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Revenge of the Spec Fic Nerds!


Two old Speculative Fiction Nerds walk into in a bar…
No. Really. We met in a bar and realised we had one major thing in common: words. Preferably wrapped about fantastic worlds like some insane crazy quilt.


CC: All right, we said we were going to talk about worldbuilding this month, or at least partially, because it’s perhaps one of the biggest aspects of Spec Fic. While we usually start out with an OED definition of our topic, I’m afraid the OED doesn’t have one for this. So you’ll just have to trust us on this one:

~1 Worldbuilding noun \ˈwər(-ə)ld-bil-diŋ\

The process of inventing a world or universe to serve as a base upon which a fictional story is set. History, biology (and its evolution), psychology and sociology (and their evolution[s]), ecology and geology are all crucial components of inclusive worldbuilding and, when used effectively, can enhance and enrich a fully realized fictional world.

CC: No, we’re not going to tell you how to build a world, and we’re not going to cram in not-so-sly promos of the worlds we’ve built in our own books. Except, I did build this really cool world, and you can read all about it in my book. Here, let me paste in an excerpt and a link to—

JTH: A-hem.

CC: …Er. Yes, Jen?

JTH: Don’t give me that innocent look. No. Down, girl.

CC: *pours JTH honking-big glass of wine and grins endearingly*

JTH: *sips wine* Still no. And that grin isn’t half as endearing as you think it is.

CC: *grumbles* Okay, fine, we’re really not here to talk about our own worlds, and we’re not even really here to analyze the worlds of other authors. We’re here to talk about worldbuilding in Spec Fic and why writing it—and reading it—takes a different kind of mindset than it would in something like… oh, say, a historical memoir or a contemporary romance. We’re also going to talk about why anachronisms aren’t always anachronistic, even if they look like they are, and why—even when building a world encompasses the exposition of same-sex sexuality—the term “gay” does not necessarily apply.

JTH: And also, eventually, why worldbuilding can be its own most craven enemy, leading to such things as the Backstory That Drones On And On And ON, the World Without A Plot, and the World That Tells You–Every Stinking Paragraph–Just How Amazing It Is.

*looks at all the capitals* Bloody damn, that was exhausting.

CC: Have some cheese with that whine?

JTH: As long as it isn’t Cheetos

CC: *lobs cheese*

JTH: *catches it* But then, worldbuilding is bloody exhaustive work and we should all cast a suspicious eye upon those who say otherwise. Which end upon the hard part descends hinges on how you work and write… but if you don’t do the work, it shows. And we have an entire rich world to base us in creating our own; SF is all about the mining and resculpturing of mythic encounters. It questions valued paradigms. There is, of course and like everything, a caveat to this: so much of SF started with a bunch of upper class white guys–many of them Victorians envisioning Other, and often in a less-than-culturally-balanced way. Nevertheless, some of the most amazing worlds were born in the breath of folk tales and faery stories. Perhaps all of it, when you break it down to its essential bits…

But it’s a different kind of work than, say, the work you have to do on an historically-based event. There is no less of a world being built (rebuilt?) in historical fiction but your… ‘map’ changes. The rules by which you have to abide can be fairly binding. You can wriggle around a lot of the Rules by putting a fantastical element into the history. Steampunk and alternate history are two good examples of this. I detest bunging everything up into tidy boxes, BUT. A magical element is not license to run amok. There has to be some sort of internal consistency, some sense to be gleaned from even a wild world, however anarchic or anachronistic.

CC: It’s tempting to shove dragons and magic and the Fae Folk (or spaceships and laser guns) into a story and think: “There, I’m done. I can do what I want, now!” But no. No, no, no, noooooo. Just because it’s a Spec Fic story and there’s more license for playing with the development of the world, does not mean there don’t have to be rules. Every world has to have rules—gravity, physical limitations, societal expectations, etc.—and just because a world is made up, that doesn’t give it a free pass. There still has to be a basis in the reality of that particular world.

Given that, Anachronism is still one of those words that gets thrown around entirely too much. I’ve seen complaints about an anachronism in a book that “threw a reader out of the story”, and when I go and have a look, I find that the word or situation in question wasn’t anachronistic at all. What a reader might think is an anachronism isn’t always anachronistic:

A world wouldn’t develop mass transit before it developed mass communication, WTF!

It wouldn’t? Why not? It’s a completely different world—why wouldn’t it develop technology on a completely different timeline and in a completely different way?

A hospital scene in Medieval Japan, WTF!

And…? First of all, if it’s a Spec Fic story, it wouldn’t really be Medieval Japan, would it? And second of all, Medieval Japan had hospitals.

JTH: So much of Spec Fic is based on medieval places; it’s far too easy to fall into those assumptions and expectations… in a genre where expectations are supposed to be shaken and questioned! And if you have a race, say, of telepaths that cannot physically teleport, then they don’t need artificial mass communication… but they just might have to get somewhere quickly. So I guess my question is: who wasn’t doing the work? There’s a problem on both sides of the author/reader dynamic: the tendency to be unwilling–or just too lazy–to submit to the world being built.

The writer has a lot more to prove, a lot more trust to garner–and they should. A writer’s job is to make absolutely sure their wild and fantastic world has some kind of interior logic that holds water, and all the while be preemptive in making sure that said logic is presented in stable and hopefully non-intrusive fashion. On the reader’s side, they need to agree to let the author take them on a journey of some kind–and often in SF that means being thoughtful and open-minded. Lack of know-how on either side can sabotage the trust.

And there’s always going to be someone–author or reader–who pulls something out of their arse without checking to make sure whether they’ve mined gold or crap.

CC: And writers get bent on the weirdest things. For example, I was watching a conversation on one of my writers’ groups in which the OP asked if she should stay away from using the word “earth” in the fantasy story she was writing, and whether or not it was anachronistic. And I kind of watched the comments build and multiply, all the while boggling that everyone seemed to think it was a huge mistake to use the word in a story that didn’t take place on Earth, and not a single person seemed to twig to the fact that, in its nonProper Noun form, “earth” is just another word for “soil”. Yes, someone thousands of years ago named our planet after it, but the primary definition of the word originated from the Greek “eorthe/ertha” and “erde”, both of which mean “ground”.

The thing is, writing a Spec Fic story without inventing a whole new language for the world in which the story is based—and then writing the story in that language—is anachronistic in and of itself. We’re already putting English words in our characters’ mouths, when they obviously shouldn’t be speaking English. The Lord of the Rings, for instance, wasn’t written in Westron, so technically, the entirety of the text is one giant anachronism. So you do have to give a Spec Fic story some leeway when it comes to language.

JTH: And Tolkien wasn’t building a world that was separate from OUR world; he was doing a myth of prehistory. So he could get away with a lot of things he shouldn’t have been able to had he been doing a totally different world… and had he not been a Fantasy Trailblazer and White Dude. 😉 A Fantasy based firmly in history has to be somewhat conversant with that history… (And truthfully, Tolkien kind of did what he bloody wanted with some of his ‘consistencies’. Being Fantasy Trailblazer garners respect, but does not get you off the hook, White Dude.)

CC: Yeah, there is certainly that. Calling a story Spec Fic does not mean it’s a free-for-all when it comes to building the world on which the story takes place. The religion of that world is a four-god system that never heard of Judeo-Christianity? Then having your character say “jeepers creepers” is anachronistic. Why? Because it’s a slang phrase meant as a nonblasphemous alternative to saying “Jesus Christ.”

JTH: Or Jeezy Creezy, as Eddie Izzard would say. (And if you’ve not heard of him… run, don’t walk to your retailer of choice, and grab one of his comedic DVDs.)

CC: In your mind!

*cough* Sorry. Had myself a brief Izzard Moment. Anyway.

There are tons of words and phrases like that, and sometimes readers will trip over them, and sometimes they won’t. But it’s the author’s job to be aware of language and to use it properly. And then not get all bent out of shape when someone does trip over an anachronism the author used, however inadvertently, because let’s face it—not all of us have a 5,000,000 word vocabulary and the brass to use it. *pokes JTH*

JTH: Kept me off the streets. Dirt roads. Whatever. I do believe I was the only kid I knew who had a dictionary on the nightstand–and read it. Of course, reading the dictionary means that you end up not knowing many kids…

And language… that is a whole ‘nother thing all it’s own… and I really-really want to dive in headfirst, but will restrain myself for another visit to the Armchair. I’ll just leave it for now that language can be anachronism. Or, given the proper basis, not. Anachronism is like… a debate, perhaps, and the entire hinge upon which it swings seems to be the validity of the defending argument. Does the author make the world-logic compelling enough to take in the use of this device, or wield that equipment? Are they insecure in their world and having to desperately defend it by bludgeoning the reader? Is the reader willing to go in and be convinced–or do they, too, have some underground agenda of needing to have their own world validated, and so much that they can’t wake up to another one?

Or did just some unfortunate fuck-up happen that nobody caught? Because, well, it does.

CC: When the author ventures out of that reality, that’s when it’s okay to call a Spec Fic story on anachronism. Authors know their worlds better than anyone else ever will, but sometimes we spend so much time in them, we don’t pay enough attention to the one everybody else lives in. So yeah, things—like a phrase or a word or a concept—can get by an author and no alarm bells will go off until a reader catches it.

On the other hand, just because a character in a SF world that looks like a 4th century Mesopotamia discovers a device that looks suspiciously to the reader like a battery—and probably starts a big war or has to keep the device from Evil Bad Guy, because we can’t forget about the High Stakes Endgame—that doesn’t make it anachronistic. If the possibility of that device is built into that world, the author has done their job and it’s the reader’s responsibility to roll with it. And if the reader still can’t buy it? Look it up. It’s sometimes surprising how many “unbelievable and anachronistic” things are actually neither. ‘Cause, you know, there is such thing as the Baghdad Battery. Oh, and hey, historians are pretty sure it’s from the 3rd century.

JTH: So it seems, when you get it whittled down, it’s cultural anachronisms in SF that can be the worst offenders, eh? If a reader or writer makes the assumption that things are expected to be nothing more than status quo, set in the stone of our own culture’s baggage… that’s when things can get really dicey. Like assuming another religion will of course look at things the same way as ‘your’ religion does. Like deciding that every being living on an entire planet will act the same and look the same. (Yes, Gene Roddenberry, I love you but am looking at you.) Like being irritated when words have apostrophes or are difficult to pronounce, and…? *pauses and toasts CC*

CC: And here’s where we get into “gay”, and why it really isn’t. At least, in a Spec Fic story that’s not based in our world.

Our history is not the universe’s history. If there are other populated worlds out there, chances are not all of them came up with vengeful gods who hate it when people stick their twigs in what they perceive as the wrong knothole, or eschew twigs altogether.

I like to think that other worlds wouldn’t develop our same prejudices. I like to think alien societies would be smarter about sexuality than we are. So when I’m confronted with a story that supposedly takes place on another world entirely, and yet that world includes all of the societal absurdities of ours, I have to hold back a few emo tears. Because what’s the point? Spec Fic, you know?—where the ‘spec’ part is short for speculative. If there’s no speculation, what’s so speculative about it?

“Gay”, as a cultural concept, is characteristic of our world, and the prejudices that—unfortunately still—come with it progressed from a societal evolution unique to us. Or, at least, I certainly hope we’re the only idiots in the universe to have hissies over who sleeps with whom. But I digress. And don’t mistake “gay” for a blanket synonym for “same-sex relationships”, not in Spec Fic. In Spec Fic, same-sex relationships are often part and parcel of the cultural norm—sometimes the expectation.

JTH: I think it’s that language thing again… and one that belongs to our more recent cultures. Gay, for instance–relatively recently and in the more dominant cultures of this world–has been claimed by a disenfranchised group of people as a statement and an identity. It seems to me somewhat discourteous–and disingenuous–to just hie off with that identity and use it as nothing more than a keyword. There has to be context. There will be subtext–either read into it or there waiting to be read–and we all need to be damn sure of what that subtext is saying. If history is taken from an identifier, then to some extent some of the identifier’s meaning is ripped away as well.

I can talk about a gay 12th century English outlaw–but do I use that terminology in the text proper? No. There are words from that century that are more appropriate–and many of them unfortunately brutal–but with some attention their meaning can make them pertinent to a struggle the modern reader can identify with. The cultural and language markers cannot be the same… but the subtext and questions within them can make them even more accessible.

As Spec Fic writers–and readers–we need to build upon existing identities… but we also need to know when to let them hold their own place. We need to build new identities as we’re building new worlds–and look for answers to old, troubling questions whilst we carry on our attempts to make some sort of sense within them.


And for you, Dear Readers:

What books and/or stories made you question your paradigm? Made you ‘wake up’ and ask questions about what was wrong–or right–about your own world?


Carole Cummings lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. Author of the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, Carole is an avid reader of just about anything that’s written well and has good characters. She is a lifelong writer of the ‘movies’ that run constantly in her head. Surprisingly, she does manage sleep in there somewhere, and though she is rumored to live on coffee and Pixy Stix™, no one has as yet suggested she might be more comfortable in a padded room. Well, not to her face.

J Tullos Hennig is suspected of having written since in utero. JTH was a professional writer 30 years ago, but Very Bad Luck prevailed so the publishing ground to a halt. JTH also tried to stop writing, but resistance is, yes, futile… and here we are. JTH has recently re-imagined the legend of Robyn Hood in a duology of Historical Fantasy; Book 1, Greenwode was published by Dreamspinner Press in January 2013. The second book, Shirewode was released on September 9th. JTH is presently working on the introductory book of a Speculative Fiction series.


Man OnTitle: Man On (Black Jack Gentlemen #1)
Author: Liz Crowe
Publisher: Tri Destiny Publishing
Length: 131 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: As the tags are very spoilerish, I don’t want to put them here but if you really want to see them, check them out at the bottom of this post but beware! They contain spoilers!
Rating: Not Feelin’ It

Reviewed by Nikyta

*****This review contains major spoilers to the contents of this book*****

BLURB

Bad boy of European football, Nicolas Garza is about to hit American shores with a vengeance. Signed by the Detroit Black Jack Gentlemen as lynch pin for their expansion club, Nicco only half believes he’s making the right move. But with a past full of ghosts and rotten behavior chasing him from his homeland, he has no real choice.

Parker Rollings is a college soccer superstar, but his parents’ plans for their only son do not include professional athletics. When the Black Jacks approach him to finalize their roster, Parker leaps at the chance to keep playing, leaving behind medical school, stability and his first and only college sweetheart.

Nicco and Parker face off as bitter rivals for a coveted starting spot at midfield and are forced to channel their negative energy into something positive for the sake of the group—and themselves.

All eyes are on the fledgling team in its debut season. It’s crucial that the Black Jacks prove all the doubters wrong. They must make a good showing in the league and with new fans. But player drama, club dynamics, and misplaced priorities may tear it apart before it even begins.

REVIEW

The first thing I want to say is if you’re coming into this book thinking it would be a real sports story, you won’t get what you expect in this one because it follows Nicco through his journey to finding love in Parker but doesn’t contain many scenes regarding the actual sport.

I liked Parker because he was so innocent, naive and vulnerable. He comes from money but he’s not an obnoxious spoiled brat. He’s very sweet, dedicated to soccer and just wants a simple life where he can be himself. I adored the fact that he blushed so much at the littlest provocative comment. I found it so cute. Nicco is a different story. I won’t lie, I didn’t like him at all. He’s arrogant, stubborn and doesn’t give a crap about anyone else but himself. He does what he wants to and won’t care if someone objects to it. His reaction to Parker is instantaneous and intense. The lust he feels for Parker consumes him to the point he can’t stop thinking about Parker. However, Nicco is a sex addict and he’ll take that lust out on anyone.

The biggest issue I had with this story is that the blurb is very misleading. Coming into this book, I was expecting some intense sexual tension of enemies with a lot of sports related scenes, showing the rivalry between Nicco and Parker, the aggression and face offs for the same spot and ultimately the soccer season that they play together in. Unfortunately, that is not what this book is about and you don’t actually see any of those scenes but are told about them in just a few short paragraphs throughout the story.

To be honest, I didn’t like a majority of it because it is so focused on showing Nicco’s sex addiction (which is not mentioned in the blurb and considering it is SUCH a huge part of the book, I have to wonder why). I struggled to get through at least the first half of the story because Nicco would do anything that had two legs, even indulging in threesomes and orgies with women and men. I will say that while Nicco does have a lot of sex, thankfully most of it (especially with the women) were either glossed over or fade to black. Even with that, however, the constant talking about his conquests and how many he did last night, the orgies he partook in, the soft flesh of so and so grew extremely aggravating and annoying. I kept asking myself, “Why is this in here? Shouldn’t we be focusing on more of Parker and Nicco?”

A lot of the book revolves around that aspect of Nicco and I can’t say that it endeared me to him. It made my opinion that he was selfish and couldn’t understand the concept of monogamy nor be able to uphold it even more intense. It also made me think that even if he did get into a relationship with Parker, that he wouldn’t be able to keep it in his pants long enough to not break Parker’s heart. Regardless, the physical showing of Nicco’s clubbing and conquests took away from the actual Parker/Nicco story, IMO. By the end of the story, we are told and somewhat see the love and supposed devotion (as I said, it’s hard for me to believe Nicco won’t cheat eventually) but we didn’t see the lead up to this love and devotion. Out of the whole story, Parker and Nicco only spend maybe a third of it actually together that we see. The rest is either told to us (such as the time they spend on the field, their teamwork together and this long vacation they took) or of Nicco and Parker getting some action from other individuals.

Personally, that is not something I’m fond of. I like to SEE the development between characters but this book didn’t have any of that until the very end and I found that disappointing. I wanted to like this book but it started off really bad for me because I don’t appreciate seeing to this extent how much of a whore a character is. I want to see the connection between the main characters not between ONE main character and other people. We aren’t shown the connection between Nicco and Parker until very far into the book and at that point, many months have already past between them, none of them where we see them together and this happens more than once where weeks or months pass without us seeing any of what I believe were crucial moments to these characters relationship. More than anything, I really wished we had seen them play together on the field, during practice, at a game, anything to show that not all these boys have is lust because the emotions of love they share, I didn’t see and couldn’t FEEL.

In the end, I will freely admit this isn’t the type of story I like. I prefer to have stories that focus on the emotions that characters share and seeing them NOT on the physical releases of the flesh. Readers that enjoy books that have layers of sex and decadence will enjoy this but if you’re looking for a story about sports and love, this won’t exactly fit the bill. I will say that while I didn’t enjoy the story as a whole, there were pieces that I adored but those happened at the very end and by then, not enough was focused on that to lift my overall opinion. Still, I encourage readers to make up your own mind about this one because I know others will enjoy it much more than I did.

One last thing I want to say is that this book seems to be somewhat of a spin-off of another m/f series by this author. I say this because a few times it was hinted that we should already know a side character’s background and having looked up the author after reading this book, I can say that some of the secondary characters have books of their own in other works by this author.


Of all the fairy tales available, few are as unromantic as The Pied Piper of Hamelin, with its plague of rats, avaricious mayor, and the death or disappearance of the town’s children by a potentially paedophilic piper dressed in an outlandish costume and out for revenge. But wait! It’s do-able … so long as we toss in space travel, mutant space rats, and a shadowy League with the power to save or destroy the pearls of humanity strung about the galaxy.

That is the backdrop for Piper, a space age version of the Pied Piper with the added bonus of a May/September MM romance. My name is Leona, this is the first stop on Piper’s blog tour, and I am trembling in my armchair just to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Piper’s plot and many of the details are based on the versions of the fairy tale by the Brother’s Grimm and Robert Browning, wherein a struggling community hires a piper to rescue them from a rat blight and then sends him away without paying him. The piper then teaches them an important lesson about commerce: If they do not want to pay him, he will extract his due another way.

20130908-211046.jpg

There are a few minor differences. Instead of a town, Piper has a space station. Instead of a mayor, a Station Commander. The piper, Atmosphere, is not a lone traveller, but part of a League. This League is responsible for protecting humankind from the ever-present threat of rats that have adapted to thrive in the hostile environments of space ships and stations. On the side, the pipers put on glam rock concerts and support a thriving community of fan clubs. Where the fairy tale does not even attempt to explain how music entrances the rats and children, Piper explains the method at great length, delving into the ramifications of a technology that can control minds.

Most importantly, where the Pied Piper of Hamelin mentions nothing of love, Piper revolves around the relationship between Atmosphere and Jacob Tucker, son of the Commander and a rewritten version of the “one little lame boy” who survives the wrath of the piper for no other reason than that he cannot dance to the tune.

So, why write a fairy tale romance? I adore fairy tales. The grimmer, the better. There’s always someone dying or meeting a terrible fate because they did something stupid. It’s delicious and so very different from modern fantasy.

I chose the Pied Piper first and foremost because it seemed like a terrible idea for a romance. Where would you even put it in? Of all the tales out there, I think it’s the most gruesome based on body count alone. Terry Pratchett does a fantastic job in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, with a cute relationship between a boy piper and a town girl. I wanted something directly related to the tale, though, with a character who is specifically mentioned in the original. That left me with the mayor, his advisors, or a young person with a mobility disability. Enter the May/September and a whole slough of other issues that could be addressed within the narrative.

Excerpt

Too soon, Atmosphere finished one tale and didn’t immediately launch into another. He performed his usual check on Starlight, who had turned onto her other side and curled into a tight ball, then said, “I’m getting carried away. My apologies, Jacob.”

“It’s all right.” Jake slouched, anticipating his impending dismissal. “I enjoy listening to you.”

“And I enjoy talking, but I’m sure you came up here to do more than listen.”

“I …” Jake’s initial purpose seemed so far away, but, as Atmosphere brought the interview back on course, he realized it might have been his only chance to ask. He rummaged in the chaos that Atmosphere had made of his mind for the exact wording he had settled on earlier: an innocuous start that would hopefully lead to a well-balanced and convincing argument. “I’m doing some research and I need your help.”

“Let me guess. Research on pipers? No. Research on me. And you want to experiment.” Atmosphere’s perfect white teeth flashed. In a smooth movement, he closed the space between them. “I’ve never been happier to partake of science.”

Another reason for the choice was the challenge of making the piper a sympathetic character. Granted, he was taken advantage of in the tale, but who murders children just because people don’t make their payments? Crazy people, that’s who. Well then, Atmosphere would need to be a little bit unstable, too, which would be accompanied by another bushel of issues.

After some thought and extrapolation, Piper almost wrote itself while I tried to fill in the gaps to explain what happened and why, and put it into the framework of a romantic narrative. I tried to stay true to the details in the original tale, with some exceptions here and there, and I am excited to know how I did. I’ll be giving away a copy of Piper, either electronic or print format, at the end of this blog tour. Every comment on this and the other four posts will be another entry into the draw. I will write them onto little pieces of paper and put them into a legitimate top hat, pull one out on September 15, and email the winner.

Come and join me for stop number two at It’s Raining Men [link: http://rainingmenamen.blogspot.ca%5D, where I will regale you with my thoughts on writing a character with a mobility disability opposite a character with inhuman power and very human frailties.


The Spec Fic Nerds Strike Back!


Two old Speculative Fiction Nerds met in a bar…
No. Really. We met in a bar and realised we had one major thing in common: words. Preferably wrapped about fantastic worlds like some insane crazy quilt.


JTH: Well, I must say, my introduction to the world of m/m romance (and we will talk about that ‘slash’ very soon, we will, preciousss) is really making me realise how many things I have always taken for granted, not only as a writer but a reader. Witness this recent phone conversation with my dear comrade-in-crime, Carole:

CC: …and so they wanted to know why I kept telling the story from the PoV of the other characters.

JTH: *drops mop and stares at phone* WTF?

CC: Yeah. That I squandered too many words and pages on those ‘useless other people’.

JTH: *looking at mop on wet floor, trying not to drop phone* W…TF??

CC: That I should only be telling the story from the two main characters.

JTH: *Ginormous Air Quotes of* W… T… F……?????

CC: Because, obviously, the only ones who count are the two guys doing it.

JTH: *snatches up mop* Bloody hell. Like two shagging protagonists would be reliable narrators?

CC: And then they’re griping because they didn’t understand the book.

JTH: Well, maybe if they HAD PAID ATTENTION TO THE OTHER CHARACTERS they would have done!

(And yes, we do talk on the phone whilst doing housework. Otherwise MY house would never get clean… though Carole’s would, she’s better than me at that stuff.)

CC: You wanted to say ‘more anal’ there. Admit it.

JTH: *whistles and refills CC’s margarita pitcher*

CC: Ah, see, if I’d had this during that phone conversation, maybe I wouldn’t have been quite so bewildered about the OMG WTF MULTIPLE POV AUGH! thing.

…Actually, maybe I wouldn’t have even noticed. 😉

JTH: So. As might be obvious, I was rather astounded that you were getting flak for the audacity of… having more than two points of view. Multiple Point-of-View (PoV) is not only a widely accepted way of telling a story in many genres, but in SF it is one of the trope-iest (and perhaps trippiest) Holy Mothers of SF Tropes.

CC: Well, before we wax rhapsodic about the many advantages of this particular Storytelling tool, let’s define Trope, via the O.E.D.:

–1. Rhetoric. A figure of speech which consists in the use of a word or phrase in a sense other than that which is proper to it; also, in casual use, a figure of speech; figurative language.

Or, to use the more specialised Cambridge definition:

–Something such as an idea, phrase, or image that is often used in a particular artist’s work, in a particular type of art, etc: human-like robots are a classic trope of Science Fiction.

You can also mosey over to the TV Tropes site, but prepare to spend an involuntary and inordinate vastness of time perusing the archives. You Have Been Warned.

We touched on expectations last month, which begins, in truth, upon the Road of Tropes. Each genre has its own set of tropes but there’s a lot of crosspollination too. And there are also some tropes that are common to one genre and almost unheard of in another. Multiple POV is apparently one of those tropes not terribly widespread in the Romance genre, but so universal in the Spec Fic genre that it’s almost expected. So, we should maybe start with why that is and how it can enhance the reading experience of a Spec Fic story.

*fetches JTH a fresh bottle of wine*

JTH: *glomps on it, then scowls* Goddammit, where’s my corkscrew?

CC: *holds up corkscrew, whistling*

JTH: I have to perform for my wine. I see how you are. All right, well… First: no one exists in a bloody vacuum. The most internal head-stuck-up-own-arse character might live in their own world, but unless they’re Robinson Crusoe, they aren’t in a vacuum. In fact, it can be gainfully argued that R. Crusoe isn’t in a vacuum any more than any other character, because what is occupying said castaway’s mind? Survival, natch, but also, getting back home.

Second–and this is extremely important–a secondary or peripheral PoV will usually be a dark glass in which to view the main character. And often a more realistic glass, because usually a main character is that because they are in some sort of mess. Which means they are likely not reliable witnesses at some point.

CC: And in the book referenced in the above telephone conversation, that second reason is exactly why I chose to write the story through multiple points of view. There is such a thing as Unreliable Narrator. And in that particular story, both protagonists were unreliable, both protagonists saw the events of the story through too-personal lenses, and neither protagonist could be relied upon to interpret the truth of the events for the reader, only their own skewed perceptions of them. And while those perceptions may have been entirely honest from the PoVs of those protagonists, it still didn’t make them the truth.

JTH: But it makes them interesting. There can be this amazing subtextual conversation happening around, betwixt and beneath Supposed Truth, if readers pay attention. And if writers are skilled enough to impart it.

CC: A lot of ifs. And a lot of people wondering, I’m sure, why bother? Why tell a story through an Unreliable Narrator in the first place? Why not let one of the protagonists be omniscient and always right, and make it easy for everyone?

JTH: Um… *scrutinizes wine glass* It’s boring? Like an empty glass… *makes sad eyes at CC*

CC: *snorts and tenders a refill* Well, I write what I like to read, and as a reader, I definitely find it much more interesting when the story and the characterizations aren’t spoonfed to me. But more importantly, Unreliable Narrator is just how things work in general when you’re dealing with human beings.

Think about it in terms of real life: Put ten people in a room, make them watch two strangers act out an argument, and see how many different stories you get as to what the argument was about, whose fault it was, what started it, who made the best points and who eventually won it. Know how many different stories you’ll get? I’m betting on ten. Know which one you’re going to believe? Yours. You’ll probably listen to everyone else’s opinions first, you’ll compare it to your memory of events, and you’ll probably even adjust your opinion as a consequence, but in the end, you’ll walk away from it with your truth, and that’s the one you’ll swear to in front a jury of your peers. Or your friends on Facebook. Whatever.

So, why would characters in a story be any different? Every character has (or should have) a different POV and interprets events based on that POV. You can’t know what the real essence of a complex plot is until the pertinent characters show you their POV so you can assess accordingly and decide for yourself what the truth of the story is.

JTH: See, to me that is what takes a trope from tired into brilliant. It’s the experiences being had, and the little connect-the-dots between those experiences that give a full, rich picture. When you’re dealing with well-written Spec Fic and its complexities of other worlds and realities, you need all the info. You will be soooo screwed if you don’t have the full picture.

CC: Yes! There are, of course, disadvantages to the Multiple PoV trope. As a Spec Fic reader/writer, I’ll confess I wasn’t aware that multiPoV is apparently not the done thing in the Romance genre.

JTH: Well now everyone knows how taken aback I was. And quite frankly, it’s not a must in Romance, either. The Thorn Birds, anyone?

CC: Well, that’s an older book, too.

JTH: Classic! Back in the days of novels that took me longer than two hours to read. Those *raises glass* were the days, eh? But now… it’s not done?

CC: It seems more common now that people like their PoVs drawn very tightly, and limited to one or two. Which is okay, don’t get me wrong—especially when the major arc of a story exists to answer the question of whether or not the two protagonists will end up together, as it generally is in a romance. But when it comes to Spec Fic, the keyword there is ‘limited’. And yes, in most Spec Fic you need all the info. When you’re dealing with detailed world-building and multifaceted plots, it’s unlikely that only one or two main characters can be personal witness to everything that’s pertinent to the story as a whole.

The thing is, when dealing with a multiPoV story, it is absolutely possible that the various opinions put forth by the PoV characters can confuse a reader, especially if the main character is an Unreliable Narrator. The reader isn’t given an obvious character telling them what to think, they’re not given an obvious character stepping forth to proclaim This is the truth, the only truth, the foundation upon which you should build your opinion. And some readers might object to that.

JTH: Well, perhaps Spec Fic designed as Spec Fic is not their cuppa. To each their own and all that. But you know, I think its the stakes that often make the crucial difference in how authors choose to tell a story. Another tropiest of Spec Fic tropes is the High Stakes Endgame. In this, the characters are often sympathetic, personal representations of a ginormous conflict, one often being waged on a land-wide, planetary or cosmic scale. You can’t figure the stakes if you don’t know the players–and there are, often, many players in such a game, each with a very valid PoV.

CC: And the players themselves can be understood through another trope that’s very important to the question of multiple PoVs: Archetypes. If you know them and can recognize them, find the Witness in the story and stick with him/her. That’s where you’ll generally find the truth.

JTH: Archetypes hit the nail on the trope head–they are the instinctual expression of experience. You don’t have to be a student of Jungian theory or read Joseph Campbell to know them (though I would recommend Joe Campbell’s Power of Myth tv series with Bill Moyers as Myth 101 to everyone, particularly writers), but even if you think you don’t know them, you probably do. Everyone recognises the Callow Youth, who with the help of a aged Mentor/Wizard is revealed to be the Chosen One who will lead his people. From Arthur to Moses to Luke Skywalker, it’s all there. There’s the Innocent who walks into the enchanted forest and literally falls into the Adventure, sometimes kicking and screaming. There’s…

Gah, I could go on, you know…

CC: *pats JTH* I know, dear.

JTH: I think my Freudian Slip of Myth Geekiness is showing. It needs more wine to lull it into complacency.

CC: *offers more wine*

JTH: But you were speaking of the Witness in particular. The Witness is not strictly a Jungian archetype, but s/he often slips into the role of Storyteller, is often a uncomplicated sort with an uncomplicated view, the Everyman or the Survivor. Archetypes can also be thematic, or situational. But we all put them into use, one way or another. Particularly when telling a story that nips the heels of myth. They’re our key to the enchanted lock of Story. Which means they are both the bane and boon of storytelling, If you don’t have a solid archetypical foundation, or you’re relying too heavily on a trope without broadening and personalising the experience?

The latter is kind of like George Lucas did with the Gawdawful Trilogy of Utter Crap Backstory. I really dig backstory, but that? *shudders* Give me The Empire Strikes Back, any day.

CC: People also have to be invested in the PoV characters. Precious few were invested in The Phantom Menace characters except the marketing wizards selling toys.

JTH: Just for that, you deserve another pitcher of margaritas. And cabana boys fanning you.

CC: Jen! You got me a cabana boy! Just what I’ve always wanted! Sentimental wench.

JTH: Drink makes me sloppy. And a bit chatty.

CC: Good thing we’re supposed to be chatting. *pats* Okay, I want to go play with my new present, so let’s start wrapping this up.

As we talked about last month, there’s an expectation in the M/M genre that every story should be a Romance. A tightened one or two PoV narrative suits Romance perfectly, because Romance is all about the two main characters and the development of their relationship. That’s not always the case with Spec Fic. Basically, I think what we’ve been dealing with here is the difference between a Romance with some Spec Fic elements, in which case the SinglePoV would be most applicable, as opposed to a Spec Fic with a subplot love story, in which case the MultiPoV generally works best. When you’re building a complicated world, and populating it with complicated people, and giving them a chewy plot to gnaw through on the way to their high stakes endgame, a SinglePoV can be more of a detriment than a favored storytelling tool. And while M/M Spec Fic can certainly contain romantic elements, that doesn’t make them Romances and they can’t be read as such.

JTH: Well, they can, but that seems, more and more, to end with a disappointed cadre of Romance readers. It disrupts the expected trope… only in some cases, the expected trope isn’t truly the one the story was aligned with. It’s what Joe Campbell would call a ‘mistaken reading’. And also, perhaps, mistaken marketing–but that’s a whole ‘nother can of sandworms…

NEXT INSTALLMENT…
We’ll deal with one of the more thorny tropes of Spec Fic: World Building. The ins and outs of cussing, of how anachronism aren’t–‘cept when they are, how to groom a unicorn if you aren’t a virgin, and how Gay is often… not.

[And CC and I are often on opposite sides of the fence on these topics, so it should prove interesting. 😉 ]

In the meantime, Fair Readers, what is your favourite Spec Fic trope? What would you like to see discussed, or discuss with us?

Thanks, everyone. See you in the comments section!


Carole Cummings lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. Author of the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, Carole is an avid reader of just about anything that’s written well and has good characters. She is a lifelong writer of the ‘movies’ that run constantly in her head. Surprisingly, she does manage sleep in there somewhere, and though she is rumored to live on coffee and Pixy Stix™, no one has as yet suggested she might be more comfortable in a padded room. Well, not to her face.

J Tullos Hennig is suspected of having written since in utero. JTH was a professional writer 30 years ago, but Very Bad Luck prevailed so the publishing ground to a halt. JTH also tried to stop writing, but resistance is, yes, futile… and here we are. JTH has recently re-imagined the legend of Robyn Hood in a duology of Historical Fantasy; Book 1, Greenwode was published by Dreamspinner Press in January 2013. The second book, Shirewode is due out September 9th. JTH is presently working on finishing the introductory book of a Speculative Fiction series.


20130820-024309.jpgA lot of books use sports as a backdrop for everything from romance, to suspense, to action/ adventure. One of my favorite books, as a matter of fact, is “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby which chronicles his life as fan of the English football club Arsenal. It has been translated into both UK and US movie versions but, interestingly enough, the American version decided to make it a movie about baseball, not soccer.

My own obsession with soccer (long called “the beautiful game” in Europe) began in Turkey, where I lived as an ex-pat American for a few years, during which the Turkish national team made a deep run into soccer’s World Cup, a tournament that occurs every four years, opposite the Olympic years. It was absolutely impossible not to get caught up in the country’s pride and near hysterical celebrating as their team made it closer and closer to the finals. They ended up losing to Brazil in the semi-finals who then lost to Germany in the finals. I got so into it, even my somewhat surly doorman for my building was begrudgingly proud of me.

After that we moved to England where “the footie” has long been a known obsession with fans. Football players are, in many cases, among the country’s biggest, most notorious celebrities, their antics and those of their “WAGs” fodder for daily gossip columns and blogs. For the record, I am an Everton fan but if pressed to choose, I will cheer for Man City over Manchester United any day of the week.

When we moved back to the states, my youngest daughter was in first grade (her first real experience living in the U.S. having been born in Japan where we lived prior to Turkey). In second grade, we signed her up for a “rec and ed” soccer team, run by the Ann Arbor public schools recreation department. By the time she was nine, we had joined a soccer club and now, at 15, she has played on Olympic Development teams and is determined to play at a Division 1 school in college.

So we live and breathe the sport you might say, at least from a female perspective, which is a unique one considering the very limited possibilities she has to do much beyond playing in college. But we love the game and subscribe to all the extended cable channels that allow us to watch it all the time.

It has long been my contention that, along the spectrum of fitness for athletes, soccer players are at the “most fit” end. Considering that their game lasts 90 minutes (two 45 minutes halves with a mere fifteen minute interval) and most players start and play the entire game with only the half time break. And it is a constantly moving sport, with players running up and down the field at top speeds, colliding with each other to gain control of the ball. Make no mistake: soccer IS a contact sport. And at least in Europe, the “season” lasts nearly year round.

It is gaining a foothold in America as a spectator sport more and more, thanks to the legions of kids who now play up through the thousands of soccer clubs from coast to coast. Cities like LA, Chicago, Washington, Houston, Kansas City and Salt Lake City have “Major League Soccer” teams and New York has recently announced its selection for an expansion team. The league has also decided that each team should have a “reserve (or farm) team” located in another city.

So I have crafted an “expansion team” for Detroit, Michigan, a city that is know for its sports fans and successful teams and one that could use the boost from visitors (and that’s about 40 minutes from my home in Ann Arbor). The “Black Jack Gentlemen” currently consists of 3 books, with at least 2 more planned if not more, depending on reader demand. They are unique stories, all designed to be read alone, if need be or enjoyed as a series as the players and club staff intertwine throughout.

In it, I deal with issues such as gay professional athletes (Man On), the gender politics of the game, and personal tragedy that leads to surprise second chances (Red Card) and how a person’s entire psyche can be ruined by abuse disguised as “BDSM” (Shut Out). These are not traditional “romance” novels but at their core contain tales of the basic human desire for companionship and love. All wrapped around the dynamics of a fledgling, somewhat rag-tag team in a sport and city that both have something to prove.

Click Here for Blurb, Excerpt, Series Info, Author Bio & Buy Links


The Ranch ForemanTitle: The Ranch Foreman
Author: Rob Colton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 28k words, 120 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Closeted, Cowboys, OFY, Grief, Grovel you Bastard!, Healing, Hostile Work Environment, Hurt/Comfort, May/December, Sexual Abuse/Assault
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Nikyta

BLURB

When Madison “Matty” Ward finds himself out of work and without a place to live, his cousin comes through with a job on the Gates cattle ranch. Despite not knowing anything about herding cattle or taking care of horses, Matty does his best to impress the older hunky foreman, Baxter Hollingsworth. Baxter is drawn to the new young hand, but he’s deeply closeted, and after an openly gay veterinarian shows he’s interested in Matty, Baxter’s repressed feelings lead to an explosive encounter. Baxter then withdraws—leaving Matty feeling angry and used—until an accident forces him to confront his fears.

REVIEW

This is a difficult review to write. I won’t deny that the writing drew me in even though this is essentially just an erotica novella, I still had that desire to continue reading even when I was being overwhelmed by sex.

When Matty puts his aunt in a nursing home, it leaves him homeless until his cousin gets him a job at a ranch. Once there, he’s immediately attracted to Baxter, the older ranch foreman who’s very deep in the closet. Everyone on the ranch pretty much knows that Matty is gay but over the course of the book, Matty and Baxter strike up a purely sexual relationship that has a tinge of bitterness and resentment to it. Matty wants a relationship but Baxter is stuck in his old ways. Now Matty has to decide whether he wants to keep his self-respect or take what little scraps Baxter is willing to give him.

Matty, at first, comes off as a slightly battered character. He’s feeling guilty about his aunt but grateful he’s no longer homeless and without a job. He’s a sweet guy that has a thing for older gentleman like Baxter. Baxter, in my opinion, was a complete douche bag. I sincerely disliked him for most of the book because he would either snap or growl at Matty, completely ignore Matty or push Matty to his knees for some head. He didn’t have a personality beyond that of a bastard and even with all these people saying he’s a good man, I never saw any of that. All I ever saw was Baxter silently demanding Matty to suck him when he was drunk, getting mad at Matty for no reason, ignoring Matty for days after they get together and then getting jealous when Matty decides he wants to move on to other guys. By the end of the book, however, he does lighten up a bit and I did like the way he helped Matty and Brian when things take a turn for the aunt but it was in no way enough to redeem himself for how he acted the whole time.

Aside from my hatred of Baxter, this was a promising read and definitely had a lot of potential but I found I had a lot of issues with the story. Mainly, I severely disliked the way the author handled not only Baxter but his encounters with Matty. I didn’t feel any connection between Matty and Baxter because all their time together consisted mainly of Matty giving Baxter blowjobs and then Baxter ignoring Matty until the next blowjob. I could have gotten past that but then it seemed the only way Baxter would do anything with Matty was when he was drunk. It was frustrating and disappointing to say the least because Baxter had no problems molesting Matty when he was wasted but wouldn’t even LOOK at Matty when he was sober let alone have a friendly conversation. Beyond that, this story had a lot of sex to it and what parts didn’t have sex had Matty pining over Baxter. It was hard for me to understand Matty’s obsession when we never saw any of the qualities in Baxter that Matty was pining over. Then again, he was very obsessed with Baxter’s package so granted that was shown quite often. To be honest, I don’t think Matty and Baxter had a meaningful conversation until the last few pages of the book and even then it wasn’t more than a few paragraphs, if that. One last issue I had was Clyde. I felt like the whole issue with him was pointless and the resolution to it didn’t bring Baxter or Matty closer, if anything it pushed them farther apart. I will say one thing, I’m very grateful that what Clyde does was not shown.

In the end, while this book had a lot of potential, it was overcrowded by sex and Baxter’s bad personality mixed with Matty’s willingness to be walked over by him. If this story had more dialogue between Matty and Baxter that didn’t occur while they were having sex, it would have been better. If the sex had been cut down, that would have been even better, IMO, but as it is, this felt more like an erotica story than a romance considering that there was no lead up to the love these boys apparently have together.

Those looking for something smutty and easy to read will like this story IF you like May/December, as well.