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Communication and Respect

c2016, KB

c2016, KB

There’s a meme I occasionally encounter on social media, and it’s a quote from Isaac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.

Usually, I let the meme pass without comment.

Not so after the most recent encounter:

Unfortunately, democracy is made up of flawed human beings of varying perspectives, values, and educations. One trauma, one triumph, one challenge, one loss, one gain, one ________ can change our view of the world and of ourselves.

We — an all-encompassing “we” — need not assume that someone’s disagreement with our point of view means they are the ignorant one in the conversation.

Regardless of where we stand on certain issues, we too often think we stand above those with whom we do not agree. That, I think, is one main reason there are such gaping chasms between groups in this country.

Are only those with whom we agree worthy of courtesy?

Are only those we deem our intellectual equals worthy of our respect?

Are only those we consider morally correct worthy of being treated with decency?

We tend to assume we’re the ones with the whole truth, and often do not consider we might be mistaken.

On the other hand, there is absolute truth, and if we have no strength of conviction, we’ll never stand for anything.

There’s a time to hear and understand other points of view, even if we never change our own stance.

There’s a time to examine ourselves and explore other ideas, and then decide whether or not we need to adjust or to remain firm.

Simply because others disagree does not mean we double-down, speak louder, or become aggressive in trying to change their minds.

Maybe we’re the ones who are wrong.

Maybe, in our ignorance, we overlook their intelligence.

 

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Dragon’s Bane Update

Dragon’s Bane Update

First, a bit of housekeeping: The recent Goodreads giveaway was a success. Not quite as many participants as the 2015 giveaway, there were still a large number of entrants interested in Dragon’s Rook. The winners are Jessica from the Netherlands, and Sheila from New Mexico. Signed paperback copies have been mailed, and should arrive soon.

Second, questions have been asked by readers concerning the availability of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of The Lost Sword duology. They have served as prods to speed up the completion of the story:

1) I just finished Dragon’s Rook and loved it. Any news on when the sequel will be available for purchase? I can’t wait!

(T)hank you for the kind review! We writers pour pieces — minutes, hours, years — of our lives into our work, so when readers receive it well, we are encouraged to continue.

As for when Dragon’s Bane will be available, I had hoped it would be completed and published by January 2016, but life matters took me away from it for a long while. (I won’t bore you with the details.) However, I hope to have it ready soon.

Today’s revisions included (SPOILER ALERT) a reunion scene between two characters who each thought the other was dead. ūüôā

2) I just finished Dragon’s Rook, really liked it. I was wondering when the sequel is coming?

First, thank you for reading the book!

Second, I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.

Third, I wanted the book completed and published this year. However, due to life circumstances, my writing has been quite slow. Dragon’s Bane is about one-third complete, and there are copious notes regarding unwritten scenes.

The ending scene was written about fifteen years ago — believe it or not! — but it may change. I’m exploring a couple of potential plot twists that never occurred to me during the writing of the first book, but which may deepen the story even further.

Below is a taste, a scene from the first third of the book, a confrontation between Lady Yan√°mari and her mother, Queen Una:

The eyes widened, the fury grew, and as it did, Queen Una fully materialized, her form solid, even the tiny creases around her eyes and mouth delineated. She released Yan√°mari and stepped back, lifting her arms from her sides and lowering her head, looking at Yan√°mari from beneath dark brows.

As the queen opened her mouth to speak, Yan√°mari laughed. The sight was too comical: flowing black garments, menacing stare, threatening posture. A bit too much like the H√īk Nar Brethren. In the past two days, she had seen more amazing things than this.

Beside, what true power resorted to manipulation and magic?

There was something external about magic, as if the one who practiced it and the one upon whom it was practiced were both tools of a capricious power that must be cajoled and lured with secret rites and careful spells. Is that where her mother had been all these years? Learning the dark arts? What an absurd expenditure of time.

Where was she when I was a child and longed for a mother? When I might have loved her?

But there was no hope of traveling that road‚ÄĒthe cart had already passed.

(c2016, KB)

For more information or to read reviews, visit keananbrand.com.

 

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Step Right Up!

Step Right Up!

(rabid used-car-salesman gestures and wild-eyed look) “Step right up, folks! A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

The lawyer clears his throat, and the salesman amends his pitch. “A once-in-a-year opportunity!”

The lawyer nods.

“Enter now to win one of two signed paperback copies of Dragon’s Rook!”

And, for those readers who don’t prefer the high-pressure sales pitch, here’s a graphic with an embedded link, which you may click or not, as you wish. ūüėČ

2 Win a FREE Book!

 

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A Brief Word About Beta Readers

A Brief Word About Beta Readers

In a discussion on Facebook, someone asked the difference between a beta reader and an editor, and the cost one might expect to pay for the services of either. When I said that one should not pay for beta readers, there was disagreement. However, I still maintain that one need not pay for beta readers.

Consider them your product testers. They’re the focus group who tries out the new invention, samples a new product, gives feedback on an upcoming ad campaign, views an early cut of a movie, or tests a new video game to see if it plays as it should.

If you (or a close, trusted individual) are the alpha reader of your manuscript, then beta readers are the folks who see the final, pre-publication draft. That version can still be a manuscript, or it can take the form of a galley or proof copy of the book.*

In return for their effort on your behalf, give beta readers a signed copy of the published book, or offer to read or test something they’ve created.

But don’t hire beta readers as you would hire an editor. And while editors can provide a similar service in the form of a manuscript critique,**¬†there’s nothing like getting feedback directly from readers — who are, of course, a writer’s intended audience.


UPDATE (8-7-16): The paragraphs below are from a reader’s comments in a Facebook discussion sparked by this blog post. They expand upon and better explain what I attempted above.

A beta tester for a video game or other piece of software enters into an agreement wherein he receives a free or discounted early release of the software to use, and in return, the tester will tell the company what he thinks about the software — what does or doesn’t work, what is or isn’t intuitive, what he would like to see changed or further developed, etc. The beta tester is not paid for his work. He is asked, as an average user, to give the company his average-user opinion of the product. At best, he gets a free copy of the software, but it is both understood and accepted (and generally stated in some Terms and Conditions document somewhere, for legal reasons) in the IT community that beta testers are not compensated.

Testers who are hired on for their services are not hired to come at the software from the average user’s perspective; they are hired to make sure that the software functions appropriately (e.g. program doesn’t crash on loading, save function actually functions, etc.). They are hired to seek out and fix problems with the software, not to provide the average user’s perspective. These testers are not referred to as beta testers, because that’s not the job they do.

A beta reader receives a free or discounted early release of a book to read, and in exchange, the reader will tell the author what he thinks of the book — what does or doesn’t seem to fit or flow well in the story, what does or doesn’t make sense, what he would like to see further explained or developed, etc. This makes a beta reader the exact literary equivalent to a software beta tester. Traditionally, beta readers are treated the same as beta testers — that is, they are not paid for their services. And there is nothing wrong with that.

For clarification, if any reader, compensated or otherwise, provides any services outside what I listed above (other services include but are not limited to any form of editing, proofreading, etc.), then he has ceased to be a beta reader and strayed into editor/manuscript critic territory.


*¬†It’s best if beta readers are honest with you about what works or doesn’t, what they like or don’t like, and are willing to give specific feedback (not merely generic “I hate it” or “I like it” statements, but detailed responses).

Prepare a list of questions for them to answer, so they know what kind of feedback you need. Example: “In the scene where Tara is driving Sven to the airport and they encounter an overturned ambulance, is the dialogue and action believable? Why or why not?”

Keep the questions simple and straightforward, and keep the list short. Try not to make the readers feel they’re doing homework, but make it easy for them to help you.

Also provide readers with a simple way of reporting any typos or grammar issues they find. It’s handy when they¬†provide you a page number, and maybe even a paragraph and a line number — “page 35, paragraph 3, line 7” — as well as a description of what’s wrong (“dipsolve” should be “dissolve”).¬†

** Manuscript critiques may cover such issues as continuity, characterization, worldbuilding, etc. Regular editing may also touch on those issues, but will also focus on the writing itself.

 

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Story First

Anyone else wearied by myriad causes du jour? By politics and the endless “debates” about it on social media? By the expectation of outrage or an emotional response about [fill in the blank] lest one be¬†labeled by folks¬†who are outraged, offended, etc.?

In the literary realm, one current debate is the “inclusiveness” of novels, and some people think we need to keep score: x number of ethnic characters, x number of certain genders or sexual orientations, and so on. There’s plenty of agenda-driven fiction out there, from a variety of political, religious, and cultural viewpoints. From whence comes this¬†need to turn stories into soapboxes or pulpits?

I have opinions and beliefs, and I’ll talk about them, but not everyone requires, deserves, or is entitled to knowing what they are. In this age of constant exposure, personal freedoms¬†and privacy are in becoming a short supply. So is moderation of speech and behavior.

The Internet, as valuable as it can be, is also a digital three-ring circus. Society/culture at large is often a flamboyant, obnoxious tyranny demanding everyone think alike.

Not gonna happen.

Even in the most repressive governmental regimes, silence or outward compliance have never meant assent. There is always an underground.

I cannot and will not divorce what I believe from what I write. However, my focus is story first.

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

 

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Oklahoma City Lights

Last week, a fellow editor/writer and I met to work out a few details on a project¬†and ended up hanging out until after dark. We ate supper at The Garage — great burgers and tasty fish tacos — and I brought the camera for our stroll, just in case. Unfortunately, it had the short lens (shallow depth of field, 1:1 ratio), so there’s less detail and more blurring than I’d like.

This first image is of a parking garage, looking rather sci-fi or action-scene-like:

parking garage (c2015, KB)

parking garage (c2015, KB)

I edited the next photo to show the heat map, because the dim lighting was insufficient to show detail, such as the spiral fire escape strung on wires above the common space between two buildings. It’s surreal and quirky and cool, but something keeps me from wanting to walk underneath it. ūüėČ

"flying" fire escape (c2015, KB)

“flying” fire escape (c2015, KB)

The image below is a fuzzier version of one I¬†shared on Facebook a few days ago. It’s the Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City, otherwise known as the Eye of Sauron.

Devon Tower a/k/a Sauron's other lair (c2015, KB)

Devon Tower a/k/a Sauron’s other lair (c2015, KB)

Miscellaneous images below of old buildings, Christmas lights, and alleyways:

"Cinemascope" lends an older feel to the already old structure (c2015, KB)

“Cinemascope” lends an older feel to the already old structure (c2015, KB)

a misty, oblique shot that almost transports the viewer to an Old World city (c2015, KB)

a misty, oblique shot that almost transports the viewer to an Old World city (c2015, KB)

another blurry shot, this time of Christmas lights blanketing businesses near Automobile Alley (c2015, KB)

another blurry shot, this time of Christmas lights blanketing businesses near Automobile Alley (c2015, KB)

alley behind businesses that front Automobile Alley (c2015, KB)

alley behind businesses that front Automobile Alley (c2015, KB)

same alley, Christmas lights in a closed cafe (c2015, KB)

same alley, Christmas lights in a closed cafe (c2015, KB)

industrial-like structure abutting the alley (c2015, KB)

industrial-like structure abutting the alley(c2015, KB)

 

Below are variations on a theme. These images were taken before I departed the parking lot beside the alley. I was ready to drive away, but caught sight of the spiral fire escape in my rearview mirror. The result is a surreal mix of that reflection and of the alley beside the car.

The ghostly figure in the background is of a passerby walking her dog.

(c2015, KB)

(c2015, KB)

IMG_3331^light

(c2015, KB)

IMG_3332^b-w

(c2015, KB)

IMG_3332^HDR soft

(c2015, KB)

IMG_3332^light

(c2015, KB)

IMG_3332^infrared

(c2015, KB)

IMG_3332^invert colors

(c2015, KB)

Something tells me I need to spend more time downtown, and this time bring a tripod to help hold the camera steady.

NOTE: all images property of Keanan Brand

 

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Pilgrimage, Heroic Fantasy, and Robin Hood

Pilgrimage, Heroic Fantasy, and Robin Hood

The difference between wanting to write and having written is…hard, relentless labour. It’s a bridge you have to build all by yourself, all alone, all through the night, while the world goes about its business without giving a damn. The only way of making this perilous passage is by looking at it as a pilgrimage.¬†‚Äē Shatrujeet Nath

What a pilgrimage it has been — and it’s far from ended.

I meant to write a blog post last month, or perhaps the month before, about the most influential character I ever encountered as a reader, and thought the character and the words would come pouring forth with ease.

I shoulda known better.

My imagination went into hiding, I seemed to forget every story I’d ever read, and all the words evaporated like summer rain in the desert.

HFQ 6x9 front cover ONLY-croppedAdd to that sudden betrayal by my brain the equally sudden request from my friends at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: They’d finalized the stories and poems for their anthology, and were ready for me to do my part — design and format the book.

I’d been preparing for this event for about two years. It is one of several¬†reasons I published Dragon’s Rook after almost throwing it away. Needing¬†material¬†on which to practice, I heavily revised the novel and restructured it, then learned how to format it for print and e-book, and then — with the artwork and cover design from a friend — published it independently. The experience and skills gained from that process has been put to excellent use in helping bring HFQ’s anthology to the public.

Words may have hidden from me, but book formatting is a different kind of creativity.There wasn’t¬†much time to bemoan the lack of storytelling or blog posting — there was a cover to design, and text to manipulate, and fonts to sample. And a deadline to meet.

Still, I pondered which character(s) could be considered “the most influential”, but didn’t know the answer until it strolled onto the scene in a private message exchange on social media. A fellow writer said he was preparing to read my book, but had lost some of his enthusiasm for the genre.

There’s more to his message, and more to my reply, but this is the portion pertinent to this post:

(I)f you proceed, I hope you’re pleasantly surprised. People see swords and dragons, and they form opinions without knowing how those items are used in the story. Rather than being a Tolkien knock-off or a GRRM wannabe, Dragon’s Rook¬†is its own thing.

Couldn’t duplicate GRRM or Robert Jordan or most others, even if I tried, because I’ve never read them. My reading is mainly in other genres — detective mysteries, for example.

The main stylistic influence is Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, a book which led to trouble one summer when I confessed to having read it x number of times and was about to read it again. Dad decided I needed to get out more, so he made my brother and me cut and haul pine on BLM land that needed to be cleared, and then we stacked it at our house in preparation for winter. (Yes, I have stories about stories.)

Bingo! Robin Hood! How did I not realize that before?

a photo of the rough front cover of my beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-ed copy (KB)

a photo of the front cover of my beloved Velveteen-Rabbit-ed copy (KB)

He isn’t the only character who has influenced my life once I read his/her story, but Robin i’ the Hood certainly had an impact on my plans that summer.

My dad meant to make me exercise and soak up sunlight, but he’s also the one who introduced me to this edition of the book, and he used to read portions aloud, so — loving it as he did — what did he expect but that I would love it, too?

I loved it so much, in fact, that the copy pictured here has begun to fall apart. Several years ago, I purchased a replacement copy — in much better shape, almost pristine — of this very same edition. It is the best, mimicking an illuminated text, and rich with color and action.

I’ve read other versions by other authors, but none beats Howard Pyle’s. It’s robust, full of humor and tragedy and exploits, and it fired my imagination until I composed pale imitations of the adventures of Robin and his merry band.

In seeking for something Robin-like, I stumbled upon other classic tales, such as Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

You guessed it. That book’s falling apart, too.

 

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