Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's Alive!

Oh, THAT fichus.

Originality in writing sometimes comes in the fundamental shape of race generation.  I’ve been toiling in the laboratory for years, and while I haven’t quite managed a new race, I do have a fungus that plays checkers.  He’s not that good though, which builds my confidence up for chess with the hybrid fichus.

Generally (and that’s the caveat right there), any species isn't going to be stagnant. Stagnation equals death.  Take Tolkien's elves in The Lord of the Rings (too late, they already sailed West!). Their entire history was one of trying to regain the past, so much so that they attempted to arrest time and built the tools of their own destruction—the Rings of Power. They didn't progress, they only remained, and eventually they faded away and were lost.

Tragic Elf is Tragic!
That’s sad for the Elves, but great for us.  Tragic stories make for some great fantasy reading.  You have to be aware, though, that if your race isn’t moving forward, they’re being left behind, and there should be consequences of that.

Or, your race can be like we humans: a mix of individuals, divided/united by geography, and working toward/against certain goals. Trying to achieve a goal means overcoming obstacles, which is something we humans do rather well.  It might take us a few generations or millennium, but give us a place to stand and a lever long enough and we can move the world.  Along the way, this will mean advances and innovations which can have small effects on the culture culminating in large changes over time, or sometimes sudden, vast, sweeping impacts very quickly.

Take, for example, the stirrup. That little horse-step doesn't seem like much, and in fact, to our view,
Wait, what?
it's so incredibly logical as to render it invisible. However, saddles and bridle gear were all in use for some time, the stirrup was actually a significant development, and had a MAJOR impact on warfare.  Horses were domesticated around 4500 BC but the stirrup doesn't show up until around 500 BC, and that's just a loop that goes around your big toe.  You don’t think that will make a difference?  Next time you’re out riding, take your feet out of the stirrups and kick your horse into a gallop.  Enjoy the ride!

Even the toe-loop gave the rider so much better stability, that he/she could now fight far more effectively from horseback.  This completely changed the way battles could be fought. All things being equal, a swordsman on the back of a horse is easily a match for one on the ground.  A group of swordsman on horseback, cavalry, have a strategic advantage over a troop of foot soldiers, and so forth.  Cavalry, or a means to defeat cavalry, become a part of every serious nation’s military until the invention and promulgation of gunpowder.

Yeppers, that’s right.  The stirrup, invented by a race of humans attempt to solve the problem of keeping folk from slipping off the back of horses, is roughly equivalent to the invention of gunpowder.

Scary Trolloc is scary.
That's just one innovation; one advance.  The simple presence of geographic features—rivers, lakes, deserts, forests, etc.—have united and divided peoples, created wholly different cultures, friendships and animosities.  Everything has the potential to impact everything, so improvements in agriculture, industry, trade, travel, communication, cartography, treaties, alliances, wars, etc. all change the landscape of how a race was, is now and will be tomorrow.

An especially long-lived race would have different view of the seasons than a race that was especially short-lived, and their culture, artwork, philosophy, etc. would all reflect in that. The short-lived folk would probably have little use for most arts (little, not none) and be more concerned with tangible accomplishments (whatever those are). They might even have a fatalistic society, preferring to seek a death of their own choosing, rather than waiting. But they wouldn't JUST seek death, it would be ways in which they could pursue a glorious death, conquer more, make a name that would be heard by other races and outlast them.

(perhaps they employ the longer-lived folk to “remember” them).

So when all you mad geneticists out there are tinkering with the DNA of Dwarves, Elves, Trollocks and Sandworms, remember there is a lot more to consider than: Pointy Ears—Yes or No?

Hybrid fichus, it’s your move.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Time

Oh yeah, it's real.

A lot of writers say that they write for themselves.  If not mostly then exclusively.

I applaud this.  I cheer it.  I raise a glass of the finest Scotch $4 and pocket lint will buy and toast them for this philosophy on writing.

This means they aren’t concerned with the reader at all.  Their primary reason for storytelling isn’t to guide an audience through their world, and competing in an ever-increasingly competitive marketplace is one of their last thoughts.

Essentially, more agents and publishers for me.


There’s absolutely nothing at all wrong with writing for yourself first, foremost and last.  While sarcasm is generally my default setting, I actually do love this kind of art-for-art’s-sake mindset.  I wish I could adopt it.  I think I would be far less stressed about the next chapter, daily marketing to potential audiences, and being called “twisted” or “sick” by folk who haven't even cracked my ebook.

Do you have a minute to talk about
our Lord and Savior, Morgoth?
Being a writer, let alone a published author, with the goal of connecting to an audience is a constant and uphill fight.  Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Kevin J. Anderson are all winning that fight.  They step out onto the battlefield like Sauron with the One Ring at the beginning of Fellowship.  Each swings a mighty book, and hundreds-of-thousands of wallets immediately fly open.  Cash erupts in fountains of green like an arterial spray of blood in a Tarantino film.

They still have to fight to connect with audiences, but it’s easier for them.  They’re veteran warriors with specialized weaponry, armor and training.  They have attendants and pages and shield-bearers who take a lot of the heavy-lifting out of the battle.  They’ve built their reputation based on past performance connecting with readers who want to connect with their author again and again.

That’s the goal for me too.  While I certainly write to tell the stories I want to tell, my stories are
All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and
a story written by R.A. McCandless.
meant to resonate and connect with my audience.  Readers are first in my mind when I write any description, dialogue, or plot-twist.  I want them to feel each setback, each success, each sword cut, and each victory lap as the story unfolds.  Because I’m one of the littlest fishes in the huge pond of authors, my readers, all fifty of them, can connect with me directly.  They can message me on Facebook and tell me that Marrin is their favorite character, and would I please tell more of his story in the next book?

Marrin is one of my favorite characters too.  Rest assured, he will have a significant role in the next book.

And so, as Jeff Spicoli so eloquently put it, “If I'm here . . . and you're here . . . doesn't that make it our time? Certainly, there's nothing wrong with a little feast on our time.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain.

July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

-Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When Ninjas Attack

Total "girly-girl".

After hearing all the hype about Kacy Catanzaro on “American Ninja Warriors” (ANW), my wife and I tuned into the show (i.e. watched on Hulu) last night.  It should be noted that, in my younger days, I’ve been a rock climber and a Tough Mudder, so each of the obstacles hold a special little place in my heart, as well as an understanding of the effort to complete.  I haven’t seen Ms. Catanzaro’s much-lauded run, but we caught Meagan Martin’s qualifying effort.  I couldn’t help but cheer her and a number of others, especially those who had trained specifically for this competition.

That does seem to be the key.  There were some impressive looking specimens of human training out on the course, but those who were rookies, who touted their strength in body-building over specific
Go ahead.  Say something funny to the woman holding chains.
obstacles challenges, were practically doomed from the start.  The ANW course isn’t just a test of strength.  If that were the case, we’d Magnus Ver Magnusson from “The World’s Strongest Man” breaking the ninjas in two before he hefted the set on his back and walked around the grandstand.  Nope, this is a combination of strength, agility and stamina that often goes unrecognized because the elite athletes of the ANW make it look easy.

It occurred to me, while watching, that this is true of the characters I read and write about.  They are the heroes of the story, so their abilities are often a degree of magnitude or three above everyone around them.  That’s what makes them special, that’s what places them in the situation where they fight, tooth and nail, against teaming hordes screaming for their blood, and live to fight again.  It’s not luck that creates a skilled swordsman, a powerful spear-Dane, or an impressive Captain of the Ax.  It is, as my good friend Eric Lahti likes to write in his books, “the intersection of skill and opportunity.

That is to say that unless a divine finger reaches down from the heavens to touch the forehead of a
Life-changing on a budget!
character, imparting strength, stamina, ability, and awesomeness in a million-watt charged moment, most heroes aren’t born that way.  They’re forged though hours of practices, training and actual experience.  Think of their entire life up to the moment of their glorious victory as one long training montage.

That’s exactly ANW.  That’s part of why I like it so much.  It’s the perfect “intersection of skill and opportunity.”

Plus, people falling into water is funny.