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Tag: Fantasy

Working on the Craft: Goodness

A little bit of cheating today, because I ran out of life for the day, and I didn’t want to have gaps in my regular posting schedule. In my defense, it kinda works. The exercise calls for describing a kind person doing something good out of sheer empathy, rather than requiring something in return. As it happens, I already have a situation like that in my current manuscript, so I picked it up, edited it a bit, and the result isbelow. With that said, it IS quite weird describing altruism without making it sappy, and I am not at all certain that I succeeded, even with the allowance that the text comes from a work of epic fantasy.

The narrow warrens with their protective awnings formed a shadowy labyrinth. Signs of the Convergence were everywhere. There were too many beggars in the corners, and people wearing clothes that had not been changed in days, huddled in groups around fountains and public buildings with an air of discontented desperation. Children fought with skax for scraps of food, the small rodents’ faceted eyes and angry hissing enough to scare many away.

Valen’s heart broke a little, as he saw a grimy infant in rags – a little girl, barely able to walk – stumbling around a woman who huddled by the dirty wall of a nearby building, too weak to move. The passersby ignored both, and he could not bear thinking what would happen to this child when her mother was gone.

Pity was replaced by anger. The nobility lived in wonders of walking architecture and threw lavish parties turning the Convergence into entertainment. Meanwhile, the unknown continent’s arrival had spelled utter despair for thousands of poor souls living along the edge. Valen was honest with himself – he didn’t steal from nobles out of a sense of justice. The poor were no less poor for his exploits. But it always brought him a little bit of satisfaction knowing that some of those void damned nobles truly deserved to be visited by him.

He also noticed the increased presence of city guards. Mean expressions, hands dancing over scimitar hilts. What the farinate of Kash lacked in hospitality toward the refugees, it made up for in escalating tension. The Sovereign no doubt thought the Convergence crisis a minor trouble from his high throne in Tallisar. Enjoy the civil war when it arrives, salar…

However, Valen also saw Gem Singers, the glass jewels in their colorful robes glinting with the light of the setting sun as the cultists distributed food among those in need. They were members of various cults – the remnants of the Chantry after the Dissolution, focusing on good deeds and charity, rather than oppressive dogma and moralizing. The selfless work of the Singers was something Abradel sorely needed. And something its rulers should be providing.

There were also a few followers of Amrodin, offering healing to the most desperate looking beggars. The leviathan Gods cared little for the fate of humans, but to worship Amrodin, The Last Pathway, was to worship both life and death. His cult attracted the most skilled healers, even though Valen doubted many among those walking Kash’s warrens had his gift. It is still more than you will do for them, though, is it not?

Valen went to a food merchant and bought some fresh fruit at an exuberant price. He spent a few extra seconds staring at the man, after giving him an entire ruby flame for what no doubt had cost no more than a sapphire chip to acquire. He knew he could create trouble for the merchant, if he wanted to, but then told himself that times were tough, and he wasn’t exactly above exploiting others for his gain. The interaction still left a sour taste in his mouth that fruit could not wash.

He made sure to pass first through a temple of the cult of Amrodin, and then turned back, hoping that he remembered the place right. To his great relief, the lone sick woman and her infant child were still there.

“Take this,” the thief said, kneeling next to her and handing her a succulent simtar.

She looked at him with bleary eyes under a nest of unwashed blonde hair, then reached a tentative hand and took the soft red fruit. While her child watched with curiosity, she put the simtar to her lips and bit from it. An expression of profound happiness came to her face, and she offered the fruit to her daughter, who took it with excitement.

Valen rose from the dirty ground and offered her a hand.

“There is an Amrodin temple nearby, where you and your child will be taken care of. I have arranged it with the cultists.”

He did not mention the large sum of gemshards the healers had demanded of him. It was no matter. For one like him, there were always other sources of money, and walking through the streets of Kash, he’d seen too much suffering. It was a tiny drop in a lake of pollution, but he needed to do something.

The woman stared at him in suspicious uncertainty, while the little girl played with her filthy hair. Then she nodded and took his hand. Valen knew that he could not save everyone. But sometimes, he told himself, even two lives were enough.

Reading Update 06/10/2020 – Reading Polygamy

Mediums, as they say, are the spice of life! No, wait. They say that about variety. Well, mediums are the… uh… medium of variety! There, that’s better.

Recently, as I discovered the “new” frontier of audiobooks, I also started splitting my attention between books. I have always been a “one book at a time” kinda boy. But lately, as “reading” has invaded parts of my day usually reserved for podcasts, things have started to change. So if I lie in bed with a book, I am currently reading Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon, Reflected in Water. If I am biking somewhere, it’s a great time for a story from the anthology The Mythic Dream. And video game time is all about that Vorkossigan Saga life.

It is something I never used to do before. Juggling two or three paper or e-books has always added unnecessary pressure to choose. Now I don’t have to. I can’t read while eating, biking, or gaming. But I can listen. And since listening apparently takes a completely different part of my brain, I can also compartmentalize when and what I listen to.

All of this to say — audiobooks are still a life-changing addition to my existence, and I am still in love with them. They can never replace paper for me, because I am old and stuck in my ways. But as an “and”, rather than “or”, they are a miracle!

Destiny Needs Some Conclusions

I love the world of Destiny. I have been part of it since the midnight release of the first game back in 2014. And I have stuck with the series through its highs and lows, even when so many others left. This post however will not be about the serious issues the franchise is dealing with in maintaining player interest. Rather, I want to talk about lore.

The grimdark, post-apocalyptic solar system of Destiny is one of the most complex and original universes I have ever encountered. And I don’t just mean video games here. Thanks to phenomenal talents like Seth Dickinson, Jon Goff, and many other writers, the stories of humanity and the numerous threats that arrived to claim the wreckage of its collapse, have grown alive in the 6 years since the game’s release.

Problem is, so far the glorious wealth of Destiny lore does not include too many endings. And to an extent, this makes sense. For all its dwindling popularity, this is a regularly updated MMO game. Ending its story means cutting its life short. But this only applies on a macro level. Throughout its lifetime, this franchise has generated a ton of subplots, many of which incredibly compelling, but not necessarily vital to the main conflict. And yet, with each new season, these separate stories either get more complicated, or completely ignored.

What is Uldren’s part in all of this? Where is Savathun? Has Emperor Calus’ daughter usurped the Cabal? What about the Shadows of Yor? The Vex that aren’t slaves to the Darkness? The three major factions vying for control of the devastated Fallen Houses? What war is the Exo Stranger fighting? Is Queen Mara Sov ever coming back to the Dreaming City? What is even happening in the Dreaming City, now that the time-loop curse seems to be indefinitely part of it? Will we find out more about the Deepstone Crypt?

I can go on, and on, and on. And I am fully aware that most of these questions aren’t even something the player community of Destiny at large is aware of. But I want to explain why the amount of open storylines bothers me.

Long-running franchises cannot focus on everything at once. This not only requires unrealistically large technical capabilities, but it would also hurt the storytelling itself. A good story needs a throughline. Sure, in Destiny 2: Forsaken we dealt with Prince Uldren’s betrayal, and the Scorn, and the death of Cayde-6. We dealt with the Taken, and the Ahamkara, and the Awoken, and the Hive. BUT, we did it in a thematically coherent way. All of these storylines converged in one strong and unified narrative, giving us the most brilliant expansion since The Taken King.

But the story of Cayde-6 and our vengeance for his murder was completed. The reveal and hunt for the Taken Ahamkara Riven was finished. And yes, all of those have had lasting repercussions to the world’s lore, but the very completion of these strong arcs allowed us to have patience. The repercussions would be dealt with, in time. They were parked.

Similar argument can be made of many other threads of the Destiny tapestry, such as The Nine and the Black Armory, for example. We don’t know everything about these stories, they aren’t necessarily finished. But they have reached a plateau. A point where we feel enough satisfaction, that we can move on to another part of the universe.

But too many of the current storylines keep being teased, hinted at, mentioned in lore tabs. They have immediate questions attached, unresolved tensions. Except, they never get pulled to the forefront. In 2018 Uldren awoke as a Guardian with no memory of his previous life and crimes. That was two years ago, both in real world, and in-game. In that time, we have read some minor lore about how miserable and ostracized he is. But none of it answers the burning questions about his fate. By rule of the Vanguard Dare, Uldren (or however he calls himself now) should be the new Hunter Vanguard. Instead, he is nowhere, and unlikely to be a focus of any particular story coming in the near future.

And as the pyramid ships are now halfway into Sol, I wonder if Destiny’s future won’t be cut short. The Darkness is the ultimate enemy after all. They single-handedly destroyed humanity’s Golden Age. And an entire fleet of them is now within our system, ready to deliver a second Collapse.

So, I have to ask myself, how much of the beloved stories I have lived and breathed for over half a decade will even find conclusion? Or at least a plateau point where I can feel a measure of contentment over abandoning them in the short term? And will there be enough long term for Bungie to fully end at least some of them?

Destiny has what it takes to be a historic example of gaming (and overall) storytelling. But however long its planned life-span is, it needs to start concluding things. Because, if recent dragon- and lightsaber-based franchises have taught us anything, it is that a story, for all its brilliant moments, is only ever as good as its ending.

Review: Final Fantasy VII Remake

Boundless, terrifying freedom…

Final Fantasy VII is one of the greatest J-RPGs of all time. It popularized the franchise outside of Japan, and single-handedly turned PSOne into a global phenomenon. It gave birth to three spin-off games, two feature-length movies, and a ton of other tie-in media. It is the quintessential gaming classic. And now, nearly a quarter century after its release, we finally get a remake.

…Sort of.

Before I say anything further, I need to specify something that isn’t immediately apparent from the marketing. This game does not cover the entirety of the story. The roughly 35 hours of the main campaign only adapt the first 8 of the original game – the Midgar arc.

Final Fantasy VII Remake takes place in the city of Midgar. The corporation Shinra is mining Mako — the life force of the planet — to use as a power source, threatening all life. Only a small group of eco-terrorists, known as Avalanche, are willing to defend their world. The story begins with mercenary-for-hire Cloud Strife and a small group of freedom fighters, as they try to blow up a Mako reactor. This will start a chain of events that will change the entire world.

If you’ve played the original, you know how much bigger the story becomes. It includes ancient secrets, genetic experimentation, and extraterrestrial threats. As well as some of the greatest moments of tragedy and heroism in the history of gaming.


From the very beginning, Final Fantasy VII Remake gives indication that something isn’t quite right. Minor events happen differently from the original. And not long after, Cloud encounters a group of mysterious shades (think Dimentors made of dust). They sometimes attack our heroes, and sometimes help them. Always in key points where the story diverges from its predecessor. Little by little we realize that this game has the potential to take its characters in a completely new direction.

The rest, as they say, is spoilers.

The gameplay is standard for a modern J-RPG. The Active Time Battle system is tried and true, though occasionally there is too much going on for the player to feel fully in control. Luckily, those moments are rare, and the variety of skills and magic makes combat exciting and fun. You can have a maximum of three characters, only directly controlling one at any given time. The other two will follow commands, but without those they only use their basic attacks, and block. Like, they will block a lot.

That last part was a bit of a disappointment. Considering that this game took half a decade to make, I would have expected a bit more intelligence from your party. What’s more, Final Fantasy has had phenomenal algorithms of behavior since literally two generations ago. Even the Gambit system from Final Fantasy XII (PS2) would have made of this game an absolute delight. However, the overall difficulty level is pretty low (even on ‘hard’, where you cannot use items, and don’t regain MP until chapter breaks). The command menu slows time to a crawl, and its navigation is intuitive enough, so telling everyone what to do is not a chore. But it still feels a bit lazy.

Visually, Final Fantasy VII Remake is absolutely gorgeous. Action and magic animations are fluid and colorful, without being too chaotic. The monster design is traditional Final Fantasy fare, but it is still wonderful to see old favorites get a glow-up.

While the art style might remind some people of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a direct comparison shows that the new game has a slightly more cartoon-ish approach to character depiction (back in 2005, the movie’s goal was to create hyper-realistic people in contrast with the original). The transition between cut-scenes and gameplay is seamless, and the city of Midgar is absolutely breathtaking. From the dystopian techno-complexes of Shinra, to the slums beneath the city’s giant metal plate, this world is bright and full of life. And for those of us who recall these sights in their 1997 glory, the nostalgia is real.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is a fairly streamlined, almost entirely linear experience. Although there are some secrets to find, nothing is truly missable. Completing the game gives players a chapter select option, retaining all progress. If you want to go for the Platinum trophy, it will take 55-75 hours, depending on pacing.

Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a medium, but satisfying challenge, relying more on skill than grind. Understanding gear and ability customization makes a huge difference, which I always appreciate in a game. It is a beautiful return to a beloved world, telling a story that holds infinite promise. And although it ends before giving you most of the answers, there is still a sense of completion. I admit, I have certain (very plot-based, very spoilerific) fears regarding the future of this new franchise. But if its first installment is any indication, that future is going to be bright.

When Your Writing is Just Absolute Shit

I have been semi-hard at work on the second draft of my fantasy novel for the past many moons. It’s a chonker, clocking at about 200,000 words (which is definitely where you want to be with a debut novel, but that’s a different stress point). This draft has yielded a lot of new material, rearrangements, as well as the realization that a side character is completely unnecessary, and should be excised in the next round of edits.

However, I want to talk about sucking. More specifically about me sucking. I do that, sometimes.

Somewhere around the beginning of the last quarter of the story, I realized that events needed to take a detour, for the purposes of tension building, try/fail cycling, and the like. Whether that detour has been successful, or even necessary, I won’t know until I get to the point where the book feels tight enough to do a speed-read. But the point is — I wrote a whole lot of new material.

Then I came back to the point where the story merged with the already existing chapters, and realized that said point also needed a complete rewrite. Characters were now in different places, their relationships changed, new information had come to light, and so forth. So I rewrote the chapter. I had some cool character beats. I felt great about it, and let it marinate for a day, before coming back to quick-edit it, and add it to the whole.

Boy, was it awful! The beats still felt cool, the story still went the way I felt it needed to. But the writing. Oh my god, the word choices, the sentence structure! It was tres tres garbage. I patched what I could, left the rest for a future re-read.

Stay with me. There is a point to this, I promise.

See, even as I was establishing my incompetence, lack of talent, and utter unworthiness to exist as anything but a cautionary tale of the hubris of thinking you can be creative when you obviously can’t… I knew that I couldn’t trust that feeling. Quarantine is tough. Anxiety. Depression. Getting on your loved ones’ nerves, and them trampling all over yours. For every moment of manic productivity, there has to be one of hopeless self-flagellation. Or rather, there doesn’t have to be one. But in my personal experience there usually is.

The point (as promised) of my sad exhibitionist ramblings is — it doesn’t matter.

I might actually, objectively, suck. I might be brilliant, but depressed. Likely, I’m somewhere in the middle, with most of humanity. But I know what I want, and what I want, is to keep writing. I believe that the only way for me to do this, is to accept that there will be moments where insecurity (or, hey — objectivity!) will get the better of me. Where even my best effort will seem like a vomit sundae. And that those moments don’t truly define what I can accomplish, how far I can go.

Accepting the feeling of suck, and moving past it. Writing even when it really seems like all you write is despicable trash. It’s the only way forward I can conceive of, if I want to come out on the other side of it.

Magic as a Storytelling Tool

As someone who deeply loves magic, be it in fantasy, or Science Fiction, I have always been excited by different systems and the ways in which they are integrated within the story. Brandon Sanderson — a huge inspiration on various axes — has an entire theory about how magic should be used. I greatly recommend reading his First Law article, which sets down a strong correlation between magic systems and plotting. The entire thing is worth the time, but the law itself reads:

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

On the surface of it, this makes a ton of sense — the less explicable your supernatural forces are, the more unsatisfying it is when they resolve a problem. Gandalf can wave his hands and divert storms. He can win willpower battles against gods and ancient spirits. But do we understand what the parameters and limitations of his magic are? We do not. Would we like it if, after three books of toil and strife, he shows up and just solves all problems? We would not. We are barely ok with the Gandalf Ex Machina already present in the trilogy!

But magic is not binary. Sure, prophecies, totemic and symbolic powers, and destiny are lazy ways to solve a problem. But they are certainly awesome at creating one. A world can be governed by laws far different from the reality we inhabit, and its heroes can still fight against those different laws. Magic doesn’t need to be systematically defined, in order to be part of a satisfying story. It just can’t solve that story’s main problems.

However, I think those two ways of approaching supernatural powers aren’t mutually exclusive. “Soft” magic can be your inciting incident. It can fully govern the world of your story and create all its problems. “Hard” magic can save the day. Because it is bound by rules and limitations which the reader understands, it is perceived as just another skill in the characters’ toolbox, and as such, it does not break the ability of the story to put them through the grinder.

Of course, this is all relative. Rules exist to be broken. Your story can be about the inevitability of failure in the face of overwhelming powers. Or it can be about a godlike being and their awesome abilities that we understand fully, but which no one can stand against. Or your “soft” magic can be a higher form of a hard system that you have just not revealed to the reader yet.

Still, to break a rule, you have to understand it. And I believe that Sanderson’s First Law is a unique attempt at discovering how the tropes of speculative fiction actually apply to literary structures. Magic is a great tool we have. But unless you are writing a role-playing system, or do not care about structure in your story, you have to use that tool in a way that enhances your work, rather than breaks it.

Reading Update 05/06/20 – Audiobook Developments, and Brandon Sanderson Book Porn

Listening to Books, and How It Can Go Wrong

My adventures with audiobooks continue. After the awesome experience with John Scalzi’s Redshirts, I decided to try Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera next.

The result was horrific.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is adorable. But my body was not ready for a slow-reading Brit doing accents and dialects. My body was particularly unprepared for an entire chapter in the voice of a southern diner waitress. I think I will have to stay away from works that include dialects and “funny voices”. For my own sanity, you understand.

Next, I started Dune, because Denis Villeneuve’s movie is OBVIOUSLY going to be the greatest work of science fiction ever made. And also because I have been meaning to reread it for years. So far, it is going splendidly, and the production is really impressive, with multiple voice actors and even some background music.

As an aside, it seems that audiobooks might be a solution to a problem. Since they have the dubious honor of occupying my “at night, while playing video-games” time, I think they can help me with getting back to works I’ve already read. A solution to the constant struggle of feeling like re-reading is a waste of time when there are so many new books to experience. Vorkossigan Saga, here I come!

Mistborn Goodness

In unrelated news, I wanted to brag about finally completing my set of Mistborn collector hardcovers. Guest featuring, the newest Dragonsteel HC — Warbreaker. Now all that’s left is Elantris, once I have the resources for it, and whatever Brandon Sanderson decides to tempt me with in the future.

The quality of binding of these editions is absurd, and the artwork galleries are stunning. And for fans of Sanderson’s Cosmere, it should be criminal that the books contain charts with information on Scadrial’s magic systems not actually in the stories themselves…

All in all, if one is about that collector’s life, these editions are a must. Of course, if you are a normal human with normal human priorities, there is no justification for spending the amount each of them costs. (Not a criticism to Brandon, his agreement with Tor does not allow him to sell them for less. And frankly — the quality justifies it). But if you are like me, I cannot recommend them enough.

Clarion West Online Classes – A Personal Retrospective

In the past month, the Clarion West Writers Workshop offered a number of online classes through their website. I only managed to sign up for one class from the first round, but I was lucky (read – manic) enough to attend more from the second. The experience was absolutely fantastic on several levels, and the ability to directly interact with professional writers was like being plugged into an outlet, and having my battery charged.

The subject matter of the classes varied wildly, from the use of psychological responses and types of interactions in character building, to the relationship between worldbuilding, character, and story. The structure itself was very different from class to class. Some were webinars, with Powerpoint presentations and room for questions. Others were more lecture-based, with participation, exercises, and the like.

Some takeaways:

1. I need interaction with other writers, be it published, or aspiring ones. It is becoming more and more apparent to me that on a sheer motivation level, I require contact with others who are doing or trying to do what I do. This is making me evaluate the potential to find a writing group, even though I am instinctively suspicious of such things. But it really seems like something that will boost both my motivation, and output.

2. I seem to – and this one is hard to phrase tastefully – actually, uhm, know a lot. Not in the sense of “these classes were useless”, in fact the absolute opposite. I took something unique and helpful from each and every one. But more than a few of these things were rephrasing or offering a unique perspective on information I already had.

Which, to be fair, makes sense. I have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, and read a massive number of books on the business and craft of writing. With each passing class, I realized that invariably the most helpful aspect was the direct exchange of ideas, and the practical exercises.

There is always more to learn, and I am likely not even done with the beginning of the process. But it does seem that at this point I actually have a surprising amount of raw information inside my head. Which means that further “learning” for me will have a lot more to do with practice and personal exploration, than simply absorbing information.

Fuck… Oh well.

3. Most importantly, I am realizing that this is truly what I want to be doing with my life. Every class, every sit down with a bunch of other faces, all of us staring awkwardly at each other and the person speaking, has been another crystal clear resonance with the awareness that THIS is who I am. Who I need to be, and what I need to become.

I don’t think any practical benefit I could list (and there were specific ones, to be sure, from each class) will measure up to this simple realization, or rather its reinforcement. Quarantine has been hard on all of us, and I have had my unproductive moments, just like everyone else has. However, after these past two weeks, I feel energized and motivated. And not simply to overcome anxiety, depression, and the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, but to know that even when I fail to do it, my path remains unaltered.

I am no less a writer just because I haven’t been published yet, or because I might have unproductive, uninspired, or flat out blocked streaks. I am more of a writer, knowing that after each of those streaks, I will be back at it, writing. Because I can’t imagine not doing it.

P.S. As for the picture of Jaime protecting my work area as the majestic panther god that he is – you are welcome.

Shall I Compare Thee to Game of Thrones?: A Treatise on Comp Titles

I stumbled onto a tweet by an indie writer recently. They were advertising their novel, and it went something like this:

If you like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Outlander, The Hobbit, or Harry Potter, [BOOK TITLE] is for you!

Now, I don’t usually try to write professional advice on here, because I don’t have the credentials to be telling anyone what to do. With that said, the problems with this tweet were so glaring, and hit me on such a visceral level, that I realized something: this is a subject where one’s credentials as a reader are actually more relevant than those as a published writer. So, here are my thoughts on comp titles.

First, what is a comp title? “Comparison titles” are works similar to yours. They are usually used when you are trying to sell said work to agents or editors, and occasionally — directly to readers. There are several formats traditionally used for the purpose:

(Disclaimer: I came up with the examples on the spot, I accept that people might not agree with them. Which would kind of make my point later.)

[TITLE] in/on/with [TYPE OF CHARACTER]/[PLACE]/[GENRE]. These are trying to tell whoever you are pitching, that your work is very similar to another work, but with one particular difference, be it the character(s), location, genre, or some twist in the story. Example comp: Mistborn is “Ocean’s Eleven, set in an epic fantasy world”. Or The Lion King is “Hamlet, but with lions.”

[TITLE] meets [SECOND TITLE]. Now you are telling whoever is in the elevator, that your work is a mixture of two other works. This doesn’t imply equal parts – your project might take the plot of one title, and place it into the world of the other, or have characters similar to one, but placed in a story, similar to the other. Example Comp: The Hunger Games is “Battle Royale meets 1984.”

[TITLE] meets [TITLE] in/on/with [TYPE OF CHARACTER]/[PLACE]/[GENRE]. An obvious amalgamation of the previous two.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to do comp titles, because a smart writer/agent will think of the best way to sell their particular work, rather than be slave to templates. But overall, the goal of a comp title is to make people think of more famous works in relation to yours. If this already seems like a risky proposition, I would like to direct your attention back to the tweet that started this.

First and, well, blatantly obvious rule of comp titles is that they should actually fit with your work. If you are writing fantasy and your comp title uses 2001: A Space Odyssey, you are obviously misleading people, and it will take them one confused page into your work to find that out. On this level, the comp from the tweet is ridiculous, because let’s be real here. The only thing Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Outlander, The Hobbit, or Harry Potter have in common, is that they are all speculative fiction. They aren’t even for the same target groups — half of those books have been written for adults, and half fall in the Young Adult or Middle Grade fields.

But there is another major risk, when picking your perfect comp title: using massive bestsellers. Here, the issue is one of finding the middle ground. There is no point in using a comparison that nobody has ever heard of. You want to use a famous title that will resonate with whoever you are pitching. But you NEVER want to use the absolute outliers. Because once you start comparing your work to Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, you aren’t telling me that you’ve written an epic fantasy full of political intrigue, or a fantastical adventure in a magic school. Instead, what you are now telling me, is that your thing has the same potential for success.

For obvious reasons, everyone is going to be skeptical of such a claim. Not only agents and editors, but also readers, most of whom have a highly tuned bullshit detector, not to mention have usually read a lot of works in the genre you are writing in. They already know your work is not the next Harry Potter, because NO WORK is the next Harry Potter. If you end up becoming an outlying success (and statistically speaking, chances are you won’t), your creation will be just as unique and incomparable to others, as Harry Potter is.

In the end, to get back to that indie writer and his tweet, I get it. I really do. Self-publishing is brutally difficult, platform and outreach are critically important. All of those titles were written as hashtags, so as to draw people that might be browsing them. But your book is not Donald Trump. When it comes to fiction — and especially in such a small and tight-knit community as the SFF genres — there most certainly IS such a thing as bad advertising. You never want to be the author with the overblown claims of his own work, because, well, nobody believes that author.

Comp titles are amazingly useful shortcuts in trying to get someone interested in what you’ve created. But they are a first step, and the second inevitably involves your actual creation. Which has to fit the way you advertised it, because there are several more steps before you reach your intended audience. So if you start with unrealistic claims or outright lies, you won’t get far.

Reading Update 04/22/20 – Not in Bulk, but Piecemeal

I have made a discovery!

It is profound and triumphant, and makes the discoveries of irrigation, electricity, and vaccines not just pale in comparison, but appear truly embarrassing and pedestrian. It is a discovery of such magnitude, in fact, that I am offended that I have not been given the Nobel Peace Prize for it yet.

Here it goes:

You can — and I hope you are sitting down for this — read short stories from anthologies without committing to the entire anthology! Boom! You. Are. Welcome.

While we are on the subject of “duh”, I have to admit it is truly impressive how well your mind can hide the obvious from you, when it sets its… um… will toward that goal. My resolution to read at least three short story collections this year has been in armed conflict with my ARC pile, and my “squirrel!” random reads, and I was beginning to worry that a third into the year, I have not read a single word in short form. But then it dawned on me — with the aforementioned “duh” — that I could just read one story here and there, instead of dedicating days to going through an entire collection.

So, little by little, I am now making my way through The Mythic Dream, so far enjoying every story I have read from it. And I don’t have to pause on my novel reading to do it.

I am, truly, an unrecognized genius.