Saturday, 25 November 2017

If The Hobbit were written today...

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I think that if Tolkien had written The Hobbit today, he would have trouble pitching it to literary agents. Why, you ask?

Well, first off, what is the targeted age group? I can't define The Hobbit as a book for adults, yet the main character is an adult, and how are kids or teens supposed to relate to someone outside their age range?! *eyeroll*

Second, women and girls are shockingly underrepresented in this book. Gandalf or Thorin Oakenshield should have been female to amend that. What's up with the all-male dwarves, anyway? Time for a female dwarf protagonist, with or without a beard.

Three, diversity. Do you recall even one person of color in The Hobbit? Me neither. Why not make Bilbo the scion of the one black family in the WASP Shire, struggling against racism and bigotry? It would be a good thing if he has confused sexual identity, too, and finds himself entangled in a romance with Thorin (whether the latter is male or female).

What about some action in the beginning, huh? What is it with the pipe smoking and tea drinking? Give us a dragon falling out of the sky, or an earthquake that destroys half of the hobbit holes on the first page, or we'll lose interest.

Finally, what about #ownvoices? How can Tolkien be trusted to represent dwarves in literature, when he was of average height himself? I say this is shameless cultural appropriation.

Bottom line: I'm thankful that Tolkien lived back in the time when one could simply tell a good story without worrying about social agendas, when one didn't have to dance on eggshells trying to accommodate diversity, whatever that means, when it wasn't a point of shame to be white, male and straight, and when readers were expected to have an attention span exceeding five milliseconds.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

One at a time

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First, a disclaimer: I am no publishing/marketing expert. If you want to get a really savvy opinion on how to sell books and gain followers, you'll probably have to look elsewhere. But if you want to know my personal strategy, it would be, "One at a time".

Books are written one word at a time.
Followers are gained one person at a time.
Sales are made one book at a time.

In other words, there is no fast dash to succeess, but rather, compunded progress over a long stretch of diligent work.

Granted, some books come out and become instant bestsellers. One can sit around and wait for this big discovery to happen. If people just go crazy over a certain book, its author doesn't really have to worry very much about a platform. But these cases are few and far between. This is why I consider it a worthwhile investment of time and planning for me to build a platform.

This means consistent presence online on my blog and social media, engaging with people on a personal basis, and collecting emails for my mailing list, which consists of fellow authors, bloggers who have previously reviewed my books, and readers who have contacted me out of interest in my writing.

And, of course, in between all that, I mustn't forget what makes me a writer in the first place, which is, naturally, writing. This is something I like to tell to every overwhelmed indie. If all your marketing and networking activities leave you no time to actually write, it's time to reevaluate your priorities. The more you write, the better you become at writing, and the more books you have out, the easier it is for people to find you.

Being an author means constantly chipping away at stones made of writer's block, rejection letters, a tough market, and various disappointments along the way. Patience wins; each day may seem like the one before, but when I look at what I have accomplished, I am reasonably satisfied. I currently have six fiction novels out, with more coming soon; I have a publishing contract, some sales, some good reviews, and some people who know my writing - considerably more than a year ago. I will keep moving forward to the next steps and climb them. One at a time.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Author interview: Wild Children and writing

Angela of The Contents Page was kind enough to invite me over for an author interview focused on my dystopian novel, Wild Children, its upcoming sequels, and writing in the context of a busy family life. Pop over to read the interview:

"What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m focusing on the sequel to Wild ChildrenThe Hourglass, which will feature, like the first book in the series, a great deal of bravery, resourcefulness and friendship on the side of the underdog orphans, plenty of conspiracy, greed and corruption on part of the unprincipled government, and the heart-wrenching dilemmas of some courageous individuals trapped in between, the most important of whom is Priscilla, the President’s daughter, who is determined to make her father lose the elections. Like in Wild Children, the action flits between the dense urban areas which are the last stronghold of civilization as we know it, and the vast empty remnants of the war-ravaged country.
I’m very excited about this upcoming book and the one that is due to follow it, Freeborn, the third volume in the series."

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Accuracy vs Realism in Historical Fiction

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This week, I was lucky enough to stumble upon this excellent, very comprehensive post discussing realism and truthfulness in historical fiction. This is a question many historical novelists grapple with: how accurate should I be? How much can I allow myself to deviate from the truth for the sake of narrative?

Accuracy and realism, however, are two distinct issues. Realism is anything that constitutes the environment and spirit of the epoch and place - culture, politics, food, clothing, music, literature and, of course, geography and climate. With all these, you should strive to get as close to reality as you can, because it really hampers credibility when, say, a journey that should take a week is performed in a day, or when Queen Victoria is 20 years early in succeeding to the throne.

Accuracy, however, is a bird of a different color. Some writers deliberately work in the realm of alternative history, and this is totally legit (as long as you make the appropriate disclaimers, of course). And even when one doesn't write alternative history, it's still important to remember we're dealing with historical fiction, which by definitions thrives upon embellishment, fancy and imagination.

Another thing to consider is that historical events get murkier and murkier as one goes farther into the past. It's easy enough to be accurate if your historical novel centers on the Russian Revolution, World War I or Victorian England - on any epoch that is relatively recent and well-documented. But what happens if your book is based on the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls or, as in the case of my Viking exploration novel, The Greenlanders, on Icelandic sagas? In this case, any event or character you describe is most likely controversial, and however you choose to present your preferred version of history, it can be disputed.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing. It's a good thing because you get more leeway for your fancy - especially when writing about semi-legendary characters such as the heroes of sagas. You are free to describe your characters, as well as many events in their life, however you want, to an extent that two novels centered around largely the same historical events can present a very different narrative. One could ask me, why write The Greenlanders if a novel such as Tom Holt's Meadowland already exists? Well, for this very reason - we both took the same epoch, the same events, the same characters, but the two books are vastly different.

It is a bad thing because you are constantly questioning and doubting yourself, and wondering whether your book might not fall into the hands of some real, serious academic researcher who will read two pages and burst into a Homeric HA HA HA!! followed by a scathing one-star review on Amazon. I have found it considerably easier to write The Landlord, my Regency era novel, than The Greenlanders. I had plenty of literature of the epoch to draw on, and almost anything I was in doubt about could be verified by a quick and easy search, from "How much did a maid earn per annum in Georgian England?" to "What products were commonly smuggled in by sea?"

In contrast, try searching for "How much did a slave cost in Babylonia in the 9-th century?" You just try it. I challenge you. This, among many other questions, was something I have grappled with while writing my latest (now in the process of editing) historical novel, centered once more on a semi-legendary character - Eldad ha-Dani, a Jewish travelers whose origins are shrouded in mystery.

Writing historical fiction is a pursuit of endless interest, learning and discovery, and I wouldn't give it up for the world. But at the bottom line, it is still fiction, and should not be treated as an academic work or a historical tractate. Read, enjoy, and be generous to the author.