When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books.
I don’t know what, exactly, my fascination was. They were by and large speculative fiction, but not great SF, and they were written in an ordinary, characterless second person. ‘You open the door,’ they would say. ‘You fall down the well.’ But I loved being able to flick back and forth, to jump out of the linear progression of a novel, and flip back and forth.
It was a form of reading that stuck with as I grew older and began writing. I would find, in my work, this desire to push against the traditional linear narrative, or reading from page one to whatever. I remember when I first read Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor how much I enjoyed the simple trick of reversing the page numbers. It was still a pretty linear narrative, however. Few books, I would find, would equal B.S. Johnson’s book in a box, The Unfortunates. Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch, maybe. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions didn’t. But I liked finding the books. I liked seeing how authors challenged the fashion in which you would read. I liked it so much that it began to influence how my own work.
When I sat down to write The Godless, I was interested in doing a linear narrative. In a few of my works before, I’d done thinks you could flip and change around. Above/Below was a flip book that I wrote with Stephanie Campisi, a book that you could read from either side, first. Before that, I did a book called Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, a sort of experimental autobiography. But when I sat down to write The Godless, I wanted to be linear, and I wanted to emulate the structure of a TV show, and it was with some surprise, once I finished, that I realised that you needn’t read the book in a linear fashion. The same is true of Leviathan’s Blood, and will be also true of the final book, The Eternal Kingdom. It emerged rather accidentally from the structural choice I made early on.
Now, I should say that, the books are written to be read in a linear fashion, and if you do that, you certainly aren’t doing anything wrong. But you can, also, read each character arc by itself. You can read them either by section, or by the whole book. For example, if you opened The Godless and turned to ‘Beneath the Skin’, the first episode/chapter of the book after the prologue, you could read scenes 1, 2, 4 ,5, 7, which are Ayae’s scenes, before you turn back and read 3 and 6 of Bueralan’s. In the following episode/chapter, you could do the same, reading 1, 3, 5 and 6 of Bueralan, before turning to 2, 4 and 7 of Ayae. Zaifyr is introduced as a PoV character in ‘The Boy Who Was Destined to Die’, so after that, you just add another break. If you’re particularly keen, you can even go through and just colour tag the particular narrators through the book, and read them in one long uninterrupted break, before reading to the start of the book, and reading a new character. Heast has a few small scenes in The Godless, but he doesn’t become a PoV character truly until Leviathan’s Blood, so you could easily slip him alongside Ayae in The Godless. You could be left with three colours, and three passes to page through the book.
It would change the experience of the book, naturally. It might make it more confusing, it might leave small scenes where characters interact with each other slightly difficult to map out. But it’s not wrong to read it this way, if you wish. I think it would probably work best as a way to map your reread, if you’re so inclined. But I like this idea that you needn’t be forced to read from page 1 to 562, or 698, you know?
As I said, the ‘official’ way to read the Children Trilogy is in a linear fashion. There are benefits to doing that way. Characters mirror each other, arcs bounce, themes develop. But I am also someone who likes to push out of those traditional habits, and if you want to change the book around, cut it up and organise it in different lines, you should feel free to do so.
The Hugo nominations have been announced.
Once again, they are dominated by a slate of nominations from ‘conservative’ SF fans, the Sad and Rabid Puppies. The latter were, it appears, much more successful this year than the former. 64 of the 81 nominations coincide with that slate. Others do appear on the Sad Puppies, however. In fact, the only work to appear in the fiction ballots without also appearing on any of the slates is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Overall, only 9 of the nominations were not on either slate.
The question that remains, however, is what to do with this? The Hugo has basically become one big yearly troll event, where a bunch of people get up, nominate things they love, and nominate things they don’t, mostly to upset people and push a political point. No matter what you think of Chuck Tingle – and I personally think he seems decent and funny – the nomination of ‘Space Raptor Butt Invasion’, a gay erotica piece, is just the act of a troll who hates gays. It’s a power trip on the part of the Rabid slate, something for them to chuckle over, because gay is funny wrong. When you actually start peeling away the reasons for Tingle’s nomination, it’s actually pretty gross and awful, and continues the larger argument of the slate, which is that speculative fiction isn’t for everyone.
It’s an argument I’m tired of, personally. I could go back and forth about it, about the history of SF, about the cool stuff in it, but frankly, why bother? You don’t argue with trolls.
But what can be done? Well, personally, I’d advocate only voting for work that doesn’t appear on either slate, but people will have to make that choice. For some people, it would mean not voting for work that they actively liked. Depending on who you are, or where you fall, you’ll either like that choice, or not.
Beyond that, I think the solution lies with the authors of the work nominated from the slates. I think it’s time for those authors to step up and speak out against this. To take themselves off nominations, to deny awards if they appear on these slates. To deny themselves, basically. A lot of authors believe that to say nothing is the best response, to appear apolitical is safe, won’t hurt their sales, and alienate their fans (and, to be fair, some authors don’t do this). In some ways, it’s true. In others, it’s not. But it is also true that for the authors who appear on the slates – for Brandon Sanderson, Ann Leckie, Stephen King, Jim Butcher, and all the others – that they are being used as pawns. They have become political pieces that others have moved around on a board to make a point. Each author has a subtle and occasionally non-subtle meaning baked within his or her piece, and people use it, one way or another, to bluff the push another author, or as a point that they wish to make (mostly relating to populism equating quality, or adventure equaling fun, and so forth, and so on). I believe that most of the authors who know about the slates, and the Puppies, know this. And, in their desire to ensure that their careers remain safe, that they are not dragged into the bullshit of the Hugos, the silence of authors has allowed them to be moved and displayed across the board as others feel fit.
What can you do, they say. It’s the fans, they say. They do as they wish, they say.
Yet, the author is the creator, is the figure that is rewarded here, and ultimately, the power of the situation sits with them.
Of course, some authors will agree with what the Puppies are doing. Maybe they even think that they have a point. But it is clear that each year this continues, all it does is simply wreck the joint. Now, me, personally, I don’t care about the Hugos: they have never meant a thing to me. I figure it’s because I grew up in Sydney, but there are others who care who are here, so who knows? Maybe it’s just how I am. But this whole thing is not really about the Hugos. It’s about a message to the scene, a message that the yearly trolling is writing clearly, and that is that not everyone is welcome. That SF isn’t a safe place for everyone anymore. That it is not open and inclusive. I know that the Puppies argue that this is what is being done to them, and certainly, as the trolling continues, it becomes as true for them as it does for that new SF fan who is gay, or black, or transgender. Soon, SF will be just as difficult to be part of for those who are conservative as those who are not. Each year that this takes place, each year that fan favourite, popular authors are used as pawns because they are unwilling to speaking out – or because they support it, or because what they say is a nice deflection from other noms – is another year that the whole scene just gets trashed.
My hope is that the authors on the ballots will take themselves off the nomination. That they will do it so that it is clear to their fans that being on the ballot hurts the fans expression of love towards the work. I suspect that it is only this way that will make the Puppies will dry up, though it won’t happen over night. But those with voices – those with millions of fans – are the ones that need to speak. Of course, I could be wrong – and, of equal important, the authors involved have to be willing to take the hit to try and end the trolls. It’ll likely cost them something and maybe they don’t want to spend the personal currency. Hell, maybe they disagree entirely with my view.
Still, you have to wonder just how much longer the scene can stand being pissed on by a disgruntled bunch before people start walking away, and going elsewhere.
Just a quick heads up about some giveaways I’m running on Goodreads.
I’m giving away paperbacks, hardcovers, and signed hardcovers for my two fantasy novels, The Godless, and Leviathan’s Blood. You do, sadly, need an account on Goodreads to enter, but I’m trying it out, to see if it makes for a nice way to bring in more people to the books. We’ll see, I guess.
If you haven’t heard of The Godless or Leviathan’s Blood, they are the first two books in the Children Trilogy. The third one will be The Eternal Kingdom. It will be out next year. But if you haven’t heard of them, they are books set in a world where a war of the gods has broken the sun, turned the ocean black, and left the corpses of gods scattered across the lands, altering it. In that world, the divinity of the gods has begun to seep into men and women, giving them powers. For some, it is good. For others, it is bad. You can wake up one day and find that your body burns, or that flowers have begun to grow out of your skin. You can find yourself thrown out of your family and friends, and feared, for who you have become. In that world, an army is marching on a small town in the mountains called Mireea. In that town, Ayae, a cartographer’s apprentice, is about to wake up. The exiled baron turned saboteur, Bueralan Le, is about to take on a job for the ruler of that town. And Zaifyr, who knows what happens to the dead in a world without gods, is about to arrive.
I have had great fun writing the books. They’re a love letter to the fantasy I loved as a child, and the literature I love as an adult.
As always, if you have read the books, tell a friend, leave a review, and all that fine, excellent stuff that helps get the word out. And if you’re a reviewer, and you’d like a copy, email me through the page here and I’ll hook you up.
Anyhow: enjoy the giveaways, all.
Imagine that you are empty.
That’s how you should begin to think of yourself at the start of your career as an author. You won’t, but it is how you should. I certainly didn’t think of myself as being empty, twenty odd years ago. I thought I was well read, I thought I knew the craft, and I thought I had it worked out. Of course, I wasn’t, didn’t, and nothing was like I thought. Instead, I was empty. Maybe a few drops here and there, but nothing worth noting, and certainly nothing to make me realise how poorly read I was.
It might sound like a strange way to begin what is essentially a piece of unasked advice, but when you start out wanting to be an author, what you start out learning first, is how to read. Most people are bad readers. They have a lot of bad habits: they skim, they skip, they have partial understandings of techniques, and firm beliefs in what makes good writing good, and bad writing bad. To a degree, education systems foster those habits. You can, and a lot of students do, write essays having partially read the book. You can use sparknotes and another’s essay to fill in the gaps. High School also invites you to have partial understanding of social and literary movements, such as feminism, post modernity, and so on and so forth, so that you can write confidently about it. And bare in mind that I haven’t even begun to discuss the difference between a well marked piece of creative writing and a publishable story. But, anyhow: there’s a lot of things that go into developing a bad reading habit, and some of it is the books you read, some of it is the pursuit of marks, and some of it is something else, and then something else again. It is just best to think that, when you wish to become an artist, you have to rework how you approach the art.
Your first few years of being an author will therefor be about learning how to read and how to approach the work of others and the work of yourself. That doesn’t mean you won’t sell stories, or novels, or poetry, or essays, or whatever during that time. You may. You may not. But one piece sold is not a career made, and quite often, it is the second piece that is harder.
See, when I talk about being an author, I don’t think in one piece of work, but a body of work. I think of a lifetime given over to a pursuit of art, of an expression of yourself. I think of the evolution of yourself, marked through your work. For me, that is what being an author is about.
Not everyone does, mind you. Everyone works differently. For one author, it might simply be about one book. For another, it might be about a piece here, a piece there, and not a single one is anything but a product made to be sold, and one with little to no impact on the self. There’s nothing wrong with those choices because there is no rule but for art but the one you create yourself. My rule is not your rule, your rule is not my rule. It is a pretty simple concept, really.
But: lets return to the idea that you’re empty.
The question then is how do you fill yourself up?
There are lots of answers for that. Personally, I think it begins when you leave High School, and you leave an education system that is designed to provide you with a general and broad ranged introduction to many disciplines. I don’t think I’ll find many people who will disagree that specialist training begins once you leave High School.
Now, what’s available to you after that is a whole lot of options, and none of them are wrong. There’s university, college, workshops, and more, and none. If you want to go off, and learn about literature yourself, and discover all the different forms and concepts, you are more than welcome to it. Just promise me you won’t go down one of those anti-intellectual arguing paths, where you say that education is a waste, that real life is where it is, and so on, and so forth. It may seem like I have a jaded view of school, but I value it enormously. I’m just realistic about what it produces. School does not pop you out of a shell, ready made, to be anything, be it an author, or a lawyer, or a mechanic. Education, in whatever form it takes after you have finished school, remains important, and just like bagging life experience isn’t doing you any good, taking up an anti-intellectual stance isn’t going to help you, either. Never mind the fact that as an author you have begun to take part in an intellectual exercise. So, if you go it alone, sweet – use whatever is available to you, and read as widely as you can, and write as much as you can – but don’t hate the part of yourself that you use to make art with. If for no other reason, it makes me sad to see that, and who in this world wants to make me sad?
Lets pretend the answer is no one, shall we?
Anyhow, so, instead of going it alone, what if you decide to go into University, or college, or partake in workshops, or mentors, or writing groups – what can you expect from them?
Well, firstly, you cannot expect to be published. If any of those things promise that you will be, at the end, published, or publishable, you ought to view it as a red flag. If there was a simple course that allowed you to learn how to write fiction and then, after two weeks, six months, or three years, become Published Author With Good Contract, there’d be a line for the factory it was held in. It’s just not a promise you can believe in. For some people it will happen, of course, but that has little to do with the course. A course may help you learn how to submit, but if that course takes anything over half an hour to show you how to do that, you’re probably being ripped off (and even then, half an hour is allowing for a lot of unnecessary discussion).
What you should expect is time and exposure. I’ll start with the second, first, because exposure can mean a different thing here, and I do not mean published without payment (which is often called ‘exposure’). No, when I say exposure, what I mean is that a good course, workshop, or whatever, will expose you to writing you haven’t seen, or heard of. Authors, genres, forms – it is from each of these that you will begin to learn the craft of an author. You will learn how to use techniques as simple as metaphor and third or second or first person, and techniques as complex as page space, thematic development, and the like. They are crafts you will have to learn one way or another and anyone who tells you that these things can’t be taught, or that you simply must have ‘it’ is not someone you want to learn from. There is plenty of craft to learn in fiction while you are discovering your voice, and your ideas, and your self, that nebulous ‘it’ factor that the most impressive, and best of authors have that we all admire.
The next is time. Time, as you get older, is one of the most precious things available to an author. A lot of things will get in the way of your fiction, from work, to partners, to family, to whatever else you can think of. It all eats up your time, especially if you’re not making a living out of your art, which, at the start of your career, is pretty much a given. The ability to give yourself over to thoughts about fiction, either yours or another’s, is perhaps the biggest gift that any workshop or course can give you. To simply have that time opened to you, and separated from the daily requirements of life, is a huge boon, and I personally used it a lot in the early years of what I refer to as my career. It was especially important because, if I had been left to go it alone, I do not think I would have had the self discipline, or the tools, to force myself to write, and to discover new authors, and new forms of writing. That time that I got out of University was the biggest gift to me as a new author and, if you need that time, you shouldn’t be afraid to grab it where you can. It won’t be for everyone, of course – either because some don’t like education, or because some can’t afford it, but if you can do it, and it does work for you, then grab it.
(In relation to the cost, I can only hope that you are as lucky as I was that the Australian Government had a scheme that allowed you to defer the payment of your debts, and that if you completed further study in a set time frame, it was free. If you don’t have that available, don’t be afraid to find good online communities and forums, and writing communities in the real world.)
Anyhow, that’s enough for today. Next week, I reckon I’ll write another piece in the topic, and continue it forward. Or, I won’t. But I think I will: it’s mostly about organising my own thoughts and the thoughts are there. If it helps people out, all good.
I made a soundtrack for The Godless last year for fun. It wasn’t professional, or full of music I made – Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong is a brilliant example of that – but I enjoyed making it and so I made one for Leviathan’s Blood.
The soundtrack works just like it did in The Godless: one piece of music per section. If you recall my statement earlier that I used the new TV series structure for the book, then think of each section as an episode, and the song is tied to the final events of that episode, and attempts to tie what has happened together. Just like The Godless soundtrack, Leviathan’s Blood follows the same rule, and each song fits in at the end. It’s mostly just a little bit of fun that I indulge in with the book after I’ve written it, and edits are unfolding, and I tell myself people have a vague interest, so I post it here.
However, there is one difference between The Godless and Leviathan’s Blood soundtracks, in that I am not going to list each sections title in Leviathan’s Blood. It’s mostly for those of you who want no spoilers whatsoever. There not hugely spoilery, but I’m a kind and generous author.
Anyhow: here it is.
‘Have You Passed Through This Night?’ – Explosions in the Sky
‘Picking On Me’ – Skunk Anansie
‘Protection’ – Massive Attack
‘Chains ‘n Things’ – B.B. King
‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ – Say Lou Lou
‘Help These Blues’ – The Blues Explosion
‘Lazarus’ – David Bowie
‘What We Loved Was Not Enough’ – Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra
‘Imagine’ – A Perfect Circle
‘Bones in the Water – Battle of Mice
‘Knights of Cydonia’ – Muse
‘Go For the Throat’ – Iggy Pop
‘Mrs Jones’ – Hole
‘Now There’s That Fear Again’ – Mum
‘Thankful N’ Thoughtful’ – Bettye LaVatte
Yes, it’s true. Leviathan’s Blood has been released!
You should buy it. You should review it. You should tell your friends about it. Perhaps even your enemies.
I’m pretty happy with it, myself. It’s the middle of the trilogy, the Empire of the Children Trilogy, and there are things in this book that I am absurdly pleased with. There is a set of scenes here that I worked towards from the moment I settled on the narrative structure of the book. (It is, for those of you who have not heard me say it before, a structure that echoes the 12/13 episode structure that TV shows have adopted in the last decade. One of my favourite shows of this was Deadwood, and I remember, way back when I began work on The Godless, how interesting it would be for a fantasy book to echo that.) It’s strange to have a moment laid out in a book beyond the first while you’re writing it, but frankly, the whole series is laid out in that fashion, which will hopefully make for an interesting rereading for people. But anyhow, I am absurdly pleased with this.
Naturally, of course, that means no one will talk about it. But such is life.
Anyhow: go buy, share, and buy for your friends. Don’t allow me to become an old, crazy man in a gave, scribbling on the dirt.
Yesterday, copies of Leviathan’s Blood arrived. These were the UK editions. The book will be released on April 7th, so just over a week from now. Germany and America will follow in May, on the 2nd and 31st respectively. It’s a big, cool book, I reckon – I like it more than The Godless because I think, in certain ways, Leviathan’s Blood is more ambitious. But I’ll let others decide that, in the end. I’m pretty content with it. It’s the middle part of the trilogy, and as with all middle parts, it’s the dark centre.
Like all middle books – well, like all my books – Leviathan’s Blood is going to need help appearing on the radars of people who haven’t heard of the series, and that’s where you can help. You can do that by pre-ordering (or ordering, if you come by this post after the book’s release), by telling your friends, posting reviews, starting conversations about it and, of course, by buying a thousand copies each. Now, I know what you’re saying, ‘Ben, what would I do with a thousand copies of your book?’ to which I say, ‘You could us 999 to burn the bodies of your enemies.’ Not, of course, that I condone book burning. Or murder, for that matter. But if you find yourself with a thousand copies and the body of your enemy… well, let me just say, I understand. Needs must. Of course.
Still, murder or not, I am grateful for the support you give.
On release day, I’ll put up the soundtrack for Leviathan’s Blood, and before that, there will be a few bog posts and the like. They’ll get linked through here, and no doubt through twitter, and facebook, so be sure to check in and see it.
Above is the very slick, very cool full cover for Leviathan’s Blood.
It’ll be published in the UK (and surrounding colonies) on April 7th. The US edition (which also has this nice cover) will be published on May 31st. In Germany, it will be published on May 2nd. Feel free to pre-order the editions you wish. As every author will tell you, pre-ordering helps.
In other news, I turned in the third, and final volume of the trilogy, The Eternal Kingdom, on Monday.
It’ll change in edits – all books do – but I’m pretty happy with it at the moment. I had the last scene in my head for a long time and it feels good to have it here.
For the last four, perhaps five years, I’ve been involving in writing a big, multicultural, epic fantasy trilogy. It was pretty good. I don’t know that I’ve had a better time on a book. I was able to watch martial arts films, tap into the big, crazy imagery within, and explore all the concepts of power I want. The last is a bit of a surprise, actually. I’m not sure when I began The Godless that I would have said that power, its nature and its use, would have been the thematic that I would begin to interact with, but I did. Power, it’s relations with the individual, the isolated, the people outside the institution, the people who distrust the imbalances that exist. There’s more, of course, bits and pieces that seep into big projects, a lot of it my own interests in terms of race, refugees, the world we live in, cross genre stuff, dialogue, and more and more, but I must admit, I was surprised by how much it unfolded along the thematic lines of power. But it’s nice. It’s rewarding when you can look back at a work and see the whole thing and think that it became its own thing, different from your original plans, born from somewhere within you that you hadn’t explored before.
Anyhow, so yeah, the trilogy is done. It’s still in the early stages of published life and it still needs your support, so please, by all means, pick up a copy, tell a friend, leave a review somewhere, pre-order, and all that goodness.
I had a good time with it, and I hope you do as well.
This is the UK version of the cover. I’ll show the US one when it is released, but if you want to know more, there is a blog post over at TorUK that you can read, which has a bit more detail. You can also pre-order the book if you are so inclined (publishers are big fans of the pre-order).
It’ll be published in April, and it should be, I think, a pretty wild ride.
Anyhow, until then, the Godless is still available, if you haven’t checked it out, or read it. The electronic version is still going for a pound in the UK. By all means, feel free to drop some reviews around on the evil empire site as well, if you dug it. Those sorta things help, and we’re pretty skint for them on Amazons and Goodreads.