrant, since he packed his bags and left Australia for the rather cooler climate of Finland. Madness, I tell you. Without an ounce of Finnish language to his credit, he's managed to build what could only be considered a nerdy version of the perfect family life. And considering he's gone through (at last count) 2-3 bouts of cancer to various parts of his body, he's not doing too badly at all. He also met Christopher Lee.

If he weren't my friend, I'd hate him just for that.

In any case, I turned the first few pages of Eejit (links to the books below) with more than a few chortles and, before I knew it, I was finished. And wanting more. Let me tell you why.

Scifi, for me, is these days too influenced by Star Trek, Star Wars, or Neuromancer. If it's not boiling with fairly simplified fantasy plots set in space, it's going the route of Peter Hamilton (who admittedly blows my mind but you need to take a few weeks off work to read him and try to keep up with all the characters - the first books for which I've ever actually needed the Wiki whilst reading). Andrew decided on something a little different. Something softer in pace and more quirky in tone. I've described his books often as something like Red Dwarf crossed with The Office, buttered up with a few scraps of Iain M Banks and then put in the oven for a few hours until its juices leak a little Asimov. Sprinkle with a delicate touch of Douglas Adams and serve with a side of HOLY FUCK THERE'S FUCKING SPACE SHARKS IN THIS THING!

I kid you the fuck not. Space sharks.

Now, I honestly don't know who could have pulled this off with as much class as this. Also, instead of throwing them in your face, they're used with such exquisite scarcity that their menace is made even more powerful. Introduced over time, and even given a book devoted to learning more about them (Fergunakil), they work to provide a disturbingly effective dark side of the universe in a way I can't even begin to describe. These space sharks have ships. They fly about and eat people. Fucking amazing. I wish I'd thought of this. If I ever get a TARDIS, I'm going to go back in time and I'm going to steal this idea.

Space sharks.


Anyway. It's not all about space sharks. They're not even the central focus of the story. It's also not all about massive cube-shaped telepathic refrigerator people. Or insane computers, Walt Disney merged with Skynet, or spacey wacey timey wimey what-the-fucks. There's more than that. There's even some characters in this series. A lot of them, actually. And what I find remarkably pleasant is the fact that they all get their Avengers moments. They all have something to bring to the table which makes them interesting. And, with a seriously erratic and quirky humour, hilarious. Especially, and I say this because I'm me, the wonderful psychopathic doctor Glomulus Cratch. Actually, no matter who you relate to you're going to be satisfied.

As you possibly figured by the mention of some of the more exotic aliens above (SPACE SHARKS!), the array of alien and technological life in this series is spectacular. The depths to which Andrew chooses to explore cultures and give you a genuine feel for each alien race shows an incredibly deft hand when it comes to world-building.

Each book in the series could arguably stand alone, but there's a definite sense of progression and character development within their arcs. Many characters have mysteries and secrets, not least the reclusive and manipulative Captain. You get a real sense this series is driving toward something rather explosive and I, for one, can't wait for it.

If you're looking for a new scifi series which is well-written, somewhat like Lost in space (ha - see what I did there?), and doesn't treat you like a moron, then this is it. This is the one for you. And, as a bonus reward for reading it, you'll be getting SPACE SHARKS! What more could you want????

Space sharks.


review: lady of the helm by t.o. munro

When I first started writing Nysta, she wasn’t an elf. For a long time, she was human. I set it in a city of alleys and there was no magic. That changed when I decided I was sick of elves. Sick of Tolkien-style elves, anyway. What’s with the bows and the overly-graceful descriptions? They’re fantasy’s angels, and I’d had enough of that.

So, I made Nysta an elf. And messed with all expectations of what elves might be. It’s also why I pluralise them as elfs. Because I know how much that irritates a lot of people who don’t know that was a Tolkienism.

What has this got to do with T.O. Munro’s Lady of the Helm? Well, Munro has added something you don’t normally see in a fantasy setting. And he’s taken it from its original source and completely redefined it to suit his world. Yet, where I chose an elf, he chose a medusa. That’s right. Right out of Greek myth, and he threw it into a world which is so far removed from Greek myth that it’s got more in common with Tolkien. It even has elves in it.

Sure, she’s not the main character, but Munro’s medusa is probably the most intriguing character of his series. I’d have read a series devoted just to her. Her story, one of being cursed, exiled, then reforming her own legend as she rises in the ranks of an army of evil-doers, is a story which would be well worth the read and, after finishing Book 1 in this series, I was a little disappointed to not have had more of her story. However, given the Medusa theme to the next title, I’m certainly looking forward to reading Book 2.

If I told you the plot of this, you’d yawn at me. You really would. Essentially: Niarmit, the haunted heroine, reclaims her way after straying into rogue-style shenanigans, searches and finds mystic artefact only she can use to defeat the evil and then confronts said evil at the end.

Yawn, I hear you say.

But that’s not quite how it happens. Munro tips your expectations on the head and cleverly defies conventions to come up with something raw and new. I can’t tell you, because you need to read it yourself. But I can say it’s not quite how I expected this to end. Especially given the chaotic central character. Chaotic not at her core, but in that she begins the story as a priestess throwing off her healing powers to become an assassin, only to pop back into her dress for some reason and become a priestess again. Sort of. I don’t really know what she’s doing and I’m personally hoping we don’t go down the path of woman-as-nurse. So far, Munro has avoided that, but it scares me when female characters have uber-powerful healing abilities. Reminds me too much of my younger days of mmo gaming where people would show up with “Hi, I’m your DPS for the day. This is my girlfriend. She rolled a priest because girls love to play nurse.”

But that’s a different rant and is unrelated (reading this now, I think it was unfair to have written that minor rant in here, but left it in because I'm strange like that...) to anything Munro has written in Lady of the Helm. Also, given that there's more than one central female character, you can't accuse him of going down the route of casual cliche. (T.O. Munro has written about the challenges of writing female characters in a blog post on - read it here)

The magic artefact? That was brilliant. And brilliantly described and executed. Probably the finest example of what you should be doing with magic artefacts in a fantasy setting these days – push the boundaries of expectation. I felt pushed right up against the wall and prodded with a fist to the face.

I read this one really quickly and I really liked it. I loved the fact you saw both sides of the action, not just the good guys fighting faceless evils. As such, I never felt he was bound by the rules which often tie fantasy down. Especially when you're using elves (elfs - ha!). He keeps the action flowing, the dialogue going, and the intrigue building to an epic climax. You can’t go wrong with it.

Get it before it turns you into stone.

- published 25/05/2014

I'm joyfully happy to say you should TOTALLY be reading this series. T.O. Munro is a name I am certain will come up more often in the future. As Indie writers jostle for supremacy and recognition, I can't see him being ignored. This series is an amazing story and you really need to give it a try. Some of the more common Indie writers these days are writing in the familiar grooves which show definite influences from gaming (Skyrim, mostly) and some television, but T.O. Munro is entirely in a class of his own. This is what you get when Indie writers do it right. You get something special and genre-bending.

Trust me. You need to read this.

Check out The Bloodline Trilogy
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the challenge of getting honest reviews

I’ve had my first book out since the end of May and the second, Duel at Grimwood Creek, came out last week. Sales have exceeded my expectations. While I certainly can’t retire on them, they’ve been reasonably constant and much more than I had hoped. My problem is reviews. Other authors new to the biz seem to have literally dozens. And some authors seem tagged up their behinds with twice as many people upping their tag count than are putting up five-star reviews. But I only have five reviews, and all of those for the first book. And only one or two people tagged the books. (Tagging is no longer a thing on Amazon. - Lucas)

So where am I going wrong?

Well. Nowhere. There’s some maths out there somewhere which says for every 10,000 downloads of your ebook, you’ll get one honest review. And it won’t be guaranteed a five-star. There’s a movement starting at the moment which is pretty much creeping into Amazon, which is the search for an “honest” review. And those won’t be achieved in a quick space of time. I personally feel if a book has too many five-star reviews in a short period of time, then chances are most of those reviews were sourced. A look at the history of the reviewers also adds to this suspicion. Though, having said that, I know with some of my reviews, people didn’t necessarily review any great number of other books.

Then there’s the flipside of the coin where some people (possibly rival authors), put up one-star reviews out of spite. These, too, are more often than not made with a dummy account which reviews one or two books (usually their own with five-star and yours with one). It’s a trend which is slowly being noticed and given the appropriate snort it deserves. (Both sides of this issue, now referred to as Sock Puppetry, have pushed Amazon into changing many of its policies and there have certainly been many improvements since I wrote this article. - Lucas)

So, what makes an “honest” review? It’s hard to say. Not every review will be valid criticism. A review is, essentially, an opinion and on Amazon it certainly doesn’t have to be constructive. At the end of the day, Amazon is a shop, not a review site. Your book is an item and shoppers are simply expressing their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. And they won’t always be polite about it.

For me, I feel there’s a pressure put on ourselves to be somehow validated by reviews. We feel the hurt of a one-star, and seek to find out why anyone would say such a bad thing about us, but we can easily forget it’s not a personal attack. Indie writers in particular are very sensitive to these reviews. But we shouldn't be because they're just an opinion of your work. And some people don't like it in the same way some people don't like Cubism.

I still think the Amazon system is a great idea. Letting customers offer their opinions is what helps to unearth nuggets of pure gold which exist among the flotsam and jetsam. We might all hope to be that gold, but we can’t all capture the hearts of all our readers. Sometimes we have to admit we’re not mainstream enough to inspire a good number of reviews. And it’s a shame we feel that pressure and look to borderline unethical processes to provide a source of self-validation.

My personal attitude is patience. Wait for a review. Don’t push for it. I’ve had enough people send me notes via Facebook and email even, to know there's rare people out there who like my work. And that should be enough for me. That some people get it is good, right? In a way, I have begun to fear reviews more than want them. I fear the attention of the dreaded one-star army. And I fear the landslide of five-stars, because then I worry people will think I have family and lots of friends writing my reviews.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Which brings me back to the only real method of getting a truly “honest” review.


- published 04/10/2012

the smell of books: a nail in your bookstore coffin


Right. That’s it. I’m putting a nail in your bookstore coffin. I just read an article and it made me want to vomit (Are people not reading now that ebooks have become popular?). I’m really over the whole nostalgia thing for bookstores.

As someone who reads more than 2-3 books every single week, I feel pretty comfortable with wading into this stupid frikken argument with my size 8 shoes and stomping some heads. Forget my hopeful writing career. Forget that. This is about the reader in me. The person who grew up scrounging bookstores and secondhand bookstores alike.

So, I have to ask: is this kind of vomit-inducing article really necessary? It makes out that bookstores are dying because literature is dying. That Amazon, iTunes, battleshipped Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other ebook sites have destroyed literature. Literature. And according to articles like this, a book’s quality is defined not by its words but its smell. As though the stink of a book is its sole defining quality. And that’s just blatant bullshit. A book is defined by its words. Marketed, perhaps, by its cover. But defined entirely by its words.

Are people not reading now that ebooks have become popular? There. Right there. Did you see that? Ebooks have become popular. Which means, people are turning away from paperback and looking at their tablets or Kindles. Why? Because they’re sick of good stories? Because they’re tired of literature? Because they've devolved and can no longer read? No, you dunderhead. They’re looking for more convenience is all. Us readers are like that, you know. If we weren’t, we’d still be reading off clay tablets, because everyone knows you can’t beat the smell of clay.

You don’t believe me?

Well, just look here to your right. There’s a screenshot stolen from Amazon which shows just how many ebooks are out in every genre. Look at my favourite, Scifi and Fantasy. Look at that. There are 228 THOUSAND ebooks in this genre alone. 228 thousand. Let that sink in. How many Scifi and Fantasy books do you ever see in your local bookshop? If you’re lucky, you’ll see a hundred. Maybe a few hundred. Got a specialist shop? Couple of thousand. But you show me a fantasy bookstore with 228 frikken thousand books in it. Show me. THAT’S why we’re looking away from bookstores! There’s more convenience in carrying the device and more variety in the actual stories.

And now you’re opening your publisher-backed mouth to tell me some rubbish about quality and true literature and Traditional Publishers being gatekeepers of Gozer or somesuch nonsense just because they prefer to be called "traditional". You want to know another word for "traditional"? Boring. Or, old. Next they'll be telling me all their published writers write their books on genuine 1920s typewriters.

Now, look at the image to your left. Look. See? That shows you in the Fantasy genre alone, how ebooks were rated by those who read them. Look at it. Keep in mind, those are averages. Not the review, but the average per title. Which means there’s 95 THOUSAND Fantasy novels considered greater than 4 stars. That’s STILL more than you’ll find in any bookstore.

You’re about to say the sheer volume of titles proves it's all rubbish. Ever heard of pulp? Of course a lot of it is rubbish! But, so what? Some people like reading mindless trash. I hear romance novels sell by the bucket. And some people enjoy stories so far stuck up a genre that they practically bleed self-parody. So what? Not everyone likes the snobbery of Pulitzer winning books. Most of them made me yawn. And the ManBooker? Each book often came with free dust on it. I worked in bookstores for 12 years. I know what sells consistently and it’s not the high snobby literature you think it is, pal. It’s trash. Because we love escapism. We want to be transported to worlds unlike our own. We want and crave something new. Something fresh. Something different.

And, with 228 THOUSAND FRIKKEN books to choose from, I think I’m going to find one! It's time to face the cold hard facts. You walk into a bookshop and you’re faced with the same names as the last bookshop. Finding a new author is like finding a needle in a haystack. Sure, that never stops us looking. But it frustrates the hell out of me. With ebooks, I can spend all night sifting through author after author, reading the first chapter or two, and trying to find something fresh. Something new. Something astounding.

Some of it is complete rubbish to me, too. But out of the 228 THOUSAND Scifi and Fantasy novels, how many are going to blow my mind? Do you know? I don’t. I haven’t read them all. Yet. But I can tell you I’ve found dozens of new authors whose work has never seen paper. I’ve found authors whose creativity gives me an erection. Whose turn of phrase makes my panties drop. Whose imagery makes me shiver. Sure, they’ll never win any frikken award the salty-faced snobs obsess over, but they’ve won the biggest award they’ll get from me: my goddamned gratitude and awe. And if it weren’t for the rise of ebooks and the killing of bookstores and publishers, I never would’ve found them. Their gold would’ve remained locked away in the hills. But now it’s out. Now it’s being mined. Now I have so much to choose from and it’s making me giddy.

So, pick up your nostalgia for the smell of an old book and take it to the forest. Tell it to a trees you want to see cut down for the frikken satisfaction of having a book you put on your shelves which you probably don’t even read because you’re too busy sniffing its spine. Show your smelly library to your friends. I'm sure they think you're special. Me, I’m going to actually read a book. I’m going to find a great frikken story and I’m going to be entertained. I don't care 1 iota whether this author was published through a publisher or not. I won’t care 1 frikken molecule whether it got printed on a dead tree or not. All I’m going to care about is: did I fucking enjoy it? That’s it.

If you still think a book is somehow made better for having been printed through a publisher on a slab of dead tree with a broken spine and collecting dust, then go outside into the rain, emo pal. Find your favourite romantic-looking bookshop. And stand there. Look in through the wet window. You don’t see the underpaid staff at the counter wishing they had a better frikken job because the owners don’t pay them shit and they’ll never be able to afford more than simple frikken luxuries. You look at them and see the most romantic job on earth.

And with that kind of fantasy life, you should write your own books. Publish them on Amazon. There's a market for that, if you don't use paper.

End rant.

- published 10/07/2015

genre wars: urban fantasy vs. sword and sorcery

Okay, I admit it. I’m a genre snob.

There. That was easy. I can breathe deeply and move on now.

You’d think that, with my fourth book in the Nysta series coming out this week, I’d be focussed on marketing it. Well, you’d be wrong. Firstly, I’m hopeless at self-marketing. The best I can do is squeeze out a few Tweets and update my Facebook. I gave it a half-hearted try, once. Sent out a few reading copies to some reviewers who I never heard from again. I even got so far as considering a “blog tour” which is very trendy these days. Unfortunately, I am not very good with people so decided to simply allow my books to talk for me and pray for some word-of-mouth.

Secondly, I’ve been absorbed in how to position my book in Amazon’s endless swamp of genre codes.

At first, it sounds easy to pick a genre. I’m firmly genre fantasy. Firmly Heroic or Sword and Sorcery. I’m definitely not considered epic. I don’t have those big cartwheeling character arcs or page-counts numbering in the thousands. So, you’re thinking I just click and leave.

But I don’t. I actually am a bit of an egoist, so I try to figure out where I sit in comparison to others. It’s great to see I’m rather high on the Coming Soon charts. Yesterday, I was fourth. That gave me a grin. But when it comes to where I sit in the Sword and Sorcery genre, I am somewhat down the ranks. Sometimes I get around the 130-mark. But I can’t seem to break the Top 100 long enough to get it mentioned on my book’s page.

I can accept I’m no Joe Abercrombie or David Dalglish. I can accept Brent Weeks, Mark Lawrence and James Barclay also have me beat. I mean, they’re awesome writers. They should be up there above me. I’m proud simply to have any of them nod at my Twitterisms. I don’t expect to be among their elite cadre. But when I’m perusing the genre listing, I’m not seeing these authors. I’m seeing a ton of Urban Fantasy instead. Vampire hunters in modern L.A. or romantic liaisons between demons and their human Private Eye lovers. A few fairies. Virtually no one’s carrying a sword or an axe. Everyone has tattoos. Because tattoos are cool, obviously.

This isn’t a rant about the quality of urban fantasy. I’m sure it’s great. It wouldn’t sell if it wasn’t. And, as someone writing what can only be described as cheap pulp sword and sorcery action-fantasy, who am I to make judgments? But I have to say I’m completely befuddled at why many of these books are categorised as Sword and Sorcery. Does this mean I am not what I think I am?

Have I mistaken the genre? I always thought Sword and Sorcery was, at its heart, the story of a loner or small group of heroes running about from point a to point b and killing a bad thing at the end with their swords. Add some magic thrown in for effect. Nothing complicated. Always melodramatic. Always set in a medieval or historical setting. Not in New York. I’m wondering if maybe I should classify myself as Arthurian. Or Fairy Tales. Seems to make as much sense as half the books classified as Sword and Sorcery.

Defining your genre is a painful experience for most writers, but for Indie writers it’s an exercise in trying to find your audience. Trying to reach your reader. I kind of understand the desire to blanket Amazon with your goods in order to be found, but I still don’t understand why defining yourself as a genre you are clearly not is helpful to the readers themselves who probably end up hunting you down because they couldn’t find you where they expected you to be. In the end this blanketing is blurring genre definitions, and I wonder at the longterm consequences. If vampire books, for example, are now Sword and Sorcery then why can’t Guardians of the Galaxy be considered a Heroic Fantasy series of comics? I mean, it’s got heroes in it.

I’m not as bitter or cynical as you think I am. Actually, I’m more curious about what’s actually happening. What expectations do readers have when they’re browsing genres? Do they feel satisfied with vampire and Urban Romance being classified as Sword and Sorcery? Or does it frustrate them that they have to keep clicking on ‘next’ to get past items which don’t relate to what they think they’re looking for?

And, finally, whether there’s any point in having sub-genres in the first place if the items within it are mislabeled?

- published 30/08/2014

requires only that you hate

Hugos is over. Hurrah! The Sad Puppies won. Or didn’t, depending on which website you read. This means we now have another couple of months until it starts up again and one of the SciFi community’s most hate-filled controversies can consume us all again. What fun we’ll have as both sides point fingers, scream incoherently, raise banners calling for solidarity and and end to racism, and generally blog the shit out of the internet.

As an immature Indie hack not good enough to participate in such mighty literary events, I can’t wait for the next display.

For me, though, this wasn’t the controversy of the year. I mean, I don’t go to Cons. They’re full of people. And, once you’ve worked enough retail and customer service, the last thing you want to do on a weekend is go see more people running around with their entitlement boots on no matter what character they’re pretending to be for their YouTube channel.

No, the controversy of the year for me has been one which involved a little more personal hate. It was an interesting controversy on so many levels and it’s taken me this long to even consider writing about. I’m, of course, talking about the blog Requires Only That You Hate and the subsequent “doxxing” of its author as rising star, Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

First, I’ll talk about Benjanun. I started with her novella, Scale Bright, and it’s a great piece of Urban Fantasy set in Hong Kong. The prose style is different from much Urban Fantasy, though, by being poetic. It’s more of a literary style than the majority of Urban Fantasy which is often about as literary as your average Bestseller. Aliette deBodard (whose books I really like), also did the foreward to this one. There’s some really beautiful writing in this book. It’s no wonder her career was on a steep rise. Then doxxing really hammered a few brakes into her journey and no amount of apologies from her will be accepted.

If you never knew Requires Hate, or you only heard about her from internet articles, you missed something special. Something which was out of time and place. Something which belonged in Usenet during the 1990s. If you were involved in newsgroups back then, you’ll know what I mean.

A lot of people have called her a troll, which is an easy accusation to make. I was once called a troll so much that I ended up taking it as a badge of honour. I’d argue, however, that a troll doesn’t believe what they’re writing. A troll feels no passion in their rants other than a deep belly-curdling chuckle as they laugh at the rage of those who choose to respond with reason. A troll (in the usenet sense) might have been called a Devil’s Advocate anywhere else. A sociopath in other places.

But Requires Only That You Hate was something else. She had belief. And was passionate to the point of obsession. She ripped apart novels, movies, and television. She clawed it to pieces in sharp venomous prose which exposed the guts of her prey for the world to see. She sought to show the world how racist her prey was. How homophobic. She hunted down examples which she threw in your face as proof of the perpetuation of inequality. And she did it with a rabid glee which defied understanding when taken out of context of her writing style.

Aptly named, Requires Hate was never a passive observer. She was never a defender. She attacked with everything she had, throwing sharp-tongued comments at anything which appeared to conform to a social belief she found insulting. A lot of writers were caught in her high-beams. Many took the thousand cuts and said nothing. Others tried to defend. But you can’t defend against this kind of rage. You can’t contain it. You can’t push back on it. So, you either give in, or you end up responding with the same hatred.

And, I have to admit, when that happened it sure was amusing.

These days, when you read articles on her, you can read how evil she was. How horrible her words hurt. But what you find hard to find is an article discussing what it was Requires Hate was actually raging against. It’s almost like everyone thinks her passion was misguided. Aimless. As though she was just attacking her competitors with an anarchist's fervor. Others have made the claim that, as a writer, she was simply trying to undermine her competition.

But that really wasn’t it. The spite delivered by Requires Hate wasn’t for a commercial purpose. It was purely rage against what she once described as lazy writing. For example, one of her biggest sources of rage was finding rape in a novel purely for the sake of being there. God help the author who put a rape scene in their book to make their female character suffer. Woe to that author. Woe, I say.

Here I might make quick reference to one of her more powerful critics, George RR Martin, who has been on the receiving end of a Requires Hate comment more than a few times. It’s worth mentioning that, even if you didn’t read the books, you can see why he might really ping the rape radar, and why. Because, arguably, his books tended toward rape being “normal”. It almost made it “cool”. Especially once Game of Thrones became a tv series. And I don’t think anyone can argue Requires Hate was unduly focusing on the rape in this series, because you can’t talk about the series without talking about rape. It’s practically called Rape of Thrones, and even the porn parody has a hard time trying to figure out where the source ends and the parody begins except that porn has laws which prevent aggressive scenes which are portrayed in the television series.

When I found her blog by accident (due to a writer’s sad story on their blog), I had recently completed my first two novels. I had thrown them up and was doing okay with them. I thought I was the bee’s knees (like that pun?). I had actually been looking for people to look at my work. God help me if she’d found me. No one else would help me. You see, in my first novel, I had used a rape reference. Sure, no one ever got physically raped, but the bad guys make the reference. And that would’ve been enough for Requires Hate to impale me on a legion of spearlike verbal barbs which would have really hurt.

After reading one of her rants which lashed out at such lazy writing, I actually sat back and thought about it. Here I was writing a book about a heroine stabbing the shit out of people (because I like people that much) and I was trying to make a difference in my own stupid way, and I was basically conforming to what was, essentially, a social norm for white guy writers. If I could go back, I would like to write those comments out. That’s how influenced I was by this blogger’s work. In my subsequent books, I have not once written a rape threat and I never will in my books again. Because, she’s right. It’s fucking lazy.

In every book, a male character has a thousand ways they can suffer or be threatened. A thousand ways to be given guilt, fear, revenge, and hate. They can be made victims in a wide variety of ways both physical and mental. But, in most books, women only have one. Rape. Whether threatened or real, that’s all the female characters will be presented with.

In writing my next books, I had to actually think. I had to twist my brain cells and come up with something else. Something essentially heroic which would motivate and spur the heroine to greater sacrifice and hate. And you know what? That’s a challenge. A challenge I took and have decided to keep running with.

An argument often made by authors is “But this is what would have happened. It’s realistic.” You hear it so often, especially in defense of the rapes portrayed in the aforementioned Game of Thrones. And I’ve been examining that, too. In my novels, my books aren’t set on earth. People aren’t earth people. So, do they need to think this way? We’re writing SciFi and Fantasy. We don’t need “realism” on any scale. And, given the complaints about the use of the word fuck in my novels by an elf, I’d say realism is a poor excuse for anything.

Requires Hate scared people. She brought waves of razorblade comments and inspired more hate. She hurt a lot of people thanks to her sharp uncontrolled manner. But what she was trying to stand for was something most fantasy writers often say they stand for and may not always show in every aspect of their writing. I’ve heard rumours that a strong female character doesn’t have to be a rape victim. I know. Crazy, right? But this is why she screamed for equality of representation and a more positive portrayal of sex, race, and gender identity. Because it’s still so common for these elements to be used in a negative way in what can only be described as a dangerous cliché. I never understood some of the responses to her, which could have been curbed by, “You know what? You’re actually right. I did that and it’s fucking lazy.”

She was also quite open of her opinions of pretty much any white hetero male. Woe to us. Woe to me. But given the message she was trying to push, it’s no surprise. She saw inequality everywhere. Saw injustice in everything. Felt those injustices as a personal attack on her and, rather than cry in a corner, she lashed right back. There’s a lot of power in that. Power which can be frightening to some. Why didn’t I feel as negative to her as others? I should. I am, after all, a white hetero guy. I tick so many boxes of her sins that I can’t even begin to redeem myself. I wrote about rape, once. My sense of humour also wobbles deep into the territory commonly known as black. And if anyone ever doxxed me (yay, usenet!), Requires Hate would definitely want my testicles on a platter. Again.

I guess I admire her because I’m jealous of Requires Hate. Jealous because she had a belief she could remain true to. I wish I could feel that same drive. I’m not her, I never felt what she felt. I don’t possess the same focused rage. And, I see even on her twitter, Benjanun still holds her beliefs out there for all to see. I hope she lets Requires Hate back out of the box some day. Because we need her. The prevailing conception of people fighting for rights is that they should be peaceful. They should have clever memes of sunsets and asian people holding hands with white people. They should have pictures overlaid with rainbows. And, like lost hippies, they sing songs of love and acceptance. They stand in front of rabid racists and hate-filled Westboro monsters with silent reproach and a near-maternal sense of welcoming.

Requires Hate, however, stood there with knives. And said, “Fuck that bullshit. Bring it on.”

What’s amazing is the amount of hate on the internet left for her. There’s still people doing their best to worsen her reputation. To drive her back underground (where they argue she belongs). They call her the names she called them. Racist. Misogynist. Bigot. But the argument is real that she used their language. Their tools. She used the bigot’s arsenal right back at those she perceived as bigoted. It’s an interesting technique.

There’s no argument that if she wanted to be taken seriously, she went about it in a strange way. But, love her or hate her, I hope she made you think.

- published 30/08/2015