Tag Archives: Roger Zelazney

#amwriting: Theme: chaos or stability

Fall of Angels L E Modesitt JrA common theme in fantasy is the juxtaposition of chaos and stability, or order. Good versus evil is a trope of the genre, and  evil is usually portrayed by taking one or the other of these concepts to an extreme.

Author L.E. Modesitt Jr. has taken the theme of chaos and order and built his Magic of Recluce series around the comparison and contrasts of the two, with each side being given the protagonists’ POV in different books as the series progresses. He has been able to really explore the way each side’s magic is expressed, and the moral and ethical values that each side holds dear.

Both sides consider themselves morally superior, and both sides are wary of those who walk that gray path in the middle, which allows Modesitt real opportunities to put his protagonists through the wringer.

Trumps_of_doomThe late Roger Zelazney’s brilliant Chronicles of Amber series also details the distinctions between Chaos and Order, and moral and ethical challenges of those who travel from reality to reality through the shadows, with each shadow growing more radical depending on the distance from Castle Amber (which represents Order).

In several of his works, elements of each are combined freely and interchangeably. Jack of Shadows and Changeling, for example, revolve around the tensions between the two worlds of magic and technology, or order and chaos.

But what is chaos, and what is order ?

Google defines Chaos as

Chaos definition

Google also defines Order as:

order definition

Either side of the coin, when taken to an extreme, can be truly evil.

Consider chaos, or AnarchyWhen a culture descends into anarchy, you have an absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual. While this frequently begins as an attempt to allow for individual freedoms without state interference, history shows that what follows is the emergence of a violent culture that is beyond the reach of law.  There is no law and no one capable of enforcing it. The strongest, most violent thugs rise to the top and frequently war with each other, while the common person is caught in the middle. Followers of each warlord are rewarded with the spoils of conquest, which are often goods taken from the common citizen who must somehow survive under that tyranny.

war and peaceNow let’s look at order: totalitarianism, or total order can also be a form of tyranny: everything is static and nothing changes. There is centralized control by an autocratic authority, combined with the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority. No divergence from the norm can be tolerated, and good, obedient citizens are rewarded, while deviants who are seen to be free-thinkers, intellectuals, and artists are persecuted and imprisoned, or killed.

Anarchy=instability and a breakdown of society. Totalitarianism=lack of growth and stagnation of society. For most people’s comfort, a good society allows for both law and creativity.

In extreme types of societies, power is everything, and drawing negative attention to yourself is dangerous. Thus chaos-based societies are usually represented in literature as having an underlying order that holds them together, and order-based societies are often represented as requiring the ability to grow and change, but within certain parameters.

The theme of order and chaos can really power a story-line, and the way you perceive them will not be the way another author sees them. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Roger Zelazney couldn’t be more different in the way they portrayed these concepts.

If you haven’t read Zelazney’s works, I highly recommend them.

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Finding demographics is not finding Nemo

My New Year’s resolution this year is to identify who I am writing for, and tailor my marketing strategy to that segment of the population.

I should have picked something simple, like losing weight, or bringing about world peace.

I would be lying if I said I write for one particular type of person–although Huw the Bard falls into the not-for-children category. I like to think my books can be enjoyed by both men and women.

Who are youIt’s just that I write whatever I’m in the mood to read, and I read everything, Fantasy first, sci-fi second, then mystery, historical, paranormal, books of political intrigue, books filled with naughty vampires. Romance, YA, hard sci-fi, epic fantasy–I read it all. This makes it difficult to categorize myself .

Looking in the mirror doesn’t help.

At IHop, I am a 55+, getting discounts and a special old people’s menu. I am a senior, according to AARP, and am entitled certain discounts when I produce that all-important AARP card.

These things tell me I am an older person, as does the mirror.

However, these visible signs don’t show the woman with mad kick-ball-skills, who plays Lego Star Wars until the grandchild says she’s had enough games for one day, and he’d like to play outside now. They don’t shed any light on me. the person who will read and reread a book until it is nothing but shreds–if I fell in love with it. The gray hair, the slightly less-than-svelte physique–these clues don’t offer a hint about my obsession with Final Fantasy XII.

And that is the problem.

I write for me, and I don’t know who I am.

The Creative Penn offers 5 tips to assist me in this process:

1. First we must isolate what types and/or groups of people the content of the book would interest.

Well-that is just the problem, isn’t it…but they do give an idea on how to approach that:

 "Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

“Example: If your book is about an archaeologist who uses Stone Henge to travel into the future, your book would probably interest history buffs as well as fans of speculative fiction/sci-fi.  If that hero happens to be a former Marine, your book might also interest military personnel and/or the families.” (It’s a direct quote, so I am ignoring the terrible itch to edit out the misspelling of Stonehenge.)

Okay–I think I can do this. My book details the adventures of a bard who is forced to  flee his comfortable existence and who finds himself running from one disaster to another with death-defying regularity.

2. Second, we must: identify other books that are comparable to your book and look at the profiles of those books’ main buyers/readers.

They also explain that concept a little further “The target audience isn’t always who the book was written for, but rather, who it ends up appealing to.  Twilight draws in tween and teenage girls with its premise involving a normal, everyday girl falling into a romance with an young, attractive male (the bread and butter of many young girls’ dreams), but it’s appeal stretched to the cross-section of middle-age female readers who love romance and enjoyed Anne Rice in her heyday.”  

Alrighty then–I was heavily drawn, as a reader, to David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, P.D. James, Carl Sagan, Agatha Christie, Piers Anthony, and Fritz Lieber–so I suppose my books reflects a certain amount of their (rather jumbled) influence.

Oh, and don’t forget Roger Zelazney. And Mercedes Lackey.

Well that has narrowed it down quite a bit! (Sarcasm–I know, it’s a nasty habit.) I could have included Tolstoy, James Joyce, Horace Walpole, and Louisa May Alcott, but I didn’t have time.

330px-Pin-artsy3. You are next encouraged to pinpoint what is special about your book.

Again, the Creative Penn offers us some insights on how to go about this: “If you tell someone you’re writing a book about a witch who uses her power of communing with animals to rescue a lost dog from an evil dog-napper, then A. Wow, you have an interesting imagination!  B. You may or may not have taken in 101 Dalmatians too much as a child and C. With such a premise, chances are, your story is more light-hearted than scary, so your target readers to which the mystery aspect of your story will entice are more cozy-type mystery consumers.” So what are the few key words, the hook I can use to sell Huw the Bard? How do I boil the plot down to a few key words? This could take a while, but I’m sure I can do it.

Honest.

4. Now we need to determine some demographics.

That’s the problem–I am the demographic, and I don’t know who I am. Mature Audiences, definitely. There is some graphic sex, although it doesn’t devolve into a porn-fest, There is violence, a witnessed rape, and murder. These are all there because they are watershed moments in Huw’s life, things that change his view of the world. There are also a haunted village and a bisexual knight who talks to his horse, so there is humor midst the misery.

chekhov's gun5. Finally, the Creative Penn suggests we feed the previous four tips into each other to gain even more insight and narrow down who our target audience/s is/are.

Just give me Chekhov’s gunnow. I need to shoot something.

Several times.

Seriously–the article I’ve drawn these suggestions from is a good article, and it goes on to discuss how to use your target audience, which I did find somewhat illuminating.

At this point, if I can get even ONE concrete idea that works, I am feeling good about it. After all, it’s January! I’ve got a whole year to get this down, before I have to admit that this New Year’s resolution has gone the way of my weight-loss dreams and visions of world peace.

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Oh, the agony

Amazon_Kindle_3I am an avid reader. I love the Kindle for the simple reason I have over 500 books and I don’t have to dust a one of them.

I have managed to get nearly every book I ever loved on my Kindle, and have become a great fan of hundreds of new authors, most of them indies.

Every now and then I read a book that is not in the genre of fantasy, sometimes taking a dip into general fiction.  I did that this week, reading a book I saw advertised on twitter.  I picked this one up because I like the title.

I don’t usually read general fiction because so many times I am left with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m OCD–if the book isn’t too horrible, I can’t put it down until I have read it to the end and confirmed that it was indeed a waste of paper and time. I hate that.

It never fails–I buy a book based on glowing reviews and after I’ve done my part and slogged through the depressing, overdone theatrics and get to the end I find that, just like an ex-lover,  it turned out to be a pretentious riff on a tired theme after all, with nothing positive to offer.

Dialogue Tags © cjjasp 2014No happy ending, and perhaps no ending at all.

Why do I ignore the warning signs?  The cringing when certain characters (once again) turn their head just so, the clenching of my teeth when the bored protagonist lights yet another cigarette. What is this fascination some authors have with portraying moneyed, bored people who cheat on each other and their taxes as if they were somehow glamorous? What makes me keep reading despite the fact that if I were to review this travesty I would give it a 3 star review and a good thrashing?

I was up to 2:a.m. reading that crap. Now I feel soiled, as if I’d suddenly developed a craving to party the night away at the local club and woke up with a horrendous hangover and a drummer named Scooter.

Changeling_zelaznyToday I am going back to Roger Zelazney. He’s a lover who has never let me down. I am going to revisit the scene of our most passionate affair, that amazing world of Rondoval, and Roger’s masterpiece,  Changeling.

Give me flawed characters larger than life, seething with jealous rage, untapped magic, and raw violence–and put them in an environment that makes them have to work to survive.

Oooh baby…. Now THAT is the antidote to bored ennui in my reading material!

 

 

 

 

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Inspiration, where art thou?

Joseph_Vernet_-_Soldiers_in_a_Mountain_Gorge,_with_a_Storm_-_WGA24728Over the last few months I have spent a great deal of time searching for cover art for Mountains of the Moon,  a book, set in the world of Neveyah, and one that takes place in a rugged mountainous area. A lot of the action at the end of the book is in a ruined keep. I have four heroes, five bad guys, and great deal of hilarity to cover, and it’s hard to know just what will work.

I have no idea what to commission, if anything, and I have been unable to find the right combination of stock pictures, so here I am, writing a fourth book set in that world, with no idea of what sort of cover is appropriate for the one that is currently on hold.

What ever I get, it has to be colorful and eye-catching and SIMPLE.

So this takes me to another cover dilemma–writing the dreaded blurb. So what do the professionals all do?  By “blurb” I mean a condensed, concise, and compelling description of your book, in other words, a book advertisement. The blurb is a book publisher’s description, or even a review comment (but I hate those.)

Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

I went out to several books on my shelves, and discovered that the big publishers don’t write blurbs any more. They just put glowing descriptions of the author’s other work on the back.  I feel that is a bit disrespectful to the reader on the part of the big name publisher–expecting the purchasing public to just blindly follow the well-known author. After several recent expensive disappointments at the hands of authors whom I quite respected, I have decided I am not going to buy your damned $25.00 book unless I know what I am getting, no matter WHO publishes you. I will stand in that aisle and read as much of the book as I need to, if that is what it takes to get an idea of what is inside, proprieties be damned.

ANYWAY–a blurb like that won’t help an indie, because your other work won’t sell your  book–the book has to sell itself. BUT some of the older books on my shelves have great blurbs, little teasers that sold me that book back in the day.

1. Who or What is your book about? Choose either the idea of the book or the main character and stick to that. If you choose the character,  use only the main character in your description, and forget the others, because it is that character’s story that you are trying to sell. (I personally am always intrigued by the idea of the book, and a good example will follow below.)

2. Run it past your reading group, your friends, and your online author buddies. Run it by someone, anyone! Ask them if it makes them want to run out and buy the book, and heed their answer. Ask them why it works or why it doesn’t.

3. Keep it short! I have found that a little exercise currently popular in online writing groups is really helpful – getting in the habit of writing 100 word flash fiction. I write a 100 word flash fiction nearly every day, because you really have to choose your words wisely, if you want to tell your story in such a short space. It is a warm-up exercise for my real work, and I have quite a good backlog of ideas that will become short-stories or novellas, all written this way.

Roadmarks_firstLet’s look at the cover and the blurb on  ‘Roadmarks’, a classic sci-fi fantasy written by the late Roger Zelazney. It was published in 1979 by Del Rey Science Fiction. The cover art is awesome–and it really caught my eye. It is simple, with plenty of visual room for the graphics.

The blurb is intriguing too, as the publisher sold me the IDEA of the novel:

“The Road runs from the unimaginable past to the far future, and those who travel it have access to the turnoffs leading to all times and places–even to the alternate time-streams of histories that never happened. Why the Dragons of Bel’kwinith  made the Road–or who they are–no one knows. But the Road has always been there and for those who know how to find it, it always will be!”

I have the cover design for Huw The Bard, and the blurb. That book is covered!  But Mountains of the Moon–not so much. Finding the art for that book is proving a challenge, but I have six months at least so something will turn up.

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